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Don’t rush to draw trumps. On some hands you may be able to draw them successfully; on others, even if you can draw them, you will be left with too few tricks.

Anna Valenti (Italy)

 

The seventh and last entrant for the 2nd Bols Competition was one of Italy’s leading women players, Mrs Anna Valenti. Although they have not yet succeeded in beating the Americans in the Venice Trophy (the feminine equivalent of the Bermuda Bowl), Italy’s women have been nearly as dominant in European bridge as the men. In the early 1970’s they won four consecutive European Championships as well as the 1972 and 1976 Team Olympiads. Like the men, they have fairly complicated bidding systems.

Anna Valenti had been a constant member of the national team. She learned to play bridge as a child and has played now for 45 years. She and her husband enjoy many successes together, including two Italian open team championships. In the women’s team her partner in recent years has been her sister-in-law, Marisa Bianchi, who herself is married to one of Italy’s top players.

Mrs Valenti has a high competent, not to say formidable, presence at the bridge table and plays an aggressive game. Her tip is entitled, ‘Don’t Rush to Draw Trumps’:

‘When you have a trump suit divided 4-4, you should bear in mind that the outstanding trumps will break poorly (4-1 or 5-0) nearly one third of the time. If you cannot withstand such a division, you should give serious thought to playing out the hand without touching the trumps.

‘Provided you keep your head, you will be surprised how often this plan succeeds. Quite frequently you will find yourself making contracts that, to a bystander, would have seemed certain to fail.

    A J 7 5    
    A 7 6 5    
    Q J 9 4 2    
    K 8 3    
Q J 10 4

N

9 6 3 2
Q 10 8 3 W

       E

2
K 5 3   A 8 7
J 10

S

Q 9 6 5 4
    K 8 7 5    
    K J 9 4    
    10 6    
    A 7 2    

‘You are in four hearts and West leads the queen of spades. If you set about drawing trumps you will surely lose two hearts and two diamonds, for one down.

‘There is no greater danger than an early overruff, and if the diamonds are going to break badly you won’t necessarily lose by playing them early on. So, the first move should be to lead, not a trump, but a low diamond from dummy. The 10 loses to the king and West shifts to the jack of clubs. You win in hand and cash the king of spades, discarding a club from the table.

‘A low spade is ruffed and you lead the queen of diamonds from dummy. East wins and, observing that you have not seemed keen to play trumps yourself, leads his singleton heart, West’s 8 forcing dummy’s ace. The position now is:

    -    
    7 6    
    J 9 4    
    K    
J

N

9
Q 10 8 W

            E

-
5   8
10

S

Q9 6 5
    8    
    K J 9    
    -    
    7 2    

‘Continuing to play on cross-ruff lines, you cash the king of clubs, ruff the jack of diamonds, a winner, and ruff a spade. You refrain from ruffing the next lead and triumphantly make K-J at the finish.’

I am not sure about this hand. It is highly double-dummyish in the sense that, playing as suggested, you might run into an untimely ruff and lose a contract that would be lay-down if trumps were 3-2. On the other hand, it is a fact that hands of this type good players do not, as a rule, meet the trump suit head on. It is generally right to test the side suit first because, if you do meet a bad break, the odds are that a player who ruffs will have long trumps. Valenti continues:

‘Whenever there is danger of losing too many trump tricks, you should hesitate to launch a frontal attack on the trump suit. This is especially so when there has been competitive bidding, for a favourable break in trumps is less likely.

    A J 7 5    
    10 7 3    
    A 4    
    A 7 6 2    
6

N

Q 10 9 8
A K 8 6 W

                  E

9 4 2
10 8 7   9 6 5
K Q 10 9 8

S

5 4 3
    K 4 3 2    
    Q J 5    
    K Q J 3 2    
    J    

 

You play in four spades after West has overcalled in clubs. West begins with the ace of hearts and switches to the king of clubs.

‘Because the diamonds are more or less solid, it is tempting to draw trumps. However, you lose nothing by beginning with a club ruff and setting out to establish your trick in hearts by advancing the queen. (This is safe, because if the opponents could ruff a heart they would have done so.) If West returns a third club you ruff, cash the heart winner, and cross to the ace of diamonds to lead dummy’s last club.

    A J 7 5    
    10 7 3    
    A 4    
    A 7 6 2    
6

N

Q 10 9 8
A K 8 6 W

            E

9 4 2
10 8 7   9 6 5
K Q 10 9 8

S

5 4 3
    K 4 3 2    
    Q J 5    
    K Q J 3 2    
    J    

‘Suppose that East discards a diamond. You ruff and cash the king of spades and a second diamond. You have won eight tricks, the defenders two. You ruff the next diamond with a low trump and East is end-played.

‘If East elects to ruff the fourth round of clubs, you overruff, cash two diamonds, and end-play as before.

‘Even when your trump suit is solid it may be fatal to touch this suit too early.

 

The next example is one of my favourite hands.

    K Q J 8    
    A    
    10 9 7 5 3    
    K 6 4    
-

N

10 6 5 4 2
K 7 4 2 W

             E

10 9 6 3
A K 8 2   J 6 4
Q J 10 7 3

S

2
    A 9 7 3    
    Q J 8 5    
    Q    
    A 9 8 5    

‘South was in four spades and West led Q, won by dummy’s king. South’s first move was to lead a diamond, establishing communications, rather than to test the trumps. West continued with the 10 and East ruffed. East correctly returned a trump and West showed out, dummy winning with the 8.

‘After this unfavourable development declarer saw that she would need a second trick in hearts. The ace of hearts was cashed and the closed hand was entered with a diamond ruff. The queen of hearts was covered by the king and ruffed in dummy. After another diamond ruff the jack of hearts was cashed and the fourth heart was ruffed. South had taken eight tricks and still had a high trump in each hand.

‘My bridge tip is this: Don’t rush to Draw Trumps. On some hands you may be unable to draw them successfully; on others, even if you can draw them, you may find that you are left with  too few tricks. On all such hands you should consider whether it may be better to make as many tricks as you can by cross-ruffing.

This was an interesting study of one of the ‘grey’ areas of card play. You wouldn’t find any of these hands in a text-book as examples either of when to draw trumps or of when not to draw trumps. There is no doubt that an average player would go down on all three hands and it wouldn’t be easy to convince him that he had made any sort of mistake.

Players learning the game are taught to extract a losing trump against them, but this play is very often unnecessary and sometimes a definite mistake. It is sufficient simply to observe a four-card ending of this sort:

    -    
    Q 6    
    10    
    K    
J

N

-
3 W

                E

K 8 2
-   4
10 8

S

-
    7    
    -    
    J    
    5 3    

Diamonds are trumps, South needs three of the last four tricks, and we will assume that he knows more or less how the cards lie. It is clear that if he draws the trumps against him he will make only the king of clubs afterwards. If the lead were in dummy he might think of leading the queen of hearts, in an attempt to pin the 8; this would be good enough if West held 8 instead of 3. But a club to the king always wins. East must ruff and must concede another trick with his next lead. It is because of this kind of possibility that good players often refrain from drawing the last trump against them, to the consternation of less expert players.

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