The vanishing trump trick

by Jonathan Mestel

What would make the game easier would be a warning bell or flashing light which goes off whenever an important stage in the play is reached. Something to nudge us and say `Your next card matters. Give it a little thought.' Take this hand from the Brighton Swiss Teams:

E/W Vul
S 7
D QJ7642
C AK972
Dealer E
S QJ106
H J75
C Q10854
W         E
S 98542
D A105
C J3
H 1098632
D 983
C 6
   East       South       West       North   
P P P 1d
P 1h X 2c
2s P P 4c
P 5d all pass

East leads hK, declarer winning. cA and a club ruff are followed by sAK on which declarer throws a club, and a spade ruff. Declarer now leads c9, and partner ruffs in with the d10. Just then the alarm bell goes off. What card do you follow with as West?

Well, obviously it doesn't matter. Declarer must be 1-1-6-5 and has no more club losers. Either we'll set the contract or we won't, depending on whether or not partner has dA.

But hang on...look at it from partner's point of view. She doesn't know about the minor kings. It could easily be right to prevent a second club ruff. No sooner was c10 out of my hand than the terrible truth dawned on me. Sure enough, Cath switched to dA and declarer claimed the moment my dK hit the table. "Sorry," I said. "It might have helped if I'd played cQ." "Yes, it would," partner agreed, which coming from Ms Jagger almost qualifies as a stinging rebuke.

The key point is that holding cKQ, one would of course play the king, to show partner that we can afford it. So playing the queen denies the king. By inference, playing the 10 should deny the queen, and so declarer must have it and it is imperative to draw trumps. Had I played cQ, partner would have known there was no point in drawing trumps. If only my alarm bell had been working. Instead, the resounding clatter of crashing diamond honours could be heard all round the tournament hall, as this misdefence was duplicated many times.

Another trump trick might have disappeared on this board.

Both Vul
S A9843
H J2
D 953
C J72
Dealer W
H K853
D J8
C KQ1093
W         E
S K752
H A1094
D KQ76
C 8
S 106
H Q76
D A1042
C A654
   West       North       East       South   
1c P 1h P
2h P 4h P

I led s10, and two rounds of diamonds followed. Declarer led c8 which I won and hoped for a misguess in trumps. In fact declarer led h10 from hand and ran it, and my dismay changed to bafflement when partner produced the hJ.

So why is this hand of interest? Because, as Giles Woodruff pointed out, of what might have happened. It is the closest I've come to participating in a `Devil's Coup,' albeit in a somewhat passive rôle.

Declarer has the genuine chance of a doubleton hQJ, but an attractive alternative, which works as the cards lie, is to cash sKQ, the minor kings and ruff two clubs and a diamond to reach:

4h by E
S 9
H J2
D -
C -
E on lead
S -
H K85
D -
C -
W         E
S 7
H A10
D -
C -
S -
H Q76
D -
C -

South has already declined to ruff one spade, but when the last spade is led, his best shot is to ruff with hQ. But declarer knows there are four trumps left and so should finesse against hJ. The trump trick vanishes.

Of course, declarer can go wrong, in particular by attempting the coup the other way round, ruffing twice in the West hand. As the cards lie this will not work, but it would make a good hard luck story.

Curiously, I suspect the Devil's Coup may be easier to pull off as defenders in practice. If declarer has a weak trump holding Qxxx opposite Jxxx say, he won't usually draw trumps, and one can well imagine reaching the diagram with South as declarer. Of course the defenders have been spared the need to shorten their trumps, which makes the whole process simpler. It's not happened to me yet though - or maybe I never noticed it.