Elopement and other adventures

Ten years ago in August the North Shore Swiss Pairs was won by Ted Chadwick and Jeanette Reitzer. Here is the undisputed “deal of the event”, with South the declarer in 6H:

          S AJ97
          H A6
          D KT8763
          C 4
WEST                EAST
S T5432             S KQ86
H 7                 H T983
D J94               D Q52
C KQ92              C JT
          S —
          H KQJ542
          D A
          C A87653

Twelve tricks are available in hearts, but all 18 declarers in heart contracts finished up with only 11 tricks.

Consider your play in 6H on the most common lead of a low spade from West. Counting winners, you have one in spades, six hearts (barring a terrible break), two diamonds and the CA, for ten tricks. Dummy’s diamonds cannot be profitably set up due to entry problems. Extra tricks can be made, however, by ruffing “in the short hand”, the hand with fewer trumps.

A typical line of play was to win the SA then cash the CA then ruff a club. Back to hand with the DA (which also serves to unblock the suit), then ruff another club with the HA. The DK was then cashed, then a spade ruffed to get to hand to draw trumps.

It had been necessary to score an extra trick by ruffing with dummy’s HA but because trumps were 4-1, a trump trick had now been promoted for East, in addition to the club trick that still needed to be lost.

The problem is that one of declarer’s small trumps must be lost to one of East’s bigger trumps. The solution is a technique known as elopement, which can be somewhat less colourfully described as ruffing with little trumps (in this case the 5-4-2) that otherwise would not be high.

Win the SA and ruff a spade. Cash the DA and CA and ruff a club. Cash the DK then ruff another spade. Ruff another club, this time with the HA. Lead dummy’s last spade and ruff it (unless East ruffed high, in which case you would discard the losing club). The K-Q-J of trumps remain and that is 12 tricks. East’s fourth trump will be a winner but ends up ruffing partner’s losing club, instead of drawing one of declarer’s little trumps as would have happened if they had not all already eloped.

It is unusual to ruff like this in the long hand, but when you are unable to draw the opponents’ big trumps it may be the only way to make all your small trumps as winners.

More obscure still is how to make 6H with the same cards after West leads a trump. Even looking at all four hands, it is hard to spot the successful line.

Win the opening lead with the HA. Cash the minor suit aces then ruff a club. Cash the DK then ruff a diamond. After drawing a second and third round of trumps, you must make all but one of the remaining tricks with these cards:

          S AJ
          H —
          D T87
          C —
WEST                EAST
S T54               S KQ86
H —                 H T
D —                 D —
C KQ                C —
          S —
          H J5
          D —
          C 876

If you draw the last trump, you will be locked in hand and forced to lead clubs, conceding two tricks to West. The solution – not one likely to be found in real life – is to lead the low heart, giving East an unnecessary trick! This gift will be paid back with interest because East has only spades left so must lead one, providing you with the entry to dummy’s diamond winners that you thought you lacked. 

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