Elimination Play Part II by Frank Groome

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There are two main methods of extracting an extra trick in a borderline contract.

By Ana Roth
On 17 April, 2015 At 12:14

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Elimination Play o Eliminacion
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Source: La Eliminacion

Read Part I Click Here

There are two main methods of extracting an extra trick in a borderline contract. These are the known as ‘elimination play’ and ‘squeezes’. Both techniques require the ability to plan ahead and plot your way through the minefield of the difficult contract. Whenever you are short of just one trick it is usually possible to make your contract, unless the defenders are able to cash enough tricks to set you from the outset. Success demands the ability to appreciate in advance the problem(s) posed by a particular hand and it is simply not good enough to play out the cards and hope for the best. If you do this you will be defeated as often as you make your contract and such a negative approach is very wearing on partnership confidence.  The most common method employed to gain an additional trick is elimination play. Usually the technique requires the declarer to ‘eliminate’ dangerous side suits, before exiting to one or the other defenders to force them into making an awkward return.

Example 3

Q J 10 7 4
J 8 6 4
9 7
4 3
K 10 5 2
A K J 10 4 2
A 7
West North East South
    1 Pass
Pass 2 2 Pass
Pass 3 3 Pass
4 Double The End

West finally wakes up to just how strong his partner’s hand is and makes the good bid of 4  once his partner has insisted that they should be playing the final contract. Since he is maximum for his original pass of his partner’s opening, he should invite with 3  once his partner has taken the opportunity to show a reverse over North’s overcall.  South leads a small to North’s Q. How would you play the contract? You have one loser and one loser, so the contract depends on whether you can restrict your trump losers to one. Clearly North must have both the A Q, since he is not likely to have doubled the final contract after his partner has passed throughout without a strong trump holding.
The problem with the hand is that it is difficult to get to the dummy to lead the J from the table. There is only one chance to create an entry and that is via a ruff. There are two possibilities. You can play North for the A Q 9 and three s, in which case you will be able to ruff the third as high as necessary to gain an entry. Now you will be able to lead a
trump through North. This may well work, but you are still no nearer to making your contract. North will simply rise with the A on the first round and you will need yet another entry to finesse the Q.  In any case, it is not likely that North will hold three s, given the competitive auction. However, there is a reasonable chance that he will hold two s and the high trumps. If this is so, you have the possibility of creating an entry by dropping the doubleton Q from North and then exiting with the J and discarding the losing from the dummy. If North did start with Q X, he will be forced to ruff your J or concede an extra trick. This loser-on-loser play that is designed to create a necessary entry is a relatively common occurrence. The difficulty is not so much in the execution of the play, but in spotting that the possibility exists in the first place.

EyPM 4

Once North ruffs the third diamond suit, declarer only requires one entry to the dummy to deal with the trump suit. Note how effectively North is endplayed at this point. He can cash the spadeA, but his continuation is doomed. Note also that it does not matter if South wins the third round of diamond suits with the diamond suitQ. Declarer should still discard his losing club, because this guarantees that the contract cannot be defeated by more than one trick. If he ruffs instead, North will simply over-ruff, cash the clubK and the spadeA and then exit with the spadeK. Now declarer will have to concede another two trump tricks and will go two down. While it is important to make your contract if you can, it is equally important to limit your losses when the breaks do not go your way.

There are occasions when winning a cheap trick can turn out to be horribly expensive. This next hand was one of the deals in a Teams match. Both declarers finished in the same contract and both got the same opening lead, but one managed to make the contract while the other went down in flames.

Example 4

EyPM e4

Not unreasonably, West decided he had enough to raise his partner to game with his five-card diamond suit suit and three 10s. South led the diamond suit3. Declarer won North’s diamond suit9 with the diamond suitJ and immediately cashed the diamond suitA. Then he played a small club to the clubJ, which North took with the clubK. Declarer covered the switch to a low heart suit with the heart suitJ, but this was taken by South’s heart suitQ. South then exited with a low club to the club10.

At this point declarer had seven sure tricks (one spade, three diamond suits and three clubs) but it was not at all clear where the remaining two tricks could be found. If declarer cashed the diamond suitK he was likely to be setting up South’s diamond suitQ, but if he did not take it immediately it was likely to disappear forever, since there was no guaranteed entry back to the dummy. His best chance to create additional tricks seemed to be in the spade suit. If the honours were divided, he might well make the extra tricks in spades.

Accordingly, he cashed the diamond suitK and then ran the spade10. South won with the spadeQ and cashed the diamond suitQ. Now declarer was in a hopeless mess. He had already discarded one spade on the diamond suitK and he was now forced to discard a second. South then returned a third round of clubs and the hand collapsed completely. Declarer could cash his three remaining winners, but he was then obliged to exit with a heart suit concede the last two tricks. The kindest description of this plan is to call it careless. Compare the result with what happened in the other room…

Once again South led a low diamond suit. The first action declarer took was to count his sure tricks. He had only seven (one spade, three diamond suits on the lead and three clubs once the clubK had been forced out.) Where were the other two to come from? The spade suit would probably produce an additional trick, but how could the declarer develop the suit without inviting a dangerous heart suit switch, particularly if North was left on lead? But perhaps the diamond suit suit could be developed? Still, the suit could not be established without a second sure entry. There seemed no way out of the dilemma – until the declarer had a sudden brainwave.

The diamond suitK was the second entry, of course! He won the lead with the diamond suitA and overtook his diamond suitJ with the diamond suitK. Now he simply exited with the diamond suit10, discarding a spade from hand. This had the effect of eliminating diamond suits as a safe return and South was end-played in four suits!

EyPM e4


When South won the third round of diamond suits, he was helpless. A return in either of the black suits would have set up an entry to the dummy and finessed North at the same time. A diamond suit return would set up the suit for four tricks. Declarer would win on the table, discarding a heart suit or a second spade from hand. Before cashing the remaining diamond suit he would run the clubJ. Once this had held the trick he would probably be home free, since there would be no reason why South would duck the first club if he held the clubK. Now declarer will cash the remaining diamond suit and run the club10. This will be enough for his contract (one spade, four diamond suits and four clubs).

When in with the diamond suitQ, South’s best shot is a heart suit, hoping that his partner has the heart suitJ. He must attempt to exit with the heart suitQ on the first round. Declarer will win the heart suitK and exit with a club to the clubJ and clubK. North will return a heart suit and South will win the heart suitA and exit with the heart suit10. Unfortunately for him it is declarer who holds both missing heart suit honours and this unlucky defence will simply concede the overtrick.

When you can win a trick cheaply but it costs you a vital entry, then reject it. I cannot stress enough the importance of entries and the maintenance of communication between the two hands. There is no better illustration of this point than this hand. The second important point to stress is never play too quickly to the first trick, even if the play does seem marked. Take the time to make a plan before playing any card at all. This will often make the difference between success and failure – and never costs!

There are occasions when the possibility of an elimination play exists, but it is difficult to perceive.

Will continue…

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