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Lessons on Dummy Reversal Play

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You (sitting south) and your partner reach the final contract of 7 and the diamond King is led. Can you make the contract?


Many players may go down with this hand because they assume the contract is impossible. What is the winning line of play? Counting your winners you see from the south hand 12 winners. The problem is in hearts. Do you take the fineness which will win only 50% of the time or is there another approach? Walk around the table and sit in North’s chair! From this point of view, you have a better idea of how to make the hand!

Although your trump holding is not great (J98), it is good enough to draw the outstanding trump, provided they break 3-2 (approx 2/3=67%, more details in Table below). Your three diamond losers can be ruffed in “dummy”. And best of all, your three heart loses can eventually be thrown on “dummy’s” club suit.

Win the opening lead of the diamond ace, and ruff a diamond with the spade ace. Lead the spade five to North’s eight, and ruff another diamond with the king. Lead the spade ten to North’s jack, and ruff the last diamond with South’s last spade the Queen. Now return to the North hand with the club queen, and lead the spade nine. This draws the opponent’s last trump, as south you have no spades left so you discard the heart six. South’s hand is now high and the grand slam is home!

The above technique is known as a “dummy reversal”. What you have done in effect is made the “short” hand (north), into the master hand. The dummy reversal technique is the major exception to the general policy of avoiding ruffs in the “long” hand (other exceptions are e.g. the trump coup and cross ruffing a hand).

For an explanation of why the technique works, let’s consider just the trump holding for a moment.

North: J 9 8 and South A K Q 10 5

You have five trump tricks. The normal way to get an extra trick is to ruff once in the short hand (north) and then draw trumps with the south hand (5+1=6). The unusual way to get an extra trump trick is to ruff three times in the south hand and the draw trumps with the north hand (3+3=6).

On the actual hand, declarer has twelve tricks and needs to find a thirteenth. The normal procedure of ruffing a loser in dummy is impossible. But the unusual technique of reversing the dummy is the winning approach (the dummy reversal). How do you as declarer know when to use the technique?

First, the trump holding in the short hand must be strong enough to draw the opponents’ trumps. In our example, the J98 of spades are all high enough and can take care of the likely 3-2 spade break. Secondly, the short side suit must be in the hand with the long trumps. In our example hand, the singleton diamond and the spade trump length.
Finally, a dummy reversal will not work unless there are sufficient entries to dummy. In our example, three entries are needed to ruff dummy’s three diamonds and one extra entry is needed to draw the last trump. Before embarking on a dummy reversal, declarer must count his entries. The diamond ace and the two trump entries are used to ruff the three diamonds, and the Q is the extra entry to last the last trump. In the play, declarer doesn’t trump the diamonds with the A K Q of spades just to be flamboyant. He has to ruff high because the ten and the five spot are his entries to dummy! Let’s look at another example. You have reached the contract of 4 and the opponent’s lead the spade King.

Can you make the contract?

  10 6 5

The opponents cash the first three spade tricks and shift to a club, which is won by your ace. There are now three different ways too try to make the contract.

1. Declarer can draw all the trumps and hope that the opponents’ diamonds are divided 3-3. However, with six cards out they may not break 3-3 (see chart below), and this method of play will work only about one-third of the time.

2. Declarer can considerably improve his chances by drawing only two round of trumps before playing three rounds of diamonds. He is still all right if the diamonds are 3-3, and he gives himself the extra chance that the opponent who is short in diamond does not have more than two trumps. This approach will work a little more than half the time.

3. There is also the option of reversing the dummy. After winning the club ace, ruff a club with a high trump. Lead a small trump to dummy, and ruff another club high. Lead the other small trump to dummy, and ruff dummy’s last club with south’s last trump. Now enter dummy with the diamond queen and play dummy’s last trump, discarding a
diamond from the south hand. The ace and king of diamonds with the last two trick, and the contract is made. This method will work when trump break 3-2, about two-thirds of the time.

Of the three options, the dummy reversal approach is clearly the superior line of play!

Source of Lesson: “Winning Declarer Play” (1969) by Dorothy Hayden Truscott.


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