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Ruff as high as you can afford

The issue of whether or not to ruff high (to prevent an overruff) is one of risk assessment. Which is more likely, an overruff (by ruffing too low); or creating an unnecessary trump trick for the defence (by ruffing too high)?

In the exercise below, spades are trumps. West leads out  AKQ, having bid the suit. You have one more heart in hand; dummy has none. Which dummy trump would you tend* to use in each scenario?

(a) ♠ QJ5
(b) ♠ Q105
(c) Q85
West leads out
 A, K, Q

East follows

twice in hearts

has he a third?

*There may be other influencing factors (e.g. how strongly West bid hearts,
East’s signal etc). However the exercise will illustrate the principles of how to think.


  • (a) Ruff with  J. As long as trumps split 3-2, you can spare this card. You are assessing that the chances of East overruffing  5 (i.e. holding a doubleton heart) are greater than the chances of trumps not splitting 3-2.
  • (b) Ruff with  10. Even if East is out of hearts, there is the chance that West holds  J and cannot overruff. Ruffing with  Q will create a trump loser (or two) unless  J is doubleton (unlikely). 
  • (c) Ruff with  8. Ruffing with  Q is sure to create a trump loser, so you must hope that East holds another heart. Occasionally, your diligence in ruffing with  8 (not  5) makes all the difference...
West Deals
None Vul
Q 8 5
J 9
K 9 5 4
A K 7 5
J 10 9
A K Q 8 5 2
A 10 7
W   E
7 6
7 6
Q J 8 6 3
9 4 3 2
A K 4 3 2
10 4 3
Q J 10 8
West North East South
1  Dbl1 Pass 4 2
Pass Pass Pass  
  1. Take out an opening hand with heart shortage, and support for the other suits.
  2. Well worth game facing the above.


What happened
West led out  AK against 4 , then followed with  Q. Declarer had not really noticed East’s hearts (actually  7 then  6 to indicate the possibility of an overruff), and ruffed with dummy’s  5. It was clearly wrong to ruff with  Q, dooming himself to a certain trump loser (plus  A). However ruffing, as declarer did, with  5, saw East overruff with  6.  A defeated the game - down one.

What should have happened
Ruff  Q with  8 (a play that cannot possibly cost), and a minor miracle occurs: East cannot overruff. Now draw trumps, and merely concede  A. 10 tricks and game made.

If you remember one thing...
Even if you cannot afford to ruff high, ruff as high as you can afford.

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