Coup of the Month
The Winner on Loser Coup
By Ian Mitchell

'Ah, the lesser known Winner on Loser Coup', I commented once, when my most regular partner managed to go down in a cold contract by ditching an outside Ace on a defender's winner. 'I thought I might lose control if I were to ruff', she said. I regret that I failed to record the details of the deal at the time. Hmm..., could there be a situation where she might possibly have been right?

While mulling this over a little later, I remembered that this same partner had pulled off a spectacularly successful 'Winner on Loser' Coup two years previously. More on this later, but firstly, let's admire the incompetence of two declarers whose momentary bouts of amnesia caused them to pitch winners on tricks that they shouldn't have been losing:

SK 5 3
D9 6 4
CJ 7 5 3 2


SJ 10 8 6 4
HK 9 6
C10 8 6 4
S9 7
HJ 10 5 4 3 2
D7 5 2
CQ 9
SA Q 2
H8 7
DA K Q J 8 3

A colleague, while directing at a local club, held the North cards. It would be charitable to suggest that South only chose the final contract to allow his partner to pursue his directorial duties. However, it seems much more likely that he felt either (a) that 7NT would score more match points, (b) that 7D was an inferior contract, and/or was wrong-sided, or (c) that his own declarer play was superior to partner's. Was he right?

(a) Nobody else at the club had bid any grand.

(b) 7D is an excellent contract, especially when played by North. A heart lead would give the contract straight away. Failing that (and barring ruffs at trick one), it makes whenever the CQ drops in two or three rounds; if she comes down in four rounds and trumps split 2-2; or, as a last resort, if the heart finesse works. 7NT requires the CQ to fall in two, or the heart finesse to work. If either contract is played by South, a heart lead would force an early decision, reducing 7NT to at best a 50% shot.

(c) Fortunately the Wallbanger received a spade lead, which he took in hand. He then 'drew trumps' in three rounds before cashing the CA and CK. As it happens, the queen did drop in two rounds, and thirteen tricks were in the bag. Our hero, though, spotting the chance of a 14th trick, crossed to dummy to lead a small club, which he 'ruffed' with the Ace of Diamonds.

Of course, this is not a true 'Winner on Loser' coup, since the choice of discard itself didn't actually cost a trick. The lead of a small club cost a trick, but twelve tricks were still available. Furthermore, declarer had failed to live up to the standards we have come to expect on poorbridge.com, since he hadn't cleared the spade suit first, thereby allowing another two undertricks. Nevertheless, a fine effort to go even just one down in an untouchable 7NT. Oh, by the way, the HK was onside, too.

Our next hero, however, found a discard that ultimately cost him five tricks. My aforementioned partner and I were on the receiving end of this performance at the Isle of Man Congress in September:

SQ 3
HA J 9 8 5 2
DA 10 9


S10 9 8 6
DQ J 6 4 2
C7 3 2
SK J 5 3 2
HK 7 6 4
DK 8 7
SA 7
H10 3
D5 3
CK Q 9 8 6 5 4

The auction will be familiar to all devotees of the Gerber convention: South showed a hand with some clubs, followed by 'I've really only got clubs', 'No, seriously, I want to play in clubs', and finally 'Well, 6C might be too high, how about 5NT?' Meanwhile North showed a hand with hearts, more hearts, one assumes three aces (but you might have thought only two), no kings, and, I guess, no desire to pick a slam.

5NT suffers from having ten top tricks, and might have chances of an eleventh as East comes under pressure on the run of clubs. (Once again, the contract would have been better played by North). So this atrocity could have gone relatively unpunished. However, our declarer was made of sterner stuff:

After a spade lead to the SQ, SK and SA, declarer immediately exited with a spade, hoping, no doubt, for a favourable red-suit switch, or perhaps even a ruff and discard. Partner duly obliged with the latter, continuing with another spade, which declarer 'ruffed' with the CJ, ditching a diamond from hand. The main damage, of course, had already been done, but the pure genius of this 'winner on loser' play was in the removal of the last means of entry to declarer's hand, which would have allowed him to settle for just two down.

As it was, after cashing the spades, a diamond switch ensured that declarer was eventually left with just four tricks — the four aces — for an unlikely -350.

And now to the defensive 'Winner on Loser' coup. OK, so we've all been pseudo-squeezed into throwing away winners that we shouldn't have done. However, on this occasion, my partner's brilliance was in discarding an incontrovertible winner in favour of keeping a guard in a suit that couldn't possibly ever be led again.

The scene is the Mixed Pivot Teams on the Wednesday night at Brighton. Innocent victims of the coup were 'English' internationals Gunnar Hallberg (North) and Artur Malinowski (South). They bid briskly to a good contract, which, double dummy, is cold for at least ten tricks. Many declarers, though, were caught out by the bad breaks:

SQ 10 9
HJ 7
DA J 6 4 3



SJ 7 6 4 2
HQ 9 8 5 2
C8 2
H10 3
DQ 10 9 8 7 5 2
CQ 10 9 5
SA K 8 5 3
HA K 6 4
C7 6 4 3

I led the C8, taken in dummy. Artur crossed to his hand to play again towards the CK (just in case the 8 was singleton), before exiting with the CJ. On this I ditched the DK. Partner naturally put a diamond back through, Artur proffering the S8.

At this point, despite having a complete count of the hand (virtually down to every pip), I made my own minor Poorbridge contribution by over-ruffing. It is seldom right to over-ruff when you have a good trump holding, and I'm sure this hand is no different. Had I not done so, though, there would have been no story to tell.

I exited with a trump, and Artur drew all the trumps, cashed his last heart, and exited with his club to end-play East to lead into the diamond tenace on the table. Great recovery by Declarer!

DA J 6 4
HQ 9 8 5
DQ 10 9
HA 6 4

But now put yourself into partner's shoes. She'd heard something about defending against squeezes, in particular something to do with 'keeping length with dummy'. On the run of spades and HA, while dummy came down to just DA J 6 with no outside entry, and despite the fact that both Artur and I had already shown out of diamonds, partner felt that she had to hold on to DQ 10 9.

Of course, nobody else had noticed the crucial discard. As Artur played his last club, I congratulated him on his fine endplay, but admiration turned to astonishment as his C7 held the trick. 'What? You've thrown away your club, partner? That's brilliant!' I exclaimed.

'Sorry,' she said, 'was it a winner?'

Meanwhile Artur bemusedly looked back at his own hand to see two losing hearts there — one down!

How many of us go through our whole lives only dreaming of making plays such as this?!