An Italian Elopement

In Italy, they call it “fuga d’amore” (flight of love); in the United States, an “elopement”, but in any event, I extended the offer to each of my three daughters ($5,000 and a ladder to be precise), but none of them would take me up on it.   In bridge, it means something else.

I am in the Ichnos bridge club in Cagliari, Italy playing with the club president, Giancarlo Garbati, desperately trying to make a good impression so one of these Italian bridge sharks might want to play with me in the future.   I am dealt the following hand, neither side vulnerable:


My Right Hand Opponent (“RHO”) opens 1♣.  In the States, I might overcall 1♠ with my opening hand and a good 4-card major non-vulnerable.  But I do not want to press my luck in a foreign country and so I pass.   My LHO bids a heart, partner passes, and my RHO bids 1♠; I pass, RHO bids a no-trump, then two passes to me.

I ask my RHO in my broken italian the minimum number of clubs that the opening club bidder might have and am told 2.    The devil makes me do it — I bid 2♣, a horrible bid on any continent.  This is passed out without a double.  My LHO leads the ♠9 and the following dummy comes down:


Playing the first part of this hand is pretty much forced so I don’t have to think too far ahead.  The lead of the ♠9 is an obvious doubleton:  My RHO’s 2nd bid was 1♠ — he must have exactly 4 spades since with 5 he would have opened a spade and with 3 he would have never have bid spades at all.  So my LHO has done me the kind favor of establishing 3 spade tricks in my hand once East takes his Ace, which he does.  However, I’m going to have to draw West’s trumps before enjoying those spades or else spades will be ruffed.  So I must draw some trumps first.

West takes the ♠A, me unblocking the Queen, and returns a spade.  I win on the board with the ♠J and take the club finesse, winning.  I cash the ♣A and then the play the ♣5, hoping West started with ♣10xx and would have to take the trick.  That works out.  West wins ♣10, cashes the ♦A, East following small, and plays the ♥8.  Here are the cards remaining:


Now I am at a crossroads.  How do you have proceed if you were playing this hand?  Click on the link below to see the answer.

At this point, the hand is nearly an open book.  I know the spades are splitting 4-2 with West being short.  East is likely to have started with Kx of diamonds with his partner have Axxx(x) since with AKxx(x), West would have likely have led the suit on the opening lead instead of his spade doubleton.  West started with exactly ♣10xx.  If West had had the ♣K, I would have lost the club finesse.   How many diamonds did West start with?  Must be 5:   if he started with only 4 diamonds, he would have had 4 hearts, and would have preferred responding 1♥ instead of 1♦ to East’s opening bid.  So West must also have the ♦Q, as West only has 1 more diamond, I think the King.  West started with ♠9x ♥??? ♦AQ98x ♣10xx.  That gives East ♠Axxx ♥??? ♦Kx ♣K8xx.

Who has the ♥K?  It looks like East has the ♥K over dummy’s ♥AQx since he did open the bidding.  If that is the case, I’m down one for a terrible board since 1NT goes down at least one with no entry to West’s long diamond suit.   So I might as well hope that West has that card — it’s possible given his 1NT bid.  That would give West ♥Jxx, just enough for a light opening bid, italian-style.

In fact, if West does have the ♥K, I see a way to make 9 tricks.  I have 2 trumps left in my hand and if I can score both of them (with East still holding the master trump, the ♣K), plus the ♥AQ, plus 2 more spades, I have 9 tricks.  This should be a cold top since 1NT does not go down more than 2.

So I play the ♥Q and hope.  The bridge gods are with me as the Queen holds.  Now a low diamond from dummy, the ♦K as expected appearing on my right.  I ruff.  I cash my two winning spade tricks, East following helplessly.  Now back to the ♥A.  Consider the position after the board wins the ♥A:


Look what happens to East when I play another diamond off the board:   If East ruffs with his ♣K, I pitch a heart, and my ♣J is good.  If East pitches a heart, I ruff with my ♣J immediately, with  West’s winning heart and East’s winning trump fall together on the last trick.  I make 3 clubs no matter what East does — 3 spades,  2 hearts and 4 clubs.  Where did my 3rd heart loser go?  East trumped it with his master trump, collapsing two losers into one!

This type of  play is called an “elopement”  or “coup en passant.”  The elopement play is a technique in which declarer “runs away” with an extra trump trick by ruffing with a low trump behind (i.e., after) the defender holding the master trump.   The unfortunate defender has a hobson’s choice:  either she ruffs with her high trump and declarer pitches a loser, keeping his small trump to score later; or the defender discards from another suit allowing declarer to ruff immediately.  If the defender chooses the second of the bad alternatives, she will end up trumping her partner’s winner on the final trick and two defensive tricks will morph into one.

To set up an elopement, declarer must do as follows:

  1. Shorten his trumps to the same length as the defender holding the master trump so declarer is not forced to trump prematurely (my trumping diamonds the 1st time did this);
  2. Cash any side suit winners (in this case, when I cashed my winning spades)
  3. Finally, lead from dummy a suit in which both the declarer and his right-hand opponent holding the master trump are void.

Defenders can defeat an elopement by the defender with the master trump gaining the lead and simply playing his big trump, capturing declarer’s little trump before declarer has a chance use it in the elopement.  In this example, West could have held me to two clubs by underleading the ♦A when in with the ♣10.  His partner would have won the ♦K and cashed his ♣K, crushing my ♣J.  Good luck finding that play.

So look for opportunities to execute an elopement.  They are fun to pull off, and in the game of bridge you don’t need either $5,000 or a ladder to make it happen.

— Tom Hunt







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