A Devil's Coup is a way to make an apparently sure trump trick vanish. The position is fairly well-known, but there are some variations on it.

Playing in a knockout match, one of my opponents has QJ-fifth of trumps and the only trick he scores with those trumps is the opportunity to ruff his partner's winner! It's not strictly a Devil's Coup, but it feels like one.

S: Q10
H: Q43
D: K1098
S: J53
H: A10752
D: A72
C: 32
All Pass
I have no idea why partner bid at all, but if he was going to balance, at least he could get hearts into the picture. 3D: doesn't look like much of a contract, off three top tricks, at least one heart, and at least one trump trick. 2S: doesn't look like it has a chance, either.

The opening lead is the S:K. RHO encourages, wins the second trick with the S:A, and continues with the S:9. LHO ruffs my S:J low, and I overruff. The trumps look right for the standard Devil's Coup matrix, but I don't know who has the long trump yet, so I must embark on some investigation. I start by leading the C:K from dummy. RHO grabs it, and after a fair bit of thought, shifts to a small heart. That runs to my H:Q, so one obstacle has been overcome. I now have only four losers outside the trump suit. It looks like RHO has six spades and three hearts. If he has two clubs and two diamonds, there's nothing I can do, but if he has three clubs and a singleton diamond, I think I have a chance now.

I cash the H:A, getting the H:J from RHO, confirming that hearts are 2-3. The C:Q and C:J hold as I pitch a heart. Good. Hmmm...does LHO have 2-2-5-4 or 2-2-6-3? He didn't seem to give any thought to doubling 3D:. Even with spots that bad, six trumps ought to give someone pause to upping the ante, so I'm pretty sure that the last club is on my left. I lead dummy's last club and RHO pitches a spade. I ruff, of course.

Now I have them. I exit with my last heart. LHO has to ruff his partner's heart trick. With an innocent air, he continues with the D:J, but that doesn't fool me at all; RHO is counted out for a singleton trump. I win in hand and take the marked trump finesse to make 3D:.

The defense has lost their way a number of times. Even right at the end, RHO could pitch his heart on the last club, and if he has a diamond other than the D:3, he can overruff his partner and avoid the endplay. Discarding a winner in order to generate a defensive overruffing grand coup is one heck of a play.

Despite the suboptimal defense, I'm still pretty pleased. I don't think I have ever seen a defender with QJxxx in trumps make no tricks other than ruffing his partner's winner.

Copyright © 2004 Jeff Goldsmith