To Pull or Not to Pull?

By Barbara Seagram Eddie Kantar

Courtesy of

To pull or not to pull, that is the question! Trumps, that is. We learned at mother’s knee that we should always get the kiddies off the street. Thus as new players, we assume that on all hands we should make drawing trumps the first order of business.

In order to decide whether or not to embark immediately upon pulling trumps, let us explore some scenarios in which doing so will cause us not to make our contract.



You and partner have overbid considerably on this hand and you (South) have landed in 6. West leads the A. You count your losers to find that you have one trump loser and two diamond losers. You look to dummy and note that there is a singleton diamond over there. Great. First item on the agenda: create a diamond void in dummy and ruff a diamond loser. Then cross back to your hand with a club to ruff the final diamond in dummy. Hold it… suppose you think to yourself that you only need to ruff two diamonds in dummy and therefore can afford to pull one round of trumps first. Alas, the opponents will win the A and lead back a heart. Now there is only one heart left in dummy with which to ruff two diamonds. Moral of this story: when you have a useful singleton, doubleton or void in dummy and have to ruff some losers from declarer’s hand with dummy’s trump, don’t pull trumps first unless you have gazillions of trumps hanging around in dummy.

On this next deal, you have arrived in 4. You are South and West leads the K.


Counting those pesky losers again, you find that you have one spade loser, two heart losers, no diamond losers and one club loser. One too many. Let’s analyze those heart losers again. Are they quick losers or slow losers? Since we won the A at Trick 1, the two small hearts are now quick losers as opponents will take two tricks quickly if they win the lead. Along with ace of trumps and the A, this will spell disaster. So, the moral here is: when you have quick losers and no ace of trumps, try to discard a loser before pulling trumps.

Instead, look for an extra winner i.e. a good-looking lopsided suit (more cards on one side of the table than the other) which will provide an opportunity for a discard. Careful how you play that suit… Play the 3 to the king, then the 7 to the ace and now play the queen. On the Q, you must now pitch the 4. Aha, finally you can pull trumps safely because now the opponents cannot hurt you. Less experienced players worry and think, “What if the opponents trump the third round of diamonds?” Well in that case, you were never going to make the contract. If you had played trumps first, you would have lost the next four tricks in a row.

Now for one more occasion in which you must not pull trumps right away:


This time you made it all the way to 7! Three potential spade losers. Looks like a finesse situation. Hmm… There are two extra winners over in dummy on which you can discard two small spades. Then what? Finesses only work 50% of the time.

Is there an alternative to the finesse? Yes! Dummy has a long suit… a five card suit. Always a good thing! However, dummy has no entries other than the trump suit so we cannot pull all the trumps first. Opponents lead a diamond. PIty they didn’t lead a spade to be helpful! You win with the A and now you cross to dummy’s 8 and ruff a club in your hand, carefully counting the opponents’ cards in this suit. They both follow. Back to dummy with 10 to do this again, one more time with feeling, and again both opponents follow suit. Now back to the final heart in dummy, and cash the ace and king of clubs, throwing small spades from your hand. Lo and behold, both opponents follow to four rounds of clubs. Awesome. Now your fifth club in dummy is finally high, and you can pitch your Q on it.

What about pulling trumps? Well, you actually did that while you were crossing to dummy each time for your club ruffs. But you couldn’t do it right away at the beginning, because those hearts in dummy were needed as entries to set up the clubs and then cash them.

What would you have done if the clubs had not been 4-4? In that case, you have to hope the spade finesse works. But two chances are always better than one!

So, to summarize: these are the three commonest occasions on which we, as declarers, cannot afford to pull trumps first:

  1. When we need to ruff losers from declarer’s hand with dummy’s trumps.
  2. When we have quick losers and no ace of trumps, we need to first look for a parking place for our quick loser (extra winners in dummy or declarer’s hand on which we can make a discard).
  3. When dummy’s trumps will provide you with the only entries to dummy e.g. long suit establishment.

These situations crop up very often. So be careful to watch for them. If you haven’t got one of these problems, then it is probably okay to get the kiddies off the street right off the bat.