When I see declarer draw trumps, and then start to "eliminate" (ruff out) one or more plain suits, my biggest fear as a defender is of a throw in. That is, the declarer will put me on lead because I'll give him back the trick he needs with say, a "ruff-sluff."

If I knew for sure that it was ME being thrown in, the solution might be simple; discard high cards that the declarer might try to use as a "throw in" to me.

But perhaps declarer was trying to hurt my partner with a "throw in." If that's the case, maybe I should retain my high cards in a key suit so that PARTNER doesn't get "thrown in" in that suit.

And what if declarer were following a simple ruffing strategy without intending an throw in? Then throwing away a key card might give him an undeserved extra trick.

Defending such a play might not be so hard if I can detect one in the making. Are there good, or at least "established" ways of doing so? Or is this something one learns the hard way by trial and error?

  • Please don't use the term end-play to describe the class of end-plays known as throw-ins. End-plays comprise all the play combinations that occur towards the final (ending) tricks of a hand, and many end-plays comprise aspects of both throw-ins and squeezes. Sep 24, 2018 at 18:16
  • 1
    @ForgetIwaseverhere: Revised the question by removing references to endplays.
    – Tom Au
    Sep 24, 2018 at 18:19
  • Now the key - against a good Declarer, you are always defending against an end-play until Declarer claims. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to determine which end-play(s) are available to Declarer (by accurately counting the hand out) and eliminating their constraints. Sep 24, 2018 at 18:23

2 Answers 2


Unfortunately, the literature seems to be lacking regarding this (unlike squeezes!).

The key to any good defense is counting, trying to figure out what is going on and what is likely to happen.

There might be some indications that declarer might be going for an endplay. As you noted, one of them is when declarer is ruffing out side suits. This is actually one of the most common ways for an endplay in suit contracts (and even has its own name, I believe: Strip and EndPlay).

Sometimes your own hand will make you alert to the possibility of an endplay, for instance, you hold AQ of a side suit over declarer and declarer probably holds the K etc.

A count of declarer's/defense's tricks, and an idea of how he might try and obtain them might give you another clue as to whether an endplay etc might be coming.

The best way would be to get familiar with the hands which might have an endplay, and that can be done by playing (with good players) and reading.

For reading, I would recommend Killing Defense at Bridge I,II by Kelsey.

Not sure if it helped answer your question.

  • It's a good start.
    – Tom Au
    Sep 28, 2011 at 15:41

Let's look at three specific (basic) cases of end-plays:

  • Simple Squeeze

    Here a single defender holds the only guard in two suits. The key conditions for this end-play is that (a) the count is rectified; and (b) both guards remain in the same hand. The defence is to attack one or both of these conditions by, respectively, (a) holding up on a winner; or (b) transfer a guard to the other hand.

  • Throw-in

    Here one defender holds a specific guard and is vulnerable in the sense that some number of suits cannot be led by this hand without losing a trick. Also, prior to being put on lead, all safe exits for the vulnerable hand must have been stripped. This end-play can be defended by (a) putting the vulnerable hand on lead before that Defender has been stripped of safe exits; and (b) stripping all vulnerable suits from the other side before the vulnerable hand is forced to lead.

  • Double Squeeze

    Here each defender guards a single suit, plus a third suit is guarded by both. In addition to the constraints (and defences) noted above for Simple Squeezes there is often a key entry requirement between Declarer's two hands that must be retained until the count is rectified and the initial squeeze card led. This additional constraint provides an additional defence, by leading the suit with the entry condition and forcing out the key entry card(s).

Count Rectification

All end-plays require a count rectification, meaning that the number of tricks already won by the Defence is a precise number determined by the contract and type of end-play being employed. If the number of tricks already won by the defence is either higher or lower than this number at the critical time, then the end-play will fail.

However the rectified count is always at least one trick different between a throw-in or squeeze for the same contract. To defend the former Defenders must win their last sure trick early, while to defend the latter Defenders must win their last sure trick late. So whether defending a throw-in or squeeze the first imperative for Defenders is to first determine what type of end-play is being attempted. As usual, the only way to do that is to have counted out the hand fully, preferably even before Declarer has.

In their excellent folio Eliminations and Throw-Ins David Bird and Marc Smith devote the entire last chapter to defensive techniques. I will only list them here with a brief description.

  • Do not assist in the elimination process
    On occasion Declarer may have difficulties to complete the elimination (or strip), such as entry problems. Simply refrain from assisting.

  • Retain an exit card
    Recognizing and executing this requires that you have identified the throw-in at least as early as Declarer, and have countered it by exiting early with a possibly safe card to ensure possession of the guaranteed safe card later on.

  • Unblock an honour to avoid the throw-in This is a way to attempt transfer of the guard to partner.

  • Cash winning cards early to avoid the throw-in

  • Hold-up an Ace in the elimination position This is most likely when being thrown in holding Ace three times, and may have the effect of end-playing Declarer instead of yourself.

  • Discarding so as to give Declarer a guess
    An example of a ruse, where you discard in a manner that misleads Declarer on the placement of key cards, so that he makes an incorrect deduction.

  • Play the right card when thrown-in
    Occasionally you can force Declarer to a guess by a choice of which card to win the throw-in with.

  • Look for a useless ruff-and-sluff
    Occasionally giving Declarer a ruff-and-sluff forces Declarer to sluff a winner instead of a loser.

There are many books on card play and defence at Bridge, but Guy Leve with Encyclopedia of Card Play Techniques at Bridge has attempted something I believe unique - a comprehensive collection of nearly all named card combinations. The first couple of chapters are pedagogical, laying a foundation, with the later chapters moving through several dozen progressively more complex techniques from Dummy reversal and restricted choice to assorted Notrump and Trump Squeezes.

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