Analyses 7V32  MainChallenge

When the Bluebird Sings

Scores by Richard Pavlicek

“Slams are all around me — in each flower, each tree
and in each song the bluebird sings.” -RP

These six play problems were published on the Internet in April 2001, and all bridge players were invited to submit their answers. On each problem you are declarer in a slam contract, and your opponents are presumed to be strong players using standard leads and carding.

Problem 123456Final Notes

Radu Mihai Wins!

This contest had 226 participants from 75 locations, and the average score was 39.07. Congratulations to the winner, Radu Mihai of Romania, who was “first in the clubhouse” with the leading score of 59. Radu also won my “Bewitched and Bewildered” contest back in October of 2000. In second place, also with 59, was N. Scott Cardell of Pullman, Washington — a keen bridge analyst with whom I’ve enjoyed correspondence for about four years. Third place went to Tonci Tomic of Croatia with 57.

Darn! I was rooting hard for Gareth Birdsall (England) to win. Alas, he only finished fourth with 56, so there went my headline: Birdsall Beats All Birds!

Bidding is standard, and your opponents use standard leads and signals.
For a reference see Standard American Bridge. Assume all players are experts.

Each problem offered six plausible lines of play (A-F). The merit of each choice is scored on a 1-to-10 scale, based on my judgment, so the maximum score would be 60. As in my other play contests, the problems were not easy.

Problem 1

IMPsS A Q 3WestNorthEastSouth
N-S vulH J 9 7 3LHOPartnerRHOYou
D Q 21 D
C Q J 10 9Pass1 HPass3 C
Table Pass4 CPass4 D
Lead: D 3East plays D J Pass5 NT1Pass6 C
 All Pass
S 51. pick a slam
D A K 7 6 5 4
6 C SouthC A K 5 4

After winning the D Q:

Next PlayAwardVotesPercent
D. Lead the D 2102411
B. Win S A, ruff spade high, C Q, lead D 29198
C. Lead H 3 and finesse the queen73415
F. Win C Q-J, lead D 257935
E. Win C Q, lead D 24167
A. Win S A, ruff spade high, C Q, ruff spade high35424

West’s lead is surely a singleton, and East’s play of the jack (from J-10-9-8) looks like suit preference for spades — though it might just be the closest card to his thumb. If trumps are 3-2, you will succeed with almost any line of play; in fact, Line A produces an overtrick. The object is to find a play that will cater to a 4-1 trump break without depending on a finesse.

Suppose you were to draw two rounds of trumps (Line F) and discover that West has four. Whether you allow West to ruff, or draw all the trumps and concede a diamond, you will still need a finesse. What about drawing just one round of trumps as in Line E? Still no good. West would ruff the second diamond and return a trump, leaving you a trick short.

In order to avoid a finesse, you must time the play to allow two spade ruffs in hand, and still be able to develop the long diamonds and draw the outstanding trumps. Line A would be correct in a grand slam (there you would need a 3-2 break in one of the minors), but you would fail in 6 C against two 4-1 breaks. Below is a typical layout to guard against:

IMPsS A Q 3TrickLead2nd3rd4th
N-S vulH J 9 7 31. WD 3QJ4
D Q 22. ND 2!8AC 3
C Q J 10 93. WS 2A45
S J 9 7 2 TableS K 10 8 6 44. NS 36C K7
H K 10 6 2H 8 5 45. SC 4692
D 3D J 10 9 86. NS QKC A9
C 8 7 6 3C 27. SD 5H 2C 109
S 58. NC QS 857
H A Q9. NC JH 4H Q8
D A K 7 6 5 4Declarer succeeds
6 C SouthC A K 5 4

By retaining all your trumps you have greater flexibility, so Line D (leading the D 2 immediately) gets the top award. If West ruffs the second diamond, you have communication to ruff two spades and establish diamonds no matter what he returns. If West refuses to ruff, your task is simpler: Ruff a diamond and draw trumps ending in hand. The only downside for Line D would be if West ruffed with a singleton trump, but that’s virtually impossible; it would mean West passed 1 D at favorable vulnerability with 11 cards in the majors — I don’t think so.

Line B (S A, ruff spade high, C Q, lead D 2) is a strong contender. If West ruffs the diamond, you’re in control: On a trump return, win in dummy; ruff the last spade; ruff a diamond; draw West’s last trump (pitching your H Q) and claim. The hitch occurs when West refuses to ruff (pitching a heart) and does the same when you lead another high diamond and a low diamond. You can still get home, but you must take the right view in hearts — on the above layout you must drop West’s now-blank H K, but on a different layout (e.g., if West had voided himself in hearts) you would have to take the heart finesse. In other words, there is no sure path to success.

What about Line C (the heart finesse)? This gives you 10 tricks in high cards (one spade, two hearts, three diamonds and four clubs) and two spade ruffs make 12. No, you can’t get both ruffs (and be able to draw trumps) if the finesse loses and West returns a trump. You do have other chances — H 10 dropping or a squeeze against East (working in the diagram) — but there are enough loopholes to rank it behind Lines D and B.

Comments for D. Lead the D 2

Radu Mihai: Let’s say West ruffs and leads a spade. Put up the ace, win the next trick with the C Q and, if everybody follows: spade ruff high, club to dummy, last spade ruff with the last trump in hand, diamond ruff, last trump from dummy (heart discard), and the South hand is good. If somebody is void in trumps (for sure East): heart finesse, diamond ruff, three rounds of trumps, etc. If West has five trumps and refuses to ruff, I ruff a diamond high, take four trumps and all the diamonds. If I read the final three cards correctly, it’s possible to fail only if both major kings are off. …

N. Scott Cardell: Diamonds rate to be 1=4. (If not, Line D is still at least as good as any other.) Just about anything will work if trumps are 3-2, so the critical case is trumps 4-1. The chance that West is 1-1 in the minors is near zero (exactly zero with the opponents I play against) [with West passing]. So assume West started with one diamond and four clubs. If you take one or two clubs and lead the D 2 to your ace, West ruffs and returns a trump; now you need the heart finesse. If you ruff any spades before playing diamonds, West sluffs on the diamonds, and again you need the heart finesse. With Line D, West must commit at trick two. …

Gareth Birdsall: If West has four clubs and one diamond, he will ruff the diamond and play a trump. But I can then win in hand; S A; spade ruff; diamond ruff; spade ruff high and draw trumps, the H A being an entry for the diamonds. Any rounds of trumps will thwart this plan.

Herbert Wilton: Should do the trick unless a defender is 1-1 in the minors.

Alex Perlin: Leading a stiff in declarer’s side suit is like honking. It doesn’t do any good to you, but it wakes up him. West is going to get his diamond ruff, but declarer scores four diamonds, the major-suit aces and six trump tricks.

Walter Lee: The percentage play. The fewer cards I have played, the less likely I have screwed up.

Jane Eason: Guards against 4-1 diamonds and 4-1 trumps and eliminates the need for a major-suit finesse.

Neil Morgenstern: I’m assuming West turns up with four clubs and a singleton diamond. If I let West ruff my diamond now I have more control. … If I’d drawn even one round of trumps first, I don’t think I’d have enough entries… West may, of course, decide to discard on the second round if diamonds. In that case it is easy as I have four trumps in hand so I can just ruff a diamond, draw trumps and enjoy all my diamonds, making an overtrick if one opponent holds both kings (a squeeze).

Bernard Danloy: If diamonds break 3-2, you have 13 tricks; but, when they break 4-1, you must allow an opponent to ruff. You get home if you can ruff two spades (high), using a small trump to reenter dummy. Chances to find four clubs and four diamonds with the same opponent are low enough to accept the risk…

Leonard Helfgott: The contract is in danger only if both clubs and diamonds break 4-1… The problem is how to handle West holding a stiff diamond and avoid a major-suit finesse if possible. The plan would be to ruff a diamond in dummy and two spades in hand, while pulling trumps ending in dummy. [Line E or F will not accomplish this] because West can return a trump and ruin the entries, forcing a major-suit finesse. Line D only loses when West has both minor-suit singletons, but at these colors that’s a virtual impossibility.

Problem 2

MatchpointsS A 9 8 4WestNorthEastSouth
E-W vulH A K Q 9LHOPartnerRHOYou
D 9 8 7 61 D
C 4Pass1 HPass2 NT
Table Pass6 DPassPass
Lead: C 3East plays C 10 Pass
S Q 10 3
H 6 5
D A K Q 10 5
6 D SouthC A K 2

After winning the C A:

Next PlayAwardVotesPercent
A. Ruff a club, lead a diamond10115
B. Win D A, ruff a club, lead a diamond83917
D. Win D A-K, ruff a club, cash S A78738
C. Win D A-K, ruff a club, lead a diamond44520
E. Win D A-K, lead a heart and finesse the nine32310
F. Draw trumps, lead S Q and let it ride2219

Six diamonds is laydown (barring four trumps with West) so the main concern at matchpoints is to find the best play for an overtrick. Line E (finessing the H 9) offers a legitimate 24-percent chance (slightly higher assuming East has longer clubs from West’s spot lead, and subject to other small fluctuations according to the diamond break). Line F (running the S Q) is not so legitimate (aside from a stiff S J in East) and difficult to quantify (how often would West fail to cover?), but surely it must be worse than Line E. Both of these chances, however, are dwarfed by the prospects of a major-suit squeeze, which is actually better than even money when you consider the extra chances of the H J-10 or S K falling.

Many respondents realized the need for a Vienna coup (cashing the S A prior to running your trumps) for a squeeze to function against East, or to remove the ambiguity in a squeeze against West. Hence, Line D was the popular choice. Alas, it’s the right idea but the wrong approach. Even with a normal 3-1 trump break, you should time the play better to lead toward the S A (in case West is void), but there’s another more sinister danger lurking in the shadows. Consider this layout:

MatchpointsS A 9 8 4TrickLead2nd3rd4th
E-W vulH A K Q 91. WC 3410A
D 9 8 7 62. SC 2!5D 66
C 43. ND 9H 25!J
S J 7 2 TableS K 6 54. WD 27C 710
H 8 4H J 10 7 3 25. SS 3!2A5
D J 4 3 2D6. ND 8C 8A3
C Q 9 5 3C J 10 8 7 67. SD K4S 4C J
S Q 10 38. SD QH 4S 8S 6
H 6 59. SC K9S 9?
D A K Q 10 5East is squeezed
6 D SouthC A K 2

Suppose you cash the D A and discover the 4-0 break. What next? Obviously, you must ruff your club and concede a diamond to prepare for the squeeze*, but there is no way to incorporate the Vienna coup. Try it. Note that when you concede a diamond, West will return a diamond (unless you cash the S A first; then they’ll just set you). The bottom line: One round of trumps is too many. You should ruff your club at trick two (Line A) and lead a diamond; then, when East shows out, you simply duck it. With two trumps left in dummy, West cannot prevent you from winning the S A before running your trumps.

*Actually, your best hope now is to change horses and try for an endplay against West: Cash the top diamonds; C K; ruff a club; H A-K-Q; ruff a heart (unless the nine is good) then, if West hasn’t ruffed in, exit with your last trump. Unfortunately, this requires West to have exactly three clubs (besides the S K) so it’s much inferior to the recommended squeeze line.

If East followed to the first diamond, you would of course win it and cash a second diamond. Next lead a spade to the ace, then a diamond to your hand to effect the same squeeze for an overtrick.

If you were worried that an opponent might ruff the second round of clubs with the D J, I would say, get serious. Even the Disney Studios wouldn’t want any part of that script.

Comments for A. Ruff a club, lead a diamond

Radu Mihai: The problem is to find an extra trick in the majors so I can make the contract if West has four trumps or make seven if the trumps are not so badly divided. The best way to do this is to cash the S A and take all the winners, hoping for a singleton S K or H J-10-(x) in any hand, or the S K and heart guard in the same hand (Vienna coup). If I play a high trump first and discover East is void, I have to give West his trump trick before cashing the S A, and, if a trump comes back, I have no way to complete the squeeze.

N. Scott Cardell: If West has four trumps, you have 11 tricks; otherwise you have 12. Your best chance for an extra trick is to play for a spade-heart squeeze, for which you must cash the S A before running the diamonds. If East sluffs on the diamond, you can duck it to West; win the trump return, cash the S A and return in trump for the [automatic] simple squeeze. No other line allows you to reach the key end position against best defense (when West has four trumps).

Shyam Sashital: In matchpoints, a line of play for the overtrick is by a Vienna coup (play any opponent to hold four or more hearts plus the S K). Line A is best, because if West has all four trumps, I have to fall back on the Vienna coup for the 12th trick. Cashing even one diamond honor before ruffing a club in dummy gives West the opportunity to ruin the timing of the coup by returning a trump on winning the D J.

Leif-Erik Stabell: Insert the 10 if East shows out — keep communications open for a heart-spade squeeze.

Comment for F. Draw trumps, lead S Q and let it ride

George W. Bush: When normal channels are destined to fail, I must rely on diplomacy with a Chinese finesse. Therefore, I lead the S Q. If you were Colin Powell sitting West, would you dare to cover? Or, sitting East, would you dare to win the king? Of course not! The only real danger in my play is a singleton king; but even then, Colin would rather revoke than risk losing his job. My daddy might say this wouldn’t be prudent, but prudentability is in the eyes of the bee holder.

Yes, I’m getting desperate, folks.

Problem 3

IMPsS A 4 3WestNorthEastSouth
None vulH A K Q 3LHOPartnerRHOYou
D1 CPass1 H
C A K 6 4 3 2Pass4 D1Pass4 H
Table Pass6 HPassPass
Lead: D 4 Pass
 1. splinter bid
S Q 10 7
H J 10 9 8
D Q 10 7 5
6 H SouthC Q 5

D. Ruff high, cash H K, lead H 3109542
B. Ruff high, lead S 393114
C. Ruff high, cash H K, lead S 37178
E. Ruff high, win C Q, lead C 566127
F. Ruff low, cash C A, lead C 24115
A. Discard a spade from dummy3115

If clubs are 3-2, any line will work (barring 5-0 trumps, or an unlikely spade ruff in Line B or C) so the main danger to consider is a 4-1 club break. In that event you will probably need 3-2 trumps, and the direct route to 12 tricks would be one spade, four hearts, five clubs (establishing the suit) and two diamond ruffs. With this consideration, it is easy to find defects in some of the options:

Line A accomplishes nothing. East can win the diamond and return a trump, then you will lack the communication to obtain two diamond ruffs. Note that if you draw three rounds of trumps you will always be a trick short (with clubs 4-1).

Line E is too reckless. If West has the singleton club, you’re probably OK; but if East has it, he can simply ruff and return a trump, leaving you without recourse — having trashed one of your club tricks, you would now need three diamond ruffs, and this can’t be done. Line F can be dismissed on similar grounds.

If clubs are 4-1, do you always need a 3-2 trump break? Maybe not. Consider this layout:

IMPsS A 4 3TrickLead2nd3rd4th
None vulH A K Q 31. WD 4H Q!65
D2. NS 3?K75
C A K 6 4 3 23. EH 5J23
S 9 8 5 TableS K J 6 24. SD 72H K3
H 2H 7 6 5 45. NC 210Q7
D K J 8 4 2D A 9 6 36. SD 108H A9
C J 9 8 7C 107. NS 42Q8
S Q 10 78. SH 10
H J 10 9 8Declarer succeeds w/dubious play
D Q 10 7 5
6 H SouthC Q 5

Line B works like a charm. Ruff the diamond high and lead a low spade, which East wins (if he ducks there’s no problem). Regardless of the return, you now have the entries to score three diamond ruffs, which, together with four hearts, three clubs and two spades, secures the contract without needing the long clubs. (Note that Line C would not work because East could lead a second trump, preventing your third diamond ruff.)

Unfortunately, Line B has a glitch — and I don’t mean the remote possibility of a spade ruff. Suppose spades lay differently, East plays low, and you finesse the 10 (I certainly would, barring a huddle from East). If West wins the jack and returns a spade, this removes dummy’s entry (don’t tell me you’d let it ride to the queen) and now you will fail when trumps are 3-2. In other words, Line B succeeds against 4-1 breaks in both suits if you can establish a spade trick, but fails against 4-1 clubs and 3-2 hearts when spades lay wrong and the defense is accurate. This is infeasible to calculate because of the human element, but assuming strong defense (as the conditions stated) the gain does not appear to offset the loss.

Therefore, Line D seems best. The play goes: Ruff high; H K; heart to hand; diamond ruff; club to queen; draw trumps, etc. (An equally good line would be to come to hand with the C Q at trick three and a heart at trick five, but it was not listed to avoid a scoring deadlock.) This succeeds against a 4-1 break in either clubs or hearts but fails in the above layout. So why did I show that layout?*

*Because it actually occurred. I went down two in 6 H, so I’d like to believe this analysis justifies my play. Alas, I must confess: It was a Swiss team match against weak opponents — a factor which shifts the edge to Line B; i.e., this East would always hop with the S K if he had it. Curiously, we lost only 2 IMPs on the board. At the other table they stopped in four hearts and managed to go down. Oh, did I mention weak?

Comments for D. Ruff high, cash H K, lead H 3

Radu Mihai: It’s between Line B and D. Line D has an 84-percent chance: … ruff diamond again, club to the queen, extract the opponents trumps and play clubs (ruffing one if necessary and if still having trumps). I need clubs and hearts not to be 5-0 and at least one to be 3-2 (with clubs and hearts both 4-1 it is still possible to make if the opponent with four clubs has only two diamonds). Line B has only a 75-percent chance: If I find the spades, win the heart return in hand, ruff a diamond, spade to hand, ruff another diamond, club to hand, trumps discarding three clubs and dummy is good; I need the hearts and the clubs not to be 5-0 and spades not worse than 5-2. If I don’t find the spades, win West’s spade return with the ace and I need clubs 3-2 and trumps not worse than 4-1.

N. Scott Cardell: Anything works if both rounded suits are 3-2. Line D lets you make if one rounded suit is 3-2 and the other 4-1.

Tonci Tomic: Next move is a diamond ruff. If hearts are 3- 2, it is simple. If hearts are 4-1, it seems that you have to rely on 3-2 club break.

Gareth Birdsall: This will make unless both clubs and hearts are 4-1. Leading spades early can’t be correct since I can’t pick up 4-1 clubs if the spade entry is gone. Similarly with Line E, East may ruff the second club from two trumps, and remove dummy’s spade entry.

Jonathan Weinstein: Continuing with another diamond ruff and crossing to the C Q to pull trumps. This loses only when neither round suit breaks. Plan B, I believe the next-best option, loses whenever you misguess spades and clubs don’t break since on the spade return you must rise, losing your late entry.

Walter Lee: Line B is attractive, too, especially if East is not a duck. But it would feel lonely surrounded by D’s.

Francois Dellacherie: This one is difficult and very close. Line B was my first idea; it allows the contract to make when clubs and hearts are 4-1 if I can make a second spade trick [but there are dangers]. … I would like to be at the table, but Line D (making easily when either hearts or clubs behave, and some 5-0 heart splits) looks 2 percent better to me.

Manuel Paulo: Line D wins when trumps and/or clubs break well, and there is no void in the other of these suits (84.13 percent).

John Reardon: The contract is cold if one of the minors breaks 3-2 and the other is no worse than 4-1. I intend to ruff another diamond and then cross back to the C Q to finish drawing trumps. I will then run the clubs making an overtrick or set them up with a ruff to make the contract exactly when they are 4-1.

George Klemic: … It does not seem obvious how to make if both clubs and hearts break 4-1 (assume clubs on left, since no stiff club lead). If clubs are 4-1, I cannot afford to lose a spade, unless hearts are 3-2, … so Line B and C are out. Line A doesn’t seem to have much to gain… Examining the two club-club lines…, I see the same problem with 4-1 breaks. …

Bill Jacobs: This makes it if either clubs or hearts are 3-2 (ruff diamond, club to queen, draw trumps, play on clubs). I can’t see that the other lines achieve this much.

Sivakumar Salem: To see the trump break: If it is 3-2, then clubs can be 4-1; but if trumps are 4-1, then clubs must be 3-2. The irony of this deal is that you make seven if clubs are 3-2 despite 4-1 trumps, but you make only six if only clubs are 4-1.

Bernard Danloy: I want to survive if either clubs or hearts break 4-1 (not both): ruff another diamond (high), reenter hand with C Q, draw the last trump(s) and run the clubs (ruffing one if needed). Note: One can permute trick three and five…, but it is unclear whether this is a plus or not.

Martins Egle: Less trumps, less trouble.

Arvind Ranasaria: Will make so long as both hearts and clubs do not break 4-1 or worse.

Gabriel Nita-Saguna: If trumps are 3-2, the slam can be made even with clubs 4-1 (ruffing another diamond, then playing a club to the queen, followed by a third trump and then setting up the clubs). If trumps are 4-1, hopefully clubs are 3-2. …

Craig Biddle: [Instead] can I ruff high, club to queen, ruff diamond high, draw trumps in hand (pitching a spade) and establish clubs? All this needs is either suit 3-2. I guess Line D can transpose to this, so I will do that.

Thomas Hanford: … Ruff a diamond; C Q; pull trumps (pitching spades); then play on clubs — makes six or seven.

Robin Burns: If trumps are 3-2, declarer can easily handle a 4-1 club break.

Problem 4

MatchpointsS A K 2WestNorthEastSouth
N-S vulH A Q 5 4 3LHOPartnerRHOYou
D 10 7 4 3 21 S
C2 S13 H4 NT5 D
Table Pass6 SPassPass
Lead: C 7 Pass
 1. Michaels (hearts + minor)
S Q J 10 9 8
H K 2
6 S SouthC Q 5 3 2

Note: No honor drops if you win D A.

A. Discard a heart from dummy105123
E. Ruff low, lead D 2 to ace, ruff a club, lead D 375524
C. Ruff high, lead D 2 to ace, lead D J63515
D. Ruff high, lead D 2 and finesse jack54319
F. Ruff low, lead D 2 and finesse jack4167
B. Ruff high, win H K, ruff club high22612

Yes, you overbid, but it’s too late to go back now. East’s 4 NT bid was obviously sacrificial, implying support for both minor suits and asking West to choose. For this to make any sense, West’s second suit must be clubs.

Eleven tricks are easy (five spades, three hearts, one diamond and two club ruffs), but the 12th is elusive. Communication problems prevent you from ruffing a third club, so let’s consider the prospects of establishing a diamond trick. If East has D K-Q-x-x or K-Q-x, finessing the jack (Line D or F) will work, but this is clearly not a favorite. What about establishing a long diamond? No, that can’t work because if diamonds are 3-3, West will be void in trumps (or if West has two diamonds, he will have at most one trump), which means you don’t have enough trumps to establish the diamonds and be able to draw trumps.

What about a squeeze? West obviously must protect hearts, so if you could obtain another threat against him you’d be in good shape. Therein lies the key. Here is a typical layout, consistent with the bidding and lead:

MatchpointsS A K 2TrickLead2nd3rd4th
N-S vulH A Q 5 4 31. WC 7H 3!A2
D 10 7 4 3 22. EH 10K64
C3. SC 36S K!4
S 3 TableS 7 6 5 44. ND 25A6
H J 9 8 7 6H 105. SC 58S A9
D K 6D Q 9 8 56. NS 24Q3
C K 10 8 7 6C A J 9 47. SS JH 7D 35
S Q J 10 9 88. SS 10C 10D 46
H K 29. SS 9D KD 77
D A Jcontinued below…
6 S SouthC Q 5 3 2

The best plan is Line A. (The option given was to discard a heart, but it would be just as good to discard a diamond.) This not only isolates the club protection to West, but also rectifies the count. Regardless of the return, you have the communication to ruff two clubs (with the S A-K) and eventually run your trumps. This is the ending you will reach:

S win 4 STrickLead2nd3rd4th
H A Q 510. SS 8?
D 10West is squeezed
S TableS
H J 9 8H
DD Q 9 8
S 8
H 2
South leadsC Q

When you lead your last trump, West will be unable to protect both hearts and clubs, and you win the rest.

Comments for A. Discard a heart from dummy

Radu Mihai: East, having the C A, didn’t double, so he probably has no heart void; and, because of the 4 NT bid, he is at least 4-4 in the minors. So, West is exactly 5-5 in hearts and clubs, and having nothing in hearts and no C A it is difficult to believe he is also missing the C K. If I let East win the C A, I can win his next lead, ruff the two little clubs in dummy and cash all the trumps to squeeze West in clubs and hearts.

N. Scott Cardell: West appears to have 1=5=2=5 distribution (East’s 4 NT asked West to choose a minor so East rates to be 4-4 in the minors). … A squeeze is your best chance for a 12th trick, and ducking the first club should isolate the club guard in the West hand. East wins trick one and does best to shift; win the return in hand and ruff a club; return to your hand and ruff the another club, return to your hand and draw trump. West will be squeezed if he started with either a high club honor or the D K-Q.

Tonci Tomic: If West has one top honor (or two, hehe) in clubs and at least one diamond, I’m home. The opponents cannot prevent me from ruffing two clubs, play all trumps and squeeze West in hearts and clubs. By the way, the heart is really a cute discard.

Gareth Birdsall: I cannot ruff three clubs in dummy, so I will ruff just two, giving me 11 tricks. I hope West has a top club, allowing me to squeeze him in clubs and hearts for my 12th trick.

Herbert Wilton: East is marked with 4=1=4=4 shape, so play for the heart-club squeeze, much better than D K-Q onside.

Alex Perlin: Another great lead by West. A top club or either major suit would seal my fate at trick one, but these guys insist on rectifying the count and isolating the club guard for the heart-club squeeze. How nice of them! By the way, what did I smoke before bidding 5 D?

Need an excuse? Just say you took East’s 4 NT as Blackwood and were answering one ace.

Bernard Pascal: … First, what does East look like? Since he bid 4 NT, he is probably 4-4 in the minors and not far from 4=1=4=4 shape. What about the lead? West [probably has] the C K, and East, the ace; and West, in order to justify his poor suits, should have at least D K-x. Consequently, the line of play is crystal clear: Isolate West’s menace (materialized by the C K) by discarding a heart (or a diamond) and squeeze West in hearts and clubs — a line which wins even if East has five spades.

Franco Baseggio: Playing for two club ruffs and a heart-club squeeze. Requires West to have the C K (or ace) and East not to be void in hearts (but it seems all lines rely on the latter).

Grant Peacock: I know this is matchpoints, but I don’t see any play for an overtrick. Twelve tricks are likely after ducking trick one, using your three hand entries to ruff two clubs and run trumps for a club-heart squeeze.

Francois Dellacherie: I don’t have enough entries to ruff three clubs and draw trumps. Well, I’ll ruff two clubs only and squeeze West in the rounded suits. Ducking the lead serves a dual purpose: reducing the count, and isolating (hopefully) the club menace in the West hand. I also make if West has S x H J-9-8-x-x D K-Q C J-9-8-7-x; but if he has S x H J-9-8-x-x D K-x C J-9-8-7-x, well, I give up. :-)

Manuel Paulo: Rectifying the count for a squeeze in hearts and clubs (or diamonds) against West, and ruffing high two small clubs.

Venkatesh Ramaratnam: This line works as long as West has at least one honor in clubs and East is not void in hearts. West is caught in a heart-club squeeze…

Shyam Sashital: Surely, West will have one top club to justify the overcall. A discard at trick one isolates the club menace with West and rectifies the count for a club-heart squeeze against West.

John Reardon: Great problem. This is the hand I would be most likely to misplay at the table. At first I was going to ruff high and lead towards the D J… [but then] I realized I could make the hand by isolating the club menace, ruffing two clubs and finally squeezing West…

George Klemic: After much consideration, what looks wrong initially is actually the best shot. The auction strongly suggests that West started with 1=5=2=5 shape with the C K. Given the lack of major-suit honors, I will assume a diamond honor there, too (this is unnecessary for Line A but makes most of the other lines fail). After the club is ducked, declarer wins the return in hand and ruffs two clubs, using appropriate entries… and [when I lead the last trump] West, with H x-x-x C K, must set up one of the suits.

Leif-Erik Stabell: Ruff two clubs high and squeeze West in hearts and clubs.

Bill Jacobs: I can’t find a way to make this without a squeeze. So pitch to create the club menace, then squeeze West in hearts and clubs, whilst ruffing two clubs in dummy (you have the entries).

Neelotpal Sahai: I wonder why it is matchpoints. How do I ever make an overtrick? I make the contract (as long as hearts are not 6-0) if West has the remaining club honor or both diamond honors [on a squeeze].

Neil Morgenstern: If West has led from a suit headed by an honor (and he probably has) then he will get squeezed in clubs and hearts. I will subsequently ruff two clubs in dummy high, with my three entries in hand being a diamond, a heart and a trump.

Bernard Danloy: After the Michael’s bid, your hearts won’t get high and you are in danger if West has a singleton diamond. But, after the lead, you can expect a top club honor with each opponent; you just have to ruff two clubs high and West will be squeezed.

Martins Egle: If neither opponent is void in a red suit, this is the correct way of winning the contract. West should have at least one top club honor, and the squeeze will work against him.

Bill Powell: A heart-club squeeze against West looks promising.

Olivier La Spada: It seems impossible to establish the diamonds (if they are 3-3, trumps are 5-0), establish the hearts, or ruff three clubs in dummy (there is no entry to draw trumps). As the double finesse in diamonds is gambling, to duck the lead while throwing a heart from dummy gives a nice end position. North: H A-Q-5 D 10; South: S 8 H 2 D J C Q. On the last trump West is squeezed if he has the C K (or ace).

Adjat Abdurodjak: Rectify the count then squeeze West in hearts and probably clubs. …

Rosalind Hengeveld: Planning to play for heart-club squeeze. Can’t get back to my hand if I try to play for three club ruffs. Only chance I see to justify my overbid of five diamonds.

Leonard Helfgott: Assuming West is 5-5 in hearts and clubs, if you could establish diamonds with one ruff (3-3) then East would have five spades, and if with two ruffs (2-4) then East would have four spades — more than South would be left with. … The winning plan should be to play West for the C K, ruffing two clubs high, conceding the third club loser at trick one, and squeeze West in the rounded suits. …

Phil Clayton: Actually, a diamond pitch is just as good. Most important is to rectify the count and isolate the menace at trick one. The play proceeds: trump back (best); win in hand; ruff club; heart to hand; ruff club; diamond to ace. If West has the C K, I have a simple squeeze.

Ufuk Cotuk: Place your hand open on the table, discard a heart from dummy and claim 12 tricks! :)) If they insist on an explanation, [explain the squeeze].

Truls Ingebrigtsen: Tempo for the squeeze.

Problem 5

MatchpointsS KWestNorthEastSouth
Both vulH A K J 9 2LHOPartnerRHOYou
D 5 21 HPass1 S
C A K J 9 2Pass3 CPass3 D
Table Pass4 CPass6 NT
Lead: D 10East plays D 6 PassPassPass
S A Q 6 3 2
H 10 3
D A K Q 4 3
6 NT SouthC 10

After winning the D A:

Next PlayAwardVotesPercent
D. Lead H 3 and finesse the jack104018
E. Lead H 3 and finesse the nine95123
A. Win S K, lead H 266730
B. Win S K, cash H A-K52310
C. Lead H 10 and let it ride42913
F. Lead C 10 and let it ride2167

At IMPs this would not be a good problem, since any of three lines (A, D or E) will guarantee 12 tricks. (In Line D or E, if the heart finesse wins, the best foolproof continuation is to cash the S K and C A-K, then lead the C J.) At matchpoints, however, it is apparent that most people will be in the same contract (you have 34 HCP and no trump fit) so the goal is to find a reasonable play for the overtrick with a minimal amount of risk.

Line C (running the H 10) is too reckless, I think. Anytime the finesse loses, all East has to do is return a diamond and you are blocked from cashing your 12 tricks. You would then need a 3-3 diamond break or the club finesse to succeed. A similar situation exists if you run the C 10 at trick two.

You can take the heart finesse safely by retaining the H 10 (Line D or E). If it loses and East returns a diamond, you can cross to the S K and return to your hand with the H 10, etc. But what if the heart finesse wins? That’s the real problem. Rather than settle for 12 sure tricks, it seems right to assume West has the H Q and play for 13. Line E has the advantage of keeping your transportation fluid (no blockage in hearts), which allows you to cash the C A-K and might lead to a successful squeeze if West has five hearts. Unfortunately, it has a drawback that could be painful. Consider this layout:

MatchpointsS KTrickLead2nd3rd4th
Both vulH A K J 9 21. WD 1026A
D 5 22. SH 3!4J!Q
C A K J 9 23. ED 7K95
S J 9 4 TableS 10 8 7 54. SS 24K5
H 6 5 4H Q 8 75. NH 27105
D 10 9D J 8 7 66. SS A9C 27
C Q 8 7 4 3C 6 57. SS QJC 98
S A Q 6 3 28. SD QC 3C J8
H 10 3Declarer succeeds
D A K Q 4 3
6 NT SouthC 10

If you lead a heart to the nine, it’s like an open invitation for a sharp defender to duck. East can see you have a repeatable finesse, so it is tempting to go for the sting; and when he does, you are headed for a zero. Compare this with finessing the heart jack. East could hardly duck the jack because he doesn’t know where the 10 is (imagine how silly he’d look if West had 10-x-x). For this reason, I prefer Line D. I’m willing to give up on the remote squeeze chance of Line E for the greater comfort that the heart finesse is really working.

For the record, if the heart finesse wins in Line D, I would continue: S K; D K; cash all of South’s winners (pitching clubs from dummy); run the H 10, etc. If East found the holdup on the above layout, it might be time for me to take up another game.

Comments for D. Lead H 3 and finesse the jack

Tonci Tomic: I need the H 10 as an entry in hand if the finesse loses. If the H J holds, cash S K, win D K [and all South’s winners], then repeat the heart finesse. If East wins the H Q now, then bend on your knees and ask for an autograph.

Herbert Wilton: Nobody would duck this with the queen.

Charles Blair: Since East doesn’t know I have the ten, it will be harder for him to duck with H Q-x-x.

Walter Lee: Give East newspaper material when he has: S J-10-x-x H Q-x-x-x D J-6 C Q-x-x.

Jane Eason: Lines D and E look equal. That worries me, but the other chances I see for an overtrick would endanger the contract.

Bill Jacobs: Line A certainly makes it, but this gives me a fair shot at the overtrick, with some small risk. If the hook loses, I can claim. If the heart holds, I cash S K and clear hearts from the top, and if West (or maybe East?) started with queen-fifth, I might be in some trouble (but I won’t be dead).

Tjeerd Kootstra: Still always 12 tricks, with a decent chance for 13.

Craig Biddle: This is 100-percent safe. If it loses, and East leads a diamond (best), I win, spade to king, heart to 10, cash spade and diamond winners (pitching three clubs), then a club to dummy.

Anthony Golding: This keeps the H 10 as an additional entry if the finesse loses. I choose the jack rather than the nine to give less away to the opponents. If the H J holds, I’ll cash S K and play clubs from the top. …

Comments for E. Lead H 3 and finesse the nine

Radu Mihai: The heart finesse is the best way to try to make 13 tricks. … If I play small to the jack and the finesse works I’ll be unable, later, to repeat the finesse overtaking in dummy. So, low to the nine seems best. If East takes the queen I’ll be OK with the entries to take 12 tricks. If the finesse works, cash the S K and C A-K (discarding a spade), test the diamonds (if they are 3-3 I have 13 tricks) and cash S A-Q. Then, [if none of my other cards are good] repeat the heart finesse (overtaking with H J) and hope the hearts to be 3-3 or 4-2 (and of course West to have the queen). …

N. Scott Cardell: Lines D and E guarantee the contract, and E has a slightly better chance for an overtrick. If East wins trick two, you have 12 tricks and the H 10 is the key entry… After the H 9 wins: If East shows out, you cash out the black winners in the dummy and have the proven heart finesse for your contract, plus excellent squeeze chances for an overtrick. … If East follows low, you cannot treat the heart finesse as proven and must guarantee making six before playing for an overtrick. …

Alex Perlin: If East has the H Q, it will be hard for him to decide whether ducking is safe. He would never do it without the C Q fearing declarer has 13 tricks via two spades, three hearts, three diamonds and five clubs. He may also need the S J guarded four times. Finally, he needs either two or four diamonds, but he may be not aware of that. So if the finesse wins, I will cash the winners in all other suits. If nothing suspicious happens and diamonds don’t break, I finesse again.

Bernard Pascal: The matchpoint dilemma as usual! Finesse the H 9: If it loses, I have 12 tricks and communication with the H 10. If it wins, I play the S K, then back in hand in diamonds. At he end, I will be able to overtake the H 10 with the jack. East will have to be an expert to duck with the H Q. I must read that sign.

Franco Baseggio: Playing for the overtrick. If this loses, the H 10 will serve as an important entry. If it wins I can run all my side winners (possibly squeezing West with Q-x-x-x-x of hearts and one of the other guards) and repeat the finesse. If East is good enough to duck the H Q, I’ll pay off.

Grant Peacock: If this loses, I can untangle 12 winners on any return. If it wins, I trust East and I play S K, C A-K, D K-Q, S A-Q, then repeat the heart hook if needed.

Venkatesh Ramaratnam: Heart finesse has the best chance for an overtrick. Finesse of the nine gives you extra option of overtaking H 10 later on (don’t mention it if East has ducked smoothly with the queen!).

Shyam Sashital: Leading a low heart to nine at trick two retains a vital entry in South if the finesse loses. If the finesse wins, it can be repeated at trick 10 by overtaking the H 10 by the jack to land a useful overtrick.

John Reardon: If the nine loses my contract is now safe. If the nine wins the situation is more fluid than had I finessed the jack. I now have 11 top tricks and I continue by cashing the S K and C A-K. Then I try diamonds (which might break 3-3) and cash my S A-Q. If West had five hearts he may well have been squeezed by now. If East has ducked with the H Q and no other suit or squeeze has materialized, I will probably go down. However, it is matchpoints and I am prepared to play for the overtrick… Any player who ducked the H 9 and knew what he was doing fully deserves a top score.

Steve White: If East is a good enough player to duck the H Q, let’s hope I’m good enough to read it, but probably I’ll just be paying off to a great play.

Bill Powell: Not really sure what an overtrick will be worth, but this finesse doesn’t jeopardize the contract (although I doubt my nerve will hold to repeat it).

Arvind Ranasaria: This keeps the entries most flexible and gives us a shot at 13 tricks if hearts or 4-2 or better with H Q inside. If East ducks the H Q in tempo, kudos to him or her.

Thomas Hanford: Matchpoints, going for seven. Looking for queen-third or fourth onside. If the nine wins, cash S K, come to hand with a diamond, cash out, then overtake the H 10 with the jack and claim, hopefully.

Problem 6

IMPsS A K 9WestNorthEastSouth
None vulH 3LHOPartnerRHOYou
D Q 6 5 41 H
C K 9 8 7 4Pass1 NT1Pass3 C
Table Pass4 CPass4 D
Lead: S 6 Pass4 NTPass5 C
 Pass5 DPass5 H
 Pass7 CAll Pass
H A K Q 8 21. forcing
D A 8 2
7 C SouthC A Q 6 5

B. Win S A, ruff a spade104219
C. Win S A-K (pitch diamond), ruff a spade884
E. Win S A, cash C K75524
F. Win S A, lead C 9 to the ace64419
D. Win S A, H A, ruff heart with C 956127
A. Duck spade lead to the jack3167

Partner was a little optimistic, but there you are. The grand slam is actually quite reasonable, essentially requiring a 4-3 heart break and trumps no worse than 3-1. Therefore, you should reject the desperation play of ducking the spade lead. West’s lead of the S 6 (likely fourth-best) would make him a favorite to hold the queen against most contracts, but I doubt this holds true against a grand slam where safety is the main concern. Also, it looks pretty bad when you go down at trick one; so win the ace.

What about a safety play in trumps? If you cash the C K first, you can pick up J-10-x-x in the East hand. Alas, this wouldn’t help* because you need to ruff a spade in your hand to make 13 tricks.

*There are layouts where this would work: If East has 2=4=3=4 or 3=4=2=4 shape with H 7-6-5-4, you’d be a hero. Nonetheless, this is too far-fetched to consider because cashing the C K spoils a much better chance.

Is there any chance to succeed if hearts do not break 4-3? I mean, besides a stiff D K? Yes. There’s a squeeze if the hand with long hearts also has the D K. Consider this layout:

IMPsS A K 9TrickLead2nd3rd4th
None vulH 31. WS 6A!8J
D Q 6 5 42. NS 9!10C 52
C K 9 8 7 43. SC A1072
S 6 5 2 TableS Q 10 8 7 4 34. SC QS 543
H J 9 7 6 4H 10 55. SC 6D 3KJ
D K 10 7 3D J 96. NC 9S 3D 2D 7
C 10C J 3 2continued below…
H A K Q 8 2
D A 8 2
7 C SouthC A Q 6 5

In order to squeeze West, you must get your spade ruff early (so dummy’s trumps can be run) and the entry conditions give you no luxury. Leading even one round of trumps would be fatal. Ruff a spade at trick two (Line B) then lead all but one trump to reach this ending:

C win 7 S KTrickLead2nd3rd4th
H 37. NS K4D 8?
D Q 6 5 4West is squeezed
C 8
S TableS Q 7 4
H J 9 7 6 4H 10 5
D K 10D J 9
H A K Q 8 2
D A 8
North leadsC

You next cash the S K (discarding the D 8) and West is caught in a ruffout squeeze.* There is no guess involved because you will continue by cashing the H A-K-Q, so you will know whether the long heart can be established with a ruff. If not, there is nothing else to do but cash the D A. Note that the squeeze would work equally well if East had long hearts and the D K.

*In bridge terminology this is also called a “trump squeeze,” but I prefer “ruffout squeeze” to more accurately describe the technique. Even better might be “squeeze ruffout,” because it puts the order right.

Line C of course would also work, but it involves an extra risk for no reason. West might have a doubleton spade and overruff.

Comments for B. Win S A, ruff a spade

Radu Mihai: I have to hope trumps are 3-1 or 2-2 — if 4-0 the slam can be made only [in rare cases] — and hearts are 4-3 or the hand with 5+ hearts also has the D K. I cannot afford to cash one trump because this will damage the entries for the squeeze. So, S A, spade ruff, four rounds of trumps, S K (two diamond discards from hand) and test the hearts. If they [can’t be established] cash the D A hoping to drop the king.

N. Scott Cardell: … Line E looks appealing at first glance but has only a remote chance of succeeding when East has four trumps, and it loses against a much more likely situation. Line C is almost as good as Line B, losing in the remote chance that spades are 2=7. You need either hearts 4-3 or a red-suit squeeze. Any of Lines B through F works [barring horrible breaks] if either hearts are 4-3 or East has the long hearts and the D K. The key is to make when West has the long hearts and the D K.

Tonci Tomic: Next play four clubs and S K leaving five hearts and D A in hand, then cash three top hearts. If all follow you are home. If someone [has two hearts left], cash the D A — when that guy drops the king under your ace, don’t ask him why he discarded all diamonds.

Gareth Birdsall: I can’t make if trumps are 4-0 (barring H J-10-9 alone), so I’ll assume trumps are 3-1. If hearts are 4-3 I’ll make easily, but if they don’t break I’ll need a squeeze of some sort. A trump squeeze will work against either opponent so that is best. I’m running out of entries to dummy, so ruff a spade, four rounds of trumps and S K (pitching two diamonds). Now the H A-K-Q will reveal whether I can ruff hearts good, or need the D K to drop.

Alex Perlin: Win the S A, ruff a spade, draw four rounds of trumps and play the S K inflicting the trump squeeze. This answer is probably wrong. The Quiz Master wouldn’t give me the black nines for nothing.

Bait, my friend, bait… The deal is dressed to the nines.

Franco Baseggio: Followed by four clubs and S K (pitching two diamonds), three top hearts — if they split, ruff a heart and dummy’s good; if not, cash the D A and hope the D K was with the long hearts and therefore blanked.

Grant Peacock: The spade must be ruffed immediately to preserve entries for a trump squeeze. I plan to be in my hand after 10 tricks with H 8-2 D A facing D Q-6 C 8.

Charles Blair: Trump squeeze. Line B and C look equivalent, which leads this veteran of multiple-choice tests to suspect he’s overlooking something!

Walter Lee: When a trump squeeze falls my way, odds be damned, that is my play!

Francois Dellacherie: First, I cannot win if clubs are 4-0 (barring a stiff D K) so I won’t cash the C K. The primary chances are that hearts are 4-3 and clubs 3-1 at worst. … If hearts are 5-2, I must rely on a red squeeze; and for this to work against West or East, I must play for a ruffing squeeze, reaching the position: H 3 D Q-6-5-4 C 8 opposite H A-K-Q-8-2 D A.

Rosalind Hengeveld: I can’t handle C J-10-x-x in East’s hand any better than in West’s, as I need to ruff a spade and probably need 4-3 hearts, or to find the same player with five hearts and the D K. In the latter case, I need to preserve trump entries to dummy and the D A.

Final Notes

Thanks to all who responded, and especially to those who offered kind remarks about my contests and polls.

Comments are selected from those above average, and on each problem only those supporting the winning play (except Problem 5 which was close). While this might be considered biased, I feel it’s the best way to ensure solid content and avoid potential embarrassment by publishing comments that are off base. On this basis, I included over 80 percent of the eligible comments. If you supplied comments that were not used, I thank you for the input.

Use of a comment does not necessarily mean I agree with it, but generally they are all worthy. Comments are quoted exactly except for corrections in spelling and grammar. Where I have included only part of a comment, an ellipsis (…) indicates where text was cut. Text in [brackets] was supplied by me to summarize a cut portion or fix an omission. Comments are listed in order of respondents’ rank, which is my only basis for sequencing. I am confident that my lengthy study of these problems, assisted by comments received, has determined the best solutions in theory, but oversights are possible. Feedback is always welcome.

I’ll leave you with a question from:

Charles Blair: Have you considered adding “none of these” as an option? It might reduce the need for “filler” choices.

Hush! You’ll wake up the bots.

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© 2001 Richard Pavlicek