Puzzle 8S31   Main

Middle School Mania

  by Richard Pavlicek

Looking for a career opportunity? Want to hit the big time with little or no effort? Think PavCo! Our Personnel Division is now hiring eligible job seekers from around the globe. Qualification requires at least a middle school diploma and a residence offshore of the continental United States. Lack of integrity is a plus! We seek the shady set, so naturally we turn to the bridge world, where recent years have exposed enough crooks to fill our ranks for a lifetime.

Please don’t submit your resume! We wouldn’t believe it anyway, as even I’m a Yale graduate (I pick padlocks) with a doctorate from M.I.T. (Master of Internet Tricks) despite never getting beyond middle school. Instead, submit your solution to this puzzle. If you’re shrewd enough, you could land a dream job!*

*PavCo attorneys have forced me to add a disclaimer: You could also land in prison.
 But really! Why worry about that? If you’re shrewd enough, you should escape.

Most leads made on defense are either high (e.g., top of a sequence) or low (e.g., fourth-best or other carding method), but sometimes it is necessary to lead middle. Typically this occurs after the opening lead, when the visible holding in dummy dictates the technique. Consider the defense on the following deal:

3 NT South S Q J 7 6
H A 6 2
D J 6 3
C A Q 3
Both Vul   West


1 S
3 NT
All Pass
1 D
1 NT
S A 8 4
H J 10 9 7
D Q 10 7
C 9 7 6
Table S K 9 5 2
H 8 3
D K 8 5
C 10 8 4 2
Lead: H J S 10 3
H K Q 5 4
D A 9 4 2
C K J 5

Declarer wins the H Q and routinely attacks spades, low to the jack, king. East returns a heart to the ace; a spade goes to the 10, ace; then West leads a third heart to the king as East pitches a club. Declarer crosses in clubs to cash the S Q (pitching a diamond) then finishes clubs ending in hand. Declarer’s last resort is to throw West in with a heart to force a diamond lead.

The D J in dummy makes it imperative for West to lead middle. If declarer covers the D 10, East’s king forces the ace, then West’s D Q-7 over the nine is worth two tricks; down one. Note that declarer could succeed if West led either the D 7 or the D Q (South ducks).

Now it’s your turn to be the middle man. Earn your middle school diploma, or flunk out and see if I care!

Construct two suit layouts where West must lead his middle card to produce an extra trick.

Layouts must fit the distributions below. The winner of each trick must lead to the next, and the suit must be led continuously for four tricks. (If the winner of a trick has no more cards, the lead passes to the left to complete the trick analysis.) Successful solvers will be ranked by the weakest West holdings, with ties broken by the weakest East holdings. Strength (weakness) is judged by the sum of all card ranks.

1. NT win ? D  
D Table D
West leads D  

2. NT win ? C  
C Table C
West leads C    

To see if your solutions are successful click

Duncan Bell Wins Again

This puzzle contest, designated “October 2018” for reference, was open for over a year. Participants were limited to one attempt, unlike my usual contests allowing entries to be revised with only the last one counting. There were 13 correct solutions, but only one was optimal.

Congratulations to Duncan Bell, who was only solver to find the perfect solution to both parts. This is Duncan’s second win in a row, as the list of his triumphs keeps growing: The Twelve of Spades, Just Another Zero, High Stakes Rubber, Bridge with the Abbott, Cat O' Nine Tails, Pay No Taxes! and High Cards Amiss.

Ranking is by the lowest West Sum, lowest East Sum, and date-time of entry, in that order of priority.

Winner List
RankNameLocationWest SumEast Sum
1Duncan BellEngland3754
2Ryou NijiMichigan3760
3Jonathan MestelEngland3962
4Jean-Christophe ClementFrance4053
5Tim BroekenNetherlands4149
6Dan GheorghiuBritish Columbia4246
7Richard SteinWashington4460
8Alon AmselBelgium4558
9Samuel PahkMassachusetts4655
10Gonzalo GodedSpain4663
11Leif-Erik StabellZimbabwe4760
12Nicholas GreerEngland4852
13Bjorn OhlssonSweden6159

Puzzle 8S31   MainTop   Middle School Mania


Part 1 (diamond suit)

Dan Gheorghiu found this clever solution, which I believe has the lowest possible rank sum for West and East combined (39):

NT win ? D A 9 8 5 
D K 7 2Table D 10 4 3
West leads D Q J 6 

If West leads the D 2, declarer ducks it around to his hand, and the defenders win nothing regardless of East’s play. Only the D 7 gives the defense a trick; declarer covers with the eight, but East ducks to lock declarer in dummy — else overtake in hand for the same fate.

Only one solver — the incomparable Duncan Bell — found the optimal solution to give West the lowest rank sum (primary tiebreaker). Call it a switcheroo of the above:

NT win ? D Q J 7 6 
D 10 8 2Table D K 4 3
West leads D A 9 5 

If West leads the D 2 or D 10, the defenders go trickless with best play, but the D 8 saves the day. If declarer covers with dummy’s jack, East ducks; or if declarer plays low, so does East. Either way the defense must score a trick.

Part 2 (club suit)

Once again, Dan Gheorghiu found the lowest rank sum for West and East combined, albeit not the tiebreaking goal, but interesting nonetheless:

NT win ? C A 10 8 4 
C J 7 2Table C Q 9 5 3
West leads C K 6 

If West leads the C J, the play goes low, low, king; then declarer finesses the next round to endplay East, winning three tricks. If West leads the C 2, dummy plays low, and East must either waste his nine for the same demise or let the six win.* Only the C 7 holds declarer to two tricks, as the play goes eight, nine, king; next comes the C 6 covered by the jack, and declarer is without resource.

*If the C 6 wins, declarer has no entry to reach the C A; but the puzzle conditions state that if a player is out of cards, the lead passes to the left. Effectively, this is like clubs being trump, so if declarer scores the C 6, he must win three club tricks.

Surprise, surprise! Duncan Bell found the optimal layout, although for Part 2 he was not alone. Ryou Niji also discovered this perfecta:

NT win ? C A J 7 3 
C 9 6 2Table C Q 10 8 4
West leads C K 5 

Only the C 6 lead holds declarer to two tricks, as the play goes seven, eight, king. On the C 5, West plays the nine, and declarer has no winning option. Any other lead by West costs a trick.

What, No Diploma?

Samuel Pahk: I’m 13 and in middle school, so no diploma yet. Thanks to Olivia Schireson for helping with this.

Probably true, but in the taunting words of Agent 86, “Would you believe…”

Henchman #1: I’m 33 and in middle school, so no diploma yet. Thanks to Olivia Newton-John for the sound track.

Henchman #2: I’m 53 and in middle school, so no diploma yet. Thanks to this club, I’ll break every bone in your body.

Puzzle 8S31   MainTop   Middle School Mania

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