Main   Puzzle 8S87 by Richard Pavlicek  

Unusual Hands

The following deal occurred Saturday night in my prison ward. It was the first of a 24-board knockout, however, not the kind of event you would expect. All our duplicate games are knockouts, because they usually end in fist fights, and I’m tougher than nails with nary a scar to prove it! You want a piece of me, punk? I didn’t think so. Then pull up a chair and witness the excitement. I was South.

Board 1 S Q 2
H 8 6 4 2
D A Q 10
C Q 10 6 4
None Vul   Herman
West

Pass
Pass
Rocco
North
Pass
Pass
Clyde
East
Pass
Pass
Ricco*
South
Pass
Pass
S K J 9
H K 9 7
D K J 7 3
C 9 5 3
Table S 7 6 5 4 3
H Q J 10
D 6 5 4
C A K
Passed out
Twice in fact
S A 10 8
H A 5 3
D 9 8 2
C J 8 7 2

*no one in my ward calls me Richard

After four passes, Clyde offered, “Okay, fellas, we can’t start the game like this. Let’s go around again.” Having a dismal hand, I was happy with a score of zero but agreed to go along when Clyde threatened to deck me. So… back to Rocco, who passed again; Clyde trap-passed as usual in his cunning style, and I certainly had no reason to do anything different.

So it was all up to Herman: “Sorry guys, I ain’t no pigeon!” But of course we all knew he was, losing about 10 packs of cigarettes a session. Nonetheless, twice around was the house limit. Score it up!

“Wait a second,” interrupted Clyde, “Let’s see what actually makes. Looks like spades our way plays miserably with all the diamonds offside, and Rocco and Ricco have a very playable club fit. Great passes, Hermie, my boy!”

“Thanks,” answered Herman, “but I just noticed something unusual about my hand.”

“Yes, and mine too,” followed Rocco.

“Make that three,” echoed Clyde.

I looked closer at my own hand and wanted to agree. But what?

Perhaps you can provide the answers — before you get pummeled by the inmates.

What is the par contract on this deal?  
What is the most unusual feature of each hand?
West
North
East
South

Andrew Spooner Wins

This puzzle contest ran from August 10 to September 10, 2021. There were 35 entries from 23 persons (multiple entries were allowed but only the latest one counted). Only one solver nailed all five parts. Seven others came close with four out of five, ranked below by date and time of entry.

Congratulations to Andrew Spooner of Australia for the only perfect score — or maybe I should be disappointed, because without his entry the winner would be me. (Only once in the past was there no perfect solution to a puzzle contest: World Series of Bridge, November 2016.) Andrew also won last year’s presidential spoof, Trump Moves to Lilliput, there too with the only perfect score. This guy is killing me! I need to bring Trump back from Lilliput so he can build a wall around Australia.

Winner List
RankNameLocationCorrect
1Andrew SpoonerAustralia5
2Nicholas GreerEngland4
3Sherman YuenSingapore4
4Paul GilbertEngland4
5Thijs EngberinkNetherlands4
6Brad JohnstonNew Zealand4
7John R. MayneCalifornia4
8Jean-Christophe ClementFrance4

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Solution

Par Contract

Several respondents were caught off guard here, perhaps by my story dialogue (thanks Clyde) noting spades by East-West versus clubs by North-South. While 3 C is easily defeated, North-South make 2 NT (120) against any defense. This would seem to be the par score, because East can win only seven tricks in spades. But wait! Spades by West plays a trick better, so the par contract is 3 S× West (down one) which gives North-South only 100.

West-North-East hands

These were the easy questions, in fact too easy for anyone with a mind for puzzles. West has only odd-ranked cards (K J 9 7 5 3); North has only even-ranked cards (A Q 10 8 6 4 2); and East’s cards within each suit are consecutive (touching).

Even so, a few respondents drifted astray. Two described East’s most unusual feature as a “straight flush” (S 7-6-5-4-3); unusual, sure, but nowhere near as rare as all touching cards. Another described West as having the “best poker hand (kings full)” evidently overlooking East’s straight flush.

South hand

This was the fun part, and the essence of my puzzle. Our motley crew of bridge detectives certainly came up with some unusual features, and provided some chuckles as well. To wit:

Nicholas Greer: Amazingly average hand for an RP puzzle.

Sherman Yuen: Worst poker hand, despite having a full house (888AA).

Thijs Engberink: One of each odd card, two of each even card, if present.

Jean-Christophe Clement: Length of each suit is the number of unique letters spelling the first card: three spades (S A = ‘ace’); three diamonds (D 9 = ‘nie’); four clubs (C J = ‘jack’).

Other guesses from respondents who didn’t make the winner list: Apart from a straight (JT987), all cards are Fibonacci; almost symmetrical (swap H 3 for H 6 or S 10 for S K); and worst poker hand, two-pair (sic). Could the last be a blind man’s bluff?

Jean-Christophe’s answer, while contrived, was at least on the right track. The unusual feature is about spelling, and I was able to slip this one by all but two sharp solvers:

Andrew Spooner: All suits spell words! A-10-8 = ATE; A-5-3 = AFT; 9-8-2 = NET; J-8-7-2 = JEST.

Paul Gilbert: First letters of ranks form words: ATE, AFT, NET, JEST.

Suit Words 101

Out of curiosity I decided to calculate the chance of a hand like South’s, where each suit spells a word using the first letter of each card. Spellings must be left to right in the ordered list AKQJTNESSFFTT, which yields 12 common words: AN, AS, AT, ATE, ANT, ASS, AFT, JET, NET, JEST, TEST, NEST. Arbitrarily, I also decided to allow the one-letter word ‘A’ (certainly common) but not the obscure words: EF, EFT, ESS, KEF, JESS, NESS, TEFF. Obviously your mileage will vary according to which words you accept.

My 13 words comprise 31 possible holdings: one singleton (blank ace), six doubletons (A9 A7 A6 AT A3 A2), 12 tripletons (AT8 A93 A92 A76 A53 A52 A43 A42 J83 J82 983 982) and 12 four-carders (J873 J872 J863 J862 T873 T872 T863 T862 9873 9872 9863 9862). The next step was to determine how many of the 635,013,559,600 bridge hands contain only those suit holdings. This was simplified because only three shapes are possible: 4-4-3-2, 4-3-3-3, 4-4-4-1. I counted 214,272 hands, which makes the odds 2,983,586 to 1 against. Putting this into perspective, if you played 100 hands a day, you can expect one every 80 years.

And if it happens to be S J-8-7-2 H A-7-6 D A-7-6 C A-7-6, you can laugh your asses off.

But I must admit, our Kiwi guy described the South hand best:

Brad Johnston: All frustrating cards!

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© 2021 Richard Pavlicek