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The Case of the Paradoxical Lead

I don’t think this column will become a television script for the next Perry Mason episode (though I accept all offers); but it contains a killer that only a great defense counselor could expose. The object is for East-West to defeat South’s contract of six notrump. First let’s hear the evidence for the prosecution.

6 NT S K Q 8
H K 2
D A K 8
C 6 5 4 3 2
Both Vul

West

Pass
All Pass


North

4 NT


East

Pass


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

Assume West leads the diamond queen. Declarer wins the king and leads the spade king, which East takes with the ace. A diamond comes back to the ace, and declarer starts leading clubs. Before the last club is led, West holds J-10 in spades, Q-10-9 in hearts, and the high diamond. What does he discard? It doesn’t matter! Whatever suit West unguards, declarer leads the newly established winner to squeeze West again. The net result is a gain of two tricks, so declarer makes six notrump.

East does better to duck the spade lead. On the last club West must now pitch from J-10 in spades, Q-10-9 in hearts and J-10 in diamonds. If West throws a spade, declarer leads a spade to set up dummy’s eight. If East wins the ace, West is later squeezed in hearts and diamonds. If East ducks, declarer cashes the heart king and diamond ace, then he throws West in with a diamond to force a heart lead into the ace-jack. Other variations exist, but declarer is always able to make his slam.

The prosecution appears to have a strong case. West’s choice of opening leads doesn’t seem to matter since declarer can reach the same ending after a spade or club lead. Has justice been served?

No, the killer is still at large. In fact he is right there in the courtroom wearing a bright red suit — a heart lead. This looks absurd, but declarer cannot win 12 tricks as long as East ducks the first spade lead and the defenders discard correctly. (Variations are left to the astute reader.) Quite a paradox! West has a safe lead in any of three suits, but he must lose a trick on the opening lead to beat the contract.

The defense rests.

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© 2-18-1990 Richard Pavlicek