Main   Puzzle 7F55 by Richard Pavlicek  

Can You Solve a Mystery?

When I was in the U.S. Army stationed near Stuttgart, West Germany, I recall reading a newspaper bridge column that presented an unusual deal. The time period was 1965-66 and it was my infancy as a bridge player. I cannot remember the actual deal, but I do remember the gist of the article.

The column showed a deal in which declarer could make a grand slam in any suit, but could not even make 5 NT. Not being an expert at the time, and not studying the deal in depth, I am not 100-percent sure the contention was correct. But I vividly remember the contention being made.

I have toyed with this problem off and on for some time without success, although it is easy to come close. Consider the following deal:

1. 5 NT South

S K Q J 10 9 8 7
H 3 2
D 3 2
C 10 9
S 5 4 3 2
H 9 8 7
D 9 8 7
C 7 6 5
TableS 6
H J 6 5 4
D J 6 5 4
C J 4 3 2
H A K Q 10
D A K Q 10
C A K Q 8

A grand slam can be made in any suit. In spades it is obvious.

In hearts or diamonds, assume a spade lead (best). Declarer ruffs the third round of a red suit in dummy, runs the C 10 (if East covers declarer can return to the C 9) then declarer finesses in trumps to make the South hand high.

In clubs the play is slightly different but not really a challenge. Win the spade lead, cash all the red suit winners, ruff a red suit in dummy and lead a good spade. If East ruffs, overruff and ruff your other red-suit loser; if East discards, you will discard as well and easily win the rest.

Now consider the play in notrump. A spade lead is clearly best. South cashes the top cards in one suit and exits with the last card to East. Of course East is now endplayed, and South easily wins 11 tricks. (Note that East must exit with a red suit to hold declarer to 11 tricks.) TopMain

Here is a layout that comes even closer:

2. 5 NT South

S Q J 10 9 8 7
H 3 2
D 3 2
C J 10 9
S 5 4 3
H 9 8 7
D 9 8 7 6
C 4 3 2
TableS K 2
H J 6 5 4
D Q 5 4
C 8 7 6 5
S A 6
H A K Q 10
D A K J 10

Once again, a grand slam can be made in any suit (left to the reader). But can South win 11 tricks in notrump?

It looks like successive club leads will defeat 5 NT. Alas, declarer can prevail by establishing diamonds. When South cashes the last diamond, East is squeezed out of his long club, then he can be endplayed in spades or hearts for an 11th trick. So close! Yet so far. TopMain

I have experimented with a number of other constructions, and they all come up short (or should I say, long). Declarer could always maneuver to win 11 tricks in notrump, else one of the suit grand slams would fail. It’s a frustrating mystery. Perhaps you can solve it — or, alternatively, prove it to be impossible:

Create a deal in which one side can make seven of any suit against any defense, yet cannot make 5 NT against best defense.

At least you can be sure it will never make it onto Robert Stack’s TV show.

[Addendum 4-2-00: After further attempts, and correspondence with interested parties, I am 99-percent convinced the construction is impossible. Proving it, of course, is another thing. It seems that any proof would have to be by exhaustion, and I have no desire to attempt that. I’m exhausted enough already. Sigh.] TopMain

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© 1998 Richard Pavlicek