Analyses 7V64  MainChallenge

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Scores by Richard Pavlicek

“Said the night wind to the little lamb.”

During the month of December 2001, these six defensive-play problems were published on the Internet as a contest open to all bridge players. On each problem, you had to choose your next lead from the choices offered. The opening lead, first trick (and sometimes tricks two and three) were given.

Manuel Paulo Wins!

This contest had 522 participants from 89 locations, and the average score was 39.90. Congratulations to Manuel Paulo (Portugal), who won clear and away with a score of 59. Manuel has been a consistent high scorer since last February, and his comments are almost always on the money. Second place went to Billy Leeper (Fort Worth, Texas US), third to Miro Tesla (Croatia), and fourth to Walter Lee (Hong Kong), each with a score of 57. (Walter was the winner of my previous play contest in October and is now the overall leader for the past six contests.) Two players were close behind with 56: Gareth Birdsall (Cambridge, England UK) and Beverly Terry (Santa Fe, New Mexico US). Congratulations to all!

Each problem offered six plausible leads. The merit of each lead is scored on a 1-to-10 scale, based on my judgment, so a perfect score would be 60. These problems were not easy, and virtually no one (including this writer) would get them all right at the table. Indeed, if you chose your answers in “real time” it would be excellent to score 8 or higher on each problem.

Bidding is standard (except as noted) and your opponents use standard leads and signals.
For a reference see Standard American Bridge. Assume all players are experts.

Problem 1

 Matchpoints A K 7 3 West North East South None vul Q J 4 You Dummy Partner Declarer K 3 2 1 9 6 4 Pass 1 Pass 2 Q 10 5 Pass 4 Pass Pass 10 8 2 Pass Q J 9 A J 7 3 4 South

 Trick Lead 2nd 3rd 4th 1. W Q 2 4 8

A10459
3814628
2615730
J510921
94469
51194

Partner apparently has the A, but what is the four all about? The standard agreement is to signal attitude on your lead, and I can see only three logical cases where partner would play his lowest diamond holding the ace: (1) A-4 doubleton, (2) A-10-4, where he couldn’t afford to waste the 10 in case declarer had the nine, or (3) A-x-x-(x) plus the K (i.e., a club shift would be welcome from any holding). Case 1 seems implausible (South would surely rebid 2 with 6-5 in the red suits), as does Case 3 (South could hardly have a one-bid lacking both the A and K). While Case 2 is feasible, there is another, even more compelling reason for partner’s low diamond: He does not have the ace. Yes, declarer was setting you up:

 Matchpoints A K 7 3 Trick Lead 2nd 3rd 4th None vul Q J 4 1. W Q 2 4 8 K 3 2 2. W J? 3 5 A 9 6 4 3. S A 2 4 3 Q 10 5 J 8 2 4. S 5 8 J 6 10 8 2 3 5. N K 7 4 9 Q J 9 10 7 6 5 4 6. N A 2 6 5 A J 7 3 K 10 8 2 7. N K 8 9 10 9 6 4 8. N 3 J K Q A K 9 7 6 5 9. S 6 10 Q 2 A 8 10. N 7 4 South Q 5 Declarer wins 11 tricks

Declarer’s sharp duck cost nothing (barring fluke distributions) since all roads lead to 10 tricks with best defense, but it set the stage for a top board if you fail to cash out immediately. If you continue diamonds (or lead either major suit) declarer will discard a spade on the third diamond then establish the long spade for an overtrick.

“Listen to what I say!”

Were you listening? Or were you daydreaming about some exotic reason for partner’s play? Partner asked you to shift, and the obvious suit to shift to is clubs. Any club would do, but the ace is best in case partner did have A-10-4 — he would discourage in clubs, then you would switch back to diamonds.

If you instead shift to a low club, there seems to be no realistic layout where this will benefit. If declarer held, say, x-x A-K-x-x-x-x A-8 Q-x-x, he would never duck the diamond (what could it gain?). Conversely, it is easy to envision layouts where the 3 costs: It gives away the contract when declarer has x A-K-x-x-x-x 8-7-6-5 K-x (in this case a diamond continuation will beat it two, but you can’t cater to everything). It also loses a trick in the diagrammed layout if declarer’s clubs were K-x instead of Q-x (he wins all the rest).

Note that if declarer held x-x A-K-x-x-x-x A-8-x K-x and tried the same holdup play to lure you into cashing the A, it would not work. Holding the 10 and lacking the K, partner would encourage in diamonds. It is true that if declarer’s diamonds were A-10-8, it would work; but ducking with that holding is a poor strategy, giving up various legitimate chances (e.g., Q-J doubleton, and potential endplays and squeezes).

It is worth mentioning that many players (including me) prefer to signal count on the queen lead when the king is in dummy. Deals like this really magnify the flaw in this method, and I’ve been rethinking it myself. Standard signals may be better after all.

This problem was inspired by one of my disasters some years ago. As South, I ducked the diamond lead. It was good news (I thought) when West continued, but in the actual deal West had Q-J doubleton (with three hearts) so I managed to go down one. Nice stroke, with 10 top tricks. I guess West’s actual 3=3=2=5 shape was one of those “fluke distributions” I mentioned — yep, a real freak. Sigh.

Manuel Paulo: South may be trying to pitch a spade on the K to set up the suit and to discard a club loser. [Leading a low club] would backfire against x-x-x A-K-x-x-x-x A-8 K-x.

Miro Tesla: [Playing South for] x-x-x A-K-x-x-x-x A-x and any doubleton club.

Walter Lee: If declarer holds x-x A-K-x-x-x-x A-x-x K-x, I will cry.

Sergey Kustarov: Declarer has A-K and either the A or the K. I have to trust partner’s signal in case declarer has x-x A-K-x-x-x-x 10-8-x K-Q or x-x-x A-K-x-x-x-x A-8 Q-x (or K-x). In the second case declarer is trying to set a trap for me (will throw a spade on diamond and set up spades with a ruff for a club discard).

Franco Baseggio: Declarer has the A, so the duck suggests something like x-x-x A-K-x-x-x-x A-x Q-x, where if I don’t cash out, declarer will come to 11 tricks by pitching a spade and ruffing out spades. If declarer has the K and only two spades, then I’ve been had, but partner might have encouraged diamonds in that case.

Hanchang Wang: South’s hand could be: x-x-x A-K-x-x-x-x A-x x-x. If we don’t cash out clubs, he’ll make an extra trick by setting up spades.

Gabriel Nita-Saguna: … Partner played a discouraging diamond, but why? Is that because he does not have the ace, or because he has the ace but not the 10? If South has x A-K-x-x-x-x 10-8-x K-Q-x, I should return a spade [or heart] and he will go down. But if he has x-x-x A-K-x-x-x-x A-8 Q-x (or K-x), playing matchpoints I need to cash as many clubs as possible before South can establish the fourth spade for a club discard. … My opinion is that partner cannot afford to discourage having the A, as the spade position is not clear to him (South could have a quick discard if I don’t continue). So I will play South for Hand B and return a club. Which one? I must cash the ace, in case South started with K-x.

Anthony Golding: I’m bound for a bad score on this, as I’ve thought about it for so long; I’ll be fined for slow play. It looks as if South has held up the A, so I’m concerned not to give him an overtrick he’s not entitled to, e.g., if he has x-x-x A-K-9-x-x-x A-x Q-x.

Tonci Tomic: I don’t believe partner discouraged me with A-x-x-x (that would be too much) so I will assume declarer has the A. Why didn’t he take the trick? The only reason is that he has 3=6=2=2 distribution, so let’s take our clubs before it is too late. The  3 is [inferior] because declarer can have K-x. If declarer ducked with 2=6=2=3 and K-x-x, then he is too strong for me.

Daniel Korbel: Can partner really have the A? It’s possible — from a holding of A-10-4 he would play as he did. However, if declarer has x-x-x A-K-x-x-x-x A-x Q-x, he’s trying a rocket-within-a-rocket to make five. Best is to cash the A now, which is very unlikely to cost.

Dima Nikolenkov: An expert would duck with x-x-x A-K-x-x-x-x A-x Q-x. The A also caters to the unlikely but possible J-x A-K-x-x-x-x 8-7-6-4 K. It is unlikely we have three club tricks coming.

Sally Wheeler: The first time I saw a hand like this, I continued a diamond and declarer won, pitched a spade on the K, set up the fourth spade and pitched a club… Partner wasn’t happy. Today I will cash the A, and partner won’t be happy when declarer has x-x A-K-x-x-x-x A-x-x K-x, and was just distracted by his cat.

Here’s a solution: Trade in that partner and play with the damn cat.

Jim Fox: Matchpoints!

Albert Lilly: …Playing South for x-x-x A-K-9-7-6-5-3 A-8 K or x-x-x A-K-x-x-x-x A-8 Q-x. The lead of the A does not cost when South has x-x-x A-K-x-x-x-x A-8 K-x because he can set up the fourth spade for a pitch.

Shyam Sashital: Partner discouraged on the first trick, so it is a strong possibility that declarer has the A. If declarer’s shape is 3=6=2=2 and he holds two small clubs, he can make 11 tricks by [establishing] the fourth spade. Hence, our club tricks need to be cashed immediately. …

Problem 2

 IMPs A Q 9 West North East South Both vul A J 7 You Dummy Partner Declarer K 6 5 3 2 6 5 3 Dbl 2 NT Pass 3 1 — Pass 4 Pass Pass K 10 8 4 Pass Q 10 9 7 A K 10 8 2 4 South 1. feature

 Trick Lead 2nd 3rd 4th 1. W K 3 Q 4

K107114
A823745
1077013
8412023
102183
4161

Partner’s play of the Q promises the jack (else a singleton). If you needed to put partner on lead, you could safely lead a low club; but that wouldn’t be wise. If partner had Q-J doubleton, you’d be unable to cash your third club winner. The obvious play is simply to continue with the A. After all, you have diamonds well protected, and there’s no real danger. Is there?

“Way up in the sky, little lamb.”

You may need to look up in the sky to see it, but danger is lurking — as sure as the night wind blows. Declarer must have the A (his feature), which gives him nine top tricks. (I’m assuming six spade tricks because a vulnerable weak two-bid could hardly be worse than K-10-x-x-x-x, though I suppose there are some lunatics who could refute this.) Therefore, if declarer has the Q, he will always succeed; so give partner that card. Consider this typical layout:

 IMPs A Q 9 Trick Lead 2nd 3rd 4th Both vul A J 7 1. W K 3 Q 4 K 6 5 3 2. W A? 5 7 9 6 5 3 3. W 2 6 J 5 — 7 4 3 2 4. S 6 8 A 2 K 10 8 4 Q 5 3 2 5. N 9 3 10 10 Q 10 9 7 8 2 6. S 9 10 J Q A K 10 8 2 Q J 7 7. E 2 6 8 A K J 10 8 6 5 8. N Q 4 K 4 9 6 9. S J 7 3 7 A J 4 10. S 8! ? 4 South 9 4 West is squeezed

Suppose you continue clubs, declarer ruffing the third round. After discovering your spade void, declarer will not like his chances for a 3-3 diamond break, so he will lead a heart to the jack*, after which you might as well fold up your cards: You are dead in the water, squeezed in the red suits. The  9 in declarer’s hand is a diabolical card as it means that only you can guard dummy’s 7.

*Even the spectacular play of putting up the K will not save you. Declarer wins the ace and runs his trumps to catch you in a vice squeeze: In order to guard diamonds, you must come down to one heart; then declarer will lead a heart to establish dummy’s seven. This play is clearly indicated, too, since you would have to discard all your clubs early — hence, declarer succeeds just as well when your hearts are K-Q. The only assumption declarer needs to make is that you have diamonds stopped.

The urgency is to attack hearts immediately.

 IMPs A Q 9 Trick Lead 2nd 3rd 4th Both vul A J 7 1. W K 3 Q 4 K 6 5 3 2. W 10 J Q 6 6 5 3 3. E 2 9 K A — 7 4 3 2 4. N A 2 5 2 K 10 8 4 Q 5 3 2 5. N Q 3 6 8 Q 10 9 7 8 2 6. N 9 4 10 4 A K 10 8 2 Q J 7 7. S K A 5 7 K J 10 8 6 5 8. S J 7 3 3 9 6 continued below… A J 4 4 South 9 4

Suppose you make the standard entrapment play (also known as a surrounding play) of leading the 10; jack, queen. What should partner do next? If he leads clubs, you will be caught in a squeeze; so suppose partner continues hearts to drive out the ace. Declarer will lead five rounds of trumps to reach this position:

 win 4 — Trick Lead 2nd 3rd 4th 7 9. S 8 10 5 5 K 6 5 10. S 4 10 K 2 6 11. N 7! 8 9 8 — — West is endplayed 8 5 Q 10 9 8 2 10 J 7 8 — A J 4 South leads 9

When the last trump is led, you are forced to discard your club, then a diamond to dummy followed the 7 leaves you endplayed. Ouch. Even if partner switched to a diamond at trick three, the endplay cannot be averted.

“In your palace warm, mighty King.”

At trick two, not only must you attack hearts but you must lead the king. If declarer wins the ace and runs his trumps, the timing will be wrong for the endplay described above, and the defense can survive. If declarer tries to correct the timing by conceding a club, you can kill the heart threat entirely by leading the 10.

What about other layouts? If South’s side cards are 9-x-x A-J x-x, the K shift works fine (as does the 10, but three rounds of clubs would not). If they are 9-x-x A-J-x x, declarer can always succeed on a partial elimination (but the K still seems best as it may persuade him to draw trumps and play for the Q onside, rather than risk a heart ruff). The only layout I could think of where continuing clubs is essential is 9-x-x-x A x-x — possible, I suppose, but quite bizarre.

Manuel Paulo: To avoid being squeezed and/or endplayed when South has a hand like K-J-x-x-x-x 9-x A-J-x x-x.

Miro Tesla: [If South has] K-J-x-x-x-x 9-x-x A-J-x x, he should make the contract anyway. The critical variant is K-J-x-x-x-x 9-x A-J-x x-x, where only the K can help us.

Walter Lee: Beware the nine of hearts!

Beverly Terry: … Partner has Q-J-(x-x) or a singleton. Either way, I could [safely lead clubs]…, but because of the problems in holding all suits, I had better lead the K before having to sluff six cards on the run of the spades. …

Leonard Helfgott: If declarer has 9-x, he can squeeze me in the red suits after isolating the heart menace and rectifying the count. I’m playing him for something like K-J-10-x-x-x 9-x A-x-x x-x (or A-x-x-x x), where the K will defeat it.

Herbert Wilton: Notice the heart spots. If declarer holds the nine, this lead [may be] essential and loses nothing.

Weidong Yang: Attacking dummy’s entry. If I have to discard a diamond, declarer can build a diamond trick, but he will be unable to cash it. The  K also attacks the squeeze.

Franco Baseggio: I’m worried about a red-suit squeeze or squeeze-endplay.

Hanchang Wang: South’s hand might be K-J-x-x-x-x 9-x A-J-x-x x.* …

*I believe declarer can succeed with this hand, but the K is still the strongest defense.

Gabriel Nita-Saguna: South is marked with nine tricks (unless he is one of those “experts” who open 2 with J-x-x-x-x-x)… If he also has the Q, there is no fun on this board, so I should play partner for that card. It looks like a heart return must be made quickly. If partner has the 9… it will not matter which heart I return (king or 10). The problem is that South may have it. … In theory, this looks like one of those positions where I can return the 10 to keep a fork (K-8) over his nine. But if I do that, I may eventually be endplayed to give up the 10th trick. The solution is to return the K…

Anthony Golding: Take out an entry and aim to avoid a later endplay.

Tonci Tomic: …A heart switch is obvious, and the 10 looks good; but after 10, jack, queen, East will return a heart, and I will have a problem [later]. …

John Reardon: It could be wrong to isolate the heart menace (by switching to the 10) when South has something like K-J-10-8-7-2 9-3-2 A-J-8 4, however, leading the K will clarify the position and may avoid an endplay later. If South has the Q, he will almost certainly be successful anyway.

Neelotpal Sahai: Leading the K or 10 will beat most of the beatable contracts, except K-J-x-x-x-x 9-x A-J-x x-x, which can be beaten only by the K.

Bill Powell: It looks like declarer has 10 tricks if he has the Q, and it doesn’t feel right to rectify the count.

Sebastien Louveaux: The Q has to be in partner’s hand to have a chance. I lead the king in order to prevent a squeeze in the red suits.

Tudor Gheorghiu: [I lead the] king, not the 10, because the 7 may become a throw-in card…

Sivakumar Salem: On the run of the trumps I must keep all my diamonds.

Mark Abraham: Set up our source of tricks, while [attacking the heart entry]. I will discard [the A] to make partner guard the 6 [in dummy].

Rob Stevens: … Unless South holds four clubs, it would seem he will need the Q to make the contract, but the diamond suit poses a squeeze threat even when partner has the Q. … [The best way] to thwart this is to switch to the K. Now I will be able to throw a diamond. I’d better have my apologies ready in case partner holds the K and no Q! One further point: If I continue clubs instead, I should retain the lead to prevent a trump elopement when South holds an unlikely K-8-x-x-x-x Q-x A-x x-x-x.

James Calabut: Our best opportunity is to make two hearts and two clubs, partner holding the Q. Since declarer won’t be able to set up any suit for discards, I’ll start the race to make our four tricks.

Jelmer Hasper: It seems right to remove dummy’s entry and destroy communications, and the K seems to be safe as partner is marked with the queen (if South has it, we’re lost anyway).

Mark Taylor: The time when not ovinely continuing with a club matters is when declarer has [the 9]; then the [best lead] to prevent a squeeze is the K.

Sandy Barnes: If declarer has the Q, he has 10 tricks. All I see are squeeze positions in my future…

Problem 3

 Matchpoints 3 West North East South None vul 9 2 You Dummy Partner Declarer A K 9 5 2 1 A 10 8 6 3 Pass 2 Pass 2 NT1 10 6 4 Pass 3 Pass 3 Q 7 5 3 Pass 3 NT Pass 6 NT Q 10 8 All Pass Q J 5 6 NT South 1. 12-14 or 18-19

 Trick Lead 2nd 3rd 4th 1. W 3 9 10 A 2. S K 5 3 9 3. S 2 J 6 4

8105611
5818235
Q77615
Q65210
1048116
Q37514

“With a voice as big as the sea.”

On the previous problem the danger was a bit subtle, but here the signs are as big as the sea. Can’t you just feel the surf rising? You’re about to be swept away in the tides of a squeeze. Declarer’s shape is almost surely 5=3=2=3 since he would have bid 2 over 2 with four hearts, or 2 with six spades, and he is marked with the missing club* from the play. (There’s an outside chance declarer could be 5=2=3=3, but in that event there is little to worry about.) Based on the indicated 18-19 HCP, declarer should have 11 tricks — four clubs, two diamonds, two hearts (A-K) and three spades (A-K-Q, or A-K-J with the finesse). Can you stop him from squeezing a 12th?

*After the 9 appeared, declarer would hardly duck with a doubleton. Also, note that partner’s 9 was not a count signal but an obligatory falsecard to create a losing option if declarer had K-x. Without the falsecard, declarer’s only logical play versus a 4-2 break is to finesse the 10, but now he might play for J-9 or Q-9 doubleton. In theory the falsecard should not work because 9-x is more likely than Q-9 or J-9 (by 3-to-2 odds).

Since only partner can protect spades, you must be careful not to put any additional burden on him. For example, leading the Q might set him up for a simple squeeze in the majors. Leading a low heart seems OK since partner is marked with the jack, and this removes declarer’s heart entry and keeps your stopper behind his threat. Well, let’s look at a typical layout:

 Matchpoints 3 Trick Lead 2nd 3rd 4th None vul 9 2 1. W 3 9 10 A A K 9 5 2 2. S K 5 3 9 A 10 8 6 3 3. S 2 J 6 4 10 6 4 J 9 8 2 4. W 5? 2 J K Q 7 5 3 J 10 6 4 5. S 7 Q A 4 Q 10 8 J 6 4 6. N 10 6 5 7 Q J 5 9 4 7. N 8 4 3 4 A K Q 7 5 continued below… A K 8 7 3 6 NT South K 7 2

After capturing partner’s J with the king, declarer will run clubs to reach this ending:

 NT win 6 3 Trick Lead 2nd 3rd 4th — 8. N 3 2 A 6 A K 9 5 2 9. S K 10 2 8 — 10. S Q ? 10 6 J 9 8 2 West is squeezed Q — Q 10 8 J 6 — — A K Q 7 8 7 North leads —

Note that East was already forced to give up his diamond stopper to protect spades. Finally, when declarer cashes the top spades, you will be squeezed in the red suits. The  8 in declarer’s hand is a powerful card as it prevents you from attacking his heart entry without isolating your heart stopper to a single hand. Declarer’s play of the 9 from dummy at trick one was a clever move to conceal it — had he played low, partner’s play of the 10 would mark declarer with the eight.

Attacking the heart entry doesn’t do the job, so what about a spade shift? No, that also falls short. Declarer would cash his remaining top spades (pitching two diamonds) and all but one club to reach this ending:

 NT win 5 — Trick Lead 2nd 3rd 4th 2 9. N 8 J 3 8 A K 9 10. N 2! ? 8 East is squeezed — J Q 7 J Q 10 8 J 6 4 — — 7 K 8 7 3 North leads —

On the last club, East lets go a heart, South a diamond, and West must unguard diamonds to keep his heart stopper. Finally, a heart to the king squeezes East in spades and diamonds. If instead, East kept a heart stopper and West protected diamonds, then A-K would squeeze East in the majors. Either way, it’s curtains for the defense.

“Let us bring him silver and gold.”

Well, we don’t have any silver and gold, so diamonds will have to do. Did you notice that in both previous endings South could discard comfortably down to one diamond. The extra diamond winner gave South this freedom, allowing the compound squeeze to be executed. Take away that extra winner, and South would be squeezed first. Therein lies the solution: You must shift to a diamond, after which the defense can prevail. The diamond shift may seem risky, but that’s an illusion; declarer could always succeed if his diamonds were J-x.

It is also worth noting that you must lead a low diamond. Leading the Q (or 10) would allow declarer to succeed by winning the K before running clubs to reach:

 NT win 6 3 Trick Lead 2nd 3rd 4th — 8. N 8 ? K 9 5 2 East is squeezed 8 10 6 4 J 9 8 2 Q J 10 8 J — — A K Q 7 8 7 North leads —

When the last club is led, East is caught in a double guard squeeze. If he pitches the J, West can be finessed. If he pitches a heart, South pitches a spade; then the top spades squeeze West in the red suits. Granted, declarer might not find this play (cashing the K early is not so obvious), but there’s no reward for being sporting.

Manuel Paulo: I assume partner’s hand is J-x-x-x J-10-x-x J-x-x 9-4 or alike, in which case the lead of the low diamond destroys the impending squeeze.

Miro Tesla: I can’t do anything against South’s J. Any [other lead may allow] a squeeze since South can afford to throw one diamond.

Walter Lee: My real preference is for the Q, but I’m afraid if I execute the double guard squeeze, partner will execute me.

Gareth Birdsall: If declarer started with A-K-Q-x-x A-K-x x-x K-x-x (or equivalent), he will aim to discard one diamond and one spade on the clubs, while partner will be forced to unguard a red suit; then a double squeeze will ensue. To defeat this I need to switch to a diamond so declarer doesn’t have two easy discards on the clubs. It will be easy for partner to see he needs to keep J-x-x-x J-x-x (declarer’s cold if he has the Q) leaving me to guard hearts. … If declarer actually has something like A-K-J-x-x A-K J-x-x K-x-x, he’ll probably try to drop Q-x then fall back on the [spade finesse] and a spade-diamond squeeze.

Beverly Terry: This may dissuade declarer from finessing in diamonds and, instead, rely on East to hold Q-10-x [allowing South’s A-K-J-9-x to run]. …

Leonard Helfgott: Declarer appears to have A-K-Q-x-x A-K-8 x-x K-x-x (or A-K-J-x-x, plus a successful finesse). … Without the 8, either heart lead defeats the compound squeeze, but the only lead [that always succeeds] is a low diamond. There’s really no danger, since declarer could double finesse diamonds successfully. The diamond lead prevents declarer from a classic B2* double squeeze end position with x 8 x in hand, and A-K-9 in dummy.

Sergey Kustarov: This is a defense against a compound squeeze. Due to this lead partner can throw hearts on dummy’s clubs. Thus, I convert a future double squeeze from type B2* to RFL* that cannot be executed. Declarer’s hand: A-K-Q-x-x A-K-x x-x K-x-x.

*Classification methods outlined by Clyde Love in Bridge Squeezes Complete, a superb book and a must study for any serious bridge player.

Judy: Did you ever read Love on Squeezes? Sally: No, but I just got Love Story on DVD.

Herbert Wilton: If declarer holds the J, he always wins with a double finesse. I got off to a good start with the heart lead, now I can break up the pending compound squeeze by returning the 8 (not an honor, which leads to a guard squeeze). A heart might work also, but not if declarer has hidden his own red eight.

Weidong Yang: A bit complicated; try to attack the likely squeeze.

Gabriel Nita-Saguna: My choice is between a diamond and a heart, and it all comes to two cards: the 8 and the J. If South has both, we are doomed. If he has none, whatever red suit I return will end up with a plus score. If he has just the J, apparently I should lead a heart to break up a double squeeze. But in this case he will still succeed by double finessing in diamonds. If South has just the 8, returning a heart will create a single heart menace against me or partner (depending on whether I lead the queen or five), in which case either a simple squeeze (spade-heart against partner) or a double squeeze will develop. Returning a diamond, however, will break up the double squeeze (actually compound, as East will be busy in three suits) because it removes an idle card that could have been discarded on the fifth club. On a club or spade return, a squeeze will always succeed.

Tonci Tomic: Declarers hand: A-K-Q-x-x A-K-8 x-x K-x-x. If I lead the Q, partner is squeezed in spades and hearts. If I lead the 5, it creates a double squeeze (in last three cards declarer has x 8 x and dummy has A-K-9). [On a club or spade return, declarer also succeeds.] A diamond must be returned to attack the double squeeze with diamonds as the long threat. On the Q, declarer [can succeed] so the 8 is the killer.

Neelotpal Sahai: Either a double squeeze with hearts as the pivot suit, or a simple squeeze in hearts and spades against East, or a guard squeeze in hearts and diamonds have to be broken. Most beatable hands will be beaten by any diamond return, except A-K-Q-x-x A-K-8 x-x K-x-x, which can be defeated only by the 8.

Sebastien Louveaux: Declarer will cash clubs and set up a double squeeze around hearts (if partner releases his diamond guard) or around diamonds (if partner releases hearts). I could break up the double squeeze by playing a heart, however, if declarer has the 8, this would leave the sole guard to one of us, letting declarer simple-squeeze partner or double-squeeze around diamonds. Leading diamonds now completely destroys all squeeze attempts. Of course, I need declarer not to have the J, but with this card he could always take a double finesse (actually, he might have done this first, trying for 13 tricks).

Michael Day: Declarer has A-K-Q-x-x or A-K-J-x-x, and K-x-x. If he has J-x or J-x-x, he can always make by hooking diamonds twice (whether he will play this way in real life is another story). If he has A-K x-x-x, he can never make the slam; I can keep diamonds while partner guards spades. So the critical case appears to be A-K-x x-x, where a diamond beats the contract, as it deprives declarer of a crucial spare card to pitch on the run of the clubs. …

Charles Frith: If declarer ducks this to his hypothetical jack, oh well.

James Hudson: This looks like my best hope to avoid the impending compound squeeze. Declarer’s hand: A-K-J-x-x A-K-x x-x K-7-2.

Mark Abraham: If South has J-x-(x) and guesses correctly, then I pay out. This lead beats A-K-J-x-x A-K-x x-x K-x-x, A-K-Q-x-x A-K-x x-x K-x-x, A-K-Q-x-x A-K-x x-x-x K-x, or A-K-J-x-x A-K-x x-x-x K-x by breaking the double squeeze as South needs the extra diamond to have a pitch on the last club.

Malcolm Ewashkiw: If South has the J, I think I’m done; if he doesn’t, then I think I need to play a diamond to break up a squeeze. I don’t want to guess who has the 8.

James Calabut: Declarer is preparing a squeeze, and I don’t think he’ll take this finesse [if he has the J].

Problem 4

 IMPs 10 8 5 2 West North East South N-S vul J 6 3 Partner Dummy You Declarer A J 10 6 Pass 1 8 2 Pass 1 Pass 2 NT J 9 7 3 Pass 3 NT Pass Pass Lead: 4 10 2 Pass K 5 2 3 NT South Q 9 6 4

 Trick Lead 2nd 3rd 4th 1. W 4 3 10 Q 2. S 4 7 J 2 3. N 10 K 8 Q

4105511
3923946
987615
Q4224
2311823
52122

It is easy to determine declarer’s 2=4=4=3 shape on this deal. He is marked with four hearts from partner’s lead, and he is known to have four diamonds from the play. His black-suit distribution should be two spades* and three clubs because, if it were the opposite way, partner would have five clubs and would have led a club.

*It is possible, I suppose, for declarer to hold A A-Q-x-x 9-8-4-3 A-K-J-x, but that’s pretty weird, not so much for the 2 NT rebid but for choosing to open 1 .

What is declarer’s heart holding? It cannot be A-K-Q-x because partner would not lead a low heart* from a worthless four-card suit. It cannot be Q-x-x-x because that wouldn’t give declarer enough HCP for the 18-19 range. Hence, it must be A-Q-x-x or K-Q-x-x. The former is actually about twice as likely due to restricted choice (declarer would always win the queen from A-Q, but might win the king with K-Q). Therefore, there is no need to return a heart; declarer has no place to park any heart losers, and, if anything, a heart return may help him.

*This is especially convincing when partner is known to hold an unbid four-card suit in clubs. If partner chose to lead from x-x-x-x, he would surely lead a high spot (most experts prefer second best) to guide the defense.

“Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy.”

Either a spade or a club shift might be necessary, but which one? This was too tough for the little lamb to decide, so it called upon the shepherd boy, who constructed the following table. Each case shows a possible South holding consistent with the 18-19 HCP range, the number of possible hands, and the winning shift (if any) to defeat the contract.

CaseSouthHandsWinning Shift
1 A-K A-Q-x-x 9-8-4-3 A-J-1010
2 A-K A-Q-x-x 9-8-4-3 A-J-x30Club
3 A-K K-Q-x-x 9-8-4-3 A-K-x*40
6 A-Q K-Q-x-x 9-8-4-3 A-K-x*40Spade or club
7 K-Q A-Q-x-x 9-8-4-3 A-K-J10
8 K-Q A-Q-x-x 9-8-4-3 A-K-x*40Spade or club
10 A-x A-Q-x-x 9-8-4-3 A-K-J20

*This “x” also includes the 10. Case 6 assumes normal play, but after a club shift declarer could succeed at double-dummy.

The table clearly shows that a spade shift is better, gaining in Cases 4, 5 and 9 (60 hands), while a club shift gains only in Case 2 (30 hands). Are you convinced?

“A song, a song, high above the tree.”

No, you shouldn’t be. Declarer is presumed to be an expert, or “high above the tree” (argh, does that mean stoned?) so he would hardly choose an inferior line of play. In Cases 4-6, declarer would lead a heart at trick two to avoid an early spade lead through his A-Q, which also secures the contract in Case 4 and 5. Therefore, if you eliminate Cases 4-6, it comes down to a comparison of Case 2 vs. Case 9. Since Case 2 is three times as likely (more if you consider restricted choice) the club shift is better. This is the critical layout:

 IMPs 10 8 5 2 Trick Lead 2nd 3rd 4th N-S vul J 6 3 1. W 4 3 10 Q A J 10 6 2. S 4 7 J 2 8 2 3. N 10 K 8 Q Q 6 4 J 9 7 3 4. E 4! J K 2 K 9 8 4 10 2 5. W 3 8 Q A Q 7 K 5 2 6. S 3 4 A 5 K 10 5 3 Q 9 6 4 7. N 6 2 9 8 A K Declarer fails A Q 7 5 9 8 4 3 3 NT South A J 7

As to which club to lead, the queen is clearly wrong since declarer can win the ace, and his jack is protected later. Between the nine and four there is no theoretical difference, however, I demoted the nine because of the danger in deceiving partner. Imagine leading the 9 (to the jack and king) and seeing partner go into the tank — and then switch.

Several respondents commented that West would lead a club originally if his clubs were better than his hearts (as in the diagram), but I don’t buy that. In close situations, the odds certainly favor a heart lead because dummy cannot have four hearts but might have four clubs (or even five for that matter). I’m sure the vast majority of experts would prefer a heart lead with my example West hand. Nonetheless, there may be something to this, so I bumped the 3 into second place.

Gareth Birdsall: Declarer is marked with four hearts (probably A-Q-9-x) and x-x-x-x. Declarer can’t have A-Q A-Q-9-x x-x-x-x A-K-x, as he would have played hearts into the safe hand first. So he probably has… A-K A-Q-9-x x-x-x-x A-J-x. … A club switch is indicated (and the queen is no good). It seems normal to lead the four, as there can be no possible surrounding play (A-10-5-3 in South is impossible).

Mark Taylor: Best bet is that Declarer has A-K A-Q-x-x 9-8-4-3 A-J-x. Unless I lead a club, he will [succeed]. This centers around which club to play back. If I lead the queen, declarer can play the A then a low heart to dummy; if I lead the nine, partner may be confused as to whether he should continue clubs. Providing you play a switch to a low card suggests a fair holding, the natural fourth-best is best.

Aurelio Gracia: I guess my partner has four clubs, including an honor and the 10. If so, we beat the contract, no matter if declarer has A-J-x or K-J-x.

Tom Douglas: From the bidding and the play so far, it’s very likely that partner is 3=4=2=4, and declarer is 2=4=4=3 with the A-Q (or K-Q)… with at least one high club. We have to set up our clubs and the 4 gives us the best chance to do so.

Ross Lam: Lead toward partner’s length.

What a fitting last name you have!Too bad your family can’t spell.

Miro Tesla: … A bare K-Q or A-Q in South can help us in several occasions, but [shifting to a] club only in one: if partner has Q-x-x K-x-x-x Q-x K-10-x-x.

Walter Lee: I think this technique is called “Set Up Your Own Tricks.” It occasionally appears in bridge contests but is rarely useful at the table.

Sergey Kustarov: There are two chances to defeat 3 NT: South has (1) A-K A-K-Q-x 9-x-x-x K-x-x or (2) K-x A-K-Q-x 9-x-x-x A-K-x. … In Case 1, partner has x-x-x-x A-J-10-x. Would he lead his lowest heart? Certainly not because he wants a club shift. In Case 2, with A-Q-x in front of dummy, the 4 is normal. So I shift to spades.

Sergey brings out an interesting point, which certainly adds some fuel to the spade return. But I wonder how many experts would lead a low heart from A-Q-x x-x-x-x Q-x J-10-x-x. At IMPs I think you’d get many more votes for a club lead or a higher heart.

Franco Baseggio: Partner has at most A-x-x-x or K-x-x-x. With five clubs or K-10-x-x or better, he probably would have led one, so clubs don’t rate to be profitable. A spade works if partner has K-x-x or better.

Hanchang Wang: Play partner to have the A (or K) and A (or K and J) and three spades. With only eight tricks available, declarer will have to play hearts, and partner will get in and play back spades. We get three spades, one diamond and one heart.

David Grainger: Partner has exactly four hearts, and either four or five clubs from the bidding and play to this point. Because he chose to lead from a bad heart suit (A-x-x-x or K-x-x-x), his clubs are probably not as good as K-10-x-x, which is what is needed for a club return to work, so I will return a spade…

Tonci Tomic: Partner’s lead suggests that declarer have 2=4=4=3 distribution. If partner have A or K and A or J, this is our last chance to beat the contract.

Sebastien Louveaux: Declarer is marked with a 2=4=4=3 (partner would have led a five-card club suit). If partner’s points are A-K, I have no chance, so I have to assume his hearts are weaker (say K-9-x-x). With 8-9 points, partner could hold one black suit honor, not more. In order for spades to be wrong, declarer must have A-K stiff. Clubs could be right, but partner needs the jack or 10 as well as an honor and might have chosen to lead it; the choice to lead hearts suggests his club holding is not better.

Arvind Srinivasan: Given time declarer may have nine tricks: three diamonds, three hearts and [three black-suit winners]. The spade return plays declarer for K-Q spades or A-Q in spades. Given that partner is likely to have four clubs, a switch in clubs will gain if partner has K-10-x-x or better. If so he might have preferred a club lead.

Kevin Costello: A good partner will have that A-Q-x your heart pines for.

Problem 5

 Matchpoints A K 10 9 5 West North East South Both vul J 10 Partner Dummy You Declarer A 3 2 A J 6 3 Pass 4 Pass Pass Q J 7 6 3 2 Pass Lead: 8 A 5 Q J 4 South K 10 4

 Trick Lead 2nd 3rd 4th 1. W 8 A 3 4 2. N 3 Q 4 2

5108416
2918335
786713
47347
J6499
A210520

“A star, a star, dancing in the night.”

Regardless of your defense, you can consider yourself a “Star in the East” for not dancing into 4 . The appearance of dummy is quite a statement for conservative bidding, and I wonder if I would have been so disciplined at the table. On another day, 4 might be a weak raise, with 4 cold. Hmm. Why do I keep scoring this problem as minus 1100?

The impulsive defense is to capitalize on the spade layout, hoping to give partner a ruff or an overruff. This will usually be effective, but it might be too wishful to assume partner has a promotable trump spot, especially considering the vulnerable weak two-bid on so few high cards. If you return a spade, declarer may be able to crossruff home. For example:

 Matchpoints A K 10 9 5 Trick Lead 2nd 3rd 4th Both vul J 10 1. W 8 A 3 4 A 3 2. N 3 Q 4 2 A J 6 3 3. E 2? K! 7 5 8 Q J 7 6 3 2 4. S 5 8 A J 4 3 2 A 5 5. N 9 6 9 2 K 9 8 7 2 Q J 6. S 6 9 J A Q 8 7 2 K 10 4 7. E 5 Q 2 10 4 8. S 8 3 3 7 K Q 9 8 7 6 9. S 7 4 6 4 10 6 5 4 Declarer succeeds 4 South 9 5

Declarer can simply ruff* the spade, cross to the A, ruff a spade, and ruff a diamond. Then what can you do? If you overruff and return a trump, declarer can draw trumps and enjoy the K later; otherwise, declarer can ruff his last diamond and doesn’t even need the K. Either way, it comes to 10 tricks.

*It may look tempting to pitch a club, but the contract is then sunk if West ruffs and returns a club or a heart. Declarer should realize that East wouldn’t return a low spade from an original holding of five cards (East is marked with the Q-J from the opening lead) so the crossruff stands out.

What about just preventing a diamond ruff? Declarer apparently started with four diamonds (per partner’s count signal), and his plan to ruff diamonds is obvious. If you clear trumps, declarer will have only nine winners: five trumps, two spades, and the minor aces. True for the moment, but you won’t enjoy the ending. If you lead the ace and another trump, declarer will win in dummy and ruff a spade, revealing the exact layout. Then he will run his trumps to reach:

 win 4 K 10 9 Trick Lead 2nd 3rd 4th — 9. S 5! 8 A 10 A 10. N A! K 5 8 A 11. N 10! J 9 9 — Q J 7 East is endplayed — — K 9 8 — Q 8 K 10 — — 10 6 5 South leads 9 5

When a diamond is led to the ace, you will have to pitch a club to prevent a simple suit establishment. Then declarer will cash the A and stuff you with a low spade. Ouch.

“With a tail as big as a kite.”

Stopping a diamond ruff is on the right track, but you must keep a “tail on your kite” to avoid the above endplay. You should return a low heart. If declarer next continues hearts to your ace, you can knock out the A, which effectively kills the endplay. If declarer instead pursues a diamond ruff (by ruffing a spade to get to hand), he cannot win another spade trick — when you win the A, you can return a low club to remove dummy’s entry while partner still has a trump.

Alas, the solution to this problem is not so clear-cut. While the low heart is definitely best when declarer’s diamond spots are insignificant and he lacks the Q, it is necessary to look at these other possibilities as well.

If declarer has 10-9-x-x* (i.e., the potential to establish a diamond trick), partner must have at least 7-x-x to defeat the contract at double-dummy — in which case it curiously takes a club or diamond return — but a low heart will also suffice in practice. In fact, the low-heart return should work regardless of partner’s hearts: In order to succeed, declarer must either (1) lead a trump right back, or (2) cash the A and ruff a spade as if he knew the 8 were a singleton, then take a ruffing finesse in diamonds hoping East has no low heart left. Either line is far-fetched if not absurd.

*There are 15 ways to form 10-9-x-x, and 55 ways to form 10-x-x-x, 9-x-x-x or x-x-x-x. Hence, the odds are 11-to-3 against this.

If declarer has the Q, partner needs at least 8-x-x to defeat the contract at double-dummy — in which case a spade return is best — but here also, a low heart will work in practice for reasons similar to the above. Also, it seems questionable whether declarer would even choose this line if holding the Q. A more normal approach might be to lead trumps once (possibly overtaking in hand, depending on his spots) then, if ducked, revert to clubs; but this is debatable. Indeed, it might make a good play problem.

In conclusion, assuming practical play by declarer, the low heart succeeds most often, followed closely by a spade. In ranking the spade leads, I gave second place to the 2 because if declarer pitches a club and partner ruffs, he must return a trump or a club. With standard suit preference, a high spade asks for a diamond return (the highest side suit) since the trump suit is not considered an alternative. It is likely that partner would work out the right defense anyway, but that’s no excuse to be sloppy.

Manuel Paulo: To set the contract, partner should have the K and Q; then, South’s hand is so weak that his trumps should be as solid as possible. … I keep control by leading my low trump. If declarer tries to ruff a diamond, I can overruff and lead a low club, forcing the ace while partner has a trump to annul the K. If declarer draws trumps, I can prevent the squeeze throw-in by leading the J or the 4.

Gareth Birdsall: Partner has an odd number of diamonds, so declarer seems marked with x K-Q-x-x-x-x x-x-x-x Q-x or similar. … Declarer will ruff diamonds in dummy, so a trump switch seems called for, and the 5 keeps control. We should either come to three minor-suit tricks and the A, or two minor-suit tricks and two trumps.

Beverly Terry: There are many times when leading a low trump keeps the defense in control. …

Leonard Helfgott: My old-fashioned vulnerable preempts would look like x K-Q-9-8-x-x x-x-x-x Q-x at least. Declarer [is trying for] diamond ruffs, but if I release trump control he can pull trumps, [run the Q and claim].

David Grainger: Assuming declarer is 1=6=4=2 from partner’s 2, playing the A will definitely lose if declarer has 10-9.

Anthony Golding: Declarer looks to have Q-x and K-Q-x-x-x-x. This looks like the best way to preserve all our options.

George Klemic: Partner should be giving count, so declare should be 1=6=4=2. … By leading a small heart, I retain control… Declarer will most likely play spades, and partner will have a surprise waiting; then another heart to my ace [defeats the contract].

Len Vishnevsky: Leading the J lets declarer ruff a spade high, ruff a diamond (overruffed, heart return) and take [10 tricks] with x K-Q-9-8-x-x x-x-x-x x-x. Leading the 4 or A let’s him make [easily] with x K-Q-x-x-x-x x-x-x-x Q-x. Leading a spade lets him ruff, win A, ruff a spade, ruff a diamond (overruffed, heart return) and succeed with K-Q-9-8-7-6 and out. So I lead the 5.

Charles Blair: The last time I tried this, it was a disaster. Maybe I’ll be lucky this time.

Fair enough… but remember, the next time it will be a disaster again.

Malcolm Ewashkiw: Trying to keep trump control.

Barry Rigal: Too tough! I do not even know what I am playing for here, but it feels like it might be right.

Richard Higgins: Stop a potential diamond ruff.

Roger Morton: South may well be 1=6=4=2 shape with the Q. If I draw trumps with ace and another, South has [an easy make]. I think the hope lies in giving South some work to do [with partner eventually getting a ruff or an overruff].

Shyam Sashital: If an expert declarer can lead low from A-x, an aspiring expert like me can do the same at the next trick! :) But seriously, a low heart restricts declarer’s options and gives you the flexibility to defeat the contract [in a number of ways].

Bill Jacobs: It looks as though declarer is trying to organize a diamond ruff while retaining control of the suit. I’ll try a control play of my own.

Bob Boudreau: Simplifies the defense and keeps control.

Luis Argerich: When an expert declarer makes this kind of play, I have to start thinking. I have to draw trumps without losing control of the play, so the 5 is a clear option.

Michael Day: Declarer likely has x K-Q-x-x-x-x x-x-x-x Q-x, so it looks like we need… a trump promotion. Since I’d like a club return, I’ll play my 2.

Colin Smith: For a trump promotion, and I want a club back if declarer lets partner ruff.

David Neiman: By persisting in spades each time I’m in, I hope to give partner a trump promotion. …

Sandy Barnes: If declarer pitches on this trick, partner will ruff and return a club. Whatever declarer’s minor-suit holdings are, he is a trick short. In the case where he is 1=6=4=2, I will overruff the third diamond and lead a trump.

Bjorn Sorling: Suit preference for clubs; hoping declarer is a bit sleepy.

Problem 6

 IMPs K Q 9 8 West North East South E-W vul K Q Partner Dummy You Declarer 10 9 4 1 NT1 Q 10 9 2 Pass 2 Pass 2 6 4 2 Pass 3 NT Pass Pass Lead: 5 10 8 7 4 Pass A K 8 5 3 NT South K J 1. 12-14

 Trick Lead 2nd 3rd 4th 1. W 5 2 J 3

610469
5820740
86153
45459
K310320
K210620

It is obvious that partner has the A (declarer could not logically hold up here) which accounts for all his points, except maybe a jack. It is tempting to shift to a low diamond (with or without cashing the K) hoping partner has the J; but what’s the hurry? Declarer has at most eight tricks (four spades and four hearts*), so he will have to attack diamonds himself for a ninth trick. Further, any activity from your side may alert declarer to play you for the A-K (with clubs blocked) as his only legitimate chance. Declarer might do this anyway, of course, but leading diamonds makes the winning play more obvious; e.g., you would never lead a diamond from A-J-x-x or K-J-x-x.

*Yes, it is possible that declarer has five hearts; but even then, to beat the contract legitimately declarer must have Q-x (doubleton). Such a parlay is too fantastic to worry about.

“The child, the child, sleeping in the night.”

Rather than hope partner has the J (which you can do nothing about), you should take a more subtle approach. The blockage in hearts suggests declarer may have entry problems if you attack his communication lines early. Your spades are like sleeping children, so you need to wake one up — might as well start with the six-year-old ( 6). Consider this likely layout:

 IMPs K Q 9 8 Trick Lead 2nd 3rd 4th E-W vul K Q 1. W 5 2 J 3 10 9 4 2. E 6! 7 10 Q Q 10 9 2 3. N 10 5! 3 2 10 5 3 6 4 2 4. N 9 K 6 7 J 5 2 10 8 7 4 5. E K 8 4 9 7 2 A K 8 5 6. E A J 6 4 A 7 6 5 4 K J continued below… A J 7 A 9 6 3 Q J 6 3 3 NT South 8 3

Declarer has seven top tricks, and in time will establish two more in diamonds. Leading hearts doesn’t help (declarer has three stoppers); nor does it help to cash the K with partner unreachable. But those children will create a mess (now there’s a surprise). Suppose declarer wins the spade shift in dummy (capturing the 10) and leads the 10, which you duck (a key move, besides the outside chance partner has the J). When declarer leads the next diamond, win and cash all your top tricks to leave this ending:

 NT win 7 K 9 8 Trick Lead 2nd 3rd 4th K Q 7. E 4! A 3 8 — Declarer fails Q 10 5 3 4 2 J 5 2 10 8 7 4 — 8 A 7 — A J A 9 6 3 Q East leads —

Now simply lead a second spade, and it is impossible for declarer to separate his tricks — down one. Note that declarer could not afford to unblock the K-Q earlier, as you could then establish a heart trick before he could establish a second diamond trick.

“He will bring us goodness and light.”

Manuel Paulo: Partner can have a jack; I hope it is the J. I lead a spade to trouble declarer’s communication (Garozzo’s advice). If South unblocks the heart honors, I will lead a low heart; if he plays on diamonds, I will duck the first round; if he tries the club suit, I will go on with a spade.

Miro Tesla: Critical variant is if South has A-J-x A-x-x-x Q-J-x-x 8-x. Only a spade lead will defeat it.

Walter Lee: Blockage is contagious.

Gareth Birdsall: Partner’s marked with at most a jack (other than his A). If he has the J, declarer will be forced to guess correctly on a diamond switch. With the blocked heart position it seems clear to attack declarer’s communication by switching to a spade. If declarer has, e.g., A-x A-J-x-x Q-J-x-x x-x-x, then this defense is necessary.*

*Declarer can succeed with this example, but the spade return certainly is the best defense and makes it tough.

Sergey Kustarov: The most interesting problem. Analysis shows that I can defeat 3 NT only when partner has J. I should break the spade communication in case declarer has three spades (and 3=4=4=2). If declarer unblocks hearts too early, I can establish a heart trick. [If declarer plays diamonds], I will duck the first round, and after that I’ll take my A-K and K then return a spade while hearts are blocked.

Herbert Wilton: Partner better own a red jack, and if so, there is no urgency in unblocking the K (to beat it two?). Note the heart blockage; since there is no rush, I’ll return a spade to weaken the transportation, then duck the first lead in diamonds.

Weidong Yang: Very subtle situation. The 6 could be the killer defense; declarer may have nine tricks, but he cannot get them all.

Franco Baseggio: Partner has A-x-x-x-(x) and can hold only an additional jack. If declarer is 3=4=3=3, then the defense doesn’t matter — he makes with the J; goes down without it. When declarer is 2=4=4=3, though, and partner has the 10 and a major-suit jack, attacking the spade communication may cause some problems.

David Grainger: Partner has at most another jack, and he needs one to beat the contract. This play will cut declarer off from a possible fourth diamond as his ninth winner whenever partner has the J. I intend to duck [the first] diamond and return another spade when on lead. The  J or J [in partner’s hand] is unlikely to be of any value, unless declarer misguesses diamonds, which he shouldn’t…

Anthony Golding: Partner can’t have more than the J, and declarer will rise [with the queen] if I cash K and switch to a diamond. A spade may well disrupt declarer’s communication…

Zeno Lin: The only hope is… to attack declarer’s communication.

John Reardon: I hope South has something like A-J A-9-6-2 Q-J-7-6 8-4-3. By leading a spade I will disrupt South’s communications.*

*Certainly true, though in your example the blockage in two suits prevents declarer from succeeding against most other defenses, too.

Bill Powell: Try to mess up his communication.

Sivakumar Salem: There is blockage (in clubs) which prevents the defense from taking its five tricks… so create the same problem for declarer in his communication.

Bijoy Anand: Mess up declarer’s communication before he can untangle his major-suit winners.

Charles Blair: Didn’t Garozzo make a play like this against Passell? …

Yes, in his sleep. Christmas may come in July before Benito drops a trick.

Douglas Dunn: This causes communication problems…

Barry Rigal: Trying to cut some communications. But again, I just do not know what I am seeking to achieve. How humiliating!

Peter Gill: To damage declarer’s communication.

Jelmer Hasper: Leading hearts is pointless. The rest could be right, I think, depending on declarer’s hand. I’m going to try messing up the communication by returning a spade. …

Venkatesh Ramaratnam: Partner needs to have a jack for the defense to have any chance. If it is the J, on a low-diamond shift declarer should put up the queen because it is the only legitimate chance. … If partner has the J [or J], a spade back may cause serious communication problems.

Bob Boudreau: Attacks the communication between hands. Partner has at most one jack; if it’s in spades, it might not be worth anything, so I hope it’s the right red jack.

Craig Satersmoen: Plenty of time to make minor-suit plays later; [now is the] time to attack declarer’s transportation.

Final Notes

Thanks to all who responded, and especially those who offered holiday greetings and/or kind remarks about my web site.

As usual in play contests, my policy is to select comments only from those who finish above average (top 268 in this edition), and for each problem, only comments that support the correct solution, or sometimes “close seconds” (as I thought was the case for Problems 4 and 5). This seems to be the best policy, as it ensures solid advice to readers, and avoids the potential embarrassment of publishing comments that are technically flawed. If you supplied comments that were not used, I thank you for the input (I read them all).

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 these sheepish remarks:

Anthony Golding: I hated every one of these! Where’s the Christmas spirit?
A poor miserable lamb who has lost his way — Baa! Humbug!

Michael Day: It would be fitting indeed if the winner of this contest were the Argentine expert Pablo Lambardi.

Robert Brock: Baa! My ancestors are all of ovine origin.

Uh-oh… I might get stuck for that prize. Did I mention it was a toy Lamborghini?

And finally, the Lost Lamb Award goes to:

Barry Rigal: I am guessing it is from sheep country — does that mean Minnesota?

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