Analyses 7X24 MainChallenge

Have Cards, Will Double

Scores by Richard Pavlicek

Saturday 9 pm: Paladin arrives in Fort Lauderdale by train. His return plane ticket was refused due to excess luggage — four suitcases filled with cash he won. Wow, and I didn’t even tell Paladin about Weston’s offer to “name my own fee.” When I collect that, I should be able to buy out Microsoft. Hmm. I can see it all now… PavCo Windows… maybe the state of Rhode Island next… and I’m sure I’ll get more ideas from my Scrooge McDuck comics.

Problem 123456Final Notes

During the month of February 2003, these defensive-play problems were published on the Internet as a contest open to all bridge players. As East, all you had to do was select your next lead from the choices offered.

Charles Blair Wins!

This contest had 776 participants from 103 locations, and the average score was 38.87. Congratulations to Charles Blair (Urbana, Illinois US), who produced the only perfect score of 60. Charles has always been a top contender and is one of only five persons to have participated in all my past polls and contests — so I guess he was about due. Only one point behind at 59 were Julian Pottage (Hampshire, England UK) and Jonathan Weinstein (Cambridge, Massachusetts US). Next with 58 were Neil Morgenstern (England UK); John Reardon (London, England UK); Marcus Chiloarnus (UK); and Rob Stevens (Santa Cruz, California, US).

In the overall rankings, Tonci Tomic (Croatia) retained his lead with a 59.00 average, although four people are lurking close behind with 58.75: Charles Blair; Gabriel Nita-Saguna (Willowdale, Ontario CA); John Reardon; and N. Scott Cardell (Pullman, Washington US). Curiously, Gabriel and Scott took the month off. Paladinophobia?

In the bot rankings, GIB maintained its overall lead with a 46.25 average despite a stunning defeat this month by Blue Chip Bridge. Blue Chip is currently the bidding poll leader, and its newest version might be on a mission to capture the play title as well. Stay tuned! It could be interesting, especially with new-contender Jack in the hunt.

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

Each problem offered six plausible lead options. The merit of each is scored on a 1-to-10 scale based on my judgment, which may be influenced by comments received.

Analyses 7X24 MainChallengeScoresTop Have Cards, Will Double

Problem 1

Total Points
Both Vul
S J 2
H A 8 6 5 4 2
D 4 3
C K J 7


2 S
2 S× SouthTable S K 10 9 8 5
H 7
D K 10 6 2
C A 8 3

1 W
C 10

Next LeadAwardVotesPercent
S 51012316
H 7824832
D 2714318
C 868911
C 35334
S K314018

How convenient. You gave a fleeting thought to opening 1 S but wisely passed, then South bid the suit for you. Partner’s takeout double also was a pleasant surprise as you pass for penalty, comforted by your sturdy trumps. That’s the good news. The bad news is to see dummy turn up with the remaining spades (partner must be void) and ruffing potential in diamonds.

Based on the club lead, partner’s most likely shape is 0=4=4=5, though his five-card suit could be hearts or diamonds. Partner’s clubs should be headed by Q-10-9*, and he must have the bulk of the missing high cards in the red suits. Declarer probably holds the H Q (else partner might have led the H K), so it may be wise to lead your singleton heart — not to get a ruff but to establish partner’s heart trick before there is any chance of an endplay.

*The visibility of the C 8 and C 7 confirms this, as partner would not lead the 10 from 10-9-x-x or 10-9-x-x-x. The proper lead would be a spot card (fourth-best). Almost all experts agree with this, and every opening-lead chart I’ve seen also supports it. It is barely possible that partner has only 10-9-x with 0=5=5=3 shape, but that’s really bad news as declarer can make 2 S then no matter what you do.

Another possibility is to lead trumps. While this surrenders any chance of winning three trump tricks, it will usually gain a trick in diamonds by stopping a ruff. Alas, this seems to be a break-even venture; and then you start to worry that declarer might have only two diamonds. A lot to think about, so let’s put some cards on the table:

Total PointsS J 2TrickLead2nd3rd4th
Both VulH A 8 6 5 4 21 WC 10JA2
D 4 32 EH 7?QKA
C K J 73 NC K364
STableS K 10 9 8 54 NC 78S 35
H K J 10 3H 75 SH 9102D 10
D A Q 8 5D K 10 6 26 WD 53K7
C Q 10 9 5 4C A 8 37 ED 69Q4
S A Q 7 6 4 3continued below…
H Q 9
D J 9 7
2 S× SouthC 6 2

Suppose you lead the H 7; queen, king, ace. Declarer will next win the C K and ruff a club; then exit with a heart to West as you pitch the D 10. West leads low to your D K, then back to the D Q, leaving this position:

S win 4S J 2TrickLead2nd3rd4th
H 8 6 5 48 WH J4D 2S 4
C10 ES 10QH 32
STableS K 10 9 8 511 SS 7!C 9H 58
H J 3HDeclarer is down 1
D A 8D 2
C Q 9C
S A Q 7 6 4
D 9
West leadsC

Declarer can now win four more tricks no matter how you defend. If West leads a top heart, allowing you to pitch your last diamond, South ruffs; then a diamond is ruffed* with the S J. You can overruff, but your remaining spades are worth only one more trick (you can exit with S 10 but get endplayed on the next round).

*Alternatively, declarer could discard from dummy and you’re obliged to ruff and lead trumps.

“Paladin, Paladin, where do you roam?”

Yes, the heart shift (or any defense) will beat the contract, but we’re talking money here. The name is Paladin, not Pal-o-mine. There’s a big difference between 200 and 500 ($30,000 at Walter Weston’s stakes). Allowing the diamond ruff is soft defense because you can always be held to two trump tricks with competent play. You should resign yourself to this fact and stop the ruff.

The proper defense is to lead the S 5. Declarer can win the six if he wants; but as soon as you gain the lead in diamonds, the S K crushes the jack. This leaves declarer with only six tricks — four spades, one club and one heart.

Of the non-trump leads, I couldn’t come up with any plausible layout where one gains over the other, so they are ranked by the voting. It is also evident that the H 7 deserves second place because it clarifies the layout, making it impossible for partner to do anything wrong.

What about the S K? Not good. This would often be effective if declarer could ruff a diamond immediately; but here it provides an extra entry to dummy, allowing a trump elopement. The play goes: S AC K; club ruff; H A; heart. When dummy gets the lead with the S J, a third heart lets declarer win five trump tricks no matter what East does. The S K also loses to non-trump leads when South has H Q-J doubleton, so it gets last place.

Comments for the S 5

Charles Blair: “You never can tell with these tricky trump things.” -Mrs. Geza Ottlik

Julian Pottage: Best if South has S A-Q-x-x-x-x H Q-x D J-x-x C x-x, which is quite possible given the bidding and lead.

John Reardon: I must not allow South a diamond ruff when he is 6=2=3=2. By leading a low spade now, I can stop a later entry to dummy with the S J, which would allow him to elope with his trumps.

Marcus Chiloarnus: I learned this play at Lambert’s Academy — not recommended for the fainthearted.

Rob Stevens: If South has a six-card suit, he will certainly take four trump tricks. A diamond ruff would be another, and since a holding even as weak as D J-7-5 will limit my diamond entries to one, I must lead a trump now. South may then try for an elopement… therefore, it is vital to lead a low trump now, and the S K later to crush the jack and lock South in his hand.

Zahary Zahariev: There are some South hands against which I can do nothing; [but] I think South has something like S A-Q-x-x-x-x H Q-x D J-x-x C x-x, and a trump shift is necessary. Against this hand the S 5 will result in plus 500.

Ron Landgraff: I need to stop the diamond ruff and eliminate the S J as a [later] entry.

Manuel Paulo: I want to remove dummy’s trumps to prevent a diamond ruff. For example, if South has S A-Q-7-6-4-3 H Q-x D Q-x-x C x-x, we get two undertricks…

Frances Hinden: I need to stop declarer from taking too many ruffs in either hand, and kings are made to play on jacks.

Sid Ismail: I will pursue trumps at each turn, restricting declarer to down two.

Nicola Farina: Then the S K at the next occasion; probably down two.

Walter Lee: Trading phantom trump tricks for real diamond tricks. The S K fails because it puts me in a ruff-and-elopement fork.

Malcolm Ewashkiw: To prevent a diamond ruff when declarer is 6=2=3=2. If he is 6=2=2=3, any return except a middle spade should work.

Weidong Yang: South’s vulnerable 2 S may have more strength than in other situations (partner’s double may be based on distributional values), and we will have trouble defeating 2 S when South has D A-x-x. … How can I safely stop the diamond ruff? Careful analysis of the spade suit tells me the S 5 belongs to declarer [anyway]. …

Tonci Tomic: I need to prevent a diamond ruff and cannot wait because South can play diamonds twice from dummy, then he needs only J-x-x to keep me off lead. I must not play the S K because that will give South enough entries to [elope with an extra trump trick].

Dale Freeman: Partner did not lead hearts; therefore, I think his diamonds are headed by at least A-J. If declarer has three diamonds, I have to stop the diamond ruff in dummy. (He may trump-endplay me anyway if I do not lead trumps.) Leading the S K leaves too many entries to dummy…

Michael Schmahl: Declarer must have the H Q, so partner is marked with every other high card. … The S 5 lead lets declarer make one small trump, but the S K gives declarer an extra trump trick with the S J and a late dummy entry. …

Imre Csiszar: Declarer cannot be prevented from winning a trick with the S J, so it’s best to give it to him when the entry cannot be used profitably for a ruff in hand. By preventing South from getting two ruffs, he will be held to four trumps in addition to the H A and C K.

Nikolay Demirev: … This may parry a possible trump elopement later [compared to leading the S K], since the S J cannot be used as an opportune entry. … Leading a side suit cannot help our cause, as declarer won’t play trumps himself, and a trump endplay will occur.

Dale Rudrum: … I have to play spades to keep declarer from ruffing [a diamond], and I must play the S 5 so as not to give him the S J entry to dummy after he has eliminated hearts from his hand.

Carlos Dabezies: Partner made an unappetizing lead and might well have, say, H K-J and D A-Q. … I want to stop the S J from being used as an entry to ruff a heart, and at the same time kill a possible diamond ruff.

Dmitri Shabes: I assume that partner is responsible enough to hold at least SH K-J-9-x D A-J-x-x C Q-10-9-x-x. Now down one is easy, and I can ensure plus 500 by leading trumps immediately. Curiously, the S K is wrong because it creates a premium entry to dummy and allows declarer to complete an [elopement] play. Leading an intermediate trump (choice not given) also avoids this, but then declarer can finish with S A-7-6 over my K-8-5 in the end. …

David Sired: Stops possible ruffs; clarifies the trump suit.

Ed Barnes: Partner is likely to have SH K-J-x-x D A-Q-x-x C Q-10-9-x-x. The S 5 return makes entries a problem for declarer’s likely ruffing plans — he can’t elope with a heart ruff or ruff a diamond; nor shall I be thrown in later.

Philip Mokveld: South probably has something like 6=2=3=2, and I want to prevent him from ruffing his third diamond in dummy.

Werner Hackl: …This is important to have the tempo to [stop a diamond ruff] and deny an entry to North.

Wes Harris: … Partner is definitely void in trumps. I can see two courses of action: (1) Attack dummy’s entries to prevent hearts from providing tricks, or (2) lead trumps to kill a ruff in the short hand. Given the [weak] heart spots in dummy, hearts will never set up, so I lead the S 5. We are due some diamond tricks, but I think they can wait.

Richard Morse: Looks like partner led from C Q-10-9 and is void in spades; so declarer can win four spade tricks, a heart and now a club. It’s not clear how the red suits lie (although partner must have at least one top diamond), but the one thing I don’t want is a cheap diamond ruff in dummy. I lead the S 5, keeping the S K to trap the jack on the next round.

Graham Grist: Partner probably is void in spades with 10-14 HCP, and he must have broken suits to lead the C 10 (not H K-Q). … The top priority is to prevent a diamond ruff in dummy (partner probably has D A-Q)… so I lead the S 5

Analyses 7X24 MainChallengeScoresTop Have Cards, Will Double

Problem 2

Total Points
N-S Vul
S A J 10
H A Q 5 4 3 2
D A 8 3

1 H
2 NT
1 NT
3 NT
All Pass
3 NT× SouthTable S K 8 5
H J 10 9 8 6
D Q 9 7
C A 7

1 W
S 4

Next LeadAwardVotesPercent
S 81025132
D Q8425
D 9610113
H J523630
C A312716
C 71192

What’s going on here? Partner seems to have ignored your request for a heart lead. Not that your double was a thing of beauty; but the opponents crept into game, and you won’t build your legend by taking pity on their bad heart break. Aha! Partner might not be so dense after all; he didn’t lead a heart because he doesn’t have any.

Having won the S K, it seems reasonable to shift to hearts; even though declarer has A-K-Q, you will eventually get two heart tricks, then one more trick (besides the C A) will defeat the contract. Not a good idea. First, declarer has enough entries to establish the sixth heart. Second, it might allow declarer time to establish a hidden club suit — you know he has five clubs, maybe six, and he may have good spot cards. Consider this layout:

Total PointsS A J 10TrickLead2nd3rd4th
N-S VulH A Q 5 4 3 21 WS 410K2
D A 8 32 EH J?7S 3Q
C J3 NC JA23
S Q 7 6 4 3TableS K 8 54 EH 6KS 62
HH J 10 9 8 65 SC K4H 37
D J 6 5 4D Q 9 76 SC 10QH 4S 5
C Q 8 4 3C A 7Declarer succeeds
S 9 2
H K 7
D K 10 2
3 NT× SouthC K 10 9 6 5 2

On a heart shift, declarer will win in dummy and lead the C J; then you’re really a knight without armor. If you take the C A and return a heart, declarer will establish clubs for an overtrick. Don’t even ask how much money this cost you! Even if you duck the club, declarer can do the same by overtaking and returning a low club.

What about a diamond shift instead? No. Despite your spot-card advantage in leading the D 9, declarer can foil it by covering with the 10; jack, ace; then you can’t lead a second diamond when you win the C A. If you start diamonds with the queen, prospects are brighter, but declarer can still succeed if he reads it correctly.*

*Declarer must win the D K. Then cross to dummy with a spade finesse (or heart) and lead a club to the king to develop an eighth trick. Eventually, East will be endplayed in diamonds for nine.

“A soldier of fortune is the man called Paladin.”

The best defense is simply to return partner’s suit. When presented as a problem, people tend to look for more exotic plays, but even a mercenary has to be civilized once in a while. The spade return leaves declarer with no answer, as West’s spade suit can be established before South’s clubs (you will win the first club to clear spades).

While various other layouts are possible, there aren’t many where a spade return will cost. Also note that this removes an entry to dummy, which prevents declarer from establishing the sixth heart (assuming partner has five spades) if that becomes his goal.

Of the also-rans, a diamond lead is best, and the D Q is much better than the nine, as declarer will often misread it as Q-J-x. The H J is fair, gaining (versus a diamond) when South has D J-10-x-(x) but losing to more holdings. The C A is essentially a cash-out play — pretty nice if you catch partner with C K-Q-9-x-(x), but don’t hold your breath. I don’t see any redeeming feature for the C 7, so it gets last place.

Comments for the S 8

Charles Blair: Necessary if South has S x-x H K-x D K-J-x C Q-10-x-x-x-x. However, I wonder about the S 2. Why is declarer helping me count the hand?

Julian Pottage: Only way to beat the contract if South has S x-x H K-x D K-x-x-x C Q-10-9-x-x.

Neil Morgenstern: I don’t know if the double inspired anything; but assuming partner has led his best suit, I can’t see anything better than leading it back and leaving declarer to his own devices in the other suits. Declarer must have at least five clubs, and possibly six. If double asked specifically for a heart lead, then perhaps partner is void, in which case he is likely 5=0=3=5.

John Reardon: Partner is probably void in hearts and has led from a five-card suit. The dangerous hand seems to be when South has something like S x-x H K-x D K-10-x-x C Q-10-9-8-x. …

Marcus Chiloarnus: My partner is sure to be heartless if I failed to return his suit.

Rob Stevens: A tough problem without a perfect answer. Partner would probably not have led a ragged spade suit if holding a heart, so declarer must be 2=2=3=6 or 2=2=4=5 (he must have at least five clubs since partner would presumably have led a six-card suit). The simplest route to a set is to hope declarer must knock out two club stoppers; I will take the C A first and clear spades. …

Zahary Zahariev: … The dangerous hand for South is something like S x-x H K-x D K-10-x C K-10-9-x-x-x, and a spade return holds declarer to eight tricks…

Manuel Paulo: If declarer leads clubs, I will go up with the C A to lead my last spade, hoping partner has S x-x-x-x-x H D J-x-x C K-x-x-x-x.

Sid Ismail: Continue partner’s good work; set up his spades.

Dirk Enthoven: Hearts will take care of themselves. … Best is to try to set up a spade for partner, who may have five. Diamonds can wait, and they might just be partner’s entry.

Malcolm Ewashkiw: I’m taking the simple approach — getting our long suit going. When a club is led from dummy, I’ll rise with the ace, hoping to preserve partner’s entry to his long spades.

Bill Powell: Maybe give dummy an entry problem.

Douglas Dunn: Partner must be void in hearts, or he didn’t hear my double. He can show a five-card suit by playing the S 3. If he has only four spades, then switch to the D 9.

Gareth Birdsall: Partner surely is void in hearts. Returning clubs or diamonds could easily let through an unmakable game. Hearts could be too passive, or allow declarer to set up the sixth heart.

Julian Wightwick: I place partner with a heart void since he didn’t lead one. Therefore, he probably has five spades, and declarer may well have six clubs. I can’t cut out the club suit, so I might as well set up some tricks for partner in spades.

Vic Sowers: I will grab the C A and continue spades.

Uwe Gebhardt: I do not know where else to get five tricks… and at worst this won’t help declarer.

Leonard Helfgott: If partner has five spades, this reduces communication. A heart lead, or any other attack, seems unnecessary. I will rise with C A and continue spades.

Imre Csiszar: As an expert West did not lead a heart, he must be void — likely 5=0=4=4. The simpleminded spade return will prevent South from running his clubs without letting us take five tricks, provided West has a club stopper.

Albert Ohana: Declarer has to play on minors, and I must establish partner’s spades before South establishes his suits. I hope to find partner with five spades and the C K, or four spades and something more in the minors.

Jack Brawner: I know, I know — it’s boring to return partner’s suit. The cute surrounding play of the D 9 has aesthetic appeal, but diamonds could be declarer’s suit.

Dennis Kibler: I doubled because?

Because Paladin has a hair trigger? No, because my theme would be spoiled with only five doubled contracts.

Roger Morton: Partner must be void in hearts. I’ll persist in setting up his spades and hope he has a late club entry.

Pearl Goodman: Partner must have length in spades, and no hearts; and maybe an entry in clubs.

Karel de Raeymaeker: I can’t see how switching to any other suit will gain. I hope partner does not have the S Q, and a spade return may [spoil declarer’s] entries.

Lyn Porteous: South has at least two spades and is marked with minor suits, so I don’t want to help in any way.

Ed Barnes: In a droning, soporific timbre: Always return partner’s suit. :)

Werner Hackl: I think partner has a trick in clubs, so we can make three spades and two clubs.

Jameson Cole: Expecting to clear spades before partner’s club entry is forced out.

Roger Allen: Partner is probably 5-5 in the black suits and void in hearts — [hopefully] with a club honor, so when declarer leads clubs I can take it and continue spades to establish partner’s suit with a club entry. … If declarer has H K, D K-J and C K, I’ll pick up my marbles and go home.

Murat Azizoglu: I hope partner has a minor-suit entry, and I hope to establish his spades before that entry is wasted.

Wes Harris: I’m guessing that South has a significant source of tricks in clubs. I’ll try to keep the lead on the board and return a spade to set up partner’s length, hoping he has a late entry.

Richard Morse: Horrible hand. Partner figures to have the S Q so cannot have more than another 3 points. … Let’s hope he has the C Q and D J; now I need to get spades set up before declarer gets hearts or clubs going. So the unimaginative, unsophisticated approach of returning partner’s suit appeals to me. Now declarer has two spades, three hearts, two diamonds and a club for eight tricks, and we should get five before he gets nine.

Vish Viswanathan: The D Q is a liability, not an asset. Since partner failed to lead hearts, declarer has both missing hearts, in which case he is really short of tricks. No reason to overrule partner’s defense.

Anil Upadhyay: West could have five spades and a club entry. South has long clubs and cannot succeed without establishing them. Later, I’ll win the C A at first chance and clear spades.

Paul Redvers: Let declarer break suits; his spades are winners anyway.

Damo Nair: Partner may eventually get a spade trick. Why open up other suits and do declarer’s work for him?

Randy Corn: Render unto Caesar that which is his…

Analyses 7X24 MainChallengeScoresTop Have Cards, Will Double

Problem 3

Total Points
Both Vul
S 8 6 5 4 3
H 10 9 2
D 5
C A 7 4 2

2 H
1 D
3 NT
1 H
4 H
All Pass
4 H× SouthTable S 10 2
H Q J 8
D A K Q 10 9 7

1 W
D 2

Next LeadAwardVotesPercent
D K109412
H Q918624
C K6456
S 10535646
S 24466
H 81496

Three notrump was a bit aggressive, but then, you didn’t suffer that long flight to San Francisco to play partscores (PavCo was too cheap to fly you first-class). What do you make of South’s 4 H bid? It might be a deliberate sacrifice, but with South vulnerable it is likely to have prospects to make. South is a big favorite to have H A-K-x-x-x-x. Partner’s negative double showed exactly four spades, so it is reasonable to assume a spade trick coming. Therefore, you need only one club trick to set the contract. This feels comfortable enough, but you can’t be lazy. Consider this plausible layout:

Total PointsS 8 6 5 4 3TrickLead2nd3rd4th
Both VulH 10 9 21 WD 25Q3
D 52 ES 10?A73
C A 7 4 23 SS JQ42
S K Q 9 7TableS 10 24 WC 5AJ9
H 4H Q J 85 NS 5D 7H 39
D J 8 2D A K Q 10 9 76 SD 48H 29
C 10 8 6 5 3C K J7 NS 6D 10H 5K
S A J8 SH A498
H A K 7 6 5 39 SD 6JH 10K
D 6 4 310 NS 8
4 H× SouthC Q 9Declarer succeeds

The popular choice was to switch to the S 10. Now watch, as your club trick disappears: South wins the S A and gives up a spade to West, who shifts to a club, won by the ace. Next comes a spade ruff; diamond ruff; spade ruff; H A; diamond ruff, then the club goes away on the good spade whether you ruff or not. Note that it doesn’t help you to ruff either of the previous spade leads; declarer could simply pitch his club immediately — or overruff, cash another top heart and continue.

It’s too bad partner didn’t lead a trump from the go, but that’s water under the bridge. What about leading the H Q now? This seems like the intuitive defense (you won’t lose your trump trick), and it is better than a spade because it gives declarer a losing option.* Unfortunately, the winning line of play is still available; you are helpless to shut out the long spade.

*Declarer does not know that West has both spade honors, so leading ace and another spade risks going down two if East can win and lead the H J. The alternative is to play safe for down one: Ruff a diamond; cross to the S A; ruff a diamond.

“Paladin, Paladin — far, far from home.”

The best defense is to return the D K to tap dummy immediately. This removes a crucial entry, making it impossible to enjoy the long spade, but you still must be careful. Declarer has another trick up his sleeve, as he leads a club toward his queen, which you win. Partner will play the C 3 (count), so you can read declarer’s shape as 2=6=3=2. Tap dummy again with third diamond to remove the entry to reach the C A. Declarer next leads a trump and slyly ducks when you cover with the jack, reaching this position:

H win allS 8 6 5 4 3TrickLead2nd3rd4th
H6 EC J!Q54
DDeclarer fails
C A 7 4
S K Q 9 7TableS 10 2
HH Q 8
DD 10 9 7
C 10 8 6 5C J
H A K 7 6 5
East leadsC Q

Whoa! As the wandering man in black, you should foresee the imminent squeeze against partner in the black suits. You better get that C J on the table fast!

In the scoring, I was generous with the H Q lead because (1) declarer might not go for the make when it is makable, and (2) it may net an extra undertrick when partner has a better hand. Other choices are considerably worse. The C K looks awful, but it would beat the contract if partner had the C Q, which a spade lead would not, so it’s better than a spade. The H 8 seems worst, as declarer is likely to take advantage based on your 3 NT bid.

This problem is based on a similar deal from the 2000 Spring Nationals in Cincinatti in my article Key Defense Missed.

Comments for the D K

Charles Blair: If South has S A-Q H A-K-x-x-x-x D x-x-x C Q-x and leads a club to my king, a third diamond leaves clubs blocked. When I win a trump trick, a second club prevents partner being squeezed.

Neil Morgenstern: If I lead a spade, there’s a real chance declarer might set up dummy’s long spade, using diamond ruffs as entries. If I lead a trump it’s no use — declarer could play ace and another spade (surely declarer has at least six hearts)… Leading a diamond now forces dummy to ruff prematurely, removing a vital entry.

John Reardon: The danger is when South has something like S A-J H A-K-x-x-x-x D x-x-x C Q-x. I must remove the potential entry to the fifth spade by returning a diamond now; all other defenses fail.

Marcus Chiloarnus: I am frightened by the spade three. Very scary.

Rob Stevens: I hope that South has only six hearts, though partner appears to have erred by not leading one. Leading the H Q will lead to a larger penalty if South holds S K-x H A-K-x-x-x-x D x-x-x C Q-x, but that isn’t much of a hand. The dangerous case is when South holds S A-J — he can set up the long spade by playing ace then jack… as I will be unable to regain the lead in time to play a second trump. The simple counter is to remove one of dummy’s entries now; this still collects 500 if South has the weaker hand.

Rainer Herrmann: Kills the entry to the fifth spade prematurely.

Manuel Paulo: I want to remove dummy’s entries before declarer can unblock the spade suit and set up the eight. South may have S A-Q H A-K-x-x-x-x D x-x-x C Q-x.

Nicola Farina: Striving to attack dummy’s entries, else declarer can establish the fifth spade.

Douglas Dunn: This is the only play that stops spades from getting set up if South has the [S A]. …

Tonci Tomic: An optical illusion. I don’t need to prevent diamond ruffs; I must take one trick in each suit to set the contract. If declarer has the S A, he will try to develop the fifth spade in order to discard a club loser. I cannot return a club because declarer may have the queen. The diamond return kills a vital entry…

Neelotpal Sahai: Looking at one trick in each suit (assuming declarer doesn’t have S A-K), I want to [protect them]. … This will remove an entry to dummy and prevent the fifth spade from being set up.

Daniel Auby: … This ensures one down if declarer has S K-Q H A-K-x-x-x-x D x-x-x C Q-x (the spade holding may also be A-Q, etc.). If I lead a spade and partner returns a spade [or if South has the S A], declarer will make the contract on a spade-diamond crossruff and then discarding his club loser on the good fifth spade. If declarer ruffs and leads a small club, I win the king and lead a third diamond.

Michael Schmahl: It is too late to prevent diamond ruffs. Even with the meager dummy, South can set up and cash the fifth spade when he has something like S A-Q H A-K-x-x-x-x D x-x-x C Q-x. The only way to prevent this is to force dummy to ruff before South is ready to use the entry.

Nikolay Demirev: We will be buried after spade, spade, when declarer holds S A-J H A-K-x-x-x-x D x-x-x C x-x. A heart shift fares no better, and the C K is a shot in the dark. A top diamond is certainly the right choice — neutral and giving nothing away.

Albert Ohana: I don’t know exactly why I want dummy to ruff now, but my instinct tells me not to play spades.

Tim DeLaney: The danger is that South, with S A-J H A-K-x-x-x-x D x-x-x C Q-x, will be able to set up dummy’s spades (the S J could be the S Q as well). Forcing dummy removes a vital entry.

Kristian Kjorstad: I guess that I have to play declarer for something like S A-x H A-K-x-x-x-x D x-x-x C Q-x. A spade lead is dangerous as it may allow declarer to establish the fifth spade. If I force dummy to ruff now, North will be an entry short to complete this line of play.

Comments for the H Q

Julian Pottage: Best if South has something like S K-x H A-K-x-x-x-x D x-x-x C x-x…

Zahary Zahariev: … South may have S K-J H A-K-x-x-x-x D x-x-x C 10-x, and now we will get a nice compensation (3 NT is easy) of plus 800.

Comment for the C K

George W. Bush: Game over! Declarer may be hiding cards of mass destruction, but I hope the C Q isn’t one of them. And even if it is, I may get a club ruff before he can finesse me out of my H Q-J. Actually I would lead the club jack, but it wasn’t listed. Why not, Mr. Pavkelic? Jacks is my favorite game! I’m captain of the White House team, and the American people will vouch for my expertivity. I can get to fivesies before Colon Powl can finish twosies, and that Dick Chimney guy can’t even catch the ball! Sigh. Even my daddy can do that.

Analyses 7X24 MainChallengeScoresTop Have Cards, Will Double

Problem 4

Total Points
E-W Vul
S A K 2
H 9 8 3
C A K Q J 5 4

1 C
4 S
2 S1
All Pass
4 S× SouthTable S Q 7 5 3
H A Q J 6
D A K J 4
C 9

1 W
D 3
1. weak

Next LeadAwardVotesPercent
S 31014619
C 9816922
H A525232
D A413017
H Q27410
H 6151

A good case could be made not to double 4 S, but then you’d have to print up new business cards. Indeed, based on your reputation, this hand has extras. On a good day the H K would appear in dummy as part of opener’s bid; alas, now all you see are those ominous clubs. Oh well; at least the S A-K are well-placed. Where will you find the setting trick?

Can partner have the H K? I think not because an attacking lead is routine on this auction. It also is likely that partner has longer diamonds than hearts, else he probably would have led a heart — or maybe even bidH since your double should be considered optional. Since the D 3 marks partner with at most five diamonds, his shape rates to be 0=4=5=4, so the deal should be something like:

Total PointsS A K 2TrickLead2nd3rd4th
E-W VulH 9 8 31 WD 3QK5
D Q2 EH A?243
C A K Q J 5 43 EH QK58
STableS Q 7 5 34 SD 72S A!4
H 10 7 5 4H A Q J 65 NH 9JS 47
D 10 8 6 3 2D A K J 46 SD 96S K!J
C 10 8 7 2C 97 NC A!932
S J 10 9 8 6 48 NS 23JC 7
H K 29 SS 10C 8C 4Q
D 9 7 5Declarer succeeds
4 S× SouthC 6 3

Suppose you follow the popular view and win the H A, then continue hearts. Declarer is now in command with proper technique (obvious from your doubles): Ruff a diamond high; ruff a heart; ruff a diamond high; cash one club; and lead a trump. All you win now is your S Q, as declarer can draw your remaining trumps and win a club at the end.

Let’s roam somewhere else. Suppose you lead the C 9. Declarer cannot draw trumps (else you can cash diamonds) so his best chance is to win and lead a heart. Careful now; you must play the jack (or queen) as South wins the king. Now declarer is destined to fail. If he ruffs a diamond high and leads another heart, you will duck, so partner can give you a club ruff.

Unfortunately, the terrain in the Old West is rugged. If you tried the above maneuver of ducking both hearts, you can be sure South would have K-10 doubleton (or a singleton king). Not only would you fail to beat 4 S×, but South will gloat forever about his overtrick. Of course “forever” might not be so long if a gunfight broke out.

“Have cards, will double, reads the card of a man.”

If you’re going to double with such meager trumps, you better lead ‘em. A spade return effectively limits declarer to one diamond ruff, then you will get either a second diamond or a club ruff depending on declarer’s pursuit. If he wins the trump in hand, ruffs a diamond and leads a heart, simply win the H A and lead a second trump. If he tries to run clubs, you will ruff the second round, cash the H A and tap dummy with a diamond to restore your S Q into the setting trick.*

*The trump shift also works when South has C 10-x. If declarer wins in hand, ruffs a diamond and crosses to the C 10 to ruff his last diamond, you must then play the H J (or queen) on the first heart lead; i.e., you must play partner for the H 10 so you can get a club ruff. If declarer has both the C 10 and H 10, it’s just too bad as no defense will work.

What if South also has a stiff club? Then you’re really in the badlands. Even if partner has a club stopper, you can’t survive the battering of top clubs against your trump holding. Declarer will always succeed, so don’t worry about it.

Of the other choices, only the C 9 has a legitimate chance to beat the contract (based on my logic that South has the H K), so it easily gets second place. The H A and D A are effectively the same, holding South to 10 tricks, and ranked by the voting. The H Q and H 6 share the basement as they might hand over 11 tricks.

This problem is from an actual deal in an online match (slightly revised). My wife Mabel was East and didn’t find the killing trump shift — but she’s no Paladin either (thankfully). Fortunately, declarer didn’t play right either, so we set the contract. All’s well that ends well!

Comments for the S 3

Charles Blair: If South wins, ruffs a diamond, returns to the C 10, ruffs another diamond and leads a heart, I play the H Q; this sets the hand if partner has the H 10. If declarer has not ruffed two diamonds [before leading a heart], I win the H A and lead a second trump. …

Julian Pottage: Either the S 3 or C 9 works if South has S J-10-9-x-x-x H K-x D x-x-x C x-x, [but the C 9 fails] if South has S J-10-9-x-x-x H x-x D x-x-x-x C x.

Neil Morgenstern: The low heart leads could look stupid if South has a singleton king. The ace isn’t good enough either, as declarer may win his H K and ruff two diamonds high, win one club, and lead a small trump from dummy to force out my queen. (This assumes South started with all six remaining spades and H K-x.) A club exit may suffice, but then I have to play the H Q or jack when declarer leads a heart from dummy [and duck the next heart to partner’s hoped-for 10]. Thus, a trump is better as it [avoids such risk].

John Reardon: South has all the spades and the H K. Partner can’t have five hearts, or he would probably have bid. Therefore, South is 6=3=3=1 or 6=2=3=2, and I must hope it is the latter. The only sensible choice seems between a spade and a club. A spade return wins when West has either the H 10 or C 10, but a club return wins only when West has the H 10.

Marcus Chiloarnus: In my world, partner’s lead promises 0=4=5=4 shape with either the C 10 or H 10. How sweet.

Rob Stevens: If South has a stiff club, there is no defense — declarer can pickle my trumps by leading clubs… Therefore, I must hope for S J-10-9-8-6-4 H K-? D x-x-x C?-x, where the question marks may or may not be ten-spots. If I lead a heart, South needs neither 10; if I lead a club, he needs the H 10 (and if so will make an overtrick when I duck the second heart). Only if I lead a spade does he need both 10s.

Zahary Zahariev: I will lose a second undertrick if South has S J-10-9-x-x-x H x-x-x D x-x-x C x, or S J-10-9-x-x-x H x-x-x D x-x-x-x C… but if South has S J-10-9-x-x-x H x D x-x-x C 10-x-x, or S J-10-9-x-x-x H K-x D x-x-x C x-x, he will make with a heart return. …

Ron Landgraff: Kill diamond ruffs first; then kill the clubs by playing diamonds. Declarer may have a stiff H K.

Rainer Herrmann: This kills the contract if South has more than one club without the C 10, or 6=2=3=2 with the C 10 but not the H 10.

Frances Hinden: This seems to beat the contract whenever it is beatable.

Nicola Farina: Partner probably has five diamonds from his lead. If declarer has a singleton club, we have no chance because he can use his clubs to force my trumps; but if a doubleton club, I must lead trumps to prevent declarer from ruffing two diamonds.

Walter Lee: Oh partner, my partner: Will you deliver a rounded suit 10?

Malcolm Ewashkiw: Four hands in a row I’ve returned a spade — oops? If I lead a club, I’ll have to guess when declarer leads a heart from dummy (play declarer for a singleton or partner for the H 10). So, shift to a spade and then climb with the H A to lead another spade.

Weidong Yang: Declarer may have the H K, so he may make the game if he can enjoy dummy’s club tricks, or if he can ruff two diamonds and get his H K. Any red-card return will help South get home. The difference between the S 3 and C 9 will be illustrated when South has H K-10.

Douglas Dunn: Partner can’t have much, but either the C 10 or H 10 should beat the contract. If declarer has the C 10, he will use it as an entry to take a second diamond ruff. Then, when a heart is led from dummy, I will unblock the jack so partner can get in with the H 10 to play a club.

Neelotpal Sahai: One spade, one heart and one diamond are certain. If I can remove dummy’s trumps, I can get a second diamond. If declarer has a singleton club, the contract is more or less cold.

Julian Wightwick: I plan to prevent the second diamond ruff. Suppose declarer has 6=2=3=2 shape with the H K but no C 10. If I switch to hearts now, he can ruff a diamond high, ruff a heart, ruff another diamond high, cash one club (dentist’s coup), and exit with the S 2 to deny me the club ruff. If he has a singleton club and the H K, he can always make by playing on clubs. …

Barry Rigal: I seem to be leading trumps a lot, with the same idea of cutting out ruffs. It has to be right sooner or later!

Yes, and it’s the overbidder’s nightmare… Double and lead trumps.

Michael Schmahl: If South has S J-10-9-8-6-4 H K-x D x-x-x C x-x, he will be able to ruff two diamonds (high, to avoid blocking trumps) using the H K and a heart ruff as hand entries, losing only the S Q and red aces. Only a trump return will prevent this. …

Bruce Scott: Partner led from a worthless diamond holding, so I don’t think he has the H K. … At first I was inclined to play hearts; however, partner has at most five diamonds, which leaves declarer with three… so I will return a trump. …

Dale Rudrum: If South has just one club, West must have the H K, and I must lead hearts now in case South has four diamonds (and only two hearts). If South has two or more clubs, or one club and three hearts, leading hearts can wait — and [doing so now] may give away the contract [by providing] an entry to ruff diamonds. Same goes for clubs, as South can lead hearts from the table himself. All this thinking concludes that what I would have done in a speedy card game is still the best…

Philip Mokveld: Prevent South from ruffing two diamonds in dummy.

Bill Cubley: Loses nothing and might stop ruffs in dummy.

Noer Imanzal Kartamadjana: If I do not return a spade, South can ruff diamonds twice; then I would get only three tricks…if South is 6=2=3=2 with the H K.

Analyses 7X24 MainChallengeScoresTop Have Cards, Will Double

Problem 5

Total Points
None Vul
S K 10 7 6
H K J 5 4
D 4 3
C A 9 3


1 H
4 NT

1 D
3 NT
6 D
All Pass
6 D× SouthTable S Q J 3
H A Q 10 8 2
D 6
C Q 10 8 2

1 W
H 6

Next LeadAwardVotesPercent
C Q1011515
C 10912716
D 6832342
S J7577
C 23436
H A111114

After lying low for a few rounds, you decide it’s time to draw your Colt .45 and ambush this slam. Well, you got your heart lead. Now what? Partner’s H 6 must be from three cards*, so you’re not going to cash another heart trick. Should you just be passive and hope for an eventual black-suit trick? Or do you need to attack?

*The standard for these contests, as well as the practice of most experts, is to lead the lowest of three low cards at a suit contract. This problem clearly shows why, as it would be insoluble if partner led high from 9-7-6 or the dreaded M-U-D. In theory, partner’s H 6 could be a singleton, but then declarer will always fail. For example, with S A-x H 9-7-3 D A-K-Q-J-x-x-x C K, he cannot benefit from the S Q-J-x ruffing out and score two club tricks.

Let’s count the tricks. Declarer obviously has a long, solid diamond suit — probably seven cards. Together with the S A and C K, this gives him 11 tricks, so you may be in danger of a squeeze. Here is a typical layout to consider:

Total PointsS K 10 7 6TrickLead2nd3rd4th
None VulH K J 5 41 WH 64103
D 4 32 ED 6?A23
C A 9 33 SD K54H 2
S 9 8 4 2TableS Q J 34 SD Q10H 5H 8
H 9 7 6H A Q 10 8 25 SD JH 7C 3C 2
D 10 5 2D 66 SD 9H 9H JH Q
C J 7 6C Q 10 8 27 SS A263
S A 58 SS 54KJ
H 39 NS 7QD 78
D A K Q J 9 8 7Declarer succeeds
6 D× SouthC K 5 4

Declarer is destined to succeed with passive defense. If you return a trump, he will cash five rounds, to which you and partner have easy discards. Next he will play S A, S K and ruff a spade; and when the Q-J fall he will claim. The crux is that declarer did not need the S 10 to set up; if West still had a high spade, the last trump would inflict a double squeeze: West must pitch a club, North the S 10, and you also must pitch a club to keep the high heart; so South wins the last trick with the C 5.

Declarer had this freedom, because you left his entries fluid. Suppose at Trick 2 you shift to a club honor. Declarer now has two options: (1) Win the club in hand and hope you have S Q-J-x so the S 10 sets up with a ruff, or (2) Win the club in dummy and hope West has 5+ spades (or any holding with S Q-J) for a double squeeze.* Option 2 is clearly more likely than Option 1, so an expert declarer would fail. If you’re good enough, you can go down in any contract (ha-ha).

*In the four-card ending, North will have S K-10 H K C 9, and South S 5 D 7 C K-5. On the last diamond, West must unguard clubs to keep his spade stopper, North pitches the S 10, then the S K squeezes East in hearts and clubs.

“His fast gun for hire, heeds the calling wind.”

To survive in the wild West, or should I say the wild East, Paladin must be alert to other contingencies. If he turned his back for a second, declarer might have a Derringer strapped to his ankle — or the bridge equivalent, an eight-card diamond suit. Here is another layout where the club shift is necessary:

Total PointsS K 10 7 6TrickLead2nd3rd4th
None VulH K J 5 41 WH 64103
D 4 32 EC Q!74A
C A 9 3Declarer fails
S 9 8 4 2TableS Q J 3
H 9 7 6H A Q 10 8 2
D 10 2D 6
C K 6 5 4C Q 10 8 2
S A 5
H 3
D A K Q J 9 8 7 5
6 D× SouthC J 7

Yes, South’s club stopper is imaginary; but I’m sure any expert would bid 3 NT over 1 H, and 6 D over 4 NT. If you don’t switch to a club at Trick 2, declarer will eventually ruff a spade — bingo — and have the C A entry to reach the good S 10.

Which club should you lead? Certainly not low, as South will play low to capture West’s king. Then you are ripe for a squeeze in the black suits. The C 10 (covered by the jack and king) is no good either, as only you can guard South’s C 7, so the same squeeze materializes. The proper lead is the C Q, which caters to any club layout.

Can leading a club ever cost? Yes. If declarer has C K-J doubleton (with seven diamonds), he cannot benefit from the club finesse without your club lead; hence, a passive defense (D 6 or S J) beats the slam. Which hand is more likely: (1) S A-x-x H 3 D A-K-Q-x-x-x-x C K-J, or (2) A-x H 3 D A-K-Q-x-x-x-x-x C x-x? The answer is Hand 2, which is five times more likely.* Combining this with the tactical advantage of a club shift in my first example makes the C Q a clear winner.

*In Hand 1 South’s spades can be selected 4c2 ways (note the S 9 is not included because declarer always makes then); and diamond x’s, 7c4 ways. This produces 6x35 = 210 specific hands. In Hand 2 the spade spot can be any of five cards; diamond x’s can be selected 7c5 ways; and clubs, 5c2 ways. This produces 5x21x10 = 1050 specific hands. Actually, Hand 2 probably would comprise even more hands if you consider that with eight diamonds South might bid the same without the D Q.

The C 10 deserves second place as it loses to the C Q only when South has J-7 doubleton, and it gains an extra undertrick when South has J-x-x. The passive D 6 gets a close third, followed by the S J* which is effectively the same. The remaining leads are much worse; the C 2 needs partner to have K-J both, and the H A — well, it really needs partner to have a trump trick.

*Some people wondered why I listed the S J instead of the queen. It really doesn’t matter which honor you lead, as partner and declarer should deduce you have both. I just thought the jack might give declarer something more to think about.

Comments for the C Q

Charles Blair: If South has S A-x H x D A-K-Q-x-x-x-x C K-x-x, he might (should?) win the club in dummy, planning to squeeze partner in the black suits, followed by S A-K to squeeze me. The C Q is better than the 10 if South has S A-x H x D A-K-Q-x-x-x-x-x C J-7.

Julian Pottage: … This is certainly best against S A-x H x D A-K-Q-J-x-x-x-x C J-x, and very unlikely to cost trick.

Neil Morgenstern: … If declarer started with 2=1=7=3, he can make by ruffing out the spades as long as he guesses to do that. If he started with 3=1=7=2, we will succeed as long as I don’t lead the H A. If declarer started with only six diamonds and 2=1=6=4, partner made the wrong lead.* Anyway, maybe I have to bluff, and I think my best chance is to lead the C Q — perhaps I can convince declarer to play for the wrong squeeze. …

*Neil brings out an interesting but subtle point. If South has S A-x H 3 D A-K-Q-J-x-x C K-x-x-x, he can succeed after a club shift by winning in dummy, then East will be caught in a progressive triple squeeze, gaining two tricks. The only defense to stop this is an original club lead. -RP

Sid Ismail: I am ripe to get squeezed; so I must assume partner has C J-x-x and ensure that he knows to keep the suit. I can pitch two clubs (keeping the 10) on the run of the diamonds.

Nigel Guthrie: There’s no escape from (repeating) squeezes if declarer has S A-x H x D A-K-Q-J-x-x C K-x-x-x or better. The C Q is flashy and may help partner share the onus of guarding clubs.

Bill Daly: Just in case declarer has S A-x H x D A-K-Q-x-x-x-x-x C J-x. I can’t do anything about S A-x H x D A-K-Q-x-x-x-x C K-x-x if declarer [guesses to ruff out spades].

Dale Freeman: Hopefully, partner has the C J and will protect clubs in a squeeze situation. Maybe the club switch will break up certain squeezes.

Eduard Munteanu: Partner must have the C K or J-x-x, otherwise we’re doomed. The C 10 is bad because if declarer has J-7, I’ll be squeezed in three suits.

Tim DeLaney: If South has S A-x-x H x D A-K-Q-J-x-x-x C K-x, the contract will hinge on who has the S 9, and I cannot change the outcome. But if South has S A-x H x D A-K-Q-J-x-x-x-x C J-x, I must knock out the C A before the S 10 is established. The C Q preserves partner’s C K so I cannot be squeezed.

David Sired: Works unless South has C K-J doubleton.

Karel de Raeymaeker: Partner has to have [at least] C J-x-x, otherwise I am going to get squeezed. I switch to the C Q to let partner know to guard clubs. I don’t agree with double, by the way.

Andrew de Sosa: If declarer started with specifically S A-x-x H x D A-K-Q-J-10-x-x C K-J (no S 9), I have just given away the contract. … In all other cases, at worst, the C Q gives up nothing, while it could be the killing lead to [remove an entry]; and in cases where declarer [can succeed] against any defense, this may [cause him] to guess wrong.

Richard Higgins: I need partner to guard clubs.

Kristian Kjorstad: Attack the common suit and [alert partner] to guard clubs, [hoping] to avoid a squeeze.

Richard Morse: I risk being squeezed if I [waste] partner’s C J [or king], which he needs to hold if this contract is to perish. …

Rain Lan: Hmm, it looks like I [might] be squeezed… Which club to lead? I choose the queen because [saving partner’s club honor] will give me one less suit to protect when declarer runs his diamonds.

Anil Upadhyay: I want West to guard clubs in the squeeze ending.

Erik Stoffer: Partner needs to guard clubs, otherwise it’s all too much for me. …

Arpan Banerjee: [Trying to] break the impending three-suit squeeze.

Comments for the C 10

Walter Lee: Giving declarer a losing option with 2=1=7=3 and no C J. If declarer turns up with S A-5-4 H 3 D A-K-Q-J-10-9-8 C K-J, I will renounce probability.

Barry Rigal: Trying to break up a double squeeze. …

Bill Cubley: Let declarer work out his problem early. I hope he is 2=1=6=4, and partner holds the C J.

Analyses 7X24 MainChallengeScoresTop Have Cards, Will Double

Problem 6

Total Points
E-W Vul
S 9 8 3 2
H 2
D A K 7 6 5 3
C J 3


2 C
2 NT

1 NT
2 H
3 NT
All Pass
3 NT× SouthTable S A K J 7 6
H 8 7 6
D Q 4
C K 10 8

1 W
2 S
S 5
C 2
1. asks spade lead (dummy’s implied suit)

E. Lead the H 81015720
C. Win S J; lead the H 8814118
F. Lead the D Q69713
D. Win S J; lead the D Q58110
B. Win two more spades4537
A. Win all your spades324732

Declarer’s spade return comes as quite a surprise, especially since partner had no more spades to reach you. Nonetheless, if an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is. What’s declarer up to? The obvious reason is that he can’t develop a ninth trick without losing the lead, so he’s letting you win your spades to tighten the position for a squeeze. Perhaps a layout like the following:

Total PointsS 9 8 3 2TrickLead2nd3rd4th
E-W VulH 21 WS 52610
D A K 7 6 5 32 SS QC 23K
C J 33 ES J?4C 68
S 5TableS A K J 7 64 ES A?C 4H 39
H J 10 5 4 3H 8 7 65 ES 7?C 5C 7D 3
D J 10 2D Q 46 EH 8A42
C 9 7 6 2C K 10 87 SD 92K4
S Q 10 48 NC 38Q9
H A K Q 99 SC A?
D 9 8Declarer succeeds
3 NT× SouthC A Q 5 4

If you cash all your spades (Option A), partner will crumble like a brick smokestack in a San Francisco earthquake. Declarer has eight tricks with the club finesse, and West will be squeezed in the red suits for nine.

A potential workaround is to cash only two more spades (Option B), then exit in a red suit. Yes, this works because declarer cannot give up a diamond or a club without letting you on lead to cash your last spade; and the squeeze fails without rectifying the count.

But there’s a hitch: South might have H A-K-Q-10, then West could be endplayed with the third diamond to force a lead into South’s tenace. Therefore, it is safe to cash only one more spade. This works in the diagram as well*, so Options C and D are better than Option B.

*If declarer uses a diamond entry to lead a fourth spade himself, this ruins his communication for a squeeze. East can win, cash the fifth spade and exit with a second diamond. Also note that if declarer cashes all his red-suit winners before throwing East in with a spade, there is no endplay in clubs; in the three-card ending, East exits with the C K to block the suit.

“A knight without armor in a savage land.”

While declarer is likely to have a doubleton diamond, there is another subtle reason for his surprise spade return. Declarer might have three diamonds (not including the D 2), which means the diamond suit is hopelessly blocked despite the 2-2 break. It’s a savage land, so you must be prepared for a deal like this as well:

Total PointsS 9 8 3 2TrickLead2nd3rd4th
E-W VulH 21 WS 52610
D A K 7 6 5 32 SS QC 23K
C J 33 ES J?4H 38
S 5TableS A K J 7 64 EH 8A42
H Q 10 5 4 3H 8 7 65 SD 92K4
D 10 2D Q 46 NS 9!AD 8!C 5
C 9 7 6 5 2C K 10 87 ES 7H 9C 6D 3
S Q 10 4Declarer succeeds
H A K J 9
D J 9 8
3 NT× SouthC A Q 4

Diabolical. Cashing even one spade is too many, as it allows declarer to cross to the D K and lead a fourth spade to pitch a diamond, which will unblock the suit. Leading the D Q would be an even bigger mistake — serving up two overtricks. You must shift immediately to the H 8 (Option E). If declarer wins and leads a third spade, just lead another heart; then the H Q provides a fifth defensive trick if declarer tries any more stunts in the spade suit.

It is also worth noting that ducking the first spade was a key play. If you won the first trick and shifted to hearts, declarer could simply duck a diamond. Therefore, it was crucial to establish your spades, but winning even one spade first would allow declarer to win the battle to unblock diamonds.

If you look back at my first example (when declarer has a doubleton diamond), you will see that Option E works just as well as Option C or D, so it is clearly the best defense. In fact, about the only time an immediate heart return doesn’t work is on layouts where declarer always could succeed.

The remaining options are ranked by their success rate. Leading the H 8 is almost always as good as or better than leading the D Q, and the fewer spades cashed the better. I was surprised that so many chose Option A when presented as a problem, though it would surely be the norm at the table.

Comments for Option E (H 8 lead)

Charles Blair: Set up the H Q while diamonds are blocked.

Julian Pottage: The spade play is very suspicious. I suspect declarer’s plan is to pitch a blocking diamond on the fourth spade, e.g., S Q-10-x H A-K-J-x D J-9-8 C A-Q-x.

Neil Morgenstern: First, declarer’s diamond holding may well by J-10-8 or similar, in which case the suit is beautifully blocked unless I stupidly lead the D Q or cash two more spades (so he can pitch a diamond from hand). Cashing even one spade is not safe because declarer can lead the fourth spade from dummy himself. Therefore, the only solution can be to lead the H 8 now.

John Reardon: It looks as though diamonds are blocked, so I must establish a fifth trick in hearts before South can throw one of his diamonds away. There is no time to lose; a heart switch is required immediately.

Marcus Chiloarnus: I don’t much like the way South is trying to sweeten me up.

Rob Stevens: The weak diamond spots in dummy and declarer’s unusual play at trick two are dead giveaways. Declarer must be hoping to use spades to unblock his D J-10-9. I can thwart this plan by setting up a fifth trick before he manages to play two more rounds of spades. This can only be in hearts, and partner will have to hold at least Q-10-x-x-x.

Zahary Zahariev: Beautiful problem. In the beginning I thought South, with a hand like S Q-10-x H A-K-Q-x D 10-x C A-Q-x-x, will try to squeeze West. … Now I think South has S Q-10-x H A-K-10-x D J-10-9 C A-Q-x, and diamonds are blocked. So the answer is easy: Enough spades! Just one more spade and we will be dead; South will cross to dummy (D A) and pitch a diamond on the fourth spade…

Rainer Herrmann: Develop a trick for partner’s H Q before diamonds can be unblocked by declarer.

Manuel Paulo: Declarer may have three diamonds lacking the two, in a hand like S Q-10-4 H A-K-J-9 D J-10-9 C A-Q-7, against which I must lead a heart. On other hands, such as S Q-10-4 H A-K-Q-10 D x-x C A-Q-7-x, the heart lead, though nonessential, sets the contract.

Connie Delisle: I cannot allow declarer to unblock his D J-10-9.

Sid Ismail: Declarer is looking at D J-10-9. The suit is blocked, and he is hoping to discard a diamond on my fourth spade. Don’t let him!

Nicola Farina: Declarer probably has three diamonds without the deuce and hopes to discard one to unblock the suit. I have to avoid this.

Nigel Guthrie: Trying to set up a heart trick before declarer unblocks diamonds, in case he holds, say, S Q-10-x H A-K-J-x D J-9-8 C A-Q-x.

Walter Lee: Only upside-down signals can do justice to this problem. Partner would pitch the D 2, simultaneously showing upside-down suit preference for hearts and confirming the diamond suit is blocked. Meckwell methods are magical, even in Pavlicek problems!

Dirk Enthoven: Cashing spades may squeeze partner in hearts and diamonds. So I lead a heart right away (which might also get partner off an endplay), then a diamond back from partner won’t hurt.

Malcolm Ewashkiw: I want to set up a heart trick before declarer has a chance to shake his third diamond to unblock that suit.

Weidong Yang: Forget about squeezes! :) South’s play of spades is not to rectify the count; he wants a discard. …South’s pattern is [probably] 3=4=3=3, and he hopes to discard a diamond to overcome the fatal blockage (partner has the D 2), so I won’t give him the chance [by leading more spades]. The D Q will fail when declarer holds D J-x-x.

Douglas Dunn: Play partner for the H Q and D 2. Cashing spades lets declarer unblock the diamond suit (holding three), or it may squeeze West if he has D J-x-x without the H Q.

Tonci Tomic: Coping with 3=4=3=3 distribution and blockage in diamonds — for once I need small card from partner. :) If I cash just one spade and switch to hearts, declarer will take, cross to the D A and play another spade to discard a diamond.

Neelotpal Sahai: … Playing any more spades allows declarer to throw his third diamond, then the diamond suit will run. …

Gareth Birdsall: Declarer rates to have a blocked diamond suit. Cashing even one spade risks declarer crossing to the D A and unblocking diamonds on the last spade. An immediate heart return might need partner to hold no more than H Q-10-x-x and the C 9.

Julian Wightwick: … Declarer [probably] has three diamonds, and the suit is blocked (partner has the D 2). Declarer plans to pitch a diamond on the fourth spade, so I can’t afford to cash any more of them. Switching to diamonds doesn’t work because declarer will be able to duck a diamond to partner. I must play partner for the H Q. If declarer instead has S Q-10-x H A-K-Q-10 D x-x C A-Q-x-x, this defense still works, [protecting partner from a squeeze or endplay].

Barry Rigal: Declarer has D 10-9-8 and wants to pitch one on the fourth spade. I’d better not let him!

Vic Sowers: Don’t let South unblock diamonds before a [heart trick] is set up.

Daniel Auby: From declarer’s spade return, it appears he has a blocked position in diamonds, e.g., J-10-8. … When I win the fourth spade (on which South will discard a blocking diamond), I must be able to score another winner. Therefore, partner must have a queen, and since he discouraged in clubs, it must be the H Q. I’m playing declarer to have, roughly, S Q-10-x H A-K-J-x D J-9-8 C A-Q-x.

Dale Freeman: I think declarer would like to pitch a diamond on a spade to unblock the diamond suit. Partner will need either the H Q or H K… Leading the D Q is [disastrous] if South has D J-x-x.

Nikolay Demirev: … I’ll trust partner’s discard and try to set up a heart trick before declarer is able to unblock his diamond suit [on the fourth spade]. I cannot work out all the squeezes and endplays, but…I must counter the most dangerous threat…

Dale Rudrum: South probably has D J-10-9 or [similar]. If at any time a fourth round of spades is played, he will make his contract — unless I develop a fifth trick by then. … Also, South may not have a hope in hell and is just fooling around to see what happens. In that case he [may have] a red-suit squeeze against West… so I must be sure not to rectify the count for him.

Albert Ohana: South is clearly attempting a “fratricide squeeze” — if he wants me to take tricks, I will act as the Rueful Rabbit.

Carlos Dabezies: South may want to unblock diamonds by discarding on spades, so Options A and B are out. If I cash one spade, South can play a fourth round after winning a diamond in dummy, so Options C and D are out. Leading the D Q solves the problem for him if he has J-x-x.

Toby Kenney: If declarer has S Q-10-x H A-K-10-9 D J-10-9 C A-Q-x, leading anything except a heart would be fatal. Since declarer can discard his blocking diamond on the fourth spade, I must have set up a heart trick by that time.

Andrew de Sosa: Beware of Greeks bearing gifts! Declarer either has only two diamonds, or three missing the deuce. In the latter case diamonds are blocked, so he desperately needs to discard a diamond without losing a trick outside of spades. Partner’s C 2 indicates that any tricks he has will lie in hearts (presumably the H Q). Playing even one more spade will enable declarer to discard the blocking diamond before I can set up a heart trick.

Murat Azizoglu: Why did declarer play the S Q? It looks like he is blocked in diamonds (perhaps J-10-9 or J-10-8) and is hoping to discard a diamond on my spades. I won’t cash another spade, and leading a heart will be useful if partner has the H Q.

Dick Yuen: It is obvious South wants me to cash all the spades, so it can [almost] never be right to do so; it may help South rectify the loser count for a squeeze. …

Kevin Costello: Given declarer’s acceptance of the game invitation, partner has at most 3 points, so no aces are coming from him. If I cash all three spades, partner may be unpleasantly squeezed; while if I cash two, he may be thrown in…

Final Notes

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

Comments are selected from those above average (top 400 in this edition) and on each problem only those supporting the correct solution or close seconds. While this might be considered biased, I feel it’s the best way to ensure solid content and avoid potential embarrassment by publishing comments that are flawed. On this basis, I included over 75 percent of the eligible comments. If you supplied comments that were not used, I thank you for the input.

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.

Well, it’s about time for Paladin and me to roam outta here, so we’ll leave you with these hair-trigger remarks:

Robert Lipton: Has partner taken the red cards from my bidding box yet?

Nigel Guthrie: Wishing Paladin a speedy recovery from RSI of the trigger finger.

Bill Scherer: PavCo’s partner-for-loan service sounds like a fly-by-knight operation to me.

Richard Morse: Just as the spooky coincidence of Perry Como’s death, who could have known that the United States would be forced to double Turkey’s aid during this month’s contribution.

Eerie indeed, though I hadn’t noticed the “foreign aid” connection to my silly cartoon. For those who don’t remember, Perry Como was the theme of my May 2001 bidding poll, and he died during its running.

Analyses 7X24 MainChallengeScoresTop Have Cards, Will Double

Acknowledgments to CBS Television and the 1957-63 series Have Gun, Will Travel
© 2003 Richard Pavlicek