Main   Analyses 7X40 by Richard Pavlicek  

Valley of the Kings

“Thou who leadeth wrongly upon the temple of Karnak
shall resurrect declarer with swift wings.”

The High Priest of Karnak was pleased with the turnout and agreed to lift the curse. He even invited me to his home this evening at some place called the Hill of the Seven Jackals — says he’s planning a “going-away ceremony” and asked me to bring all the tana leaves I offered as prizes. Strange. Maybe he uses them to make tea.
Problem 123456Final Notes

During the month of June 2003, these six defensive-play problems were published on the Internet as a contest. All bridge players were invited to participate. As West, you are the opening leader and lead a king which wins, then you had to decide your next lead from the choices offered.

Barry Goren Wins!

This contest had 752 participants from 106 locations, and the average score was 39.10. My antiquity theme seems to have rubbed off in the standings with “Goren Wins” back in the headlines. Congratulations to Barry Goren (San Francisco, California US) — no relation to Charles Goren, or Barry Crane for that matter, hehe — who was the first to post the winning score. Also scoring 59 was Rainer Herrmann (Germany). Close behind at 58 were Garreth Birdsall (Cambridge, England UK); Carsten Kofoed (Sweden); and Chavdar Kochkov (Bulgaria). Next with 57 were Brian Lee (US); Eduard Munteanu (Romania); and Bruce Neill (Australia). Eight players scored 56.

In the overall standings, the top two positions flip-flopped with Charles Blair (US) now in front with a 59.25 average, and John Reardon (UK) second with 58.75. Moving into third was Frances Hinden (UK) with 58.25 by a tiebreaker over N. Scott Cardell (US). Zahary Zahariev (Bulgaria) is fifth with 58.00.

In the June Bot’s Eye View, three-peat world-champ Jack proved its defensive skill with a narrow win over the veteran GIB, and Bridge Buff was just a few points back in third place. GIB still holds a comfortable lead in the overall standings.

Once again my choice of themes collided with real news. As this contest was running, the mummy of Queen Nefertiti — supposedly the most beautiful woman in ancient times (as if any man wouldn’t guess that from the sound of her name) — was discovered in the Valley of the Kings. On a less beautiful note, even “Slammin’ Sammy” finally came through, albeit 10 months late. Sigh. Now I may have to rescore the August 2002 contest to allow for a corked bat. I wonder what’s next.

Unless otherwise noted, the bidding by both sides is Standard American, and the defenders use standard leads and signals. For a reference on these agreements, see my summary of Standard American Bridge. Assume all players are experts.

Each problem offered six plausible lead options. The merit of each is scored on a 1-to-10 scale based on my judgment, which is also aided by some of the comments received. TopMain

Problem 1

Matchpoints None Vul

West
You
1 S
2 D
All Pass
North

Pass
Pass
East

Pass
Pass
South

Dbl
2 H

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

You lead the S K, partner plays the four, and South the queen. Your next lead?

LeadAwardVotesPercent
S 21010414
S 9813518
S A6537
D K427637
H 628712
C 819713

The first task is to diagnose the spade distribution. Partner’s S 4 is the lowest outstanding spade, so it must be from one or three cards (with 10-4 or 7-4 he would high-low) and the bidding marks him with one. If partner had three spades, he would have given a preference to 2 S over 2 D. The only exception might be if partner also held four or five diamonds; but with a double fit he would surely compete over 2 H. Therefore, the only logical conclusion is that declarer’s S Q is a falsecard from Q-10-7.

It must be right to give partner a spade ruff, and the instinctive play is to lead the S 9 as suit preference for a diamond return. Alas, this is shortsighted. While it allows you to establish any diamond tricks you have coming, it does nothing toward developing a club trick and leaves dummy’s entry intact. Here’s a typical layout:

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

If partner ruffs the second spade and returns a diamond, declarer will simply win the D A, draw trumps and establish the S J for a club discard — eight easy tricks.

The proper lead is the S 2, suit preference for clubs, so partner will return a club to knock out dummy’s ace. Now declarer is entombed: If he draws three rounds of trumps, dummy is sealed for eternity. If he leads a spade while partner has a trump, you can win and lead a fourth spade to kill the discard. Eventually, you must come to three minor-suit tricks. Even if declarer held C Q-J, the club return wouldn’t cost, as you would still get your due tricks in diamonds.

The club return will not always be right. If declarer has six hearts and a singleton club, i.e., S Q-10-7 H A-K-Q-x-x-x D A-x-x C x, partner must return a diamond to hold declarer to eight tricks. Nonetheless, this represents only 1400 hands, while the South hand in the diagram represents 3150.* Further, a club also gains when South has 3=5=2=3 shape, which adds 2650 more. This comparison is only approximate because special cases exist (such as D A-J-10) but it clearly shows the club return to be better.

*To calculate the number of hands, replace all variable cards with x’s to get S Q-10-7 H A-K-Q-x-x D A-x-x C x-x, then count the number of ways those x’s can be chosen. The low hearts can be chosen 15 ways (6c2 = combinations of six items taken two at a time); low diamonds 10 ways (5c2); and clubs 21 ways (7c2). Multiply 15 × 10 × 21 = 3150 hands.

Also note that cashing the S A at trick two before leading the S 2 will not do the job. With the S J already established, declarer can then draw trumps ending in dummy to enjoy the discard and make his contract.

What about other leads? Ouch. Not only will you lose the spade ruff, but in my example it will cost two tricks. Suppose you lead the D K, which seems innocent and was the popular choice. Declarer wins and draws trumps, forcing you to pitch down to S A-9-8 D Q-9 C K-10. Next comes the fifth trump, and… well, your only chance to stop nine tricks might be the fluid of nine tana leaves — which brings a whole new meaning to declarer choking under pressure.

Comments for the S 2

Barry Goren: If partner has three spades, we aren’t beating this; so a suit-preference two for a club shift to attack dummy’s entry for the long spade. Partner’s club card will probably indicate which minor I need to exit later in the hand.

Rainer Herrmann: I want a club returned and cannot believe that partner has three spades after this bidding.

Gareth Birdsall: Partner can’t have three spades on the bidding. I hope partner has [four hearts] so a club return will kill the entry to the S J.

Carsten Kofoed: We will knock out South’s connection to the S J.

Eduard Munteanu: Partner accepted diamonds, not spades. It’s hard to believe that with a double fit he passed 2 H, so the S Q is probably a falsecard from Q-10-7. Lavinthal for clubs to remove dummy’s entry seems best. …

Bruce Neill: I need partner to return a club with…S x H x-x-x-x D J-10-x-x C x-x-x-x, etc.

Dale Freeman: I think partner has a singleton spade, then I want a club return to knock the ace off dummy.

Jean-Christophe Clement: Partner will ruff and return a club to destroy dummy’s entry.

Tong Xu: Asking partner to break dummy’s entry.

And if partner doesn’t return a club…
you can break his arm instead.

N. Scott Cardell: The S 4 can’t be from a doubleton…and with three spades partner would surely have converted 2 D to 2 S or competed to 2 S over 2 H. So declarer falsecarded from Q-10-7, which can hardly hurt him. As it is matchpoints, I cannot let declarer make an extra trick, regardless of whether the contract is making. … Declarer needs a very good hand for his bidding…and is likely to have exactly five hearts. … The [best] possibility to stop a spade trick is for partner to return a club. …

John Reardon: Partner is quite likely to have the singleton spade because he did not compete with 2 S. He may well be 1=4=3=5 since he did not support diamonds either; then a spade ruff followed by a club shift will be very effective. …

James Hudson: Partner would have bid 2 S with three, and he might have raised to 3 D with four diamonds and a side singleton; [so] his distribution is probably 1=4=3=5. My aim is to stop declarer from getting a pitch on the S J, hence the request for a club return.

Connie Delisle: Partner cannot have three spades; the S 4 is therefore stiff. My S 2 is suit preference for clubs…

David Grainger: Declarer is likely to be 3=5=3=2 on the auction, as partner surely doesn’t have three spades… This will get a club through and defeat the contract, as long as partner has the C J (or C Q) and the D 10 (or D J). Declarer can always make with S Q-10-7 H A-K-Q-x-x D A-J-10 C Q-x by stripping my exits and leading the D J.

Frances Hinden: Get the C A knocked out before declarer can make use of the fourth spade.

Julian Wightwick: Partner can hardly have three spades and not given a preference, so he has a singleton. My S 2 is suit preference for clubs to take out dummy’s entry to the S J.

Marcus Chiloarnus: When I don’t know what is best I get very greedy.

Nick Krnjevic: [If] partner is 1=4=4=4 and declarer has something resembling S Q-10-7 H A-K-Q-x-x D A-x C Q-x-x (or Q-J-x), we need to kill the club entry to dummy to prevent declarer from ever enjoying the S J.

Phil Clayton: Partner wouldn’t leave me in 2 D with three spades, so declarer looks to be 3=5=2=3 or the like. We must attack dummy’s entry to the spade winner at trick three. Declarer can’t draw trumps ending in dummy and establish the S J for a pitch.

Venkatesh Ramaratnam: On the bidding and play to the first trick, partner rates to hold a stiff spade. It is correct to retain spade control, and the S 2 is McKenney (suit preference) for a club shift to remove the late entry to dummy.

Tim DeLaney: Partner will ruff and lead back a club, taking out dummy’s late entry. If partner has the C J, we will defeat the contract.

Gabriel Nita-Saguna: This…prevents declarer from getting a spade trick when partner has a singleton spade, as it seems. We will get the maximum number of tricks and may even beat the contract if partner has…four little trumps and the C J.

Gabriel Dumitrasciuc: Partner is marked with a singleton spade, so I need him to lead clubs to remove that precious entry from dummy.

Douglas Dunn: If East had three spades, he would not have passed 2 D at matchpoints. After ruffing the spade, a club return is probably best…

Thijs Veugen: Partner would have bid 2 S with three spades, so South has something like S Q-10-7 H A-K-Q-x-x D A-J-x C Q-x. I want partner to return a club to eliminate the C A entry.

Nikolay Demirev: The S 4 looks like a singleton. A club back will dislodge dummy’s entry before declarer can utilize it — either to reach a spade winner or to endplay me.

Steve Boughey: Partner’s S 4 is surely a singleton. The only other possible holding is 10-7-4; and if he didn’t give me a preference back to 2 S with that, he’s in big trouble. :) I want the C A entry removed from dummy so it doesn’t provide an entry to an established S J…

Gerald Cohen: I expect partner to have a spade singleton… I want a club return to kill the entry to dummy so declarer doesn’t score a spade trick.

Adam Saroyan: Jack of clubs partner? It seems unlikely that partner has any more outside trumps, so we need to kill [the entry to] the S J.

Leonard Helfgott: Partner couldn’t have three spades and pass 2 D. Knocking out the C A [is crucial].

David Davies: I want a club return to take the C A off dummy. I think declarer is 3=5=3=2.

Rai Osborne: We need to remove that club entry while we can.

Ognian Smilianov: I insist on a club return from partner after ruffing the second spade. Removing the C A as a late entry for cashing the S J is a must.

Mark Bartusek: … Asking partner to knock out the C A to stop an entry to the fourth spade…

Gyorgy Ormay: To force partner to return a club to destroy declarer’s communication. …

Paulino Correa: Believe partner. Give partner a ruff, requesting a club lead. I keep the S A so dummy’s S J does not become immediately cleared. I expect declarer to have S Q-10-x H A-K-Q-x-x D J-x C Q-J-x, or S Q-10-x H A-K-Q-x-x D A-J-x C x-x. Three tricks in the minors plus S A-K and a ruff will bring the contract one down.

Mark LaForge: I want a club shift to take out the entry.

Richard Higgins: I doubt South has a singleton. If partner had three spades, he would have corrected 2 D to 2 S. I want a club return to knock out dummy’s entry to the fourth spade. TopMain

Problem 2

Matchpoints E-W Vul

West
You
1 C
All Pass
North

1 H
East

Pass
South

2 NT

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

You lead the S K, partner plays the three, and South the eight. Your next lead?

LeadAwardVotesPercent
H K109513
H 39709
D 9819926
C 4619626
S A410814
S 528411

This was a tough problem to pick a winner because of the wide variety of possible layouts. South’s distribution is vague; all you can be confident of is about 12-14 HCP and a club stopper. South might have a long minor suit; and he might even have a heart fit — but if so, he is likely to have 4-3-3-3 shape.

Partner’s low spade (attitude) means he does not have the queen*, except for the possibility of Q-3 doubleton. Even if declarer’s eight is an honest card from Q-8 (don’t bet on it) and you drop his queen, where do you go from there? All this does is establish a trick in dummy while there are entries to reach it. No, it doesn’t seem wise to continue spades.

*There is another school in which partner would encourage spades with any holding if he is not prepared for the “obvious shift.” This concept, widely publicized by Matt Granovetter in his books and Bridge Today magazine, surely has merit; but it’s not standard, nor a part of the contest guidelines. Standard signals are specific to the suit led. It might be appropriate to offer false encouragement to prevent an undesired shift but not at the risk of losing a trick in the suit led. Hence, partner would always play low from S x-x-x or x-x, regardless of his opinion about other suits.

The choice appears to be between clubs and diamonds. Partner might have the C Q (conceivably the ace) or a sturdy diamond holding, but either of these leads is risky. Most of the time you will be leading into the C A-Q or helping declarer establish his diamond suit by blowing a critical spot card. The D 9 seems a better shot than the C 4, but I don’t like either one.

Considering all the doubtful choices, this is an ideal time to try some subterfuge. As the rising waters of the Nile flood the Egyptian desert in Akhet, this is your opportunity to rise and flood the dummy. Get the H K on the table! This rates to be at least a moderate success by killing the entry to the fourth spade, and it could be devastating. For best effect, don’t think too long before doing it so declarer will have less reason to suspect your actual heart holding. I hope for a layout like this:

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

Put yourself in declarer’s seat. Would you really duck the H K expecting the heart suit to provide four tricks? Hardly. For all declarer knows, ducking will just give the defense an extra heart trick; plus spades might lie friendly; the D Q might be an entry to dummy; and West might even have H K-J-x or K-J. I must admit I would win the H A and lead a spade.

Once declarer wins the first heart, the deal collapses. You will lead a second heart as soon as possible. Declarer has six obvious tricks (two each in hearts, diamonds and clubs) and can come to seven if he guesses the play right; but that’s the limit.

It is also worth noting that the H K is still the strongest defense even if declarer ducks. Best play all-around produces eight tricks, while leading a minor at trick two allows declarer to win nine.

Alas, everything is not all roses. The death holding for the H K is a singleton jack in South — and maybe this should be expected from the wrath of Amon-Ra. Oh well; that’s probably minus 150, surely below average but with some consolation they’re not in game. A possible alternative to guard against a stiff jack is to lead a low heart. Unfortunately, this virtually forces declarer into the winning play when he has H x-x, which is about six times as likely. No, I still prefer the king.

Despite my taste for the H K, I was not confident this solution was theoretically best, so I ran a 1000-deal simulation. Indeed, it proved to be close among the top four choices. At double-dummy, the winner was the H 3; then the D 9; then the C 4. Grrr… my favorite finished fourth. But wait! Once I eliminated declarer’s four eyes*, the H K was a clear winner. Redemption.

*Specifically, I did not allow declarer to duck the first heart or pick off H J-x in the East hand. Either of these plays is implausible; especially the latter.

I am pleased to say that this problem was inspired by a play made by Bill Root, my long-time friend and past partner. The actual deal can be found in the article “Root for the Home Team” which I wrote for Bridge Today magazine about a year ago.

Comments for the H K

Barry Goren: [Heavy odds] against declarer having a singleton H J. I will continue hearts if [declarer ducks].

Dale Freeman: Hoping partner has H J-x-x. This uses up declarer’s entries before the spade is set up.

Tong Xu: Forcing an entry out of dummy before the fourth spade is set up.

John Reardon: … I assume partner’s small spade only means “I don’t like this suit.” (I prefer to play distributional signals in this position.) If South has, e.g., S Q-x-x H x-x D A-J-x-x C A-Q-x-x, he may well win the H K and clear hearts relying on the D Q as an entry to dummy. After all, if I had H K-x, ducking would be wrong.

Connie Delisle: If declarer has the S Q, I must knock out the heart entry before the S 10 is set up.

Marcus Chiloarnus: If this holds, I might just lead the C K for three kings in a row.

Phil Clayton: Partner needs a diamond card, otherwise defending this hand will be no fun. I’m playing the H K on the first round anyway, so (strangely) it’s the safest exit at trick two. Additionally, with hearts dead, we might be able to cut declarer off from a winning spade on the board.

Venkatesh Ramaratnam: Partner rates to hold a diamond picture and an odd jack or two. Passive defense stands out a mile, especially at matchpoints. The H K is slightly superior to a low heart because declarer can go wrong by winning immediately.

Xiongwen Gu: This may destroy dummy’s entry. [With this heart combination] the H K would also be a good choice if declarer led a low heart from hand.

Ray Parkinson: If South holds H x-x, this may limit him to two heart tricks. I can’t afford a second spade at trick two, as this would give South time to set up a spade trick.

Yi Zhong: If partner has the H J and a diamond honor, this forces declarer to make a decision. He may give up the chance of 3-3 hearts.

Adam Saroyan: [Unlikely] to cost — it’s all about jacks anyway. I wonder if partner has that C J again here.

Murat Azizoglu: My H K is useless if declarer has the jack, so I might as well use it to [kill an entry to dummy]. … I must admit the H K appeals to me because it sounds revolutionary!

Dean Swallow: This [may] kill declarer’s heart tricks if partner can manage to be dealt the H J.

And if he can’t manage that, call it an insurance play…
Insurance that you’ll never win a heart trick.

David Stern: Partner is marked with around 6 points and has not bid. … I hope he has a high diamond to prevent an entry to dummy.

Albert Ohana: If this is allowed to win, I will continue hearts, hoping declarer must cash them and [be faced with awkward] discards.

Richard Higgins: I don’t trust declarer’s S 8 — he probably he has Q-8-x. I hope partner has H J-x-x-x or J-x-x. If declarer lets the H K hold, I’ll watch partner’s card to decide how to continue the attack on dummy’s entries.

Comments for the H 3

Gareth Birdsall: It must be right to force declarer to run hearts and discard from hand. Both the H K and H 3 seem reasonable.

Carsten Kofoed: I will force South to take his heart suit before he gets a spade trick; and East will probably have the opportunity to win the H J and lead a club.

Charles Blair: Good things will happen if partner has H J-x-x and something useful in diamonds, or if declarer has S Q-x H J-x D K-x-x-x-x C A-Q-x-x.

Frances Hinden: Again, get the entry to dummy knocked out before declarer can make use of the fourth spade. The H K is possible… but it would be nice to put partner in with the H J for a black-suit through if possible.

Julian Wightwick: Take out the entry to the long spade. I need partner to have the D K [or ace].

Toby Kenney: Hearts might be declarer’s only entry to dummy, so I should remove it early. … Hopefully, declarer will be suicide-squeezed on the run of the hearts.

Tim DeLaney: I must lead a heart to remove the entry to the long spade. It is tempting to play the H K… but South might well have something like S Q-x-x H J D A-J-8-x C A-Q-J-x-x, in which case it’s a disaster.

Douglas Dunn: This might be the quickest way to get partner in for a club through.

Thijs Veugen: South has something like S Q-8-7 H x-x D A-J-x-x C A-Q-J-x and will make four hearts, two diamonds and two clubs. I don’t want him to make the S 10 also, so I attack the heart entries. …

Nikolay Demirev: Partner should have about 4-5 points, which may as well be a diamond honor and a jack or two. The S 8 may be a skillful falsecard from 8-7-4, but a spade continuation is more likely to give away a tempo. The H K is tempting but easily a losing option with any singleton in South’s hand. I would have led the H 2 as a count card if it were an option, as now partner may play low from H J-x-x-x.*

*In preparing the problem, I didn’t want to include both low hearts as options and decided the H 2 might be more helpful to declarer in telegraphing the break. I also felt declarer would usually finesse the queen with a singleton, which greatly lessens the danger you mention. Leading the H 3 to partner’s jack and following with two next might talk declarer out of the second finesse at matchpoints, with dummy potentially dead. –RP

Andrew de Sosa: Hopefully, to remove the entry to the long spade trick. I’m counting on partner for the D K. Also, forcing declarer to cash hearts early could cause him discard difficulties.

Steve Boughey: I don’t know which minor partner can help in; so why should I guess? Maybe declarer has a singleton heart.

Frans Buijsen: Playing partner for something like S x-x-x H J-x-x D K-10-x-x-x C x-x. A heart is the only suit not to give a trick or a tempo…

John Byers: [Hoping declarer has] S Q-x-x H x D A-J-x-x-x C A-Q-J-x.

Roger Morton: I’ll take out the entry for the long spade in dummy. The low heart [should allow] partner to get in for a club return, assuming he has the C J.

Jess Cohen: I need partner to have the D A and H J-x-x. I don’t want to lead a diamond too early lest that be declarer’s source of tricks… and I don’t want to set up a spade trick in dummy… I hope partner wins the H J and leads a club; then when I win the C K, I can lead a diamond to partner’s ace and get a spade back…

Ognian Smilianov: A small heart will remove an entry to dummy and prevent establishing the S 10 as a winner.

Bill Powell: Looks like the time to go passive.

Scott Stearns: Might as well try and scare declarer about the heart situation since things are looking good for him if he has the H J.

Mark Bartusek: It might be necessary to take out the late entry to dummy’s fourth-round spade winner.

Michael Errington: If declarer has a doubleton or better in hearts, he can make at least four tricks in the suit, and we [may] get a poor matchpoint score… Therefore, I [hope] he has a singleton heart and force him to take his entry to dummy before he establishes a spade trick. I don’t lead the H K, which would be a disaster if his singleton is the jack.

Richard Stein: The safe lead. For an attacking diamond to work, partner would need a strong holding and an entry — not going to happen with South holding at least 13 points. TopMain

Problem 3

Matchpoints Both Vul

West
You

Pass
Pass
Pass
North


1 H
2 C*
3 NT
East


Pass
Pass
All Pass
South

1 D
1 NT
2 NT
*artificial checkback

3 NT South
S A Q 8
H J 8 7 4 3
D A Q 2
C 4 2
S 10 4
H Q 6 2
D J 10 8 7
C A K J 7
Table

You lead the C K, partner plays the nine, and South the six. Your next lead?

LeadAwardVotesPercent
H 21011615
D J811315
S 10527436
C 7416021
C A3699
C J2203

Partner’s signal with the C 9 must indicate the queen*, so the routine play is to lead the C 7 and run the suit. (The bidding makes it impossible for partner to have C Q-9-x-x-x, so there is no concern about blocking the club suit.) Take your four clubs and wait for the setting trick in hearts or diamonds.

*Partner’s signal is attitude, meaning “lead another club.” Further, standard practice is to signal with the highest of touching cards, so partner denies the C 10. With a holding like C 10-9-8-x, it is moot whether partner should encourage at all; but if he did, the proper play is the 10; hence you can rule that out. Alas, there is a camp of players that always play second-highest on a king lead, commonly called a “foster echo,” but this is not standard — more like deranged in my opinion, as it usually leaves partner with no idea what to do.

Whoa! Let’s halt the expedition to think this one out. If partner has the C Q, South must have all the other high cards (save the S J) to justify his opening. South’s failure to bid 1 S over 1 H shows at most three spades, and his failure to bid 2 H after the checkback implies a doubleton, hence H A-K alone. The latter would be suspect on some occasions, as South might eschew a heart preference with 3=3=4=3 shape, but surely not without a club stopper. Therefore, the full deal should be pretty close to this:

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

Yes, you can win four clubs; but this leaves declarer booked with eight top tricks. What do you plan to discard on the third spade? Ouch! You’re in a dead squeeze. Even Kharis the mummy and a keg of tana leaves couldn’t stop this one. Therefore, you must try to break it up, which means not running clubs.

The instinctive defense (aside from continuing clubs) is to switch to spades, but this is not good enough. Declarer can see that his best chance is to advance the play by leading clubs; and if the play continues club-spade-club-spade, you will find yourself triple squeezed. How’s that for variety?

The proper defense is to shift to a heart. If declarer next gives up a club, a second heart will establish your queen. This prevents declarer from leading a third club (you have the setting trick), so his only hope is to cash spades. This is the position before the third spade is led:

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

On the S K, you can pitch a club, and it must be the ace to keep the entry in partner’s hand (who now has two good spades). Note that if you carelessly pitch the C J, declarer could establish a club as his ninth trick; or cross to dummy and give up a heart.

Of the other choices, only the D J has any hope to succeed. The defense must lead diamonds three times (as declarer leads clubs) to break up the squeeze, which means East must have the D 9. This is certainly against the odds; but at least it’s a chance, which earns second place.

The remaining leads are about equally ineffective and ranked by the voting.

Comments for the H 2

Barry Goren: Seems like a squeeze is looming if I cash all the clubs. … I need to set up a heart trick before clubs are played.

Rainer Herrmann: Do not rectify the count for an eventual red-suit squeeze. If partner has the C Q, declarer must have H A-K doubleton. …

Gareth Birdsall: I need to establish a fifth trick before I get squeezed out of it — else declarer can play three clubs then three spades.

Carsten Kofoed: I play South for S K-x-x H A-K D K-x-x-x-x C 10-x-x. If necessary, I can discard the C A on the third spade.

Eduard Munteanu: Partner has at least three clubs, so I trust his nine and assume he has the C Q. But after we cash four clubs, I’ll be squeezed in the red suits. Even if I stop after three rounds, a good declarer could lead his fourth club to rectify the count. The D J could create an endplay, and the S 10 doesn’t solve anything. … South’s hand: S K-x-x H A-K D K-9-x-x C x-x-x-x. It’s really a funny board since I’ll lead hearts and declarer will lead clubs.

Bruce Neill: In case declarer has S K-x-x H A-K D K-x-x-x C 10-x-x-x.

Dale Freeman: From the bidding, South has two hearts (probably A-K) and three spades. If I cash four clubs, I will be squeezed on the third spade; therefore, a heart switch seems right. If declarer leads clubs, partner has to duck and let me continue hearts; then if declarer cashes three spades, I can pitch the C A to get to partner with the C Q for spade tricks.

Jean-Christophe Clement: I can’t play clubs, as there is a squeeze.

Tong Xu: Declarer looks to have S K-x-x H A-K D K-x-x-x C 10-x-x-x. This will break the heart-diamond squeeze.

N. Scott Cardell: Partner is signaling the C Q — great news but I must use it wisely. … South’s hand must be very close to S K-x-x H A-K D K-9-x-x C 10-x-x-x, so the danger is clear. … The only solution is to lead a heart now; then if declarer ducks a club, lead another heart. (Declarer can’t cash out spades so long as partner retains the C Q entry.) If declarer crosses to dummy and leads a club, partner must cooperate by ducking.

James Hudson: Partner should have the C Q, perhaps third. … If we cash clubs, I’ll be squeezed; but not if I attack hearts.

David Grainger: It looks like we have four clubs to cash, with declarer likely 3=2=5=3 or 3=2=4=4. If so, cashing clubs will simply rectify the count, as declarer must have all the significant remaining high cards. If declarer has four clubs, the hand is most dangerous, and we must set up our fifth trick before he can lead too many rounds of clubs — which means leading a heart into the likely bare A-K.

Frances Hinden: If we just cash clubs, I will be squeezed. I need to set up a fifth trick to stop declarer with four low clubs from rectifying the count himself.

Julian Wightwick: Declarer is apparently 3=2=5=3 with H A-K doubleton and no club stopper. If we cash the clubs now, I will get squeezed in the reds.

Nick Krnjevic: On the auction, declarer is a heavy favorite to be 3=2=4=4. Since partner likely has three clubs, his signal suggests that he has the C Q (not 10-9 doubleton). … Having concluded declarer has S K-x-x H A-K D K-x-x-x C 10-x-x-x, I can defend double-dummy. Cashing out the club suit will allow declarer to squeeze me in the red suits… I can beat the hand by leading hearts. … Declarer’s best shot is to lead clubs and try to sever our communication; if so, we must preserve partner’s C Q entry and lead another heart. …

Venkatesh Ramaratnam: Partner’s C 9 should promise the queen; but if four clubs are cashed, I will be inexorably squeezed in the red suits. Hearts is the only suit in which the defense can set up a fifth trick by force. On any other shift, declarer can duck clubs then cash spades to squeeze me.

Toby Kenney: Partner encouraged clubs, so he probably has the queen; declarer must then have almost everything else. Declarer has only two hearts, so I must set up a heart trick before declarer can rectify the count for the heart-diamond squeeze against me. Partner’s C Q [must be preserved] as an entry to his long spades in case declarer tries to squeeze me without the count.

Bill Erwin: Declarer has no more than three spades and two hearts, so he almost surely has at least three clubs. If he is 3=2=4=4 and we take three club tricks, he can lead a fourth club and then squeeze me with the third round of spades. I will try to set up the H Q before partner’s C Q is dislodged.

Julian Pottage: East must have the C Q to encourage; so South must have H A-K, which have to be bare (I assume 2 NT denies three hearts). To break the red-suit squeeze, I attack hearts.

Gabriel Nita-Saguna: Partner is marked with the C Q, so probably declarer has either S K-J-x H A-K D K-x-x-x C 10-x-x-x or S K-J-x H A-K D K-x-x-x-x C 10-x-x. If we cash four club tricks, I will get squeezed in the red suits; so my best chance is to set up a fifth trick in hearts. If declarer cashes three spades to squeeze me in three suits, I will discard a club, then we can win three clubs and two spades…

Gabriel Dumitrasciuc: I don’t enjoy being squeezed so early, so I develop a heart trick.

Thijs Veugen: South has something like S K-x-x H A-K D K-x-x-x C 10-x-x-x. If I continue clubs, I will be squeezed in the red suits. I must play hearts first.

Dom Goodwin: If clubs are cleared, on the third spade I am squeezed in the red suits. (Declarer is marked with H A-K doubleton and three spades.) I must exit in hearts, as otherwise declarer can play clubs. If declarer cashes three spades, I pitch a high club.

Ciaran Coyne: It sounds like declarer has shown 3=2=4=4 or 3=2=5=3. Since partner must have the C Q to encourage, that leaves at most the S J outside. The third spade will squeeze me [if I don’t lead hearts].

Richard Wilson: Establish the H Q before a squeeze develops (declarer has H A-K stiff).

Ted Morris: It appears as though four clubs will cash immediately; but if we take them, declarer will embarrass me when he cashes three spades.

David Davies: At least I’ll have something to discard on the third spade.

Bill Powell: Playing South for S K-x-x H A-K D K-x-x-x-x C x-x-x. I’ll shed a club on the third spade.

Harvey Jaffe: Declarer is marked with S K-x-x H A-K D K-x-x-x-x C 10-x-x or S K-x-x H A-K D K-x-x-x C 10-x-x-x. … A heart lead before the count is rectified will break up a red-suit squeeze. …

Manuel Paulo: I must lead hearts twice to destroy the impending heart-diamond squeeze if partner holds a hand like S x-x-x-x-x H 10-9-5 D x C Q-9-x-x.

Richard Stein: We have four running clubs; but if we take them, I’m squeeze-doomed. Therefore, attack hearts and set up a heart trick before South has time to duck the rest of the clubs. TopMain

Problem 4

Matchpoints N-S Vul

West
You

Dbl
All Pass
North


2 H
East


Pass
South

1 H
4 H

4 H South
S Q J 5 4
H Q 10 6
D Q 5 3
C 10 9 5
S A 9 3
H 5
D K J 9 4
C K Q 8 6 3
Table

You lead the C K, partner plays the four, and South the jack. Your next lead?

LeadAwardVotesPercent
C 61036549
C Q911015
H 567510
S A4284
S 337610
D J19813

Partner apparently has the C A, which means South must have all the missing high cards (save the H J) and at least six hearts (likely seven) to justify the 4 H bid. Could the C J be a singleton? No, because with C A-7-4-2, partner would signal with the seven, not the four. Therefore, the C J must be a falsecard from J-7, giving partner A-4-2.

But wait! As with many artifacts unearthed in ancient tombs, the first explanation is not the only one. There is another reason for both club plays, perhaps not as likely but just as plausible. Partner could have 4-2 doubleton, and South A-J-7. Indeed, this was the actual case when the following deal occurred in the Flight A Pairs at the Southeastern Regional in 1994. I was West:

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

Declarer’s play of the C J under the king may seem strange, but it was his best effort to avert the club ruff. If the C A is taken, he cannot get to dummy for the heart finesse, and the contract is easily defeated (you duck if the S K is led next). By ducking and unblocking the C J, declarer would win 11 tricks if you routinely continue with a low club.

Oops. This was almost the deal. I just realized that in creating the problem I switched a club spot (West actually had K-Q-8-7-6 and South A-J-3). At the time I knew from my signaling practice of count* (nonstandard) that partner could not have three cards, so it was routine to continue with the C Q to keep declarer off dummy and enable the club ruff. Declarer next led the S K, which held, then wisely led H A and a heart to escape for down one. (If declarer continues spades, he goes down two.)

*The debate over the merits of count vs. attitude will continue ad infinitum. Either method has its ups and downs; and whichever way you play, there will always be situations where you wish you played the other. Some partnerships (the late Kaplan-Kay come to mind) play this signal is either attitude or count, depending on what leader needs to know. This may sound good, but in practice there are too many fuzzy situations. I prefer specific rules and believe that count works more often than attitude.

The conditions of the problem, however, stipulate standard signals, which means attitude on partner’s lead. Hence, East could have C A-4-2 or 4-2. (It is also ambiguous with count signals, as East could have A-7-4 or 4-2.) While the C Q surely has more aesthetic appeal, one cannot overlook simple deals like the following:

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

Observe that the only winning defense is to lead a club to partner and get a diamond return. Otherwise, declarer would pitch his losing diamond after forcing out the S A.

To decide the winner, it was necessary to determine which club layout was more likely, and a quick simulation showed that A-4-2 was almost four times as likely. Therefore, even allowing for the fact that partner will not know for sure to return a diamond*, the top award must go to the C 6.

*With standard fourth-best leads, the club count will be ambiguous to East. West would lead the six from K-Q-8-6-3 or K-Q-8-6, and South should conceal the three if he has it, so East won’t be sure if three clubs will cash. Note that a third club lead would be crucial if South held S K-x H A-K-J-x-x-x D A-K C J-x-x, or S A-x H A-K-x-x-x-x-x D A C J-x-x. Hence, some of the time East will not return a diamond.

Some people mentioned they would have preferred to lead the C 3 as suit preference for diamonds, but this concept is flawed. If you lead the C 3, partner should assume you have exactly four clubs and return a club, expecting to win the first three tricks. In short, this is not a suit-preference situation. It is important to lead properly to indicate the club count.*

*Many experts (including me) follow the “present count” principle and would lead the C 8 (highest affordable card), which eliminates any ambiguity when declarer falsecards. I didn’t include this option because it isn’t standard.

Several people commented that a forcing defense rated to be successful, but there is really no basis for this. Even if declarer has overbid with, say, S K-10-x-x H A-K-J-9-8 D A-10 C J-7, he can counter three rounds of clubs by pitching a diamond to escape for down one — the same result as with any defense (barring a diamond lead from West).

Any lead but a club is much inferior. It is impossible for partner to have the D A or S K because he is already marked with the C A or a high heart (declarer would have no reason to duck the club with H A-K). The H 5 affords some protection; e.g., it holds the fort when South has S K-x H A-K-J-x-x-x D A-10-x C J-7. Leading a spade is worse; but the ace is better than a low spade in case South has a stiff king. Worst of all is the D J, which should resolve any problem for declarer.

Comments for the C 6

Gareth Birdsall: Declarer must have at least one more club (partner would not play the four from A-7-4-2), so a club to partner for a diamond through seems best. I hope declarer’s not playing a cunning game with C A-J-7 to get an entry to dummy…

John Reardon: An expert partner would play the seven from A-7-4-2, so I can be sure that South has another low club… The dangerous hand is something like S K-x-x H A-K-J-x-x-x D A-x C J-7, when it is imperative to get partner in to lead a diamond through. I am aware that South might be playing a clever game with S K-x H A-J-x-x-x-x D A-x C A-J-x, in which case the C Q is the only successful choice; but I think the first case is more likely…

Connie Delisle: Partner does not have C A-4 (overtakes). He [might have] 4-2 if declarer is real desperate for a dummy entry, but [most likely] he holds A-4-2. I need to set up my D K before the S A is knocked out.

David Grainger: Partner cannot possibly have more than one useful card. If declarer’s club holding was the singleton jack, partner played a very odd card. If declarer has something like S K-x H A-K-x-x-x-x-x D A-x C J-7, the bidding and partner’s C 4 make sense, and a low club must be returned to get a diamond through right now.

George Klemic: Part of me wants just to exit passively with a heart; but declarer is eventually going to put me back on lead, and I’ll have the same problem as before. Is it too much to hope for that partner did not echo with C 4-2? Obviously, I want partner in to lead a diamond, as a holding such as S K-x H A-K-J-x-x-x-x D A-J C J-7 for declarer seems reasonable.

Phil Clayton: This declarer needs to be more imaginative with his falsecards. There are two possibilities for declarer: (1) S K-x H A-K-J-x-x-x-x D A-x C J-7, where I must exit a low club to partner for a diamond return before the spade is established; or (2) S K-x H A-J-9-x-x-x D A-x C A-J-7, where he is desperately trying to establish a dummy entry for the heart hook. Then I have to lead the C Q to stick declarer in his hand… I consider the first layout more likely.

Toby Kenney: … I need partner to lead a diamond through before declarer can set up a spade for a discard.

Julian Pottage: Partner would play the seven from S A-7-4-2, so we [probably] have two club tricks. I want a diamond through the ace before my S A is knocked out. …

Gabriel Nita-Saguna: The choice is which club to continue. Is it possible that declarer ducked the club having A-J-7? Yes, if he has S K-x H A-J-x-x-x-x D A-x C A-J-x, I should return the C Q. But it looks more likely that partner has C A-4-2, so a small club is imperative for a diamond return when declarer has S K-x-x H A-K-J-x-x-x D A-x C J-7, or S K-10 H A-K-J-x-x-x D A-x-x C J-7.

Douglas Dunn: Declarer has the C 7, or surely partner would had played it on the C K. Hopefully, he will read the C 6 as fourth highest and find a diamond switch.

Thijs Veugen: South has something like S K-x-x H A-K-J-x-x-x D A-x C J-7. I need partner to lead a diamond before it’s too late.

Ciaran Coyne: First thought is a low club to partner’s ace for a diamond through. … Or is declarer being sneaky with C A-J-7?

Jess Cohen: Would declarer duck holding C A-J-7? More likely, partner has the C A. … I hope for two clubs, a diamond and a spade. I play declarer for S K-x-x H A-K-J-x-x-x D A-x C J-7 — a little light for 4 H, but maybe he is pushing.

Murat Azizoglu: I suspect declarer has C J-7 and partner has A-4-2. Declarer might have 3=6=2=2 shape with the rest of the high cards, in which case I must get partner to switch to a diamond at trick three. …

Harvey Jaffe: Declarer is most likely falsecarding, and I need a diamond return before the S A knocked out.

Jojo Sarkar: I want a diamond lead from partner. Partner might have overtaken and saved me some confusion.

Paulino Correa: … If partner had C A-7-4-2, he would have played the seven; so I [hope to] reach partner with the C A for him to lead a diamond before dummy’s spades are cleared.

Comments for the C Q

Barry Goren: OK, what am I missing? Declarer needs an entry to dummy, so he ducked with C A-J-x? I don’t believe it, but I will cater to it — just like Sam Lev — by playing the C Q.

Carsten Kofoed: South tries a gambit, and so do I. In this game, I shouldn’t let South get over the bridge to North.

Bruce Neill: In case declarer has S K-x H A-J-x-x-x-x D A-x C A-J-x.

Charles Blair: Eureka! Declarer has made an impressive play with S K-x H A-J-9-x-x-x D A-x C A-J-x. I am ducking if he leads the S K next; so I will still be the goat if he has 1=6=3=3 shape.

Tong Xu: Declarer may have (1) S K-x H A-J-x-x-x-x D A-x C A-J-x or (2) S K-x H A-K-J-x-x-x D A-x-x C J-x. If he has Hand 1, the C Q forces him to play from hand.

N. Scott Cardell: The C 4 is ambiguous (4-2 or A-4-2), but partner is unlikely to hold the C A on the bidding. I need partner to hold something useful, and the one holding that fits declarer’s play and the bidding is H K-x-x and a doubleton club. Declarer…is desperately trying to maneuver a board entry, very likely with S K-x H A-J-x-x-x-x D A-x C A-J-x. Any lead but the C Q lets declarer finesse safely in trumps. … With solid hearts, declarer would have no reason to duck the C K.

Walter Lee: Is S K-x H A-J-9-x-x-x D A-x C A-J-x too weak for 4 H?

Frances Hinden: The spectacular counter to S K-x H A-J-9-x-x-x D A-x C A-J-x. At the local club, declarer has C J-7 and I could beat 4 H easily by continuing with a low club; but this is certainly more fun.

Julian Wightwick: Partner would play the C 7 from A-7-4-2, so the C J is not a true card. Partner could have A-4-2, in which case I’d like to cross to his C A and get a diamond back. The trouble is that I can’t signal for a diamond, and partner is likely to continue clubs; then declarer [succeeds]. So perhaps declarer has something like S K-x H A-J-x-x-x-x D A-x C A-J-x and is hoping to avoid the club ruff. … This is a good play by declarer because he doesn’t give away [anything] if clubs were breaking all along.

Nick Krnjevic: On the auction, declarer [likely] has the C A… so he has A-J-x and is looking for me to continue the suit…to win the next trick in dummy. The only layout that urgently requires declarer to gain a quick entry to dummy is if partner has H K-x-x and a doubleton club, while declarer holds something like S K-x H A-J-9-x-x-x D A-x C A-J-7.

Venkatesh Ramaratnam: If declarer holds S K-x-x H A-K-x-x-x-x D A-x C J-7, a low club and a diamond back will beat the hand. If declarer is playing a deep game with S K-x H A-J-x-x-x-x D A-x C A-J-7, only the C Q beats the hand. Declarer may have contended with only a game try in the first hand (especially at matchpoints), and partner could have overtaken the first club (not obvious) to play back a diamond as well. Additionally, the C Q is likely to get me into the papers. :)

Bill Erwin: Declarer is falsecarding with the C J to obtain a dummy entry for a heart hook. He is afraid if he wins the C A and leads a low spade or diamond, I will win and give partner a club ruff. Partner cannot hold H K and S K on the bidding, so declarer holds S K-x H A-J-9-x-x-x D A-x C A-J-x. The C Q keeps him out of dummy and prepares for a ruff. I just need to be sure to duck the S K if led at trick three.

Tim DeLaney: Any shift is dangerous, so I must continue clubs; but suppose South has S K-x H A-J-9-x-x D A-x-x C A-J-x. Now I must lead the C Q. South’s play of the C J cost nothing, since the third round would subsequently be ruffed.

Nikolay Demirev: Assuming partner would have unblocked with C A-4, there is no systemic way to indicate I have five clubs and want a diamond switch; [so leading the C 6 may not work]. The C Q works perfectly when declarer has S K-x H A-J-9-x-x-x D A-x C A-J-7. If declarer has S K-x-x H A-K-x-x-x-x D A-x C J-7, I’m on the wrong track but will still get 35 percent.

Frans Buijsen: South has…C A-J-7 and is trying to create an entry… I’m playing partner for S 10-x-x-x H K-x-x D x-x-x-x C 4-2, so the C Q is the only exit card [to ensure] giving partner a club ruff.

Gerald Cohen: [One] hand for declarer that I can beat is S K-x H A-J-9-x-x-x D A-x C A-J-7 or similar. A low club or any shift allows declarer to get to dummy for a heart finesse. …

John Byers: Partner doesn’t have the C 7, so it looks like South has A-J-7. I’m playing not to give something away (or an entry) against S K-x H A-J-x-x-x-x D A-x C A-J-7 and plan to duck the S K if led next.

Michael Roche: Problem looks familiar. I must stop declarer from getting to dummy for a trump finesse after the clever falsecard from A-J-7.

Mark Bartusek: Given the auction and likely distribution, I don’t think partner can have the C A. I will continue with the C Q in case declarer has C A-J-7 and partner the H K.

Gyorgy Ormay: Not to let declarer reach dummy, assuming partner has a doubleton club and the the H K.

Hans Holme: I think partner’s only high card is the H K. Declarer is trying to get access to dummy by his play of the C J, which I deny him by leading the C Q. After this, partner will score his H K and a ruff.

Neelotpal Sahai: Declarer is trying to create an entry to dummy for a heart finesse. If declarer had H A-K, he would have [won the C A and succeeded easily]. Declarer is likely to have something like S K-x H A-J-9-x-x-x D A-x C A-J-7. The idea is to give a club ruff to partner and deny entry in dummy; so if declarer plays a small spade from hand, I will go up with the ace.

Michael Errington: Partner’s C 4 must be from A-4-2 or 4-2 doubleton. If the latter… I must lead the C Q to prevent an easy entry to dummy for a potential trump finesse.

Manuel Paulo: Partner may hold S x-x-x-x H K-x-x-x D x-x-x C 4-2, or S x-x-x H K-x-x-x D x-x-x-x C 4-2, where this lead is mandatory. There are some other cases where the C Q is good enough, such as S 10-x-x-x H x-x-x D x-x-x C A-4-2… I’ll congratulate declarer if he falsecarded from S K-x-x H A-K-x-x-x-x D A-x C J-7, and I should have led a low club. TopMain

Problem 5

Matchpoints E-W Vul

West
You
1 C
All Pass
North

Dbl
East

Pass
South

4 S

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

You lead the H K, partner plays the queen, and South the seven. Your next lead?

LeadAwardVotesPercent
S 410304
H A929139
H 3734145
D Q5618
D 53132
C 21162

As on Problem 2, the wide range of possible distributions for South makes it difficult to pinpoint the best defense. Whatever you do will probably be a matter of overtricks, as every suit lies friendly for declarer. Translation: If South can’t make 4 S on this layout, he has no business bidding it. Nonetheless, you can’t stroll in the desert and watch the sun set over the pyramids of Giza. Every trick counts at matchpoints.

Considering partner’s silence and the jump to 4 S, South is almost sure to have the S K, D A and C K. South also probably has at least five spades; but he might bid this way with only four to protect the C K, rather than cue-bid 2 C and risk becoming dummy. Further, South is likely to be distributional, as a balanced 10-count wouldn’t justify bidding game; although tossing in the D J would probably make any 5-3-3-2 shape acceptable.

What about the heart layout? Virtually all experts agree that one should not drop the queen from Q-x, so partner’s play promises the jack (else a singleton). The instinctive defense is to continue hearts, but which one? It is easy to show that the ace is superior, as it may be the only way to win three tricks when partner has Q-J doubleton or a blank queen. In fact, I couldn’t come up with any deal consistent with the bidding where a low heart gained over the ace. Consider this situation:

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

If you underlead to partner’s jack, you will probably regret it. Partner does best to return a club, which declarer wins with the king. Declarer will then finesse you in spades and diamonds (both are clearly marked) and squeeze you for 11 tricks.* Sigh. Those first three tricks are beginning to look pretty good.

*Proper play is to take an immediate spade finesse (low to jack or run the nine or 10); D A; run the D J; S A (a second spade finesse is unnecessary because inferred counts make West 3=4=3=3); D K (pitch heart); heart ruff; then lead trumps. It is true that West can confuse the issue by covering the D J, but he cannot gain by this; if it talks declarer out of cashing the D 10, West only gets the same three tricks he always had.

Like the catacombs beneath the shifting sands, this problem has more secrets to reveal. For the jump to 4 S, I noted earlier that South is likely to be unbalanced (perhaps mentally, too, but that’s another story). The most likely feature to justify South’s aggressive bid is a singleton heart, so a layout like the following should be common:

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

If you continue with any heart at trick two, declarer will complete a dummy reversal. After ruffing the heart, best play is probably to run the S 9 then finesse the jack; heart ruff; D K; heart ruff; C A; draw the last trump and concede a diamond. The sequence of play is not crucial, as a diamond could be ducked early, the S K could be won before finessing, and dummy’s entries could be used in any order. Declarer virtually falls into 11 tricks.

To stop the dummy reversal, you must shift to a trump.* This seems counterintuitive with the S Q, but you must resign yourself to the fact that declarer is going to finesse you in spades. Your vulnerable opening, combined with partner showing H Q-J, makes this a near certainty. The trump lead may feel wrong, as the voting clearly indicated, but it gains a trick. Declarer is now short an entry to dummy and cannot make the overtrick. Try it.

*A diamond shift also works in the diagram; but if East didn’t have the D 9, this would pickle your honors. Look at it this way: The S Q is already dead, so you might as well lead a spade. Why aim for two dead queens?

If South’s diamonds were A-9-x-x, he could always win 11 tricks with double-dummy play; but in real life the trump shift will stop the overtrick. Similarly, if South’s minor-suit lengths are reversed (i.e., S K-10-9-7-2 H 7 D A-9-x C K-x-x-x) he could make 11 tricks by leading clubs twice toward dummy to create an extra entry with the C 10; but this must be done with trumps out and requires a 3-3 club break — double-dummy I think, so a trump lead still should gain in practice.

To decide the winner, I had to determine which was more likely: (1) The need to cash hearts to avoid losing a top trick, or (2) the need to lead trumps to stop a dummy reversal. A simulation made it close, but one factor clearly tilted the odds in favor of Case 2. When East has short hearts (Q-J doubleton or a blank Q) he will often have five clubs and bid over the double. For example, with S x-x H Q-J D x-x-x-x C x-x-x-x-x, some players would bid 2 C; and with S x-x H Q D J-x-x-x-x C x-x-x-x-x, I’m sure most would bid 2 C or 3 C. In contrast, I doubt any expert would bid with S x-x H Q-J-10-5 D J-x-x C x-x-x-x.*

*If you can prove me wrong, I want to meet this expert…
Please advise when visiting hours are.

Leading either minor suit is inferior and risky. A diamond probably needs to catch partner with J-9, and even then it seldom gains anything over a trump lead. It is better to lead the D Q than a low one — not so much because declarer is likely to play you for Q-J-x but to cater to South having A-9 doubleton. The C 2 is worst of all, as it almost always donates a trick.*

*Declarer should play the 10. This is not like an opening-lead situation, where declarer has better odds playing low from dummy (gaining against Q-9 or J-9, and losing only to Q-J). With dummy in view, West would lead the honor from Q-9 or J-9 to prevent any successful finesse.

Comments for the S 4

Barry Goren: Tapping declarer can’t be right with all this soft garbage… With both minors breaking, declarer will be able to set up a fourth card in one of them… So I play a trump. …

Rainer Herrmann: If declarer is 5=1=4=3… he cannot complete a dummy reversal and set up his long diamond after a spade switch. Of course, in the unlikely case declarer is 6=2=1=4 or 6=2=4=1 with a singleton D A or C K, I may regret it. …

Carsten Kofoed: … A heart continuation will help South with a dummy reversal if he has only a five-card spade suit.

Dale Freeman: If there is a dummy reversal, a trump lead is usually the best defense.

Charles Blair: [Hoping to stop the overtrick if South has] S K-10-9-8-7 H x D A-9-x-x C K-9-x. Declarer can always make five if he has 5=1=3=4 shape. …

Phil Clayton: A second heart seems wrong, as it allows declarer to reverse the dummy. We don’t have the timing for an attack on either minor, and a shift to either could blow a trick. Declarer is likely to play me for the S Q, so I give up nothing.

Bill Erwin: Keep declarer from executing a dummy reversal and avoid breaking a minor suit, which could be fatal.

Gabriel Nita-Saguna: Trying to prevent the dummy reversal when declarer started with S K-x-x-x-x H x D A-9-x-x C K-x-x, or S K-x-x-x-x H x D A-9-x C K-x-x-x.

Andrew de Sosa: Trying to prevent a dummy reversal should declarer have a singleton heart. If I don’t continue hearts, hopefully declarer won’t have enough dummy entries to pull it off.

Comments for the H A

Eduard Munteanu: The safest, and maybe partner has H Q-J bare. Who knows?

N. Scott Cardell: The H Q shows a singleton (unlikely) or the H J. Clearly declarer needs the S K, D A and C K for the bidding; but the jump all the way to game on at most 11 HCP (including the C K, a dubious value on the bidding) and a trump suit headed by K-10-9 at best means declarer likely has six trumps. A minor-suit lead has a good chance of gifting a trick and is unlikely to gain by force; and any non-heart lead may let declarer get rid of a heart loser. (If South holds S K-10-9-x-x-x H x-x D A-J C A-x-x, he can take the rest on any switch.) …

John Reardon: If South has something like S K-10-x-x-x-x H 10-x-x D A-J C K-x, then I must take a heart ruff now or we will lose a trick.

James Hudson: If partner has H Q-J tight, we must get our three heart tricks right away (I’ll hope that he has a trump). …

George Klemic: I don’t need partner in to lead anything, so I will happily hope he has a doubleton (or stiff)… I answered this so fast, it must be a trap.

Marcus Chiloarnus: Before the mice get at our heart tricks.

Tim DeLaney: Partner’s pass tells me that South has all the missing high honors. South [will often have] six spades for the 4 S bid, giving him 10 tricks off the top (he will not go wrong in spades.) So, I just cash all the hearts we can, saving an overtrick whenever South is 6=3=1=3, or 6=3=x=x with the D J.

Gabriel Dumitrasciuc: I’ll just take what is mine; the squeeze is almost unavoidable…

Yi Zhong: In case East has H Q-J tight. I don’t need any shift from East.

Jess Cohen: Queen shows the jack, so it seems I should continue hearts. A minor-suit switch could cost a trick, and a spade seems to give declarer a tempo. …

Dean Swallow: No good reason, but all other leads could well blow a trick for us.

Jason Chew: Partner’s H Q should promise the jack or a singleton. Since nothing useful can be accomplished by underleading to partner’s possible H J, I’ll cash the H A next.

Michael Errington: Anything other than hearts could give away a cheap trick. I could underlead hearts to put partner in… but it’s just possible he has H Q-J only. TopMain

Problem 6

Matchpoints None Vul

West
You

Pass
Pass
Pass
North

1 C
1 NT
3 S
5 H
East

Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass
South

1 S
3 H
4 NT
6 S (AP)

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

You lead the D K, partner plays the four, and South the five. Your next lead?

LeadAwardVotesPercent
C 51020427
D 9817323
S 6614619
C Q57810
H 84699
D Q28211

First, let’s consider the diamond layout. Partner’s D 4 is normally attitude (discouraging), but against a slam it is count.* Therefore, partner shows an odd number of diamonds, and three holdings are plausible: A-J-8-7-4, J-8-4 or J-7-4. I exclude A-x-x because South’s bidding wouldn’t make sense without control of the unbid suit. I also exclude 8-7-4 because declarer would have no cause to duck with A-J-5 (unlike Problem 4). Also possible is J-4, but this would mean South bid Blackwood with a club void.

*When a king is led against a slam, an attitude signal is generally useless; but it is often necessary to know how many cards partner has in the suit led. Count is extremely important in cash-out situations where dummy has a promotable honor. This exception is noted in my summary of Carding Agreements.

South’s first two bids indicate at least five spades and four hearts, and the use of Blackwood implies no void. If South is 5-5 or 6-5 in the majors, nothing you do will matter — either partner has a heart trick or he doesn’t. The most critical case is when South has 5=4=3=1 shape, as in this layout:

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

At double-dummy declarer could always succeed by finessing the H 9, but this won’t happen in practice. Declarer ducked the first diamond to rectify the count for a squeeze in case hearts do not break, and he is destined to succeed if you’re not careful. Suppose you continue with the D 9; 10, jack, ace. Declarer will then lead all his trumps to reach this position:

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

Note that East was already squeezed out of his club stopper to guard hearts. Declarer next cashes three rounds of hearts ending in hand to squeeze you in the minors — 12 tricks without a finesse.

The D 9 continuation effectively isolated the diamond protection to you, and with partner guarding hearts, declarer was presented with a double squeeze. As played above, partner was squeezed three tricks ahead of you. If declarer preferred, he could have won three hearts before the last spade to effect a simultaneous double squeeze.

What about a trump shift? This has the benefit of not isolating the diamond protection, but it leaves too many entries intact. Declarer would run his trumps to reach this position:

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

Note that East chose to keep a diamond stopper, else it would be the same as the first ending. Declarer next cashes three hearts to squeeze you out of diamond stopper, then the top clubs squeeze East in the red suits. This time the squeeze is nonsimultaneous perforce, but the end result is the same. The embalming fluid may vary, but either way you are mummified.

You must shift to a club. This removes an important entry without isolating your stoppers in either minor suit. Declarer now has no workable squeeze. Suppose declarer leads two rounds of trumps to reach this position:

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

Declarer next leads a spade to the jack, and East must let go a diamond (not a club, which would allow declarer to isolate the club stopper with a ruff and develop a double squeeze). Declarer now has two isolated threats (you guard diamonds, partner hearts), but there is no entry in the common suit (clubs), which means no double squeeze.

To enhance the problem, I threw in the possibility of leading the C Q to guard against South having a singleton jack. Oops. This would be a viable option if your club spot were higher than dummy’s; but here it releases your club protection and subjects partner to a simple squeeze. Don’t worry about something out of reach. If declarer is clairvoyant enough to duck the club shift around to a stiff jack, you’re in over your head — it’s time to take up a simple game, like chess.

What if declarer has three clubs, e.g., S A-K-Q-10-8 H K-Q-J-x D 5 C J-9-x? In that event he could always capture your C Q, and leading the suit is unlikely to affect his play. Would you accept a club finesse offered at trick two? I wouldn’t. Imagine losing to a doubleton (or stiff) queen when the slam was cold all along. It is also unlikely that South would launch into Blackwood with that hand; a 4 D control-bid (over 3 S) seems more appropriate.

Second place goes to leading the D 9, as this suffices when partner has D J-8-4 (instead of J-7-4) by removing South’s diamond entry without isolating the diamond stopper. Accurate defense will then foil any squeeze attempt.

Other choices are decidedly worse, as they do nothing to break up the squeeze. The S 6 is probably the best of the lot — at least it doesn’t reveal anything. Leading the H 8 might resolve a heart guess*, and the C Q might resolve a club guess. I rate the D Q worst because it is the only card in your hand to let declarer succeed with, say, S A-K-Q-10-8 H K-10-9-x D A-x-x C J. I’ll leave it to you as a play exercise.

*South might have H K-Q-10-x or K-J-10-9. In my example (K-Q-9-x) the heart lead is not as bad as it might appear because an expert declarer would be leery of the “marked” third-round finesse. Indeed, I would suspect West of being cagey with 10-8-x, rather than drawing a road map.

Comments for the C 5

Barry Goren: … If declarer is 6=4=1=2, he has all the elements of a guard squeeze if he has C J-x. In the end position, when he finds out that hearts don’t break, [his best chance] will be to run the C J. So a small club is indicated.* Declarer will not risk running it to his jack in this spot.

*Barry brings out another advantage for the club shift, although declarer should still succeed with S A-K-Q-x-x-x H K-Q-x-x D 5 C J-x by unblocking the C J. As trumps are run, East must retain a diamond stopper (else an ordinary double squeeze); so East must pitch all his clubs, and the club finesse returns. (Ending is a double guard squeeze.) If South’s clubs were J-10 or J-9, however, the club shift is truly devastating, as the club blockage prevents declarer from succeeding without double-dummy play. –RP

Rainer Herrmann: Declarer may have rectified the count with 5=4=3=1 shape. Attack the link to the double threat.

Gareth Birdsall: Declarer may have e.g., S A-K-Q-x-x H K-Q-x-x D A-x-x C x, so a club is needed to break up the squeeze.

Carsten Kofoed: Breaking up the double squeeze. The C Q is a Pyrrhic victory because, even if South has C J singleton, East will be caught in a heart-club squeeze.

Eduard Munteanu: Trying to destroy a compound squeeze.

Bruce Neill: The C Q looks flashy if declarer has S A-K-Q-x-x H K-Q-x-x D A-x-x C J, but then he can make it anyway on a club-heart squeeze. Better to keep my high club in case declarer has S A-K-Q-x-x H K-Q-x-x D A-8-x C x; then a low club switch breaks up a compound squeeze. (Without the D 8, leading the D 9 at trick two is good enough.)

Charles Blair: Unless “Slammin’ Sammy” is back, declarer should have a singleton club, hence S A-K-Q-x-x H K-Q-x-x D A-8-x C x, and a…compound squeeze is threatened… [Food for thought]: (1) If West had S 9-6-5 H J-9-x-x D K-Q-9-6 C x-x, should he play a trump at trick two to leave declarer a losing option? (2) Assume West would always switch to a club and South has the singleton C J, I would argue that playing low from dummy is much less than 50 percent because West would lead the C Q if he had the nine or 10.

Tong Xu: To break up a double squeeze.

N. Scott Cardell: Breaks up the squeeze.

David Grainger: Declarer likely has S A-K-Q-x-x H K-Q-x-x D A-x-x C x. To prevent any squeeze, a club must be played; but the C Q must be retained to cover the C 8 in North. If declarer has the singleton C J and lets a low club ride, I’m sure he was good enough to make the contract anyway.

It also helps to hold your hand back. Tutankhamen’s
Law says, “Declarer untested if cards unbreasted.”

George Klemic: Bidding suggests declarer is 5=4=3=1 (with 5=5=3=0, I would expect a 4 D cue-bid not Blackwood) so I had better lead a club to break up the impending squeeze… If I lead the C Q, it will look silly in the end because I can’t guard clubs anymore. If declarer is good enough to ride it to his stiff jack, more power to him.

Frances Hinden: I need to play a minor to break up any squeeze; a diamond or the C Q may isolate one of the minor-suit menaces. If partner has D A-J-8-7-4, he should have overtaken and played another diamond to stop me from trying to do something clever.

Nick Krnjevic: I need declarer to have 5-4 in the majors (not 5-5) to have a chance to beat the contract. Assuming that he holds something like S A-K-Q-x-x H K-Q-x-x D A-x-x C x, I have to switch to a club to break up the squeeze. While it is true that I’d have to lead the C Q to stop declarer from making a singleton jack, I can’t afford that luxury since my club spots [could no longer protect the suit]. …

Toby Kenney: Breaks up the communication for a squeeze. I can’t lead the C Q as that isolates the club menace, and allows a simple squeeze against partner.

Bill Erwin: If declarer is 5-5 in the majors, my play is moot; so assume 5-4. Partner would have overtaken and led another diamond with A-J-8-7-4, and declarer would have won with A-J-x; so partner has J-x-x (declarer wouldn’t Blackwood with D x-x-x). Partner must have hearts stopped or there is no defense (assuming declarer has solid trumps). … If I continue diamonds, he [may] have a double squeeze position with clubs as the middle suit. Hence I must shift to clubs to break up the squeeze — but not the C Q since I can’t beat dummy’s C 8…

Julian Pottage: Declarer appears to be rectifying the count for a squeeze. If he has S A-K-Q-x-x H K-Q-x-x D A-x-x C x, the club switch is essential. I cannot afford to cater to a bare jack, as the C 8 would become a threat [against partner].

Tim DeLaney: This breaks up the pure squeeze (hearts as the isolated threat). A diamond would do the same; but the D K would leave a heart-diamond squeeze against East, while the D 9 could lead to a double squeeze if South has the D 8. Of course, not the C Q which leads to a heart-club squeeze against East.

Thijs Veugen: South has something like S A-K-Q-x-x H K-Q-x-x D A-8-5 C 10. I need to play clubs to break the communication for a squeeze. If South has the C J, it does [not help] to play the C Q because East will be squeezed in hearts and clubs.

Manuel Oliveira: To destroy a squeeze if declarer has S A-K-Q-10-x H K-Q-x-x D A-x-x C x (or H K-J-x-x).

Nikolay Demirev: If South has S A-K-Q-x-x H K-Q-x-x D A-8-x C x, any diamond continuation is fatal for the defense because it isolates the diamond menace. On a spade switch, partner is under the pressure of a compound squeeze on the fourth round of spades…

Steve Boughey: The D Q has become a liability. I must keep it, or risk exposing partner to a squeeze in the red suits. On the other hand, declarer knows I have it and that knowledge may help him count the hand (especially if I am known to hold the long club too). This could lead him to a successful heart finesse if he has H K-Q-10-x.

Frans Buijsen: Playing South for S A-K-Q-x-x H K-Q-x-x D A-8-5 C x. In this case I need to play a small club to break up the squeeze.

Roger Morton: Declarer does not yet know the heart position, so with something like H K-Q-x-x and C J 10 doubleton, he surely won’t take the finesse so early. Later, I will not cover the C J.*

*Roger refers to the potential 6=4=1=2 shape suggested by Barry Goren. If clubs are not led, declarer will fall into a winning end position; but after one club lead, declarer must play double-dummy to succeed. –RP

Scott Stearns: I’m going to attack declarer’s entries for a squeeze, if there is one. Any heart trick isn’t going away, and the club isn’t going to give anything away. …

Robert Eachus: If declarer has D A-x-x, I can see the squeeze coming from a mile away. The club lead breaks it up…

Alan Kravetz: If declarer has a stiff club, I kill the entry for a squeeze.

Hans Uijting: Playing South for S A-K-Q-x-x H K-Q-x-x D A-x-x C x.

Nigel Guthrie: Breaks up the squeeze if South is an unlikely 5=4=3=1 — but has the kibitzers in stitches when South is 5=5=3=0 without the D A.

Neelotpal Sahai: Looks like a squeeze is brewing with clubs as the [key] entry suit. … Leading the C Q would be a mistake as the club guard is transferred to partner and he is under a simple heart-club squeeze. I’m hoping declarer doesn’t have the C J singleton or he doesn’t take the finesse. TopMain

Final Notes

Comments are selected only from those who scored above average (top 340 in this edition), and for each problem I only used comments supporting the correct solution (or close seconds, as the 9 scores on Problems 2, 4 and 5). While this might be construed as a biased presentation, I feel it’s the best way to ensure solid content and avoid potential embarrassment in publishing comments that are off base. On this basis, I included over 70 percent of the eligible comments. If you supplied comments that were not used, I thank you for the input (I read them all).

My inclusion of a comment does not necessarily mean that I agree with it, but generally they are worthy. Comments are quoted exactly, except for corrections in spelling and grammar. In cases where I have quoted only part of a comment, an ellipsis (…) indicates where text was cut. In some cases I have inserted text [in brackets] to supply an omitted word or phrase, or to summarize a cut portion. Comments are listed in the order of the respondents’ rank, which is my only basis for sequencing.

I am confident that my lengthy study of these problems (combined with the input of your comments) has determined the best defensive plays in theory. Nonetheless, it is possible that I overlooked something. Anyone who wishes to debate the analyses, or thinks there is a reason for a scoring adjustment, is welcome to e-mail me (richard@rpbridge.net).

Thanks to all who responded, and especially to those who offered kind remarks about my web site. Oops! Wasn’t looking at the time; I’m late for the ceremony at the Hill of the Seven Jackals. I’ll let the slaves take over from here:

Charles Blair: Partner could not bid even once! You should have called this, “The Sound of Silence.”

Richard Morse: Let through these contracts, and partner will an-Nile-ate me!

Bill Powell: Thou who switcheth poorly shall score lower than a snake’s belly.

And finally, we have Ed McMahon of the old Tonight Show with the last envelope for Karnak, the Magnificent:

Stu Goodgold: The answer is Six Kings Lead. What is the question, O Great One? [Karnak puts envelope on forehead]: “Six Kings Lead… What happens when Sacramento puts an extra player on the court?” TopMain

© 2003 Richard Pavlicek