Main   Quiz 8D77 by Richard Pavlicek  

The Piranha Strike Back

Ever since my Plus or Fishfood challenge, it’s been hard to get any sleep. The sound of swirling piranha is more haunting than the theme from Jaws. I tried sealing off my aquarium room with duct tape, which reduced the noise, but echoes still reverberated through the walls. Oh well. It seems the only way to satisfy these little buggers is to run another challenge — or as the frenzied fish see it: Food! Food at last!

As South, you will declare 4 S four times. Scoring is “plus or fishfood” so forget about overtricks. Either make your contract for a plus score, or you’re going for a swim — in a tank filled with piranha!

Some of the contracts may look easy, but the piranha have vowed for revenge. Be prepared for bad distributions, and decide how you would cope. Assume the East-West bidding (or lack of it) is plausible, but remember: Lose four tricks, and it’s hello, aquarium!

For each problem, decide how you would play to stay out of the fish tank.
Answers by the only survivor yet follow each problem. No fair peeking!


Problem 1

First up, the opponents allow you a peaceful auction, but that’s the calm before the storm. Beware!

4 S South S K 9 8 7
H A 8 5
D A K J 10 9
C 3
West

Pass
Pass
North
1 D
3 S
Pass
East
Pass
Pass
Pass
South
1 S
4 S
Lead: C QTableEast plays C 9
Both VulS A 10 6 5 4
H 7 4
D 7 5 4
C A 7 5

Spoiler below

Every unsuccessful participant (may they rest in peace) started trumps, low to the seven, to guard against a 4-0 break. Alas, this “safety play” may work in textbooks, but it hasn’t been approved for fish tanks. In fact there is nothing safe about it. Consider this nasty layout:

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

If you lead a spade immediately, West splits, and there’s no way to succeed from there. Besides the defenders’ three obvious tricks (spade, diamond, heart) declarer must eventually lose another, either a ruff to West or a side-suit trick if trumps are drawn. Try it.

Our lone survivor was on the mark:

Charles Blair: Win C A; diamond to ace; lead S 7. If East shows out, win S A; diamond to king; lead D J

Exactly. The key is to lead toward the top diamonds immediately; West cannot profitably ruff, and if East ruffs you have a marked finesse later. When West is void, you simply repeat the process, then sell the D J to East to establish the suit for a heart pitch. The rest is easy, losing just two trump tricks.

If both follow low to the first diamond, the best continuation is a low spade, ducking if East follows. If West wins, you have a lock (barring an 8-card heart suit) on any return: Finesse if a diamond; otherwise just win, draw trumps and establish diamonds to ensure 10 tricks.

What if East has S Q-J-3-2 and splits when you lead a spade from dummy? Charles offered this answer:

Charles Blair: If East plays an honor, duck; then if he has S Q-J-3-2 and leads a heart, duck and later finesse diamonds (ruffing a heart if necessary).

Whether to win or duck East’s trump honor is moot, as neither play delivers a guarantee. Most variations are threatened by two treacherous diamond holdings, East with D Q-x or a singleton, and I see no way to cater to both. Charles guards against the singleton.


Problem 2

Everyone passes to you. Hmm… that should be good news. Not! Hello-o-o-o, Mr. Sucker Bait.

4 S South S 10 9 8 7 5
H A
D 4 3 2
C A 9 4 3
West
Pass
Pass
Pass
North
Pass
4 S
East
Pass
Pass
South
1 S
Pass
Lead: C 5TableEast plays C J
N-S VulS K J 6 4 3
H 9 5 4
D A K 6 5
C 7

Spoiler below

This problem appeared in the December 2018 ACBL Bulletin. Clearly it would be an error to lead trumps, as a 3-0 break offside would allow three rounds to be played, leaving you a trick short and depending on 3-3 diamonds. The recommended strategy was to lead toward the top diamonds twice, minimizing the danger of an effective ruff. Hmm. Were the editors partying too much for the holidays? Consider this layout:

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

The suggested play sequence was C A; club ruff; H A; diamond to the ace; heart ruff; diamond to the king. Oops! West ruffs and exits with a club or heart; down one.

The danger of a top diamond being ruffed is a mirage if declarer eliminates the rounded suits. In fact the contract is virtually guaranteed. Our survivor speaks:

Charles Blair: Win the C A; club ruff; H A; club ruff; heart ruff; club ruff; heart ruff. If all this works, diamond to the ace; D K.

This is the 6-card ending:

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

Declarer next plays top diamonds. If they live, declarer must win at least one more trump trick. If either is ruffed, that defender is endplayed. After ruffing the second diamond, West must either lead trumps (resolving that issue) or render a ruff-sluff to rid the diamond loser.


Problem 3

West ignores his partner’s suit and finds a better lead. The piranha smell flesh! Will you survive?

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

3 D
Pass
North

4 D
Pass
East
2 D
Pass
Pass
South
2 S
4 S
Lead: H QTableEast plays H 8
None VulS A 10 6 4 2
H 3
D 5 3
C A K 6 5 4

Spoiler below

What could possibly go wrong this time? On a good day you would make six spades, but don’t expect any good days around here. Only a Hawaiian trump break could jeopardize 4 S, so consider this layout:

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

After winning the H A, you lead a trump to discover the bad news, winning the ace. Since you can afford three trump losers, the apparent continuation is a spade to the queen. Whoa! Or more appropriate for the occasion: Man overboard! West wins the S K and taps you with a heart, after which there is no path to success.

Our only resident with a Ph.D. (Piranha Haters Degree) was made of sterner stuff:

Charles Blair: Win the H A and lead a spade from dummy, covering East’s card if he follows. If East shows out, win the S A and lead a club to the queen.

Right on! The early club play is imperative, not only to retain trump control but to allow a second-round club finesse against East without blocking the suit. Note that West cannot have four clubs, as that would give East two voids, surely impossible on the bidding.

Suppose West pitches a diamond on the first club, ruffs the next (as you run the C 10) then taps you with a heart. Is it time to lead trumps? Not yet! Lead another club; assume West ruffs and taps you again to reach this ending:

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

Now is the time to lead a second trump. If West wins and taps you again, you can cross in diamonds to draw his last trump and claim. Or if West clears trumps, your long club takes care of dummy’s heart loser.

Other variations exist, depending on when West ruffs or discards, but declarer can always prevail.


Problem 4

A lively auction lands you in a sound contract. Or is that a swirling sound instead? Cue the Jaws theme!

4 S South S A K 3 2
H 6
D J 6 4 3
C 9 5 4 3
West
1 D
3 H
Pass
North
Pass
4 S
East
1 H
Pass
South
1 S
Pass
Lead: H QTableEast plays H 7
E-W VulS 9 8 7 6 5 4
H A K
D A K 5
C K 2

Spoiler below

Another contract that looks pretty easy is a reminder of Murphy’s Law, better known in these parts as the Law of Total Fish: One careless move and you’ll join them in the tank.

The only danger is a 3-0 trump break. If West has S Q-J-10 (illogical on the bidding) it’s a no-brainer, as he can be endplayed with his high trump. But if East has S Q-J-10, it’s not so easy. Consider this diabolical layout:

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

Yes, an original diamond lead could have set you two tricks, but that’s water under the bridge — not to be confused with bridge underwater, where you’re headed if you mess it up now.

The key is to elope with your diamond winners by leading through East, so he can ruff only a loser, then to endplay West with the D Q. Lighting the way:

Charles Blair: Win the S A. If West shows out, cash the S K, lead to the D A, ruff the second heart, lead to the D K, then exit with a diamond.

Note the importance of cashing both top spades immediately, else East could get two ruffs. This necessitates a heart ruff as the second entry to dummy, despite it being a winner. If South’s hearts were A-x, almost everyone would get it right.

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Charles Blair Wins

This contest ran from February 25 to March 27, 2021. There were only five entries. Whether this indicates a pandemic of ichthyophobia or my own going-out-of-business sale, I’m not sure, but the piranha are starving from the low turnout. While four of the five participants did stay for dinner, the poor fish can’t live on that for a month! I’ve had to stock the aquarium with hamburger just to protect myself and was almost mauled when I asked: You want fries with that?

Oh well. At least the piranha didn’t vanquish all the entrants! Congratulations to Charles Blair, who stands alone, not only in this achievement but as my most prolific participant since I began these challenges over 20 years ago. Previous wins include Have Cards, Will Double, Let Your Heart Be Light, Mission: Implausible, Two-Way Finesses, World Series of Bridge and Duck Season Opener — two of which drew over 1000 participants! Bridge has certainly gone downhill since the good old days.

On a brighter note, it didn’t take long to produce a leaderboard:

Survivor
RankNameLocation
1Charles BlairIllinois

Final Words

Anonymous: I was going to enter this contest, but the conditions made me fear something like Vincent Price in House of Wax. You’d better hope the police don’t drag your aquarium!

Good point, but 17 years ago I opened my own wax museum to cover my tracks.

Charles Blair: In a serious rubber bridge game almost 50 years ago, I went down in a grand slam because an opponent passed throughout with K-Q-J eighth. I hope history is not repeating itself in Problem 2.

I can top that. I once passed throughout with nine clubs after my RHO opened 1 C. My LHO played 4 S, and partner led the H K, won by dummy’s ace. Declarer went for a fast pitch with C A-K-x opposite his singleton. He didn’t get very far.

Okay, folks, I get the message. Bridge interest has faded into oblivion — or maybe just I have — so this will end my current series of challenges. Only problem now is how to feed my fish, so I may have to pursue one of my other hobbies. Pocket billiards was my claim to fame in younger years, so I’ll hustle up some new victims. Hmm… PoolFish… this could work!

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© 2021 Richard Pavlicek