Main     Puzzle 8K29 by Richard Pavlicek    

Dead Man’s Deal

A recent discovery in Deadwood, South Dakota, shed new light on the fatal last hand of James “Wild Bill” Hickok. Beneath Saloon No. 10 a logbook was unearthed, proving Hickok was playing whist, not poker as generally believed. Hickok held the North hand, with South dealer and diamonds trump.

Jack McCall, West, tabled the diamond seven, whooping “When in doubt lead trumps, and bring me a fucking beer!” Unfazed, Hickok hopped with the ace, which was necessary for N-S to win 12 tricks against any defense.

Wild Bill Hickock
D win 12 S A K 8
H 8
D A J 3 2
C A 9 8 5 4


Lead: D 7
 
Table


 
Log AA88
Aug 2, 1876

S J 9 5
H A 9 3 2
D K 9 8 5 4
C 3

“You’re a loser, McCall!” gloated Hickok. “I’d have beaten you at poker too, with aces & eights full.”

“Like hell!” roared McCall. “The pot would have been mine. Now I’ll show you a real loser,” as McCall fired his gun, killing Hickok.

Construct a West hand to complete the deal based on the story. Many solutions exist, so a further objective is to give West the best poker hand possible, and to equalize the East-West HCP.

TopMain

Dean Pokorny Wins!

In March-April 2011 this puzzle was presented as a contest, with 92 participants from 28 locations. Thanks to those who entered, and congratulations to the 13 who produced a West hand to satisfy the conditions of the story. Ties are broken by the best West poker hand, most even E-W HCP division, most even E-W card sum, and lastly, by date and time of entry.

Dean Pokorny was the first of only four to find the solution with the best poker hand. Hmm… Change the second ‘o’ in his name to an ‘e’ and I can understand why. Dean has been a leading participant in many of my past contests, and the winner of Distribution Most Foul more than seven years ago.

Although Europe grabbed the top spots as in the past three contests, most of the successful solvers are Americans, which might be attributable to the theme. I mean, how many Europeans have ever heard of Deadwood, South Dakota? We Americans are proud of our heritage, and it shows. Look around! Even our government is run by dead wood.

RankNameLocationPokerHCPSum
1Dean PokornyCroatia4 queens8-8104-104
2Jonathan MestelEngland4 queens8-8104-104
3Charles BlairIllinois4 queens8-8104-104
4Richard SteinCalifornia4 queens8-8104-104
5Tim BroekenNetherlands4 tens8-8104-104
6Matt LahutNew York4 tens8-8104-104
7Tim DeLaneyIndiana4 tens8-8104-104
8Nan WangNew Jersey4 tens8-8104-104
9Radu VasilescuPennsylvania4 tens8-8104-104
10Dan DangBritish Columbia4 tens8-8104-104
11John ReardonEngland4 tens8-8109-99
12Manuel PauloPortugal4 tens8-8110-98
13Zla KhadgarOhio4 sevens8-8104-104

TopMain

Solution

Some people questioned my historical facts for this puzzle; but you can be sure, I’m an authority. No less than 25 years in partnership with “Wild Bill” Root should be evidence enough, though his demise was less notorious; and I grew up watching The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok with Guy Madison — and don’t forget Andy Devine as his pal, Jingles. Further, I’ve been to Deadwood, both literally by taking the turnoff from Interstate 90, and figuratively in some bridge matches I’d rather forget.

The main point of the puzzle is that the D A must be won immediately, which suggests, and in fact proves, an uneven diamond split. If diamonds were 2-2, declarer would have 11 easy tricks by drawing trumps, and a 12th would be available from: a 4-3 club split; or if a defender held 5+ clubs and the S Q (or 10 if East), he could be endplayed; or if West held S Q-10, he could be finessed. If West has 5+ clubs and East has the guarded S Q, the proof is more complex; but basically declarer can either endplay East with the long heart, or crossruff-elope without drawing a second trump.

The most obvious diamond layout requiring the ace hop is a blank queen with East, and all but the top four solvers keyed on this. A typical construction, and a sound explanation:

D win 12 S A K 8
H 8
D A J 3 2
C A 9 8 5 4
Trick
1. W
2. N
3. N
4. S
5. N
6. N
7. S
8. N
W 8 L 0
Lead
D 7
D J
H 8
H 2
C A
C 4
H 3
C 5
2nd
A
S 4
4
Q
6
7
10
J
3rd
Q
5
A
D 2
3
D 8
D 3
D 9
4th
4
6
6
5
2
10
7
K
S 10 3 2
H K Q 10 6
D 10 7 6
C K 10 2
Table S Q 7 6 4
H J 7 5 4
D Q
C Q J 7 6
Matt Lahutt
New York

S J 9 5
H A 9 3 2
D K 9 8 5 4
C 3

Matt Lahut: When the first trick goes 7-A-Q-4, North can draw a second trump; then heart ace, heart ruff, club ace, club ruff, heart ruff, club ruff. When the last trump is drawn, East is squeezed into either promoting a black trick for declarer, or pitching his heart exit to allow an endplay. If declarer did not rise with the ace at trick one, he could not ruff two hearts without promoting a trump trick for West.

Matt’s construction, as with all solvers placing 5-12, gives West four tens, which is the best possible poker hand given the D Q with East. Note that a straight flush is impossible, and the possible fours-of-a-kind are queens, tens, sevens and sixes.

Several people asked if the kicker card would be used to break ties among four-of-a-kind, which is something I had overlooked. I decided not, since it would be insignificant in the times of the story — there were no wild cards (unless you count Wild Bill) or common cards as in Texas hold’em.

While the next solver topped Hickok’s full house with only four sevens, the play variation shown leads to a remarkable position:

Wild Bill Hickock
D win 12 S A K 8
H 8
D A J 3 2
C A 9 8 5 4
Trick
1. W
2. N
3. N
4. S
5. S
6. N
7. S
W 7 L 0
Lead
D 7
C A
C 4
H A
H 2
C 5
H 3
2nd
A
2
10
4
7
J
J
3rd
Q
3
D 5
8
D 2
D 8
D 3
4th
4
6
7
5
6
K
10
S Q 7 2
H Q J 7 4
D 10 7 6
C K 7 6
Table S 10 6 4 3
H K 10 6 5
D Q
C Q J 10 2
Zla Khadgar
Ohio

S J 9 5
H A 9 3 2
D K 9 8 5 4
C 3

From the end position, a club is led and ruffed with the king, inflicting what I would call a backwash strip squeeze. If West pitches a spade, declarer crosses in spades to lead a good club, pitching a heart. If West pitches a heart, declarer wins a trump and leads a good club, endplaying West when he ruffs. Lastly, if West underruffs, declarer simply draws trump and enjoys the good club. North
leads
S A K 8
H
D J
C 9 8
S Q 7 2
H Q
D 10 6
C
Table S 10 6 4 3
H K
D
C Q
S J 9 5
H 9
D K 9
C

Queans for McCall

According to historians, Jack McCall would frequent saloons and brothels in every town he visited, and his queans could fill a corral (no doubt one of his pet ideas). Losing to Hickok at whist was intolerable when his four queans, er, queens would have raked a huge pot against aces full. Thinking along similar lines:

Richard Stein: Lookie here, sir! I done went ‘n’ gave ol’ McCall four queens… so, y’see, he warn’t just a winner at the poker table, but in the bedroom as well.

Superficially it seems impossible for West to hold the D Q, since North could then win the jack at trick one, which must be as good as if not better than winning the ace. Alas, bridge is a curious game, and terms like “must be” are dangerous. Sometimes an ace can get in the way later on, while the flexibility of a jack can open the door. And so it is shown by the contest winner, who not only provides West with four queens but earns style points for four sevens as well:

D win 12 S A K 8
H 8
D A J 3 2
C A 9 8 5 4
Trick
1. W
2. N
3. S
4. N
5. N
6. S
7. S
8. N
W 8 L 0
Lead
D 7
H 8
S 5
C A
C 4
S J
H 2
S A
2nd
A
4
10
2
6
2
7
H 10
3rd
10
A
K
3
D 5
8
D 2
9
4th
4
6
3
7
Q
6
5
4
S Q 10 7 4 2
H Q 7 6
D Q 7 6
C Q 7
Table S 6 3
H K J 10 5 4
D 10
C K J 10 6 2
Dean Pokorny
Croatia

S J 9 5
H A 9 3 2
D K 9 8 5 4
C 3

Dean Pokorny: After finessing and cashing three spades, ruffing one heart and ruffing one club, West is helpless. He can allow an easy crossruff; or overruff and play back a trump, covered by the jack, making his partner the victim of a seesaw squeeze.

To expand on Dean’s explanation, a club is next ruffed with the D 8. To have any hope, West must overruff and return his remaining trump, on which North plays the jack. If East pitches a club, one ruff establishes the last club. If East pitches a heart, the jack is overtaken, and one ruff establishes the last heart. Formally, this is called an entry-shifting trump squeeze. Note that if North had the D A in the ending instead of the jack, declarer would have to commit to which hand wins the trump return before East chooses his discard. North
leads
S
H
D J 3
C 9 8 5
S Q 7
H Q
D Q 6
C
Table S
H K J
D
C K J 10
S
H 9 3
D K 9 8
C

Also noteworthy is the S 5 lead to Trick 3, which is crucial. Leading the jack or nine will not do, as West can cover to force a second spade finesse, after which South cannot regain the lead to ruff a heart. Try it.

Jonathan Mestel: Actually, I heard Hickok died in a motor accident — squeezed between two cars while overtaking.

This puzzle theme (refusing a finesse to allow an entry-shifting squeeze) is from a double-dummy problem I created for the Contract Bridge Bulletin (February 1974) and subsequently reworked for Bridge Today (July 1993) as Oversold Overcall. Unfortunately, pure double-dummy problems have lost their aura due to the ease of computer solvability, so new puzzles need to be more abstruse.

TopMain

© 2011 Richard Pavlicek