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Old Scoring Deja Vu

In the old days, the “700 number” was a common occurrence as a slightly misjudged game sacrifice at favorable vulnerability. In fact it was sometimes a surprising winner, when the layout permitted a major-suit game to score three overtricks for 710. Then along came the scoring changes of 1987, increasing nonvulnerable doubled penalties to 100-300-500-800, etc., forcing the notorious 700 number into retirement. Well, almost. Witness Board 7 from a recent grudge match in our ward:

6 NT South S 6
H A J 10 9 8 6 5
D 9 6
C A 10 6
Both Vul


4 C


1 H
5 H
6 NT


2 S
All Pass

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

As West I was about a jack short of a 2 C overcall but felt obliged to show my suit over 3 NT. North-South mostly ignored this, and probably each other, as they bid dauntlessly to slam. Accidentally, 6 NT was a fair contract, basically on the heart finesse (assuming a spade lead) and arguably a favorite because of East’s weak bid.

So much for favorites. I felt that leading from an honor might give declarer his 12th trick, so I began passively with dummy’s suit. Diabolique! Declarer considered his options, but only the heart finesse made sense (not that sense played a big role in this game). Back came the S 8 (my partner only knows fourth-best) and when the smoke cleared, declarer claimed the last five tricks. Down seven, minus 700. Afterward South observed that he should have been playing poker, as everyone had four-of-a-kind, and he would have raked the pot. Down seven with four sevens on Board 7. How lucky is that?

Note that declarer could not have done better if he could see all four hands. He could cash only five top tricks (same down seven); and if he grabbed the H A to finesse diamonds, he would be down eight. Perhaps this says something about bidding 6 NT with only 26 HCP, or at least to stay clear of our ward.

Would holding more HCP have avoided the 700 number? Probably — or maybe not, which brings me to the puzzle:

Construct a deal with more N-S HCP where 6 NT is down seven with best play and defense.

The main goal is to give N-S the most possible HCP for this feat to occur. A secondary goal (tie-breaker for the April 2016 contest) is to place four-of-a-kind wherever feasible in any hand, judged by the total rank sum of all four-of-a-kinds.

Try it now

Enter a deal and click Verify to find out what, if anything, is wrong. Use the help provided to make corrections and repeat. See how many tries it takes you to discover the winning deal. To get you started, the best four-of-a-kinds are already in place (no others are possible) and I threw in the S K for luck. That’s 27 HCP for North-South already — and you can add more!

6 NT South S

Table  East will get
what remains
West leads S


Leigh Matheson Wins!

In April 2016 this puzzle was presented as a challenge — with no help provided — inviting anyone who wished to submit a solution. Participation was the highest yet in this series, with 64 persons giving it a try, of which the 33 listed below managed to stuff North-South with at least 35 HCP.

Congratulations to Leigh Matheson, Australia, who was the first of 11 to submit the optimal solution, 36 HCP with a 36 quad sum (total of all four-of-a-kind ranks). Leigh is a keen puzzle buff, most notably as the only correct solver of Seesaw Recall, the first and most difficult puzzle of this series. He also topped everyone, including me, with the ultimate solution to Right-Sided Spades back in 2011.

Oh, and thanks to Jim Munday for keeping our homeland in the Top 10. (If present-day politics is any indication, our only hope to stay there may be to bring back David Letterman.)

RankNameLocationN-S HCPQuad Sum
1Leigh MathesonAustralia3636
2Nicholas GreerEngland3636
3Tim BroekenNetherlands3636
4Tom SlaterEngland3636
5Tina DenleeQuebec3636
6Hendrik NigulEstonia3636
7Jonathan MestelEngland3636
8Julien ReichertFrance3636
9Jim MundayMississippi3636
10Leif-Erik StabellZimbabwe3636
11Ivan LoyHong Kong3636
12Martin VodickaSlovakia3611
13Ryan ChoyHong Kong3610
14Joseph DiMuroCalifornia360
15Dan BakerTexas360
16Charles BlairIllinois360
17David BrooksAustralia3559
18Grant PeacockMaryland3559
19Jon GreimanIllinois3559
20Mike WenbleEngland3559
21Jacco HopNetherlands3559
22Jeff YutzlerVirginia3559
23Eric LanierWisconsin3549
24Jonathan SiegelMaryland3547
25Jean-Christophe ClementFrance3546
26Adam DickinsonScotland3544
27Audrey KuehEngland3535
28Dan GheorghiuBritish Columbia3533
29Wayne SomervilleNorthern Ireland3533
30Karol SzwenkelPoland3528
31Lin MurongOntario3517
32Keith LaiEngland3515
33Jurijs BalasovsLatvia3514



Before showing the optimal solution, let’s look at a few that came close. Of the 17 solutions with 35 HCP, 14 had the common theme of N-S holding a blank king opposite a blank queen; i.e., E-W with a running suit, divided 8-3 to achieve the goal of down seven. In this genre it is possible to pack six four-of-a-kinds with a maximal sum of 59. This entry from Jon Greiman has pleasing symmetry and earns style points for seven three-of-a-kinds as well:

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

Jon Greiman: Fortunately, East-West play coded nines and 10s, instead of third best.

The choice of card shouldn’t matter, but if East never bid, West might indeed have a coded nightmare choosing a suit. One thing’s for sure: Proponents of “fourth from your longest and strongest” won’t be showing you this deal.

David Brooks: I am sure you are looking for more interesting solutions than this.

“Interesting” is a matter of taste, but yes, it is possible go one better in the HCP department.

Ping-pong match

Five of the solutions with 36 HCP hinged on two-suit isolation — West having the same two suits as North or South, such that the two hands were forever locked in a ping-pong match. Unfortunately, this arrangement is not receptive to four-of-a-kind holdings, in fact three of the five entries had none. Last month’s winner, Martin Vodicka, managed to plant four jacks in this curious layout.

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

Hopefully, West is of the school that leads queens or singletons, as only this defense gets eight tricks (down seven) since North’s small cards have no where to go but West. If West leads any of his 10 other cards, declarer makes 7 NT (jettison the D A on a club) and everyone in my ward would claim 16 tricks to get a jump start on the next board.

A perfect 36

The best solution gives declarer a double stopper (A-K facing Q-J) in the defenders’ suit, and one defender a double guard (precisely K-J-10) in declarer’s long suit of ace-ninth opposite a blank queen. This arrangement permits three four-of-a-kinds, optimally aces, queens and tens. Neat: 36 HCP, 36 rank sum — or a bust and a hip measurement if you prefer, and don’t forget the 24-inch waist. Of the 11 perfect solutions, the following by Julien Reichert was the most realistic, and giving West three nines adds a nice touch where four-of-a-kind is impossible.

6 NT South S Q J
H K Q J 8 7
D K Q J 8 7
Both Vul


All Pass

1 H
4 D
5 D
6 D

3 S

4 C
4 S
5 S
6 NT
S 9
H 9 6 5 4 3 2
D 9 6 5 4 3 2
Table S 10 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
H 10
D 10
C K J 10
West leads S A K
C A 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

I supplied an auction that might be duplicated by many experts. After North opens, East interferes with a weak jump overcall, and South bids his nine-bagger (forcing). Subsequent cue-bids reveal nothing helpful about clubs (North would surely bid 6 C over 5 S with the C K) so a club loser seems likely, especially after North shows a pronounced two-suiter. Therefore, South gives up on seven and settles for the obvious 6 NT. Well, he doesn’t exactly give up on seven; he just transfers it to the minus column. So what else is new?

Winning tip: If you ever pick up a hand like South’s in a money game, bid 5 C and hope you can make it — surely it’s a setup like the old Mississippi heart hand.

Nicholas Greer: South gets only his five top tricks on a spade lead. I’m glad I didn’t have to bid these hands!

Jim Munday: Unfortunately I sit West and have to worry about finding the right lead.

As East I never worry… Having bid spades only once, I assume a red card is coming.

Tom Slater: Disappointing not to get four-of-a-kind into each hand; but if South has only eight clubs, what is his other card?

Tina Denlee: This was Board 13 of the same grudge match. Things looked promising when North opened 1 H

Sorry, but the only thing “promising” about 1 H is that it appears to be normal. In fact it was a psych, as North had a routine, insane 1 NT opener by his own standards.

All move for the last round

Jonathan Mestel: I once defended a hand at pairs where declarer played in a splinter and had to decide whether to accept -700 (to beat potential -790 scores) or risk -800 for a cold zero.

Unlucky. You’d do a lot better than “once” if you played in our game.

Wayne Somerville: I updated my entry for your four-of-a-kind tiebreaker, as if it were something to write home about in 13-card stud.

Julien Reichert: As somebody usually says about now, “Stupid slams make only in diamonds.”


© 2016 Richard Pavlicek