Puzzle 8N19   Main

The Twelve of Spades

  by Richard Pavlicek

Experienced players are aware of the advantage of playing a major-suit fit in notrump when ruffing potential is doubtful, or if an enemy ruff is likely. Usually this is with an eight-card fit; occasionally with nine, rarely longer. Would you believe twelve? The following case occurred in the Open Pairs of the 2003 Southeastern Regional. I was South.

3 NT South
None Vul
S K J 10 9 8 3
H 10 4 2
D K 8
C A 7
1 H
1 S
3 NT
H A K 8 7 6
D Q J 9 7
C K 9 8 2
TableS 2
H 5 3
D 6 5 4 3 2
C J 10 6 5 4
Lead: D Q S A Q 7 6 5 4
H Q J 9
D A 10
C Q 3

After West’s 1 H opening it was easy to foresee a heart ruff against 4 S, so I took the reasonable gamble that we had clubs stopped and bid the game in notrump. Another incentive was the opportunity for a top score at matchpoints.

West found the best lead of a diamond (won in hand) ostensibly holding me to nine tricks, but six rounds of spades were too much to bear. West chose to keep H A-K D J-9 C K-9, so I gave up a heart, won the diamond return, and conceded a heart for 10 tricks. (East had discarded three diamonds on the spades, so there was no danger of losing more than one diamond trick.) Was it a top? No! Someone else was in the same contract with a low heart lead, giving declarer 10 top tricks, so West was squeezed and endplayed for 11.

As expected, playing in spades costs an early heart ruff, then declarer cannot avoid a club loser. Not your everyday scenario! In this case declarer makes 4 NT but not 4 S, despite a 12-card spade fit. Can you find the ultimate?

Construct a deal where South can make 7 NT but not 7 S with a 12-card spade fit.

South must declare either contract, and assume best defense. This would be easy if East could ruff the opening lead with the only missing trump, so to make it tough: Neither opponent can have a singleton or void (except in spades of course).

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 create a winning deal.

7 NT makes
7 S  fails
TableEast will get
what remains


Duncan Bell Wins

In December 2016 this puzzle was presented as a contest, inviting anyone who wished to submit a solution. Participation was steady, with 56 persons giving it a try, but only 16 found a deal that makes 7 NT but not 7 S, with no East-West singleton or void (except spades).

“City sidewalks, busy sidewalks…

“…dressed in holiday style.” I decide on Silver Bells as my Christmas theme and, lo and behold, Bell’s the winner! And if that’s not spooky enough, second place goes to ‘Saint’ Nicholas. Reminds me of some bizarre coincidences in the early days, like the month I wiped out Perry Como (see A Pause To Reflect).

Congratulations to Duncan Bell, England, who was the first of seven to submit the optimal solution. In fact England swept the podium! This is the first time in all my puzzle contests that the same location took the top three spots, though England came close with a “UK sweep” of Spot Card Jungle in 2011. Looking back at my old bidding polls and play contests, the only other occurrence was a California sweep of Island of the Dinosaurs in 2002.

Ranking tiebreakers for the December 2016 contest were (1) weakest North-South hands, (2) weakest South hand, and (3) date-time of submission, in that order of priority. (Weakness is judged by the sum of all card ranks.)

Winner List
RankNameLocationN-S SumSouth Sum
1Duncan BellEngland18265
2Nicholas GreerEngland18265
3Tom SlaterEngland18265
4Charles BlairIllinois18265
5Foster TomBritish Columbia18265
6Grant PeacockMaryland18265
7Lin MurongOntario18265
8Leif-Erik StabellZimbabwe18666
9Tim BroekenNetherlands18670
10Hendrik NigulEstonia18670
11Jamie PearsonOntario18755
12Leigh MathesonAustralia20592
13Tina DenleeQuebec20592
14Dan GheorghiuBritish Columbia20592
15C.J. FlaskFlorida20592
16Jim MundayMississippi20592

Puzzle 8N19   MainTop   The Twelve of Spades


This first construction from Jamie Pearson, Ontario, produced far and away the weakest South hand, though it was 5 pips overweight in the priority tiebreaker (North-South hands combined).

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

Jamie Pearson: After any lead, 13 tricks are easy in notrump: Unblock clubs, spade to the ace, and pitch the D 4 on a good club. In spades, East will get a ruff if declarer unblocks clubs early; or if the S K is drawn, declarer will be locked in dummy and eventually lose a diamond.

Jamie also earns my first style points of the year. His alternating ranks in the immaterial E-W suits is pleasing (no one else did this); and he even provides a 14th trick in notrump (as did Leif-Erik in the next solution). Any declarer with flair would use the fifth club to pitch a red ace from dummy before claiming.

Hendrik Nigul: Thirteen tricks in notrump, as West cannot lead the spade; only 12 tricks in spades, because the S A (only entry) must be cashed before clubs are established.

Long elephant ride

The next entry, from Zimbabwe, arrived later than most — no doubt requiring elephant transport to the African coast, or something like that as I vaguely recall Ramar of the Jungle. It seems the long elephant ride shifted all the E-W high cards into West, though I suppose this could also happen on a jumbo jet, as we’re all sick of being warned about items shifting in the overhead bins. But I digress; never mind.

Leif-Erik Stabell was the only one to submit the second-best construction, reducing the N-S card rank sum to 186 and South to 66. Unlike the previous deal, West must lead a specific suit to defeat 7 S.

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

The grand slam in notrump is easy, as South has two entries: one to finesse hearts, and the other to return and score the fourth heart. In spades, however, the killing diamond lead removes South’s plain-suit entry; hearts can be finessed easily enough, but the suit can’t be unblocked without giving West a ruff or removing South’s only remaining entry.

Eastward shift

For the ultimate construction, about all we need to do is sit backwards on the elephant, or use an overhead bin across the aisle. Duncan Bell, England, seems to have accomplished that, as all the opposing high cards are shifted to East, although only the black-suit honors are relevant. The crazed auction was provided by:

Tom Foster: The Walrus opened 4 S, and Hideous Hog overcalled 4 NT with his monstrous two-suiter. Awoken from his daydream, the Rabbit bid 5 D to show one key card. Papa bid 5 H to show support for any two-suiter, the Walrus bid 6 C [anyone’s guess], the Hog doubled, and the Rabbit redoubled. The Walrus, imagining discards on the Rabbit’s club suit, jumped to 7 S, and the Hog doubled again. The Rabbit, who had recently read about Lightner doubles, corrected to 7 NT to avert a possible ruff; and the Hog repeated his sentiment, more confident now with the Rabbit declarer. [Acknowledgments to Victor Mollo (1909-87)]

7 NT× South
None Vul
S A Q J 10 9 8 7 6
H 4
D A 4
C A 4
5 H
4 S
6 C
7 S
4 NT
5 D
7 NT
H 9 8 7 6 5
D 9 8 7 6
C 9 8 7 6
TableS K
D K Q J 10 5
C K Q J 10 5
S 5 4 3 2
H A Q 10 3 2
D 3 2
C 3 2

Nicholas Greer: In 7 NT declarer takes eight spades, three clubs and two red aces. In 7 S, a club lead cuts off communication, allowing East to ruff the third club if it is cashed immediately; or if declarer draws the missing trump, he is stuck in North with a red-suit loser.

Tom Slater: Thirteen lucky tricks in notrump, but a club lead kills communication in spades.

Charles Blair: If North has S A-Q-J-10-9-8-7 H A-7-6-5 D A C 2, and South S 6-5-4-3-2 H 4-3-2 D 2 C A-Q-10-9, even six spades goes down with 7 NT making.

Yes! Besides Charles, Lin Murong also submitted a deal with a 2-trick difference. Despite the pretty construction, both realized that the extra weight of the C 9 would lose the tiebreakers, so they went for the optimal solution. So which is more important: Tying for the top spot? Or earning style points? Tough choice, as either and a few bucks could get you a cup of coffee.

Thirteen Trumps

Charles Blair: Can a 13-card fit be inferior to another suit?

Yes. For example, S A-Q-J-10-x-x-x HD K-x-x-x C x-x opposite S K-x-x-x-x-x H x D A-Q-J-10 C A-x makes 7 D (barring a Hawaiian split) while 7 S is hopeless. Change the first hand to D K-x C x-x-x-x, and even a 4-2 fit could beat the 7-6.

Anonymous: Is it possible for notrump to produce more tricks than a 13-card fit?

No. This I soon realized when contemplating “The Thirteen of Spades” as a title.

The Donald: Thirteen Trumps? Not yet, but I’m working on it! Nubile candidates can apply here.

Happy New Year!

Puzzle 8N19   MainTop   The Twelve of Spades

© 2017 Richard Pavlicek