Main   Puzzle 8N19 by Richard Pavlicek  

The Twelve of Spades

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 S K J 10 9 7 3
H 10 4 2
D K 8
C A 7
None Vul

1 H

1 S


3 NT
H A K 8 6 5
D Q J 9 7
C K 9 6 2
Table S 4
H 7 3
D 6 5 4 3 2
C J 10 8 5 4
Lead: D Q S A Q 8 6 5 2
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 predicted, playing in spades costs an early heart ruff, then declarer cannot avoid a club loser. Not your everyday scenario! Declarer wins more tricks in notrump than in spades despite a 12-card fit. In this case it was 10 for notrump, nine for spades. Can you do better?

Construct a deal where South can win 11+ tricks in notrump but fewer in spades with a 12-card fit.

Further, East-West cannot have a singleton or void (except in spades obviously). For the puzzle, South must be the declarer in either contract, and all that’s necessary is to win one more trick in notrump than in spades. As usual, assume best defense.

For the ultimate challenge, try to win 13 tricks in notrump but only 12 in spades, with the North-South hands as weak as possible, and South as weak as possible between them. Weakness is judged by the sum of all card ranks (ace = 14, king = 13, queen = 12, jack = 11, etc.).

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.

Spades or
NT South
Table  East will get
what remains
West leads S


Duncan Bell Wins!

In December 2016 this puzzle was presented as a challenge — with no help provided — inviting anyone who wished to submit a solution. Participation was steady, with 56 persons giving it a try, of which 23 produced valid deals able to win one more trick in notrump than spades. Only 16, however, won all 13 tricks, and this was necessary to make the leaderboard. My cutoff decision is arbitrary, always with consideration that listing too many might be unwelcome for those at the bottom. In this case, listing Jim Munday last was routine. [Smiley pending]

“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 with the lowest possible rank sums.

England sweeps the podium! This is the first time in all my puzzle contests that the same location (per my breakdown) took the top three spots, although 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.

RankNameLocationMakeN-S SumSouth Sum
1Duncan BellEngland7 NT18265
2Nicholas GreerEngland7 NT18265
3Tom SlaterEngland7 NT18265
4Charles BlairIllinois7 NT18265
5Foster TomBritish Columbia7 NT18265
6Grant PeacockMaryland7 NT18265
7Lin MurongOntario7 NT18265
8Leif-Erik StabellZimbabwe7 NT18666
9Tim BroekenNetherlands7 NT18670
10Hendrik NigulEstonia7 NT18670
11Jamie PearsonOntario7 NT18755
12Leigh MathesonAustralia7 NT20592
13Tina DenleeQuebec7 NT20592
14Dan GheorghiuBritish Columbia7 NT20592
15C.J. FlaskFlorida7 NT20592
16Jim MundayMississippi7 NT20592


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
Table S 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
Table S
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 the club ruff. [Acknowledgments to Victor Mollo (1909-87)]

7 NT South S A Q J 10 9 8 7 6
H A 4
D A 4
C 4

5 H
All Pass
4 S
6 C
7 S
4 NT
5 D
7 NT
H 9 8 7 6
D 9 8 7 6
C 9 8 7 6 5
Table S K
H K Q J 10 5
D K Q J 10 5
S 5 4 3 2
H 3 2
D 3 2
C A Q 10 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 with “The Thirteen of Spades” on my mind.

The Donald: Thirteen Trumps? Not yet, but I’m working on it. Need more Twitter accounts.

Happy New Year! TopMain

© 2017 Richard Pavlicek