Main     Puzzle 8N25 by Richard Pavlicek    

Against Worst Defense

On the following deal, with 33 HCP and no eight-card fit, East-West are likely to reach 6 NT. Alas, this cannot be made against best defense, even with the right guess in clubs. After a major-suit lead, declarer lacks the communication to win 12 tricks provided North takes the C A at the best time. Obviously 6 S or 6 H has no chance either. The only slam makable against best defense is 6 C.

Time out! Why do bridge writers always assume best defense? In general, defense tends to be soft, so why not assume bad, or even ugly? My recent trip to Disney World inspired these thoughts, perhaps in a vision out of Fantasyland. I hereby propose a new standard benchmark: against worst defense, which will not only improve declarer play but — to borrow from a travesty-elect — could make America great again! Heck, even North-South can make 6 C against worst defense. If you don’t believe me, follow the play:

6 C South S J 10 9 8
H 3 2
D 10 8 7 6
C A J 7
Leader
1. W
2. N
3. N
4. N
5. S
6. S
7. S
8. N
9. N
10. N
11. N
12. N
Lead
S 5
S 10
S 9
H 2
H 10
H 9
C 2
C J
C 7
D 10
D 8
D 7
2nd
J
D J
D Q
5
D K
D A
K
8
5
9
H Q
H K
3rd
4
3
H 8
J
3
S 8
A
3
4
2
3
4
4th
2
6
7
4
6
7
Q
10
6
S Q
S K
S A
S A K Q 7 6 5
H 4
D A K
C K 10 9 6
Table S 4
H A K Q 7 6 5
D Q J 9
C Q 8 5
Lead: S 5 S 3 2
H J 10 9 8
D 5 4 3 2
C 4 3 2

After merrily winning the first 12 tricks, declarer is forced to lose the last to West’s long trump. I’m sure you’ll agree about the worst defense, and if nothing else it may cause you to reconsider the next time you think partner defended like a moron. A piece of cake! N-S make 6 C in a 3-3 fit with only 7 HCP, which brings me to the puzzle:

What is the fewest HCP required to make 6 C against worst defense?

Construct a deal to illustrate. Note that “worst defense” allows declarer to stipulate all defensive plays to his own advantage, however absurd, as long as all plays are legal. In other words, East-West will cooperate to let 6 C make.

For the ultimate challenge, give North-South as few trumps (clubs) as possible, and make their hands as weak as possible (judged by the sum of all card ranks).

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Tom Slater Wins!

In January 2017 this puzzle was presented as a challenge — with no help provided — inviting anyone who wished to submit a solution. Participation soared to 85, most yet in this series, but only the 25 listed found the fewest HCP and fewest trumps necessary to make 6 C. (About 25 more came up with the 2 HCP but were bloated by a fifth trump.)

Go figure: Up until this month my puzzles were based on best defense, and participation was modest. Now I throw in a puzzle where the defenders are total morons, and they come out of the woodwork. Methinks I’d better not pursue this, though it is a bit curious that Canada takes three of the four top spots.

Congratulations to Tom Slater, England, who was the first of only three to find the optimal solution, a North-South rank sum of only 149. Tom is a clever solver, rarely missing a leaderboard since winning Lilliputian Squeezes exactly two years ago, and usually in the Top 5 — a quick count shows three seconds, three thirds, two fourths and three fifths!

RankNameLocationHCPTrumpsN-S Sum
1Tom SlaterEngland24149
2Lin MurongOntario24149
3Dan GheorghiuBritish Columbia24149
4Ray LiuOntario24150
5Tim BroekenNetherlands24150
6Grant PeacockMaryland24151
7Duncan BellEngland24151
8Charles BlairIllinois24151
9Martin VodickaSlovakia24151
10Dan BakerTexas24151
11Joseph DiMuroCalifornia24151
12Gareth BirdsallEngland24151
13Julien ReichertFrance24152
14Stan ZhangCalifornia24152
15Foster TomBritish Columbia24152
16Tina DenleeQuebec24152
17Jamie PearsonOntario24152
18Jenna RivetIllinois24152
19Hendrik NigulEstonia24152
20Audrey KuehEngland24155
21Baptiste CouetFrance24155
22Nicholas GreerEngland24158
23Sherman YuenSingapore24158
24C.J. FlaskFlorida24158
25Stephen MerrimanNew Zealand24162

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Solution

Let’s begin with a bidding lesson, which is probably the last thing you’d assume regarding this month’s theme. Nonetheless, I learned many years ago from Benny Hill never to assume — it makes an ass out of u and me — especially with our Canadian nut lady on the case:

6 C× South S
H 5 4 3 2
D 6 5 4 3 2
C Q 9 6 3
West

5 H
Dbl
North

Pass
Pass
East

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

Tina Denlee: Bizarre Auction Is Bridge Nightmare, Part II: After South opens 4 S and West overcalls in hearts, East seeks additional information with 5 NT, but something bizarre happens on the way. How do you tell partner to lead a club against the upcoming heart slam? Bid ‘em, of course, and if 6 C is doubled you retreat to spades — alas, South doesn’t see the double and misses the retreat clause. When the bidding is over, West thinks he is declarer and exchanges hands with East to see if the bidding was accurate. Oops! South calls the Director, and all 26 East-West cards become penalty cards. South demands a low heart lead and for East to pitch a spade.

Yes, I do believe this could happen at Tina’s table. The play is straightforward: South wins four red cards as E-W duck and pitch spades, then four spades as E-W pitch red cards. This leaves the following ending with South to lead:

When South leads a spade there are many paths home. One is for West to pitch his last heart, North to ruff with the C 3, and East to underruff. Then the C Q fetches the J-10, the C 9 the 8-7, and the C 6 the 5-4, so E-W win the last trick big-time. Alternately, North could lead the D 6 earlier, which E-W ruff A-K.

Another path is for E-W to ruff the spade with C A-K as North sheds his diamond, then North wins the rest by saving the C 3 until last. In short, a moron field day!
South
leads
S
H
D 6
C Q 9 6 3
S
H 10
D
C K 10 7 4
Table S
H
D
C A J 8 5 2
S 6 5 4 3 2
H
D
C

Nicholas Greer: The lunatic who sat South is clearly from your September puzzle and will be delighted to have kept a straight flush throughout the play, claiming the pot with five cards remaining.

Minimal Trump Proof: Even against worst defense, four trumps Q-9-6-3 is the absolute minimal holding to make a slam. Each of declarer’s trumps can capture only two enemy trumps; so three trumps could capture only six, leaving the defenders four trumps, which must win at least two tricks. Four trumps must be strong enough to capture seven (as illustrated above) which would be impossible if any rank of Q-9-6-3 were reduced.

South wins ‘em all

I liked the next construction from Dan Baker. Not only does it improve on Tina’s pip count by a point (from 152 to 151), but he manages to win all 12 tricks in the South hand. Style points for Texas!

6 C South S 6 5 4 3
H 6 5 4 3 2
D 8 6 4 2
C
Leader
1. W
2. S
3. S
4. S
5. S
6. S
7. S
8. S
9. S
10. W
11. S
12. S
Lead
S 7
S 10
H 10
H 8
D 10
D 7
D 5
D 3
S 2
C J
C 9
C 6
2nd
3
9
D A
D Q
S A
S K
S J
S Q
C A
H 4
8
5
3rd
D K
4
2
3
8
6
4
2
5
10
H 5
H 6
4th
8
D J
9
7
9
H A
H K
H Q
C K
Q
7
4
S A K Q J 9 7
H
D A Q
C A J 8 5 2
Table S
H A K Q J 9 7
D K J 9
C K 10 7 4
Lead: S 7 S 10 8 2
H 10 8
D 10 7 5 3
C Q 9 6 3

Dan Baker: Not quite a Yarborough Fair, but I’ve applied the same approach, even letting South win all of his side’s tricks. North-South cannot have fewer than four trumps, else one defender has two more than them; and must have at least the queen, else one defender has two cards N-S can’t beat. West ducks two spades and East ducks two hearts (with the other pitching high diamonds), then South wins four diamonds as the defenders refuse to ruff. South now leads his last spade, West ruffs with the ace and East underruffs with the king; then both defenders duck four rounds of clubs (the C 3 last since East cannot duck it until he’s out).

Wow. Not only do the above three solvers make my writeup easy, but I get free plugs as well. This could increase my web traffic threefold — and profits along with it! Let’s see… [grabs calculator]… three times nothing is… yep, my February puzzle.

Fine feathered fare

Grant Peacock, Maryland, produced the same N-S pip count as Dan (151) but with an eye-catching South hand — call it the Ten-eight-six Trifecta. And he also offered a defensive bridge tip!

6 C South S 5 4 3 2
H 5 4 3 2
D 7 5 4 3 2
C
Leader
1. W
2. S
3. S
4. S
5. S
6. S
7. S
8. N
9. N
10. W
11. S
12. S
Lead
S 7
S 10
H 10
H 8
D 10
D 8
D 6
D 5
D 4
C 10
C 9
C 6
2nd
2
9
D A
D J
S A
S K
S Q
H Q
C K
H 4
7
4
3rd
D Q
3
2
3
2
3
7
H 6
S 6
J
H 5
S 4
4th
8
D K
9
7
9
H A
H K
S J
C A
Q
8
5
S A K Q J 9 7
H
D A J
C A 10 7 4 2
Table S
H A K Q J 9 7
D K Q 9
C K J 8 5
Lead: S 7 S 10 8 6
H 10 8 6
D 10 8 6
C Q 9 6 3

Grant Peacock: This hand is a perfect example of an important concept to understand on defense, throw-in avoidance. Any time it looks like you might be forced to win a trick, look for opportunities to jettison your high cards. Hang on to your low cards so you can duck a trick as needed. If you defend carefully, you can prevent the situation where you win a trick and have no choice but to lead another high card.

Whether this was intended as sage advice, or tongue-in-cheek, I’m not sure. But I often bid too much, so Grant will be a welcome opponent anytime to practice his jettison plays.

Foster Tom: Clearly East and West recently learned about the holdup play and were eager to try it out, until they realized their mistake and decided to play trumps from the top.

The final ounce

How low can you go? I’m convinced that 149 is the limit, as shown by the three top solvers. I liked the following construction by Lin Murong, Ontario, the best because he didn’t put all the N-S trumps in one hand. The ending comes down to a crossruff, albeit moron style.

6 C South S
H 9 7 6 5 4
D 10 8 7 6 5 4 3
C Q
Leader
1. W
2. S
3. S
4. N
5. S
6. N
7. N
8. N
9. N
10. N
11. S
12. N
Lead
S 9
S 8
D 2
D 3
H 2
D 8
D 7
D 6
D 5
D 4
S 5
H 6
2nd
H 4
7
9
C 2
D Q
H K
H Q
H J
H 10
C 4
C J
C 7
3rd
D K
H 5
10
C 3
9
H 3
S 2
S 3
S 4
C 6
C Q
C 9
4th
10
D J
H A
A
8
S A
S K
S Q
S J
C 5
C 10
C 8
S A K Q J 9 7
H
D A Q 9
C A J 8 5
Table S
H A K Q J 10 8
D K J
C K 10 7 4 2
Lead: S 9 S 10 8 6 5 4 3 2
H 3 2
D 2
C 9 6 3

Lin Murong: West leads the S 9 to South’s 10 then ducks the S 8, as East discards D K-J. South leads the D 2 to North’s 10 (East pitching a high heart) then a diamond is ruffed low by East and overruffed with the C 3. South next leads a heart to the nine, as West discards his last diamond and East ducks. North then cashes four diamonds. The next diamond is ruffed low by East, overruffed and underruffed; then a spade is ruffed with the C J, overruffed and underruffed 10; [and the process repeats once more] before losing the last trick to the C A-K.

Fantasy puzzles are evidently more popular than I thought. Maybe that’s because fantasy is now a reality! A few years back the notion of a President Trump was like a Looney Tunes epic on Wily Coyote (and still is for that matter). But hey, it might be good for bridge! Just think: When he overthrows the Mexican government, we’ll have a “Trump coup.” Or when he runs away with his secretary, a “Trump elopement.” And best of all we may have an impeachment, aka “Trump reduction.”

Last and surely least

Baptiste Couet: Easy slam, partner! Trumps broke five-four.

Charles Blair: My partners might say this kind of problem comes naturally to me.

Trust me, ‘might’ has no place in that sentence.

Jamie Pearson: Your example deal feels like another great puzzle: the highest contract that can be made against best defense one way and worst defense the other way.

Don’t give me ideas. I wish it were possible for seven of a suit but clearly not (trump ace ensures a trick) though 7 NT is easy.

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© 2017 Richard Pavlicek