Puzzle 8N49   Main

North by North-West

  by Richard Pavlicek

Recent travels have added a whole new meaning to vulnerability in bridge. From Kansas City, I headed north to Creston, Iowa, to visit my friend Luke, who had arranged a set game against two local experts. Surprisingly, we played outdoors on a picnic table, adjacent to a vast cornfield. On the fateful deal below I held the East cards and listened to our opponents bid to 4 S.

While Luke was deciding his opening lead, the sound of a crop duster increased rapidly from the north, and a quick glance showed an erratic descent in our direction. Oh my God! Instinctively I jumped to the right and ducked for cover, and so did South, as our table was impacted toward the North-West seats. Luke couldn’t react fast enough; his cards and entire left arm were shredded into the plane’s prop. Poor North had no chance, taking a direct hit from behind. An awful sight. May he rest in peace (or I should say, pieces).

4 S South
S  ?
H  ?
D  ?
C  ?
S  ?
H  ?
D  ?
C  ?
TableS 7 6
H K Q J 8 7
D Q 8 2
C Q J 10
Lead: ? S K Q J 9 8
H A 10 9
D A 4 3
C 3 2

Coroner’s inquest

The next day an inquest was begun by the Union County Coroner. The pilot, who suffered only minor injuries, testified that the elevator on his rudder malfunctioned, which an examination of the wreckage would confirm, so the death was ruled accidental. A more important issue was to adjudicate the result of 4 S, which was complicated by the missing North-West hands, disintegrated in the crash. Should South be awarded his contract? I argued not, as any expert could see that 10 tricks were unlikely opposite a dead dummy.

The Coroner worked diligently into the wee hours. From embedded card fragments, he was able to reconstruct the North hand, and hence the complete deal, from which he determined that only one suit lead would defeat 4 S. Therefore, the benefit of doubt would go to South, and the contract was ruled made. Justice, perhaps, but it cost Luke and me $620 each, plus an arm. Sorry, Luke, but you once said you would give an arm and a leg to be my partner, so you got off cheap. Get a prosthesis! We have two more pigeons lined up next week at Mount Rushmore.

Construct a West hand with which the opening lead of only one suit will defeat 4 S.

Clarification: If the choice of card in any suit matters, assume West will lead the card most effective for the defense.

As a further goal (tiebreaker for the May 2017 contest) try to have more different results for West’s choice of suit leads, and for the West hand to be as weak as possible (judged by the sum of card ranks).

Leif-Erik Stabell Wins

In May 2017 this puzzle was presented as a contest, inviting anyone who wished to submit a solution. Participation was low again, with only 36 persons giving it a try, but this may be related to my theme and the month. Mayday! Mayday! Only the 13 listed produced a layout where only one suit lead beats 4 S and the choice of lead yields three or four different results.

Congratulations to Leif-Erik Stabell, Zimbabwe, who was the first to submit the optimal solution. Leif-Erik is a longtime participant since my play contest days, where he won The House on Phantom Lane and Our Finest Gifts We Bring. Even more impressive were his consistent sharp analyses, often submitting the top score but not the first received, perhaps due to the primitive African Internet requiring elephant transport between relay towers (or something like that). Also finding the best construction were two regulars, Dan Gheorghiu, British Columbia, and Jean-Christophe Clement, France; and one newcomer, Paolo Treossi, Italy. Well done!

While participation was down, it did cover six continents. North America, Europe, Australia and Africa are represented below, and among the also-rans were Asia (3) and South America (1). Antarctica? Still waiting for that one, and I gave it my best shot with Frozen.

Winner List
RankNameLocationResultsWest Sum
1Leif-Erik StabellZimbabwe468
2Dan GheorghiuBritish Columbia468
3Jean-Christophe ClementFrance468
4Paolo TreossiItaly468
5Duncan BellEngland470
6Tina DenleeQuebec473
7Tim BroekenNetherlands473
8Stephen MerrimanNew Zealand483
9Jon GreimanIllinois369
10Nicholas GreerEngland371
11Jim MundayMississippi372
12David BrooksAustralia379
13Charles BlairIllinois381

Puzzle 8N49   MainTop   North by North-West


I’m always a fan of offbeat solutions, particularly with unusual play lines, and this one by Jon Greiman caught my fancy. How North-South reachedS is another story, but let’s show some respect for that poor North dude who didn’t make it to trick one.

Jon Greiman: There’s no way this is optimal, but at least it’s an entry, which is exactly what West destroys with a diamond lead.

4 S SouthS ATrickLead2nd3rd4th
H1 WC A4102
D K J 10 9 72 WH 2S A!79
C K 9 8 7 6 5 43 ND K!235
S 10 5 4 3 2TableS 7 64 ND J8A!6
H 6 5 4 3 2H K Q J 8 75 SS K2D 76
D 6 5D Q 8 26 SS Q3D 97
C AC Q J 107 SS J4D 10H 8
S K Q J 9 88 SS 910C 5H J
H A 10 99 WH 3C 6QA
D A 4 3continued below…
Lead: C AC 3 2

If West leads a heart, declarer wins 10 tricks by ruffing with ace and leading the D J (East covers, best) to the ace. Four rounds of trumps (pitching clubs) then give West the lead. On a rattlesnake, er, diamond back, simply win in dummy and duck a club, then West has to put you in hand to draw his last trump. If West cashes the C A before exiting a diamond, he scores a diamond ruff, but now the C K provides a 10th trick and needed entry. Play is similar after a trump lead.

What is truly bizarre is the play after the C A and a heart switch. Declarer ruffs as before, and now can win 11 tricks, but only by next cashing the D K then crossing to the D A. No finesses!

Trumps are cleared, and West must put declarer back in hand to reach this ending:

S win allSTrickLead2nd3rd4th
H10 SS 85C 7H K
D11 SH 104C 8?
C K 9 8 7East is squeezed
S 5TableS
H 6 5 4H K
S 8
H 10
D 4
South leadsC 3

The last trump triple-squeezes East, and barring the flyby of an errant crop duster, the squeeze repeats to win all the tricks.

Look! Up in the sky!

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s Merriman — and who, disguised as a mild-mannered New Zealander, achieves four different results, only one of which defeats 4 S. Better yet, he makes my writeup easy with a fine explanation.

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

Stephen Merriman: A diamond lead gives declarer five diamond tricks, along with five spades, a heart, and a club ruff for 12 tricks. After a trump lead, declarer can set up diamonds for two heart discards, making 11 tricks. After a club lead, best defense is to switch to hearts; then declarer can make 4 S exactly by drawing trumps, ruffing the club, and exiting in hearts. The winning lead is a heart, after which declarer can’t avoid going one down. Note that trying to reduce West’s pip count by giving North the C K doesn’t work, as declarer can duck the first heart and exit in clubs.

Leading a void

Stephen Merriman: An amusing alternative is to give West S A-5-4-3-2 H 5-4-3-2 DC 7-6-5-4, which is only a 64 pip count. A heart lead is down one; a club is plus one; a trump is plus two; and if West leads a diamond, you have a misdeal — definitely a different result!

Excellent point, and you might even escape the misdeal if you:

Know your ACBL Laws

Few people are aware of the invoke, the irregularity of playing a suit in which you have no cards. Unlike its counterpart, the revoke, there are no prescribed penalties. A well-timed invoke is most effective against declarers who count the cards; imagine their irritation as the 14th or 15th diamond appears. Therefore, until the authorities wise up, whenever you’re out of a suit, consider playing it instead. It works!

As low as it gets

The optimal solution, found by four solvers, gives Luke a meager 68 pip count — hardly worth losing an arm over, but bridge in the cornfields can be brutal (if that’s too corny I apologize). The layout is unique; not a single card can be changed.

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

Declarer can win 9, 10, 11 or 12 tricks depending on the lead. Our winner gave a brief summary:

Leif-Erik Stabell: A club lead defeats 4 S; a heart defeats 5 S; a spade defeats 6 S; and a diamond defeats 7 S.

After a club lead, declarer is dead in the water (no need for a crop duster). If he wins and draws trumps, the club suit is useless with no side entry, and only the nine top tricks can be made. Note that on trump leads East must pitch one diamond (besides a heart) else declarer could ruff out clubs and exit in hearts to endplay the defenders in diamonds.

After a heart lead, declarer can make 4 S by winning the H A, drawing trumps, and ducking a club. East can cash two hearts, but declarer has the rest. Note that holding up the H A would be fatal if East switched to a club, essentially recreating the predicament after a club lead.

With a trump lead, declarer scores an overtrick by the same maneuver (draw trumps, duck a club). Two long clubs can now be enjoyed, since the defense has no tricks to cash.

Last and surely worst is a diamond lead, which gives away a slam! Declarer can draw trumps, ruff out clubs, and eventually reach dummy in diamonds. If East tries to counter this by ducking at trick one, declarer reverts to the play after a trump lead but with an extra diamond trick in the bank.

If West’s diamonds are weakened, say to K-9-6-5 (giving North J-10-7) a club lead no longer beats 4 S, as East is squeezed on the fourth trump. If he pitches a diamond, declarer can establish a diamond by leading the D J; or if he pitches a second heart, he gets endplayed. This can be prevented, as Duncan Bell showed, by giving West the C 9 (so West can guard clubs) but with S 5-4-3-2 H 3-2 D K-9-6-5 C 9-5-4, West’s pip count rises to 70.

Duncan Bell: Only a low club lead beats 4 S, though East must be careful to avoid being endplayed, so must unguard clubs on the run of the spades, which is why West needs the C 9.

Oh, well. Two pips short of winning four contests in a row can’t be all that bad.

Crop Dusting News

David Brooks: I reckon Luke would have led a trump to cut down ruffs, so be thankful you lost only $620.

Tina Denlee: Table 1: Luke leads his strongest suit, 12 tricks. Table 2: West leads his second best suit, 11 tricks. Table 3: West leads his doubleton for a ruff, 10 tricks. Table 4: West leads his weakest suit, down one. Coroner’s report: The stronger the suit, the harder the crash.

I didn’t see any other tables nearby, but it was a huge cornfield. Did Tina have an aerial view? Was she in that crop duster? I would’ve sworn the pilot was alone, but then “rudder failure” fits Tina pretty well.

Jim Munday: Leading a suit at random is always my best chance.

Can’t argue with that. At least now you know why I make you sit North. Look out!

Puzzle 8N49   MainTop   North by North-West

Acknowledgments to Alfred Hitchcock and his 1959 film North by Northwest
© 2017 Richard Pavlicek