Puzzle 8S59   Main

Jolly Old Saint Nicholas

  by Richard Pavlicek

Jolly old Saint Nicholas
Held South’s cards today.
All he had was just a queen,
Not much else to say.

Any-one with half a brain
Knows to pass is proper.
Saint Nick took another view,
“Gotta show my stopper!

“Notrump is the place to be;
Heart tricks I should gain.
But I must admit to you,
I’ve been found insane!”

3 NT×× South
N-S Vul
H A J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4
D 7 6
C 7 6
1 D
3 C
All Pass
1 H
3 H
2 S
3 S
2 NT!
3 NT!
D K Q J 10 9 8
C K Q J 10 9 8
TableS A K J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4
Lead: D K S Q 3 2
H 3 2
D 5 4 3 2
C 5 4 3 2

So there rests “Crazy Claus” in 3 NT, redoubled and vulnerable, with only 7 combined HCP. On most occasions this would be a debacle, maybe never winning a trick (minus 5200), but a bright “Star in the East” shone through. After losing the first four tricks, Nick had the rest. Plus 1000!

Note that 3 NT is cold against any defense, and from either side (North or South declarer). I am confident that 7 HCP is the fewest possible HCP to achieve this feat. Now for my holiday puzzle, let’s lower the contract by a notch:

What is the fewest possible HCP to make two notrump against any defense from either side?

Construct a deal to illustrate. Ties for fewest HCP will be broken by the sum of (1) North-South’s card ranks* and (2) South’s card ranks, in that order of priority. Lower is better.

*Ace = 14, King = 13, Queen = 12, Jack = 11, etc.

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Tom Slater Wins

This puzzle contest ran from November 14 to Christmas Day (December 25) 2020. There were 13 entries from 10 persons (multiple entries were allowed from the same person, but only the latest one counted). Another embarrassing turnout, but I attribute this to the pandemic, with solvers required to be at least six feet apart — or something like that. (I will try every excuse before RPbridge sinks into oblivion.)

Congrats to Tom Slater, whose win comes as no surprise, not only from past credentials but with “most alert” as an anagram. His previous wins include Lilliputian Squeezes (2015) and Against Worst Defense (2017). Tom was the first of only four solvers to find the optimal solution, ranked below by date and time of submission.

Winner List
1Tom SlaterEngland
2Samuel PahkMassachusetts
3Nicholas GreerEngland
4Tim BroekenNetherlands

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This puzzle was inspired while reviewing my collection of bridge records, Fewest HCP To Make Notrump, published in 2008, which contained the following deal:

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

Back then I wrote that 2 NT could be made against any defense from either side with only 6 HCP.* Whoa! Could this really have escaped readers’ scrutiny for 12 years? Now I saw the improvement — as of course did the winners of this contest.

*The flawed deal has been removed and replaced by Tom Slater’s construction.

My original oversight was to place the trick source opposite the stopper, which required a 10-card fit to provide five tricks and an entry; hence at least a jack was forced. Placing both in the same hand eschews the entry requirement, so a 9-card fit suffices, thus lowering the record by 1 HCP. Below is the solution by our winner:

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

No matter how the play begins, East must lead spades at least twice as the H A-K are driven out.

Samuel Pahk: Whether East cashes his four side winners or not, North must get three spades and five hearts eventually.

Tom Slater: The D 7 and C 7 are interchangeable, but I prefer this construction, as 1 H by North can be beaten with a low spade lead, and the par contract is 7 NT×.

Good observation, as 7 D by East (nonvul) nets 1440, and 7 NT× down five (vul) is only 1400. Yippee! (East-West will cry all the way to the bank.) Note that 7 D by West, the realistic declarer, is defeated by the S A lead; South eventually gets a trump trick.

Each successful solver produced the same layout (ignoring suit identity and/or swaps of East-West or D 7-C 7) to obtain minimal rank sums for North-South (160) and South (52). Any attempt to reduce the strength of the “stopper suit” was futile, as noted by:

Nicholas Greer: Weaker spade holdings (and K-Q-10-9) all fail when East brilliantly unblocks hearts before leading a spade.

Hmm… Sensible words from a first name jolly and insane? Sobering words from a last name rhyming with beer? Go figure!

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Final Notes

Charles Blair: Ho, ho, ho! It would be interesting if the optimal deal to make 2 NT requires fewer HCP than the optimal deal to make 1 NT.

Interesting? More like The Twilight Zone. “Interesting” would be if you made 3 NT twice in one year. Seriously, the minimal HCP requirements to make notrump contracts against best defense from either side are unique and progressive:

1 NT→ 4  2 NT→ 5  3 NT→ 7  4 NT→ 8  5 NT→ 9  6 NT→ 13  7 NT→ 17

Oh no-o-o! As I write this, some lunatic in a red suit is stuck in my chimney… calling 911!

Hurry! Puzzle solvers are needed to evict a jerk from the White House: Trump Moves to Lilliput ends New Year’s Day.

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© 2020 Richard Pavlicek