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The Ides of March Squeeze

“Beware The Ides of March” is a well-known cliche. For most people it references the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C., but not for this writer. Records of the Pavlicus Academia de Pons denote March 15 as the date on which a student first trumped his own winner, albeit 42 years later in 2 B.C. Countless repetitions occurred over the millennia, as graduates drew great satisfaction in winning a trick twice.

Was this crazy? Totally berserk? Stay tuned!

Enough ancient history. Let’s take a brief timeout to examine the ruffout squeeze, a resource that is more common than most people realize. Declarer typically has threats in two suits, either of which can be established if a defender lets go a necessary guard. Consider this ending:

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

Declarer must win the rest, but a crossruff falls a trick short. Hail to the squeeze! South leads the C A and West has no answer: A heart discard allows North’s suit to be established, while a diamond discard brings life to the D K. Declarer simply ruffs out whichever suit West shortens.

All well and good, but anyone can do that; ruffout squeezes are a dime a dozen. You were not brought to this page to do something ordinary. Academy graduates look for the bizarre, which brings us to the puzzle:

Construct an ending where South’s squeeze card must be ruffed in North only if West discards a heart.

For uniformity, spades must be trump with South to lead, and the squeeze card must be the C A. The ending may have any number of cards, but North-South must win all the tricks against any defense. Ties will be broken by the total rank sum* of all four hands; lower is better.

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

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Nicholas Greer Wins

This contest ran from February 12 to March 15, 2021. There were two entries. That’s right, count ‘em: one two, only one of which was successful. Whether this stems from the difficulty of the puzzle, or an eviction notice coming to RPbridge, I’m not sure, but I’ve barricaded my doors just in case.

Congratulations to Nicholas Greer, a regular solver with two previous wins and many high placings, also appreciated for his useful comments that have made my writeups easier. His keen solution to this puzzle, beating mine in the tiebreaker, may even have earned Nicholas the “Saint” moniker I’ve jovially used.

Darn! There go my Letterman points, as I’m quashed to a Top One List:

Winner List
RankNameLocationRank Sum
1Nicholas GreerEngland69

Solution

The premise of this puzzle, the need to ruff a winning squeeze card, logically might seem impossible. After all, if you can afford to ruff a winner, why would you need a squeeze? Well, as seasoned players eventually discover, card play at bridge is not dressed in black and white; the shortest distance between declarer and dummy is not always a straight line. My uncle Cedric discovered this over 75 years ago with The Un-Finesse as a prelude to a squeeze. Now we’ll expand on his work for the squeeze itself.

Before showing the winning entry, let’s look at an attempt that didn’t quite make it:

S win 4 S 2
H 9 2
D 2
C
S
H 8 7 6
D 3
C
Table S
H J 4 3
D
C 2
South leadsS
H Q 10 5
D
C A

South leads the C A and West is squeezed. If he pitches a diamond, North pitches a heart, then H Q and a ruff leaves North high. If West pitches a heart, declarer ruffs the good club, then the H 9 lead picks up the suit. Sounds convincing but…

Alas, declarer can ruff the club regardless of West’s pitch, so the duality requirement is missing. In fact, even the C A is unnecessary; swap the C A and C 2, then simply ruffing the losing club squeezes West in an ordinary way.

On with the show

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, for a squeeze you may never have seen before. I thought my construction for this contest was neat, but it was a five-card ending. Our winner did it in only four with this gem:

S win 4 S 2
H 7 4 3
D
C
S
H 6 5
D 4 3
C
Table S 3
H 2
D
C 3 2
South leadsS 4
H
D 5 2
C A

Nicholas Greer: Declarer has four top tricks but struggles to cash them because of entries and East’s trump. On the C A lead, West is squeezed, resolving the problem. If West discards a heart, ruff in dummy and lead winning hearts, discarding the D 2 and waiting to overruff East. If West discards a diamond, [South must keep the lead to] draw the last trump and cash diamonds.

Render unto Nicholas the things that are Richard’s…

Close encounter of the third kind

Technically, the ending is a third kind of entry-shifting or seesaw squeeze. The first kind occurs when a high trump is led with the option of overtaking in the opposite hand depending on the victim’s discard. The second kind* occurs without trumps when the victim is squeezed on the next-to-last free-suit winner, after which declarer follows high or low in the opposite hand to provide an entry where it’s needed later. The third kind, optionally ruffing the squeeze card, eluded me until its discovery inspired this contest.

*Extremely rare and the topic of Seesaw Recall in 2014. More common (but still rare) is the related strip squeeze.

And so ends another Star Wars Trilogy.

Auf Wiedersehen

Thanks to all who participated in this recent series of puzzles, especially the regulars, most of whom go back many years. Perhaps the Ides of March should be a warning for me not to seek the limit of a function approaching zero. Therefore, it’s time to take a break. I’m not ready for the tar pits just yet, so my puzzle whim will probably recur down the road.

Meanwhile, practice safe bridge.

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© 2021 Richard Pavlicek