Analyses 8X16 MainChallenge

Let Your Heart Be Light

Scores by Richard Pavlicek

“Faithful friends who are dear to us, gather near to us, once more.”

During the month of December 2004, these problems were published on the Internet as a contest open to all bridge players. In each case, partner leads the H K, and you hold the ace. Should you signal or overtake with the ace? Making the right play in these situations is often the difference between winning and losing.

Problem 123456Final Notes

Sadly, the year ended tragically for so many people with the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. I hope my 200+ participants from Indonesia, India and Thailand all made it through. I thought we had a bad year in Florida with our hurricanes, but it pales in comparison. My heart and prayers go out.

Charles Blair Wins!

This contest had 1040 participants from 116 locations, and the average score was 38.38. Congratulations to Charles Blair (Illinois) who won going away with 59. Charles, a professor of Business Administration (University of Illinois), is a previous winner (February 2003) and a regular top contender — in fact, a most definitive “regular,” as one of only three persons who have entered all 52 polls and contests since I began in September 2000. Two points back at 57 were Jarek Gasior (Poland); Sebastien Louveaux (Belgium); Frances Hinden (England); Carolyn Ahlert (Ohio); Rob Stevens (California); Rainer Herrmann (Germany); and Gijsbert van Rijt (Netherlands).

Participation this month was the highest ever in a play contest (previous high was 909 in April 2004). Hmm… maybe 1040 is a reminder to file my income tax on time. Scoring was unusual, as there were no perfect scores (first time since June 2003), and the winner had a 2-point edge over second place, which happened only once before (December 2001). I’m not sure what to make of this, but “Blair Witch Project” comes to mind.

One reason for the mediocre scoring is that many people, including some regular top participants, were unaware of the default signaling when partner leads your long suit (middle encourages, high or low suit preference) per my reference on Standard American Bridge. This reminds me of my first electric train at Christmas. My Dad (a proud train buff) had problems setting it up, so Mom offered, “If you can’t get it to work, you might try reading the instructions.”

In the overall standings, John Lusky (Oregon) took over the top spot with a 59.00 average, but only by tiebreaker over Lajos Linczmayer (Hungary). Close behind with 58.75 are Charles Blair (Illinois) and Ding-Hwa Hsieh (Missouri). Next with 58.50 are Zahary Zahariev (Bulgaria) and Rob Stevens (California); and previous leader Leif-Erik Stabell (Zimbabwe) is hanging close at 58.25.

In the December Bot's Eye View, Bridge Baron (US) topped all with a respectable 48, narrowly edging out Jack (Netherlands) with 47. Five bots beat the average human score. Curiously, despite a poor performance this month, GIB (US) took the overall lead — as Jack wonders how this is possible.*

*Overall rankings are based on the best four scores in the last six contests only. In the expired event (December 2003) Jack lost an excellent score of 55, while GIB lost nothing worth keeping.

Bidding is standard (except as noted) and you use standard leads and signals.
For a reference see Standard American Bridge. Assume all players are experts.

Each problem offered six plausible defensive options (A-F) for East after partner leads the H K. The merit of each is scored on a 1-to-10 scale based on my judgment, which is also aided by some of the comments received.

Analyses 8X16 MainChallengeScoresTop Let Your Heart Be Light

Problem 1

None Vul
S A 8
H 9 3
D A 9 6 5 3 2
C Q 10 4


2 D
3 S

2 H
All Pass
1 S
2 S
3 S SouthTable S Q J 7
H A Q J 10 7 2
D 4
C K J 9

1 W

B. Play the H 710414
C. Play the H 2847345
E. Overtake; lead H 10721320
D. Overtake; lead H Q519819
F. Overtake; lead D 43485
A. Play the H Q1676

In view of your positional club holding over dummy, the first impulse is to direct partner’s attention to that suit; after all, you don’t want to be endplayed later. Then you stop to think about the distribution: South is marked with at least six spades from the bidding, and at least three hearts from partner’s lead; therefore, if it is possible to win a club trick (i.e., South has C A-x or A-x-x), the diamond suit cannot be running and is probably no threat at all.

The solution to this problem depends a lot on signaling methods. Most experts (at least in the U.S.) abandon plain attitude signals when third hand has shown a long suit (5+ cards) in the auction. Partner doesn’t need to be showered with your highest affordable card just to encourage a continuation, as he will do that normally. Instead, a particular switch is often necessary, so suit-preference signals are more useful. Thus, the play of the H Q (unusually high) would ask for a diamond, the H 2 would ask for a club, and the H 7 (middle) would ask for a continuation or trump shift.*

*This understanding is also explained in my guide to Standard American Bridge, which contains the default agreements that apply to these polls and contests. I tried to help you by adding “note expanded carding agreements” on this month’s contest page. Sorry if you missed it.

So what shift do you want from partner? Certainly not a diamond, which eliminates the H Q. A club shift seems helpful, so suppose you play the H 2. Consider the following layout, which fits the auction well. (South’s pass of 3 S surely indicates a bare minimum or dubious opening bid.)

IMPsS A 8TrickLead2nd3rd4th
None VulH 9 31 WH K32?4
D A 9 6 5 3 22 WC 349A
C Q 10 43 SH 65910
S 4 2TableS Q J 7Declarer succeeds
H K 5H A Q J 10 7 2
D Q 10 8 7D 4
C 7 6 5 3 2C K J 9
S K 10 9 6 5 3
H 8 6 4
3 S SouthC A 8

If partner shifts to a club, declarer will easily succeed by winning the C A and leading a second heart; then you cannot stop him from ruffing a heart with the S 8. On a lucky day, partner might have held S 9-x or 10-x; then he would uppercut dummy on the third heart to promote a second trump trick for you. Too bad; but you didn’t need to depend on luck.

What you need is a trump shift at trick two, and playing the H 7 (middle) is the best chance to get it. An expert partner will realize that a heart continuation could hardly be necessary, and the S 2 would be on the track in a jiffy — especially when he is looking at diamond strength. Now declarer is denied the heart ruff, and the contract is doomed.

Note that you can never be endplayed. When you win your trump trick, you can take your heart tricks, then exit with a heart and wait for an eventual club trick.

The solution is not foolproof. If partner has S 9-x, and South has D K-Q doubleton, it takes three rounds of hearts immediately (or a club shift) to set the contract.* Nonetheless, such a layout is quite a parlay; and further, playing the H 7 does not prevent partner from finding the right defense; whereas, overtaking precludes any chance of a successful trump shift. Therefore, the H 7 wins clear and away.

*On a trump shift, South wins the king and leads two top diamonds, which you ruff (best). If you then continue hearts, trying to make dummy ruff with the S A, declarer pitches from dummy on the third heart; then he can ruff the fourth heart with the S 10, cross to the S A, and pitch a club on the D A.

In the battle for second place, Choices C, D and E are equal in theory — at least I couldn’t find a layout where playing the H 2 and getting a club shift gained or lost versus overtaking and driving hearts. Therefore, Choice C gets the edge per the voting. Choice E (overtake, lead H 10) clearly deserves third place because it sends the proper suit-preference message, whereas Choice D (overtake, lead H Q) does just the opposite. Imagine if declarer pitches when partner uppercuts dummy on the third heart, then partner dutifully leads a diamond per your careless carding.

Choice F (overtake, lead D 4) is considerably worse, losing a critical tempo when South has D K-Q doubleton and partner has S 10-x or 9-x. Worst of all is Choice A (play the H Q) asking partner to lead a diamond — reminiscent of Fritz (who I hear is now selling used Christmas trees in Tel Aviv). It is unfortunate that some people were aware of the need for a trump shift (i.e., analyzed the problem correctly) but unaware of the methods, and played the H Q to achieve it.

Comments for B. Play the H 7

Charles Blair: I hope my brilliant partner finds the trump switch with S x-x H K-x D Q-J-10-x-x C x-x-x-x.

Frances Hinden: To encourage hearts and get partner to play a trump next (or a heart if he has the S 10 or S 9).

Carolyn Ahlert: Noncommittal, hoping your partner will lead a trump next to [eliminate] the possibility of a heart ruff in dummy.

Rob Stevens: It looks as though I need a trump switch, so mild encouragement seems best. The H 2 would ask for a club switch; the H Q is not so clear.

Rainer Herrmann: I want partner to switch to trumps, not clubs. … I note that a switch to a suit where PavCo Inc. deals you K-J-9 over dummy’s Q-10-x…is about as likely to be right as a winner named Nicholas being an ordained saint. :)

Gijsbert van Rijt: … Hoping partner can find a trump switch… If partner’s trumps are as good as 9-x, a club shift will also do. …

Gonzalo Goded: An intermediate card asked for a trump last month, so I hope it stands.

At PavCo, we stand behind our products. In fact, that’s exactly why we sold off our Dartboard Division.

Jonathan Mestel: I need a trump lead from partner against S K-10-9-x-x-x H x-x-x D K-x C A-x. …

Tim DeLaney: If South has S K-10-9-x-x-x H x-x-x D K-J C A-x, a trump switch by partner is necessary. If South has S K-10-x-x-x-x H x-x-x D K-Q C A-x, we must score an uppercut by continuing hearts [or get a club shift]. Only partner knows what his trump holding is, so he must make the decision.

N. Scott Cardell: I am signaling for a trump switch. On the bidding, South has at least six spades, the S K, D K and C A, and at least one of D Q-J. If South has a seventh spade or D K-Q-J, there is no hope, so I must play South for a minimum. South was not forced to bid over 2 H, so his spades should have some quality… If South has precisely S K-10-x-x-x-x H x-x-x D K-Q C A-x (no S 9), I lose.

Billy Chen: The H 7 is not big and not small… so partner should lead a trump.

Jerry Fink: If partner has a singleton H K and no better than S 9-x, a trump shift is imperative from his side. If partner has H K-x and at least S 9-x, a heart continuation is best. My H 7 says this better than anything else. …

Bruce Neill: Suit preference for a trump switch from partner. South may have S K-10-9-x-x-x H x-x-x D K-J C A-x.

Nigel Guthrie: South may have S K-10-x-x-x-x H x-x-x D K-J C A-x, so I hope my H 7 shows heart interest. (Playing the H Q might indicate a diamond void, and the H 2 would ask for a club.)

Ding-Hwa Hsieh: The impulse is to overtake and play for an uppercut; but if partner has a singleton H K, I need him to switch to a trump [even with S 10-x or 9-x] so I play an encouraging heart [rather than] ask for a [club] switch.

Ulrich Nell: Asks for a continuation or trump shift, which partner should interpret as a trump shift to prevent declarer from ruffing a heart…

Jim Munday: Declarer looks to be 6=3=2=2 with most of the remaining face cards. If I ask for a club, we will have four tricks but no more. If partner has the D Q, my club trick will not go away, and I can prevent a heart ruff with a trump shift. Per carding agreements, I encourage with the H 7. Partner will be able to work out I want a trump shift rather than a continuation, particularly if he has D Q-10-x-x.

Carsten Kofoed: I can’t decide by myself which defense is right. Partner will probably interpret the H 7 as [middle], and he will look at his assets in spades and diamonds to choose the [best follow-up].

P.A. Eriksson: Partner will get the message to shift to trumps.

David Hodge: I need an immediate spade switch from partner so I can extract our maximal number of heart winners.

Ivan Kolev: Surely, partner began with H K-x or a singleton. With H K-x and S 9-x, the contract can be beaten by a heart continuation; but with a singleton H K [or with two low spades], it takes a spade shift. South could hold S K-10-x-x-x-x H x-x-x D K-x C A-x, or S K-10-x-x-x-x H x-x-x-x D K-x C A.

Alon Amsel: South is marked with six spades and three hearts. I hope this suggests a trump shift, which is the only way to get four tricks in side suits without giving up my trump trick.

Guray Sunamak: I can defeat this in two ways: (1) If partner has the S 10 or S 9, he can continue hearts; or (2) if he has D Q-10-8-7, he can shift to a spade.

Jeannie Fitzgerald: Encouraging partner to lead a trump, and hoping to win one spade, three hearts and a club for one off.

Albert Feasley: A trump switch by partner may help us.

Robert Gallo: If West has a singleton heart, there’s no sense in overtaking and clearing hearts [so dummy can ruff]. …

Madhukar Bapu: I desperately want a trump shift, so I hope partner will find it after this [neutral] signal. Playing the H 2 could result in a club shift; or the H Q, a diamond shift.

Amiram Millet: I need a spade switch.

Mauri Saastamoinen: … If South has S K-10-x-x-x-x H x-x-x-x D K-Q C A,…I need a spade switch from partner. Play goes: Spade to jack, king; D K; D Q, ruffed; H J; H Q forcing the S A from dummy; D A, ruffed with S Q; then a heart to promote partner’s S 9.*

*All true, although partner doesn’t even need the S 9 if he pitches all his diamonds on hearts. Then, when the D A is led, you can just pitch and let partner ruff with his low trump. -RP

Analyses 8X16 MainChallengeScoresTop Let Your Heart Be Light

Problem 2

N-S Vul
S 8 4 3
H 8 3
D A K Q 8 4
C 5 3 2

2 D1

3 NT

All Pass
1 NT
3 NT SouthTable S J 2
H A 2
D J 10 9 7 6
C Q J 10 8

1 W
1. both majors

B. Overtake; lead S J1021721
C. Overtake; lead S 29525
D. Overtake; lead H 2834934
A. Play the H 2727627
E. Overtake; lead D J5899
F. Overtake; lead C Q3575

Even the Grinch that stole Christmas knows to overtake partner’s king with A-x (unless something in dummy will set up) but this situation might be an exception — or at least that’s what I tried to create. With partner showing H K-Q, it is easy to place South with the remaining high cards, save the S Q or H J. This gives declarer at least seven top tricks.

When composing this problem, I thought Choice A would be the winner, as South might have H J-9-x-x or 10-9-x-x, in which case overtaking allows declarer to establish a heart trick — probably his eighth, then a squeeze will produce nine, as in this layout:

IMPsS 8 4 3TrickLead2nd3rd4th
N-S VulH 8 31 WH K3A4
D A K Q 8 42 EH 2?5108
C 5 3 23 WD 2A63
S Q 9 7 6 5TableS J 24 NS 32A5
H K Q 10 7 6H A 25 SH JQD 4D 7
D 2D J 10 9 7 66 WH 7S 4S J9
C 6 4C Q J 10 87 SS K68C 8
S A K 10Declarer can succeed
H J 9 5 4
D 5 3
3 NT SouthC A K 9 7

Suppose you overtake and lead another heart to partner, who shifts to a diamond (best), won in dummy; then declarer comes to hand with a spade and leads a heart to partner, who exits with a heart to South as you pitch a diamond and a spade. Next comes the S A which squeezes you without the count; you must pitch a club, then declarer can duck a club to establish his long club. Once you overtook the H K, there was no way to stop declarer from succeeding; you had to duck at trick one.

Alas, this solution was hammered to pieces by Christmas elves. Equally plausible is that hearts are running (partner has K-Q-J-10-x, K-Q-J-9-x or 6+ cards), and failure to overtake will isolate partner forever; then declarer can establish a five-card club suit, or work the same endplay with C A-K-9-x. A key factor in analyzing this problem is that ducking is terminal when hearts are running; while overtaking is often OK when South has a heart stopper. Consider the same deal with S 10-9 switched:

IMPsS 8 4 3TrickLead2nd3rd4th
N-S VulH 8 31 WH K3A4
D A K Q 8 42 ES J!A73
C 5 3 2Declarer fails
S Q 10 7 6 5TableS J 2
H K Q 10 7 6H A 2
D 2D J 10 9 7 6
C 6 4C Q J 10 8
S A K 9
H J 9 5 4
D 5 3
3 NT SouthC A K 9 7

Overtaking the H K is fine, provided you shift to a spade (either will do). This shifts the tempo in your favor, as partner can set up his spades before declarer can set up a heart. Declarer can still catch you in a club endplay if he times the play right, but this is only for eight tricks. If you return anything but a spade at trick two, declarer could develop a heart and then come to nine tricks.

Could a spade return cost if hearts are running? It might cost an extra undertrick in the unlikely event partner has six hearts and South has S A-K-Q; but the only way it could cost the contract would be if partner made a major-suit takeout with four low spades. Surely, with 4-5 shape (and so few points) he would pass; and with 4-6, he would bid 2 H if he bid at all. Therefore, a spade shift is well worth the extra chance it offers to beat the contract.

As to which spade, this opens another can of icicles. The only difference I could find is if South has S A-K-10 H J-x-x-x D x-x-x C A-K-x (no H 9) in which case the S J allows declarer to escape for down one, while the S 2 beats it two (West can escape all endplays). Unfortunately, leading the S 2 in a typical layout like the diagram forces partner to make an incredible lead upon winning the H 10 — the spade queen, which is surely double-dummy. Therefore, the normal lead (Choice B) deserves the top spot.

It hurts to demote my anticipated winner out of the top three, but a simulation clearly indicated more gains for Choice D than A. At least it should be good news to average players to see that textbook plays still work. (If Choice A won, they might be blocking suits for the rest of their lives.)

Even between the next two options, the ranking was not clear-cut. Choice E has a slight edge in defeating 3 NT, but Choice A has a huge gain in two-trick sets (over 300 deals out of 1000). My conditions were IMPs (not Plus-or-Fishfood, hehe) so gaining 3 IMPs versus losing 12 at a pace of about 9-to-1 gives Choice A a handsome profit. I was generous with the awards due to the complexity of the problem — or maybe it was because I wouldn’t accept less than 7 for my original choice.

Choice F is surely worst, as it gives declarer a tempo in the suit you are worried about most. Revealing your club holding will often help declarer, and it’s the only defense to let him succeed with S A-K-10 H J-x-x-x D x-x C A-K-9-x.

Comments for B. Overtake; lead S J

Charles Blair: I must unblock in case partner has 5=6=1=1 shape; and I switch to a spade in case he has H K-Q-10-x-x and the S Q. The S J seems less confusing than the S 2 since declarer can block the spade suit with S A-K-10.

Carolyn Ahlert: This unblocks the heart suit and gives partner a chance to develop spades [if hearts are not running].

N. Scott Cardell: If partner has four heart tricks to cash, they can wait, as declarer has at most eight tricks. But if declarer has something like S A-K-x H J-9-x-x D x-x C A-K-9-x, I must…attack spades to prevent declarer from establishing a heart trick and squeezing me in the minors. I lead the S J so partner will know to return a high spade (from S Q-10-x-x-x) should declarer duck a heart to him.

Jerry Fink: Keeping the heart suit fluid, and telling partner the lie of the spade suit. …

Just like my bidding strategy: Water down the hearts and outright lie about the spade suit.

Leif-Erik Stabell: Partner will never forgive me if I duck and we can run five heart tricks; but there is no hurry. A spade switch is [necessary] if partner has S Q-10-x-x-x H K-Q-10-x-x D x C x-x. Any spade might do; but if I lead the two and South wins and plays a heart, partner will have to continue with the S Q — hardly an obvious play. The S J should make the defense easy.

Tim Hemphill: Maybe we can set up our five tricks [in different suits] and maintain communication with the H 2.

Bill Schramm: There aren’t enough points left for partner to have a club honor… and I believe South has a heart stopper.

Peter Mooney: … By overtaking and playing spades, declarer may have to lose spade tricks to partner [if he tries to develop a heart trick].

Comments for C. Overtake; lead S 2

Sebastien Louveaux: Very difficult. I can’t see a hand where this can hurt, and it may be necessary to establish spades (e.g., when South has H J-9-x-x). …

Rob Stevens: The danger is that South holds H J-9-x-x and manages to establish a heart trick; then squeeze me. The best counter is to establish some spade tricks… The D J would be a good shot, but for the fact that I won’t be able to regain the lead for the entry-snipping diamond lead in time.

Albert Ohana: Spades must be cleared before declarer can establish a heart winner and squeeze me.

Bill Powell: To stop South from setting up a heart as his eighth trick, and squeezing me for his ninth.

John Reardon: I surely must overtake in case the heart suit runs; however, there is no hurry to cash hearts, and a danger when South has H J-9-x-x. A heart trick may give South nine tricks before we get five, as I may be squeezed…

Madhukar Bapu: Declarer has only eight tricks, and this may destroy his timing for a squeeze…

Analyses 8X16 MainChallengeScoresTop Let Your Heart Be Light

Problem 3

None Vul
S Q J 9 4
H 3
D A 5
C K Q J 9 5 2
2 H
4 H
4 S
All Pass
4 S× SouthTable S A 6 5 3
H A 10 9
D K Q 8 6 2
C 4

1 W

F. Overtake; lead C 41033232
B. Play the H 9810210
C. Overtake; lead H 10613013
A. Play the H 10423523
D. Overtake; lead D K322922
E. Overtake; lead D 61121

Your double of the final contract was questionable; but this is the kind of deal that often collapses for declarer, who may be playing in a Moysian fit. Hence, there was more to gain than lose. Further, you bid 4 H to make, so you can’t let that South Grinch steal your Christmas stocking. The appearance of dummy, however, is quite a disappointment, as the contract appears ready to roll. (North was lucky not to get a diamond response after such a dubious double.)

The S K and C A are the missing high cards of significance, and South surely has both; or at least you should plan your defense on that basis. Therefore, a diamond shift won’t help. Declarer can win 10 tricks without a ruff (three spades, one diamond, six clubs); so he’ll just win the D A and lead trumps, up to three times if you duck. Then he can draw your last trump and run clubs.

Your only hopes lie either in trying for a club ruff, or continuing hearts to force dummy to ruff. Holding four trumps, the tap seems attractive, so let’s see how it works on a typical layout:

IMPsS Q J 9 4TrickLead2nd3rd4th
None VulH 31 WH K3A4
D A 52 EH 10?52S 4
C K Q J 9 5 23 NS Q3K2
S 2TableS A 6 5 34 SH JQS J9
H K Q 8 7 6 2H A 10 95 NS 9510H 6
D J 10 7D K Q 8 6 26 SS 8
C 7 6 3C 4Declarer wins 11 tricks
S K 10 8 7
H J 5 4
D 9 4 3
4 S× SouthC A 10 8

If you duck the first trick, partner will probably lead a diamond, so suppose you overtake and return the H 10, ruffed in dummy. Declarer will continue with the S Q, overtaking if you duck, and ruff his last heart high; then the S 9 is overtaken with the 10 to continue drawing trumps, and all you win is your S A. Oops. Scratch that defense, as it not only surrenders the contract but an overtrick as well.

The only real hope is a club shift, not so much to pursue a ruff but to break declarer’s communication in clubs.

IMPsS Q J 9 4TrickLead2nd3rd4th
None VulH 31 WH K3A4
D A 52 EC 4!832
C K Q J 9 5 23 SS 8243
S 2TableS A 6 5 34 SS 7H 2Q5
H K Q 8 7 6 2H A 10 95 NS 9A10C 7
D J 10 7D K Q 8 6 2continued below…
C 7 6 3C 4
S K 10 8 7
H J 5 4
D 9 4 3
4 S× SouthC A 10 8

If declarer attempts to draw trumps, you will hold up until the third round to reach this position:

S win allS JTrickLead2nd3rd4th
H6 EH 1056D 5
D A 57 EH 9JQS J
C K Q J 9 58 NC 5S 6
STableS 6Declarer fails
H Q 8 7 6H 10 9
D J 10 7D K Q 8 6 2
C 6C
H J 5
D 9 4 3
East leadsC A 10

Next continue hearts to lock declarer in dummy, then you must get a club ruff and another heart trick. You never score a diamond trick, but the contract is set.

If declarer tries to prevent this by ruffing two hearts as he draws trumps, you can put him down three as the cards lie, and you can thank partner for having the D J. If declarer held D J-x-x, he could succeed with this line, but in that event there was no successful defense after the opening lead.

Second place goes to Choice B (H 9). While partner is unlikely to find a club shift (the nine is likely to be read as middle), a heart continuation is just as good if partner’s spade spot is anything but the two. For example, if South has S K-10-8-2 H J-x-x D x-x-x C A-x-x, he cannot succeed after two rounds of hearts (assuming you unblock on the second round) since he can’t overtake dummy’s trumps twice to eliminate hearts while drawing trumps. Try it. Note, however, that if you overtake and return the H 10 (Choice C), declarer can cover to block the suit; then he can just draw trumps to succeed.

The remaining options — leading diamonds or asking partner to do the same — offer no real hope to beat the contract unless partner has the S K or C A, but then it’s really Christmas. Choice A must be the best of the lot, since partner might ignore your request; whereas Choice D (overtake, lead D K) is a 100-percent commitment. Choice E (overtake, lead D 6) is certainly worst, but the spirit of giving adds a nice touch for the season — Merry Christmas!

Comments for F. Overtake; lead C 4

Sebastien Louveaux: This ensures the set, as communications are broken between declarer and dummy. If declarer plays trumps, I will take the third round and lock him in dummy with a heart ruff. …

Frances Hinden: Then win the third round of trumps and force dummy in hearts.

Rob Stevens: If South’s spades are weaker than K-10-8-7, we will be able to score either two diamond tricks or a club ruff. If his spades are that good, I will find out about it and be able to play partner for the D J (or the D 10 if declarer misguesses).

Rainer Herrmann: An attack on declarer’s communication. If declarer plays well, I may need partner to hold the D J; but this still seems to give us the best chance to defeat the contract.

Gijsbert van Rijt: … If South’s hand is S K-10-8-2 H x-x-x D J-10-x C A-x-x, he is doomed because he is unable to trump two hearts without being stuck in dummy, allowing me a late trump trick besides the ace. However, if he has S K-10-8-7 H x-x-x D J-9-x C A-x-x, or S K-10-8-7 H x-x-x D J-9-x-x C A-x, or even S K-10-8-7-x H x-x-x D J-9-x C A-x, I still have a chance. In the end position, after taking the second or third round of trumps, I return a diamond and hope he misguesses. …

Gonzalo Goded: I need to lock declarer in dummy to get a club ruff. Partner might find the club switch, but it would be hard [to read the H 9 as low].

Jonathan Mestel: I will win the third trump and force dummy.

Tim DeLaney: To kill the club [communication]. If declarer plays trumps, I win the third round and lead hearts; then he has no recourse with S K-10-x-x-x H x-x-x D x-x-x C A-x.

Patrice Piganeau: The killing defense if South has S K-10-x-x H x-x-x D x-x C A-x-x-x. Partner may not have enough information to switch to clubs.

N. Scott Cardell: A scissors coup. I plan to win the third round of trumps and force the dummy. Declarer will have no way to return to hand to draw my last trump. If South has something like S K-10-8-7-2 H J-x-x D x-x-x C A-x, he has no counter.

Gareth Birdsall: I need to establish the club ruff before forcing dummy.

Lajos Linczmayer: If South’s spades are not better than K-10-8-2, this will beat the contract.

Bruce Neill: South may have S K-10-x-x H x-x-x D x-x-x C A-x-x. I need partner to have the D J or a high spade spot (S 7 or better).

Nigel Guthrie: Declarer may have say S K-10-x-x-x H x-x-x D 10-x-x C A-x, so I need to play for a club ruff.

Julian Wightwick: I will win the third spade and switch to the H 10, after which declarer has no entry to hand to draw my last trump.

Leif-Erik Stabell: This kills South’s communication when partner has the expected 1=6=3=3 minimum.

Albert Ohana: I will duck trumps until third round, then play back a heart.

Ulrich Nell: Playing declarer for 5-3-3-2 shape. This hampers communication in clubs, then I will hold up the S A until the third round and force dummy to ruff a heart. Declarer cannot get back to hand to draw my last trump.

Toby Kenney: Removes the entry to South’s hand. Next I’ll win the third spade and tap dummy — unless declarer first ruffs two hearts, in which case I have to hope partner has the D J or a trump other than the two.

Jim Munday: A diamond shift will not work from either side; declarer will win and attack trumps, then if I win [the third round] and tap dummy, he will have a club entry to hand to pull trumps and enjoy the clubs. Tapping dummy at trick two has promise, but declarer can cross to a club, ruff a third heart and play trumps; then if declarer has the D J, I will be helpless. I do best by playing clubs at trick two. Unless partner has the singleton S 2, declarer will be dummy-locked if he chooses to ruff both hearts… Ideally, I’d like partner to find the club shift (to retain a certain heart entry to partner) but I don’t believe he could read the H 9

Carsten Kofoed: This cuts communication between table and hand, so declarer can’t ruff hearts and draw trumps.

Julian Pottage: South is likely to have the S K and C A; but partner could have the D J.

P.A. Eriksson: South [may] have 5=3=x=x shape, in which case I need to find partner with the D J, and South with 2+ diamonds to beat this.

Bill Powell: Cutting declarer’s communication to hand.

David Hodge: I will ordinarily take the third spade and throw declarer back into dummy [with a heart lead]. If declarer has five spades and three diamonds (without the D J), he is going off; or if he has only four spades, things are also very bad for him.

Jordi Sabate: Trying to kill declarer’s communications. If he leads trumps, I have to duck twice.

Neelotpal Sahai: … Now that partner has used his last entry, I should overtake and return a club to cut declarer’s communication…

John Reardon: This is the only defense if South has S K-10-x-x H x-x-x D J-10-x C A-x-x or similar.

Steve White: Attacking declarer’s communications, assuming he has S K-x-x-x and C A-x.

Jeff Goldsmith: Attacking declarer’s entry to hand wins against S K-10-8-x-x H x-x-x D x-x-x C A-x.

Gerald Murphy: … If declarer next tries to pull trumps, I will win the third round and push back a heart to lock declarer in dummy…

John Lusky: This cuts the link between declarer and dummy, and keeps declarer from attacking trumps effectively or ruffing two hearts in dummy — unless he has S K-10-8-7-2 and the D J.

Karl Barth: If South draws trumps, I’ll take the third round and pump dummy with a heart. Looks like this will come to two spades and [two hearts].

Mauri Saastamoinen: Playing a diamond is giving up. Overtaking and playing another heart is not as good as overtaking and playing a club, which opens a threat… South should have something like S K-10-8-7 H J-x-x D J-9-x C A-10-x, or S K-10-8-7 H J-x-x D 10-9-x-x C A-x. Play goes: Club ace; heart ruff; spade to closed hand; heart ruff; spade to my ace. Then I play a small diamond…

Dean Pokorny: Planning to duck spades twice, then play a heart [to tap] dummy. This will give me a club ruff when South holds something like S K-10-x-x H x-x-x D J-10-9-x C A-x.

George Klemic: This is not to generate a ruff (directly) but to remove declarer’s hand entry. I will win the third spade and play a heart to force dummy. Declarer may try to ruff a couple of hearts while drawing trumps; but if partner can provide a spade spot higher than the two, this will fail…

John Hardy: I hope to get a club ruff, giving us two spades, one heart and a diamond [or a second heart]; down one.

Jeffrey Gertz: Then win the third spade and force dummy to ruff a heart; declarer is trapped on the board.

Nick Wong: Best chance is a club ruff, so I want to lock declarer in dummy…after winning the third round of trumps…

Spiros Liarakos: Either I will get a club ruff, or declarer will lose control.

Tibor Roberts: … This makes declarer use his one entry to hand before he has ruffed any hearts.

Myles Ellison: This knocks out declarer’s entry to take out trumps. I will hold up the S A until round three, then play a heart to lock declarer in dummy…

Gillian Paty: After winning the third spade, I’ll force dummy to ruff a heart with its last trump. … If declarer leads a club, I’ll ruff [and cash a heart] for one down.

Chuck Lamprey: Going after my club ruff. If I take my S A at the proper time, declarer may have trouble getting off dummy. I may need partner to have the D J.

Gabriel Nita-Saguna: I hope partner’s stiff spade (if he has one) is the seven, eight or 10; or if not, maybe he has the D J.

Roger Morton: This will mess up declarer’s entries to draw trumps or ruff heart losers. Of course, I’ll hold up my trump ace for a couple of rounds.

Gerald Cohen: How do I stop declarer winning three spades, six clubs and the D A? … This seems like the most trouble for declarer because of entry problems.

Quentin Stephens: I can make one spade, one heart and one diamond; so I need one more trick. … Partner isn’t likely to have the C A or a void, but attacking clubs now may throw off declarer’s timing.

Barry White: South holds something like S K-10-8-7 H x-x-x D x-x-x-x C A-x. I need to sever communications, and this does the job…

Thijs Veugen: South has something like S K-x-x-x H x-x-x D x-x-x-x C A-x. I will take the third spade and continue hearts.

Robert Birthisel: With equal trump length and control of the suit, I can eventually get a ruff with my low spade.

Frans Buijsen: Trying to break declarer’s communication. I will take the third spade and play a heart, then declarer is stuck in dummy.

Analyses 8X16 MainChallengeScoresTop Let Your Heart Be Light

Problem 4

E-W Vul
S A 4 3
H 9 8 2
D Q J 10
C A 10 9 2

3 H

4 S
1 NT
All Pass
2 S
4 S SouthTable S K 6 5
H A J 5
D K 9 7 3
C K Q 5

1 W

C. Overtake; lead S 510878
B. Play the H 5963361
A. Play the H J6939
E. Overtake; lead H 54485
F. Overtake; lead D 33374
D. Overtake; lead H J214214

At first glance, this seems like an innocuous situation where little could go wrong; you’d welcome a club lead, of course, but this doesn’t seem crucial at trick two. Nonetheless, if you take your eye off the treetop ornament, you may get caught in the branches.

Some respondents wondered why you didn’t double 4 S, but this could be due to misinterpretation of West’s 3 H bid — perhaps assuming some kind of Lebensohl agreement that it was forcing. No, in Standard American bidding, a competitive suit bid is simply to play; obviously showing some values for the voluntary action, but not with interest in game. Thus, you hardly have a double when the S K might not take a trick.

South surely has six spades, as anything less would be an egregious bid; and he must have the D A, else partner would bid differently. If South has two hearts, the contract will be set easily; but a singleton is likely, in which case you will need to win two club tricks. Consider this likely layout:

IMPsS A 4 3TrickLead2nd3rd4th
E-W VulH 9 8 21 WH K2A4
D Q J 102 EH 5?S 778
C A 10 9 23 SS Q23K
S 2TableS K 6 54 ES 5JH 34
H K Q 10 7 6 3H A J 55 SS 8H 6A6
D 8 6 4D K 9 7 36 ND Q324
C 8 7 6C K Q 57 ND J756
S Q J 10 9 8 78 NH 9JS 910
H 4continued below…
D A 5 2
4 S SouthC J 4 3

Assume the defense continues hearts, ruffed by South; then the S Q is lost to the king, and you exit with a spade (no reason to help declarer by releasing your last heart). Declarer draws your remaining trumps ending in dummy and runs the D Q-J. If you duck, he ruffs dummy’s last heart to reach this position:

S win 4STrickLead2nd3rd4th
H9 SS 10!D 8C 2?
D 10Declarer can succeed
C A 10 9 2
D 8D K 9
C 8 7 6C K Q 5
S 10
South leadsC J 4 3

Next comes the S 10, and you’re condition is about as appetizing as a stale holiday fruitcake — or a fresh one for that matter (do people really eat those things?). If you pitch a club, declarer leads that suit to establish a trick; if you pitch a diamond, he cashes the D A before ducking a club to you for an endplay. Note that declarer can place you with all the missing honors, so the endplay stands out a mile.* Covering either of the diamond honors changes the play slightly, but declarer can always succeed.

*The ending is not a lock, however, because declarer must guess your distribution. For example, if you discard a club, declarer might play you for D K-x-x C K-Q-x-x and go wrong — and you could aid your own cause by falsecarding with the D 9 on the second round.

Clearly, you must deprive declarer of this opportunity, and there are two ways to go about it: (1) Play the H 5 and hope partner shifts to a club (or a spade), or (2) overtake and lead a spade. The latter is subtle, but it denies declarer the tempo gained by an early heart ruff and sets the contract whenever South has three clubs.*

*Some will argue that if partner held SH K-Q-10-7-6-3 D x-x-x-x C x-x-x, overtaking and leading a trump fails, while leaving partner on lead sets the contract. True, but I consider this hand to be impossible. An expert West would usually bid 4 H the first time; or failing that, he would push to 5 H when you passed 4 S. Opposite the right dummy (e.g., S x-x-x H A-x-x D A-Q-J-x-x C A-x) 5 H will make (slam is on a finesse) so bidding only 3 H and passing 4 S just begs to lose a double game swing.

Note that playing the H 5 does not “ask for a club shift,” as some respondents suggested, but merely discourages hearts. There are no suit-preference implications. Partner probably will lead a club next; but he might shift to a diamond.* Because of this uncertainty, taking it upon yourself (Choice C) gets the top spot, and Choice B a close second.

*Assuming partner has the diagrammed hand, a diamond shift is crucial if South has S Q-J-10-9-x-x-x H 4 D x-x C K-J-x, since any other lead offers the contract. This gives you (East) S K-x H A-J-5 D A-K-x-x-x C Q-x-x, which shows that you could not solve the problem by overtaking and leading the D K, as partner’s signal would be attitude per agreements, and you wouldn’t know which red-suit trick to cash.

Of the remaining options, only Choice A (play the H J) makes it possible to avoid the endplay; but the chances of a club shift are greatly diminished. Even so, a spade shift is OK too, so Choice A gets a distant third.

If you overtake and return a heart, the H 5 (Choice E) is the right card to avoid an accident. If you lead the H J and South has 10-x, partner will think you have the doubleton and overtake to give you a ruff, giving dummy a heart trick — and declarer an impossible contract with S Q-J-10-9-x-x H 10-x D A-x-x C J-x. For this reason, I rate Choice D worst of all. Choice F (overtake, lead D 3) does nothing to help your cause, but at least it doesn’t offer a trick from nowhere.

Comments for C. Overtake; lead S 5

Sebastien Louveaux: I assume declarer has S Q-J-10-9-x-x H x D A-x-x C J-x-x, in which case he will strip my hand and endplay me in clubs [if hearts are continued]. However, he lacks the entries to ruff two hearts and finesse in diamonds if I play a spade (the only suit that doesn’t help him with entries). I must also not cover the [first] diamond, otherwise I could be endplayed with the S K to [complete the stripping process].

Frances Hinden: This beats 4 S whenever it can be beaten (declarer being 6=1=3=3).

Rob Stevens: The situation to avoid is an endgame where I hold, say, D 9-x C K-Q-x, and have to discard. Declarer needs two entries [to dummy] outside clubs to remove my hearts, and he doesn’t have them. Since I know what to do, I should overtake and lead a spade before partner carelessly leads another heart.

Gijsbert van Rijt: This hand revolves about the number of diamonds South has: If four, we have no chance; if two, declarer is out of luck; so presume three. His full hand could be S Q-J-10-9-8-x H x D A-x-x C J-x-x. I could have played the H 5 hoping partner can figure out the club or spade switch; but why make him sweat when I know what to do?

Jonathan Mestel: I don’t want to make it easy for declarer to [endplay me] with S Q-J-10-x-x-x H x D A-x-x C J-x-x. Strange, that removing one of my exit cards helps avoid an endplay. I could play the H 5 and hope partner leads a club [or spade], but I don’t think I need to.

Patrice Piganeau: To avoid being endplayed in clubs.

Lajos Linczmayer: I suppose South has six spades and one heart, in which case we need two club tricks. If South has S Q-J-10-x-x-x H x D A-x-x C J-x-x, and partner leads another heart (or a diamond), declarer can make the contract.

Manuel Paulo: If South has S Q-J-10-x-x-x H x D A-x-x C J-x-x, I am in risk of being endplayed. I could play the H 5, trusting partner, who should find the club or trump switch. Nevertheless, I can do the job myself…

Nigel Guthrie: Declarer may have S Q-J-10-x-x-x H x D A-x-x C J-x-x, in which case the contract is doomed unless I let OXO (ox opposite) endplay me — Joe Amsbury used to call his partner “my ox.”

Leif-Erik Stabell: This locks South in hand if he has 6=1=3=3 shape with the rest of the honors.

Albert Ohana: I open 1 NT, and opponents go to game? I must teach them not to do this again!

Neelotpal Sahai: Declarer needs two dummy entries (apart from the C A) to ruff hearts and finesse diamonds [in preparation] to endplay me in clubs. [Otherwise] an endplay is impossible. If I encourage hearts, a continuation [alleviates the need] of an entry. If I discourage, partner is in a dilemma over shifting to clubs or diamonds (a diamond shift also gives an additional entry). So I should overtake and play safe, then declarer is down automatically with S Q-J-10-x-x-x H x D A-x-x C J-x-x.

Madhukar Bapu: This ensures there is no way I will get endplayed, so we’ll enjoy two clubs, a heart and a trump.

This also ensures that partner won’t take any tricks which I’ve always found to be good training.

Dean Pokorny: Retaining my exit cards in hearts, and not giving declarer a fast entry to dummy, is the way to prevent a throw-in when declarer holds S Q-J-10-x-x-x H x D A-x-x C J-x-x.

Spiros Liarakos: To avoid an endplay if South is 3-3 in the minors with the C J.

Paulino Correa: … When I win the lead later, I will have exit cards in hearts.

Barry White: A club shift by partner (or a spade) also beats 4 S, but there’s a lot to be said for taking charge and relieving partner of the possibility of making a mistake. South rates to hold S Q-J-10-x-x-x H x D A-x-x C J-x-x, and with careful play I can avoid the endplay that a heart continuation would set up.

Comments for B. Play the H 5

Charles Blair: After my brilliant partner leads a club to my queen, I return a diamond to avoid a crisscross squeeze.*

*Charles’s alludes to South holding S Q-J-10-9-8-7-2 H x D A-x C J-x-x, where careless defense allows declarer to reach an ending of D J-10 C A opposite D A C J-x, though there are other lines of defense to stop it. I dismissed this case because I don’t believe West could have six hearts and a spade void on the bidding. -RP

Gonzalo Goded: Overtaking to play the S 5 assures defeat when South has S Q-J-x-x-x-x H x D A-x-x C J-x-x; but a club return will be as good. Problem is that overtaking to play the S 5 is fatal when declarer has S Q-J-10-x-x H x D A-x-x-x-x C x-x… Only the H 5 might work on both layouts.*

*All true, but the 5-5 hand is far-fetched because partner would have led his singleton (and probably bid more as well). -RP

Bruce Neill: … This is discouraging (not suit preference), but partner should see that clubs is the one suit I may not be able to play safely from my side.

Brad Theurer: South could have S Q-J-10-x-x H x D A-x-x-x C J-x-x, and a club shift from partner might be needed to break up a late club endplay; so I let him hold the trick and signal appropriately.*

*Brad does show an example where overtaking and leading a spade would lose; but it’s hardly a 2 S overcall by any normal style. Yes, there are people who would do it (Fritz comes to mind); but for the purpose of these contests, you’re supposed to assume mainstream expert actions unless stated otherwise; hence, I do not consider such extreme cases when determining the awards. -RP

Gerald Murphy: Discouraging. A club shift will give us three tricks, and a fourth should come from a heart or a second club.

Mike Harney: I don’t know why, but if you buy my book “The Play of a Real Dummy” when it comes out next year, the reasoning will be found.

Analyses 8X16 MainChallengeScoresTop Let Your Heart Be Light

Problem 5

N-S Vul
S A K Q 7
H 10 5
D 10 7 3
C A Q J 6

4 H
All Pass

2 H
5 C
5 C SouthTable S 10 3
H A J 8 7 3 2
D 9 8 2
C K 5

1 W

A. Play the H J1011311
B. Play the H 8819419
D. Overtake; lead S 107343
E. Overtake; lead S 36172
F. Overtake; lead D 9460558
C. Play the H 21777

Having coerced the opponents into 5 C, it will be disheartening if they have reached a paradisaical spot. Translation: You better beat this. Two tricks are assured, assuming a heart survives, and the obvious source of another is in diamonds. It is tempting to overtake and shift to a diamond (Choice F) as it may lead to a quick set; and you certainly don’t want partner to lead a diamond.

Unfortunately, this has drawbacks. For one, you can’t be sure that South has a singleton heart; partner might have only three, in which case he will know a second heart is cashing (barring a fluke seven-card weak two-bid). Another drawback is more subtle:

IMPsS A K Q 7TrickLead2nd3rd4th
N-S VulH 10 51 WH K5A?4
D 10 7 32 ED 9?A53
C A Q J 63 SC 23QK
S J 9 6 5 4TableS 10 34 ED 8KJ7
H K Q 9 6H A J 8 7 3 25 SC 4H 6A5
D Q J 5D 9 8 2West is later squeezed
C 3C K 5
S 8 2
H 4
D A K 6 4
5 C SouthC 10 9 8 7 4 2

West cannot protect both spades and diamonds in the end. Obviously the same squeeze would occur if you led a second heart.

The winning defense is to switch to a spade, then you can lead a second spade when you win the C K. Removing the entry to dummy breaks the squeeze, and partner will score a diamond trick in due course. You can do this yourself with Choice D or E, but best is Choice A: Play the H J (suit preference) and leave partner on lead. Unless partner knows another heart is cashing, he will shift to a spade. Further, if declarer held S 9-8 doubleton, it is crucial for the first spade lead to come from partner; else the S 7 sets up.

As is almost always the case, there are other possibilities. If South has S J-x H 4 D A-Q-x C 10-9-8-7-4-3-2, it is crucial to overtake and shift to diamonds, else declarer will pitch both losing diamonds on dummy’s spades. Nonetheless, this layout is far less likely than the diagram.* Further, while we’re considering seven-baggers, maybe South has S x-x H x-x D A-K C 10-9-8-7-4-3-2; then you’d look pretty silly when partner has a routine set by continuing hearts.

*Note that if declarer has any weaker diamond holding (e.g., A-J-x) partner can shift to the D K — and he should since an endplay (or squeeze) is inevitable if South has D A-J-x and C K-x-x-x-x-x.

The main point about the recommended defense is that, barring seven clubs, declarer cannot come to 11 tricks unless he has both D A-K, in which case leading diamonds can’t help — but leading spades (or cashing a second heart trick) might. Even if South has a weak holding like D K-x-x, overtaking and leading a diamond won’t gain because partner will surely cash the setting trick (he does not know you have the C K) — down two, the same result as after a spade shift. Thus, the impulsive play, as evidenced by the majority vote, does not fare well under scrutiny.

I decided to rank Choice B (H 8) second because it is likely to accomplish the same thing, albeit with added pressure on partner. He may read your signal as middle, but holding four hearts he will know there are no more hearts to cash, and a trump shift could hardly do any good. Further, the H 8 certainly denies any interest in diamonds, so partner can foresee the spade-diamond squeeze if dummy’s entries are not attacked.

Next best is to overtake and lead spades yourself. There is little difference between Choice D (S 10) and Choice E (S 3). In theory, Choice D has a slight edge as it may force a second undertrick, e.g., when South has S 9-8 H x-x D K-Q-x C 10-9-8-x-x-x. Even so, this edge may be offset by the psychological factor that declarer may read the S 3 as a singleton and fail with S 9-x-x H x D A-J C 10-9-x-x-x-x-x (running the S 9 on the second round). Rather than pursue this awkward comparison for third place, I’ll just go by the voting; Choice D gets the edge.

Last and surely least is Choice C (H 2), which is like signing your own death certificate. When partner’s diamond shift blows the contract, the bounty on your tail will be like one of those Mastercard commercials: priceless.

Comments for A. Play the H J

Charles Blair: This is necessary if South has S 9-8 H x D A-K-x-x C 10-9-x-x-x-x, but will look foolish if he has S J-x-x H x D A-Q C 10-9-x-x-x-x-x. Perhaps partner would have bid 5 H…in the latter case.

Sebastien Louveaux: I must plan to break up the spade-diamond squeeze, South having S x-x H x D A-K-x-x C 10-x-x-x-x-x. If South has S 9-8, the first spade lead must come from partner’s side; hence, no overtake, but a huge suit-preference signal…

Frances Hinden: Suit preference for spades; maybe South has exactly S 9-8 H x D A-K-x-x C 10-x-x-x-x-x, and partner has to start the suit. Or maybe partner has only three hearts, in which case he’ll know what to do.

Rainer Herrmann: A switch by partner to spades is required if South holds S 9-8 H 4 D A-K-x-x C x-x-x-x-x-x to break up the squeeze.

Gijsbert van Rijt: To save partner from being squeezed in spades and diamonds. If South’s spades are as good as 9-8 doubleton, the first spade has to come from partner, so I cannot afford to overtake and play spades myself. Lavinthal has to come to the rescue. South may have S 9-8 H x D A-K-J-x C 10-9-8-x-x-x.

Gonzalo Goded: If South has S x-x H x D A-K-x-x C 10-x-x-x-x-x, the only way to defeat this is to break the communication for the squeeze. The H J is so clear that partner can’t fail, and it will prove useful if South has S 9-8.

Jonathan Mestel: I need a spade from partner against S 9-8 H x D A-K-J-x C 10-9-x-x-x-x, and he should get this right since it’s not me who will be squeezed. If he doesn’t, perhaps declarer will take the diamond finesse; so I better give partner the D J, too, to wake him up.

Patrice Piganeau: The defense must shift to spades to prevent a squeeze. If South has S 9-8 H 4 D A-K-x-x C 10-9-8-7-6-5, a spade switch by me costs a trick.

Imre Csiszar: Choice F is required if South has seven clubs, and partner has the D K. If South has only six clubs, partner needs only S J-x-x-x-x and the D Q, provided he switches to a spade to break up the spade-diamond squeeze.

Manuel Paulo: If South has S 9-8 H x D A-K-J-x C 10-x-x-x-x-x, partner must switch to a low spade, else declarer can win an 11th trick via a squeeze in spades and diamonds. After winning the C K, I lead the S 10.

Bruce Neill: Suit preference for a spade switch from partner’s side. Declarer may have S 9-8 H x D A-K-x-x C 10-x-x-x-x-x (or with D A-K-J-x).

Leif-Erik Stabell: Partner should cash another heart if he can — I can hardly have seven hearts and an outside trick at this vulnerability. Otherwise, it is essential that the spade switch comes from his side if South has S 9-8 H x D A-K-x-x C 10-9-x-x-x-x.

Ding-Hwa Hsieh: To defeat (1) S x-x H x D A-K-x-x C x-x-x-x-x-x, or (2) S J-x H x-x D A-K-x C x-x-x-x-x-x, the question is whether to play the H J or H 8. The jack implies a spade switch, which works in Case 1 (breaking up a squeeze). In Case 2, partner should figure out to cash another heart before doing something silly.

Ulrich Nell: If South holds D A-K-x-(x), there is a danger that partner may be squeezed in spades and diamonds for the 11th trick. If declarer has only two spades, the squeeze can be ambushed by playing spades twice. It is dangerous for me to lead a spade…since South may have S 9-8, so I request partner to do it.

Toby Kenney: A spade switch is vital to save partner from a squeeze in diamonds and spades. If South has S 9-8, the lead must come from partner.

Jim Munday: Declarer should have a stiff heart on the bidding, so I will need partner to have a diamond trick. If he has the D K, declarer will be a trick short unless he has seven clubs (very unlikely). More likely, the layout is something like S x-x H x D A-K-x-x C 10-9-x-x-x-x, in which case partner will be subjected to a pointed-suit squeeze — unless a spade is led at trick two. I need partner to do it in case South has S 9-8.

Julian Pottage: If South is 2=1=4=6, we may need to lead spades to break up a spade-diamond squeeze. If South has S 9-8, only partner can do it.

Bill Powell: If South has two spades, we can kill the spade-diamond squeeze on partner.

David Hodge: Signaling for a spade since, if declarer has two spades and four diamonds, I can play another spade when I win the C K to stop partner from being squeezed in spades and diamonds. Spades are better played from partner’s side of the table in case South has S 9-8. I also want to give partner a chance to lead the D K with K-Q.

Jordi Sabate: Partner knows if we can win a second heart, so I don’t want to overtake and guess. If he has four hearts, I suggest a spade switch…which is necessary if South has S x-x H x D A-K-J-x C 10-x-x-x-x-x, else partner is squeezed in spades and diamonds. (I will lead a second spade after winning the C K.)

Neelotpal Sahai: It won’t be a Pavlicek problem if the solution is to overtake and push a diamond through… :) At the cost of being clairvoyant, playing South for S 9-8 H 4 D A-K-J-x C 10-9-8-x-x-x, the defense needs to break up a spade-diamond squeeze on partner. Two rounds of spades will cut the link, and the first should come from partner…

Espen Erichsen: If partner has S J-x-x-x-x H K-Q-x-x D Q-x-x C x, he must switch to a spade to break up a squeeze; so I help him by playing the H J. I don’t overtake and lead the S 10 because South may have S 9-8, or two hearts.

Steve White: Suit preference. I want partner to lead a spade from S J-x-x-x-x to break up the spade-diamond squeeze.

Guray Sunamak: To prevent partner being squeezed with S J-x-x-x-x and D Q-x-x, we have to play spades twice…

Jouko Paganus: Breaking the spade-diamond squeeze when South holds S 9-8 H x D A-K-x-x C 10-x-x-x-x-x.

Brad Theurer: Playing South for 2=1=4=6 shape (e.g., S x-x H x D A-K-J-x C 10-x-x-x-x-x), we have to break up the pointed-suit squeeze. Partner needs the S J, and a spade lead is better from his side in case South has S 9-8

John Lusky: It could be necessary to overtake and lead a diamond back if South has S x-x-x H x D A-Q C 10-x-x-x-x-x-x; but partner might have pushed to 5 H with S J-9-x-x H K-Q-x-x D K-J-x-x-x C. It seems more likely that a spade shift is needed to break up a spade-diamond squeeze if South has S x-x H x D A-K-x-x C 10-x-x-x-x-x,…and the shift from partner’s side gains against S 9-8 doubleton. Also, leaving partner on lead could be fruitful if he knows to do something else, such as with S J-x-x-x-x H K-Q-x D Q-x-x-x-x C; or perhaps S J-x-x-x H K-Q-x-x D K-Q-J-x-x C; or if he decided to lead the H K from S x-x-x-x-x H K-x-x D K-J-x-x-x C.

Mauri Saastamoinen: South may have something like S 9-8 H x D A-K-x-x C x-x-x-x-x-x, so partner has to make the spade switch… Should partner know that I want him to switch? I think so because, if for some reason I had only five hearts, I should overtake and [return a heart].

Spiros Liarakos: The [most] relevant case is when partner may be squeezed in spades and diamonds. I could overtake and return a spade, but this blows the show if South has S 9-8. …

Gabriel Nita-Saguna: If partner raised with H K-Q-x, he will know to cash another heart. However, if he started with four hearts, it is mandatory for him to switch to spades as a first step to break communication for a simple squeeze in spades and diamonds; e.g., when South’s hand looks like S 9-8 H x D A-K-x-x C 10-x-x-x-x-x.

Roger Morton: South [may] have D A-K; and to break up a potential spade-diamond squeeze on partner, I need to attack declarer’s doubleton spade entry [to dummy]. The first spade lead is best from partner’s side in case South has S 9-8.

Jim Mendelsohn: Playing partner for S J-x-x-x-x and D Q-x-x, he must switch to a low spade to begin breaking up the squeeze.

Thijs Veugen: When South has S 9-8 H 4 D A-K-x-x C 10-x-x-x-x-x, I need partner to switch to spades; else he gets squeezed in spades and diamonds. …

Analyses 8X16 MainChallengeScoresTop Let Your Heart Be Light

Problem 6

Both Vul
S A 4
H 9 6 5 2
D A K 8 5 2
C A 6

All Pass

2 D
2 NT1
5 C

1 S
2 S
4 S
6 S
6 S SouthTable S 7 6
H A J 8 7 3
D J 9 4
C 10 9 2

1 W
1. game force

E. Overtake; lead D 410818
C. Play the H 39676
A. Play the H J6848
B. Play the H 8529628
F. Overtake; lead C 10433532
D. Overtake; lead S 6317717

North’s bidding screams about the need for heart control, so hoping to cash two heart tricks is like a six-year-old child wanting a horse for Christmas — about the same chance. South would be a fool to bid 6 S without a singleton heart. It is also obvious (from the jump to 4 S) that South has a self-sufficient spade suit, surely K-Q-J-10-x-x or better.

First thoughts are to attack dummy’s club entry to prevent declarer from establishing diamonds with a ruff. Alas, this only works if South has some aberration like S K-Q-J-10-x-x-x H x D Q C Q-x-x-x, with which he would hardly open 1 S. If he has S K-Q-J-10-x-x-x H x D x-x C Q-x-x, nothing matters (spades are 2-2); and if he has D Q-x or better, you might as well hitch your sleigh up to red-nosed chicken.

What about overtaking to lead a trump? I suppose South could have S K-Q-J-10-x-x H x D x-x C K-J-x-x, where he would play to ruff two clubs, but it’s futile. Declarer is obliged to look for an alternate line, and an expert is destined to succeed.* Even if declarer had 6=1=1=5 shape, his club suit would establish with one ruff. Scratch that defense.

*Best play is to win the spade in hand and lead three rounds of diamonds, ruffing high. This succeeds if diamonds are 3-3, or with diamonds 4-2 and the club finesse on — about 60 percent, assuming South’s trumps are as sturdy as advertised. The alternative of ruffing one club and hoping the C Q falls (else a squeeze if the hand with long clubs has 4+ diamonds) is considerably inferior.

The only realistic hope to beat the contract is that declarer has a diamond loser, as in the following layout:

IMPsS A 4TrickLead2nd3rd4th
Both VulH 9 6 5 21 WH K2A4
D A K 8 5 22 EC 10?K36
C A 63 SS 35A6
S 8 5 2TableS 7 64 NS 47K2
H K Q 10H A J 8 7 35 SS Q8D 2H 3
D Q 6D J 9 46 SC J4A2
C 8 7 5 4 3C 10 9 27 NH 57S 910
S K Q J 10 9 38 SC Q5D 59
H 4continued below…
D 10 7 3
6 S SouthC K Q J

Suppose you overtake the heart and shift to a club. Declarer will win the C K, draw trumps in three rounds, cross to the C A, ruff a heart and cash the C Q to reach this position:

S win allSTrickLead2nd3rd4th
H 9 69 SS JC 7D 8?
D A K 8East is squeezed
H QH J 8
D Q 6D J 9 4
C 8 7C
S J 10
D 10 7 3
South leadsC

When South leads his penultimate trump, pitching a diamond from dummy, you have no answer. A heart pitch allows the H 9 to be set up with a ruff, and a diamond pitch makes the D 10 good. A ruffout squeeze; and worse, it could have been prevented.

The winning defense is to switch to a diamond to remove one of dummy’s diamond entries, as both are necessary to inflict the squeeze. Next comes the tough question: Should you do this yourself? Or should you give count* in hearts and rely on partner to find the diamond switch if two hearts aren’t cashing?

*On a king lead against a suit slam, the default signaling agreement is to show count. Note that this situation is not analogous to Problems 1 and 5 because you did not show five hearts in the auction.

Choosing the winner between Choices C and E is entirely subjective. It comes down to which is more likely: (1) South bidding a slam looking at two losing hearts, or (2) partner failing to find a diamond shift when no more hearts are cashing. I would say (2) as even an expert might overlook a subtle squeeze defense at trick two*; while it’s hard to imagine an expert bidding 6 S with two heart losers after advertising the lead. Therefore, Choice E gets the win. Those who face a lot of crazy or psychic bidders might disagree; but guess what? It’s my call.

*And it wouldn’t necessarily be an error, as partner may think that declarer is holding up with H A-J-4, in which case there are some layouts that require a club shift.

None of the remaining choices are close. Playing the H J or H 8 gives the wrong count, so partner should continue hearts to cash the setting trick; but I suppose there’s some chance that he will believe South (or perhaps conclude that your heart length is known and assume suit preference), so Choices A and B are ranked next. Choice F (overtake, lead C 10) has a slim chance (mentioned earlier) which is better than Choice D (overtake, lead a trump) for which I couldn’t find any legitimate gain.

Comments for E. Overtake; lead D 4

Charles Blair: Avoids a ruffing squeeze.

Sebastien Louveaux: I had an awful time trying to come up with something resembling the auction, while giving us a chance. A 1 S opening with S K-Q-J-x-x-x-x H x D Q C Q-x-x-x seems moot… so I will try to break up a trump squeeze in the red suits when South has D x-x-x.

Frances Hinden: If 6 S is going off at all, I have to play a diamond next. Maybe I should simply give count (on the off chance South has more than one heart) and hope partner works out a diamond is necessary.

Carolyn Ahlert: It is very unlikely that South has a worthless doubleton heart so we could cash two heart tricks. However, if partner has D Q-x, a diamond lead now is the only chance to break up a red-suit squeeze at the end.

Rob Stevens: South must have a stiff heart, given how poor the rest of his hand must be. The only logical chance is to play South for D x-x-x and lead a diamond to prevent the ruffing squeeze.

Rainer Herrmann: About the only hand I can come up with where the contract can be defeated and South has his bids is S K-Q-J-10-x-x H 4 D 10-x-x C K-Q-J. Even then, a red-suit ruffing squeeze looms unless the defense switches to diamonds.

Gijsbert van Rijt: This time I have to save myself from being trump-squeezed in hearts and diamonds. Robbing dummy of one of its entries will prevail when South has S K-Q-J-10-9-x H x D 10-x-x C K-Q-x.

Gonzalo Goded: Breaking the ruffout squeeze when South has S K-Q-J-x-x-x H x D 10-x-x C K-Q-x. Partner might not be willing to play a diamond from his side…

Tim DeLaney: This defends against a crisscross ruffout squeeze in the red suits by taking out a key entry, in the event South has S K-Q-J-10-x-x H x D x-x-x C K-Q-x. Besides, South might have S K-Q-J-10-x-x H x D Q-10-x-x-x C K, and partner will ruff! (Far-fetched, but why trust their bidding?)

Patrice Piganeau: To prevent a trump squeeze.

N. Scott Cardell: South must have at least six solid spades, plus at least C K-Q and a singleton heart to open and rebid as he did. So the only hope for a setting trick is that he has an unavoidable diamond loser; but with S K-Q-J-10-x-x H x D 10-x-x C K-Q-J, I will be subject to a ruffout squeeze if our side plays any suit except diamonds at trick two. I just hope that South doesn’t have S K-Q-J-10-x-x-x H x D 10-x-x C K-Q.

Imre Csiszar: Unless the slam bid was a bluff with two heart losers, it can be defeated only if South holds three diamonds lacking the queen; then a trump squeeze is broken up by a diamond shift.

Gareth Birdsall: To break up the trump squeeze.

Lajos Linczmayer: I need a diamond trick to defeat the contract, so South’s critical holding is S K-Q-J-10-x-x H x D 10-x-x C K-Q-J.

Manuel Paulo: If South has S K-Q-J-10-x-x H x D x-x-x C K-Q-x, I am in risk of being trump-squeezed. … I can do the job myself, so there is no good reason to hope partner will lead a diamond next.

Well, if you overtake, I see a good reason to hope partner does not lead a diamond next.

Bruce Neill: South may have S K-Q-J-x-x-x H x D 10-x-x C K-Q-x, so I need to break the trump squeeze.

Nigel Guthrie: … Either defender could switch to diamonds to break up the trump squeeze, so I overtake to grab the limelight from partner. :)

Julian Wightwick: South must surely have a singleton heart to justify the slam bid. In that case, I need partner to have the D Q; so declarer must have everything else in the blacks. I must hope for a slow diamond winner, and a diamond switch is necessary to break up the trump squeeze.

Leif-Erik Stabell: If South has S K-Q-J-x-x-x-x H x D Q C Q-x-x-x, I must [overtake and] play a club; but it is probably more likely that he has a normal opening like S K-Q-J-x-x-x H x D 10-x-x C K-Q-J, where I must play a diamond to prevent a trump squeeze.

Albert Ohana: If declarer has three small diamonds, he will be able to trump-squeeze me in hearts and diamonds — unless I take away one of dummy’s diamond entries.

Toby Kenney: Removes a vital entry to dummy, preventing a trump squeeze if South has S K-Q-J-10-x-x-x H x D x-x-x C Q-J. I hope partner is alert enough to cover the first club honor.

Carsten Kofoed: Attacks the trump squeeze.

Bill Powell: Attempting to stop the heart-diamond ruffout squeeze.

Kay Jones: If South has 7=1=2=3 shape with the C K, he will make six. … To set him, he must hold at least three diamonds, and partner must have the D Q.

Ivan Kolev: One hope is that South has S K-Q-J-10-9-x H 4 D x-x-x-x C K-Q;…another is S K-Q-J-10-9-x H 4 D x-x-x C K-Q-J.

John Reardon: Unless South is insane, he has a heart control. Therefore, the only chance of defeating this contract legitimately is to switch to diamonds when South has something like S K-Q-J-10-x-x H x D 10-x-x C K-Q-x; then I have avoided the trump squeeze.

Steve White: Maybe it won’t be as clear to partner to break up the trump squeeze on me.

Guray Sunamak: Prevent the ruffing squeeze.

Jeff Goldsmith: The only hand I think we can beat is S K-Q-J-10-x-x H x D x-x-x C K-Q-x. A diamond shift takes out the second diamond entry required for the trump squeeze.

Jouko Paganus: Breaking a trump squeeze when South holds S K-Q-J-x-x-x H x D x-x-x C K-Q-x.

John Lusky: This breaks up a ruffing squeeze if South has S K-Q-J-10-x-x H x D x-x-x C K-Q-x, which seems the best chance to defeat the contract — if South’s hand matches his bidding.

Josh Sinnett: Removing a dummy entry is the only option that can make a difference here.

Dean Pokorny: Only killing a diamond entry breaks the heart-diamond trump squeeze when South holds something like S K-Q-J-10-x-x H x D x-x-x C K-x-x.

Chuck Lamprey: If South has S K-Q-J-x-x-x H x D x-x-x C K-Q-x, this play is necessary so I don’t get squeezed. I suppose there are layouts where I have to attack dummy’s club entry; but declarer would have to have something like S K-Q-J-x-x-x-x H x D Q C Q-x-x-x, which seems an unlikely 1 S opener.

Gabriel Nita-Saguna: We seem to have a chance to beat the slam only if declarer has a diamond loser. However, if we don’t play a diamond right now, declarer will succeed by trump-squeezing me in the red suits if he started with S K-Q-J-x-x-x H x D x-x-x C K-Q-x.

Subhash Bhavnani: South is probably 6=1=3=3, 6=1=4=2 or 7=1=3=2. If South has the D Q, partner would need the S Q [to have any chance]. Best chance is that partner has the D Q.

Norm Gordon: South is likely to be 6-1 in the majors. If he has a stiff diamond, he can ruff out clubs; if he has two diamonds, he can ruff out diamonds. My only chance seems to be 6=1=3=3 distribution and no D Q… and the dangerous ending is H 9-x D A-K opposite S x D x-x-x, where I am caught in a trump squeeze (partner is powerless to guard either red suit). To kill the trump squeeze, I must eliminate one of dummy’s crucial diamond entries.

Comment for C. Play the H 3

Jonathan Mestel: Declarer should have heart control; but who knows? A diamond shift breaks up the trump squeeze if South has S K-Q-J-x-x-x H x D x-x-x C K-Q-x…, but partner can work this out, too. If I give count with the H 3, partner will know I have five (with three I’d overtake) and cash out if declarer misbid. Why should partner go wrong with S x-x-x H K-Q-x D Q-x C J-x-x-x-x? Because he envisages S K-Q-J-x-x-x-x H x D J-10 C Q-10-x, in which case [a club shift is necessary]! Is that more or less likely than S K-Q-J-x-x-x-x H Q-x D Q-x C K-x and a break of discipline? Less, I think. …

Final Notes

I hope you enjoyed the contest, and that you and your loved ones had a wonderful holiday season. Thanks to all who participated, and especially those who offered warm holiday greetings and/or kind remarks about my web site.

Comments are selected only from those above average (top 501 in this edition) and on each problem I only use comments supporting the winning solutions and close runners-up. While this may seem biased, I feel it’s the best way to ensure solid content and avoid potential embarrassment in publishing comments that are off the mark. On this basis, I included over 70 percent of eligible comments. If you supplied comments that were unused, I thank you for the input.

Use of a comment does not necessarily mean I agree with it, but generally they are all worthy. Comments are quoted exactly except for corrections in spelling and grammar. Where I have included only part of a comment, an ellipsis (…) indicates where text was cut. Text [in brackets] was supplied by me to summarize a cut portion or fix an omission. Comments are listed in order of respondents’ rank, which is my only basis for sequencing.

I am confident that my lengthy study of these problems, assisted by comments received, has determined the best solutions in theory, but oversights are possible. Feedback is always welcome.

Let’s hope the new year brings more peace on Earth, as my elves get the final words:

Lawrence Cheetham: Intriguing theme! It’s amazing that the notion of upside-down vs. standard carding doesn’t actually affect each solution — given that so many folks first ask, “Do you play UDCA?” rather than, perhaps, “Do you play good bridge?”

Tim DeLaney: Normally, your research is quite accurate, but here your halo slipped: Saints are canonized, not ordained.

OK, you caught me. But to me, canonized means “electrocuted by a bubble-jet printer,” or back in the 1970s, “shot by a fat TV detective.”

Don Hinchey: Partner, if you lead one more king of hearts, you’re dead!

John R. Mayne: You ask for hope to stay alive, as we approach two thousand five.
And so the cards I choose to play, will let South live another day.

Analyses 8X16 MainChallengeScoresTop Let Your Heart Be Light

Credits to Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, composers of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
© 2004 Richard Pavlicek