Analyses 8X24 MainChallenge

Mission: Implausible

Scores by Richard Pavlicek

These play problems were published on the Internet in February 2005 as a contest open to all bridge players. As declarer on each problem, all you had to do was choose your line of play from the choices offered.

Problem 123456Final Notes

Congratulations, IMF team! Despite immeasurable odds, you managed to capture seven of the top 10 places, including first and second, dropping Mr. Crane to a distant third. It’s about time! One less trophy for Crane must be great for the future of bridge. Your new orders will be available from the Secretary by Thursday, as Mr. Crane must be stopped again in his next scheduled appearance at the Las Vegas Nationals.

More good news! Two of our agents have been detained by the ACBL for illicit communication on Problem 5. We have retained counsel, of course, and a hearing will be held Tuesday by the Ethical Oversight Committee. We expect to win the case, as well as smack the ACBL with a $40 million antitrust suit. Our Treasurer estimates this will fund IMF operations until the year 2015. [OK, Richard, enough already].

Unsolved Murder

Most bridge players are aware that Barry Crane was murdered. It will be 20 years ago this coming July. I remember how shocked and saddened we all were to hear the tragic news at our July Fourth Regional (1985). It’s a cruel world, and situations today offer little hope of improvement. Even worse, his murder remains unsolved; and from what I’ve read, the case has been cold all along.

My theme is intended to honor Barry Crane as the unique man he was, remembering the brilliance of his life, not the misfortune of his death. I hope no one feels it makes light of a tragedy. Crane was indeed associated with the TV series Mission: Impossible (he directed 10 episodes) but my story is entirely fictional.

[Addendum: In 2019, almost 34 years after the fact, a suspect was arrested for Crane’s murder based on fingerprint and DNA evidence. Two years later, Edwin Jerry Hiatt pled guilty to a lesser charge (voluntary manslaughter) and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.]

Charles Blair Wins Again!

This contest had 1153 entrants from 118 locations, and the average score was 38.44. Congratulations to Charles Blair (Illinois) for his second straight win. Charles has entered every contest and is a regular top contender, also winning in February 2003. Word is out that IMF tapes will now be dubbed “Good morning, Mr. Blair.” Also scoring 58 was Weidong Yang (China). Six players were next with 57: Wojtek Siwiec (Poland), John Reardon (England), Ning Liu (China), Jonathan Mestel (England), Rob Stevens (California) and Jim Munday (California).

Participation this month was the highest to date in a play contest (previous was 1040 in December 2004). The average score was up a bit from the last contest although still on the low side (10th lowest overall). The remarkable aspect was the lack of a 60 or 59 score despite the large number of entries. The last time that 58 won was back in February 2002, and I notice the next previous occurrence was in February 2001. I see! It’s the old short-month phenomenon again.

In the overall standings, John Lusky (Oregon) held the top spot with a 59.00 average. Closing in fast is Charles Blair with 58.25; followed by Ding-Hwa Hsieh (Missouri) and Lajos Linczmayer (Hungary) each with 58.00. Next with 57.75 are Julka Kowalska (Poland), Bruce Neill (Australia) and Rob Stevens.

It is notable when a person reaches the top echelon in multiple fields, so I’m delighted to have Jonathan Mestel of London, England as a recent participant. Jonathan is a grandmaster in chess, and a famous researcher in fluid mechanics (and other mathematics well over my head). Considering his scores in the four contests he entered (55.50 average) he could give up those careers for bridge.

Bidding is standard (except as noted) and opponents use standard leads and signals.
For a reference see Standard American Bridge. Assume opponents are average tournament players.

Each problem offered six plausible lines of play (A-F). 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 8X24 MainChallengeScoresTop Mission: Implausible

Problem 1

N-S Vul
S A 6 5 3
H K J 9 7
D 5 2
C A 6 4


2 C
4 H
All Pass
1 NT
2 H
Lead: S 2TableEast plays S 10

4 H South
S K 9
H A Q 10 8
D A K 8 3
C J 7 5

After winning the S K:

Next PlayAwardVotesPercent
A. Win S A; ruff spade1017815
E. Win D A-K; ruff diamond820418
C. Win two trumps; D A; S A; D K534830
D. Win two trumps; D A-K; ruff diamond417815
F. Duck a club313211
B. Win two trumps; S A; ruff spade211310

This problem provided the inspiration for my theme this month, as it’s the only actual “Crane hand” in the set. I remember it well from the early ‘80s, though the spot cards have been recreated (can’t remember that well). I was East, playing with a client, and we arrived at Crane’s table (yes, he was South) amid a raft of kibitzers. Barry’s partner was Kerri Shuman (since remarried as Kerri Sanborn and a top-notch player to this day) and they bid as given above to 4 H.

This was the fateful deal:

MatchpointsS A 6 5 3TrickLead2nd3rd4th
N-S VulH K J 9 71 WS 2310K
D 5 22 SS 97A4
C A 6 43 NS 5JH 88
S Q 8 7 2TableS J 10 44 SH 104J3
H 6 4H 5 3 25 NS 6D 6H AQ
D Q 10 7 4D J 9 66 SH Q6K2
C K 10 2C Q 9 8 37 NH 95C 5C 2
S K 98 NH 7!C 9C 7D 4?
H A Q 10 89 ND 293!7
D A K 8 3Declarer wins 12 tricks
4 H SouthC J 7 5

I would have led a trump with the West hand, but my partner led a spade as stated. Crane was a master of squeezes and such, but he could see that legitimate chances for 12 tricks were poor. For a matchpoint top, he might have to induce misdefense; and to that extent he was a genius. Watch how he created something out of nothing: After winning the S K, he crossed to the S A and ruffed a spade (Line A); then a trump to dummy; spade ruff (high) and a trump to dummy to draw trumps, pitching a club from hand.

For good measure, he next led dummy’s last trump to pitch another club. West had to find two minor-suit discards through all this and, sure enough, one of them was a diamond. Crane then ducked a diamond and 12 tricks were his. So what else is new? A catch phrase of the times was, “Barried again!” and it sure fit the bill here. The IMF is on a tough mission.

Crane’s play gave up some legitimate chances, such as C K-Q doubleton (far-fetched), a delayed-duck ruffout squeeze against West holding four spades and C K-Q (illogical without the C K lead), or a squeeze throw-in against East holding C K-Q (realistic but unlikely). Nonetheless, his play was undeniably best. What are the chances that an average player will pitch down to four diamonds and a blank club in the ending? Pretty slim; and otherwise, Crane had his top.

What if you assume perfect defense? Line A is still best as it caters to the legitimate endplay against East (e.g., with S J-10-x H x-x-x D J-x-x C K-Q-10-x) if you elect to play for it. Curiously, Line A is even best at IMPs because it guarantees the contract against any distribution*, while providing a good opportunity for overtricks.

*Even if a winner gets ruffed, you must still come to 10 tricks; and a 5-0 trump split causes no problem either. The only layout I could think of where Line A would fail requires West to have six spades (contraindicated by the lead) and a diamond void (impossible after East passes). Also note that West’s lead could hardly be a singleton, as East would surely open something with S Q-J-10-8-7-4 at favorable vulnerability.

Of the remaining choices, only Line E is worthy. With proper follow-up, it will lead to the endplay against East: Eliminate diamonds using trumps as reentries, and lead all your trumps to reach a four-card ending: S A C A-6-4 opposite S 9 C J-7-5. East must keep C K-Q-x to prevent direct establishment; then cross to the S A and lead a low club to endplay him. Except for the negligible risk of a singleton diamond, Line E is just as good as Line A with regard to legitimate chances; but rejecting the Crane-esque swindle makes my award of 8 seem generous.

Lines B, C, D and F give up all legitimate endplay and squeeze opportunities against accurate defense. Basically, they just cater to C K-Q doubleton, about a zero chance since West would lead a club from either K-Q or 10-9-8-3-2. Chances of misdefense are also greatly decreased. Rather than crane my neck on a tiebreaker, they’re ranked by the voting.

Speaking of the voting, maybe I deserve an award for “Most Plausible Options,” as it’s rare to see each receive double figures in percent. Please, hold your applause! I wish to thank the Academy…

Comments for A. Win S A; ruff spade

Charles Blair: Eventually, I will lead a club from dummy, hoping East has king-queen.

John Reardon: I will play to reverse dummy, ruffing two spades while using trumps as entries to North. This is safe enough and gives extra chances of a favorable endgame.

Rob Stevens: Hoping to find C K-Q with East.

Jim Munday: I have 11 easy tricks with remote squeeze possibilities for 12. Ruffing two spades instead of diamonds has the advantage of concealing my diamond length from the opponents and might result in a defender with four diamonds to pitch one…

Leif-Erik Stabell: Eleven tricks should be safe, and this [will produce] 12 tricks if West has S Q-x-x-x H x-x-x D J-x-x C 10-x-x or similar.

Bruce Neill: If I draw two trumps then run into a ruff, I might go down in a cold contract against a 4-1 trump break. There is no reason to think [either] opponent has a singleton spade, so this will make five — maybe even six.

Julian Pottage: There is a chance of an endplay for 12 tricks if East has both club honors.

Mauri Saastamoinen: East is on target; with C K-Q-x, he is my man. Play continues: trump to table; spade ruff; trump to table, and draw trumps. … If East has a doubleton heart, I’ll play him for something like S J-10-x H x-x D Q-10-x-x C K-Q-x-x (instead of S J-10-x H x-x D Q-10-x C K-Q-x-x-x) because 3=2=4=4 is more likely than 3=2=3=5. If East has only one heart, I should hope he is 3=1=4=5 (instead of 3=1=5=4) because then he is squeezed even without the club honors.

Manuel Paulo: I will try to win 12 tricks by squeezing and/or endplaying East if he holds the club marriage. I must ruff spades in hand or diamonds in dummy, but I can’t cash two trumps because of transportation; so only Lines A and E are worth considering. … Assuming West has three or four spades, Line A only fails if West has 4=4=4=1 or 3=4=4=2 distribution.

N. Scott Cardell: Any reasonable line will produce at least 10 tricks. The best chance for overtricks is to ruff out the spades using two trump entries to dummy, then lead the last two trumps in dummy. If East has four diamonds and C K-Q, he will be squeezed; and some…players may misdefend when there is no legitimate squeeze. Line E (ruffing out diamonds) is not as good because opponents can see four spades in dummy, so the hand with four will never give one up by mistake. … Finally, spades are almost surely 4-3, but diamonds might break badly; even a 5-2 break could cause problems with Line E.

Julian Wightwick: I’ll make sure of my two ruffs and draw trumps. Then, if nothing interesting has happened, cash D A-K, ruff a diamond, and try to endplay East with a low club. …

Barry Rigal: … Maybe after [ruffing two spades and one diamond] I can catch East with 3=3=3=4 shape and C K-Q for a second overtrick.

Dale Rudrum: This looks safe for 11 tricks…unless hearts are 5-0. If East has C K-Q, I can endplay him for 12 tricks if hearts split 3-2 and I guess his distribution correctly.

David Turner: Any line [should] lead to 11 tricks; it seems the best way to get 12 tricks is to find someone with four diamonds and club coverage. To take advantage, I need to leave diamonds and clubs intact.

Joon Pahk: Eleven tricks are almost a sure thing, and this gives chances for 12; e.g., if I find East with C K-Q

Jon Sorkin: When I ruff spades, an opponent may pitch a diamond with 4-4 in the minors, or four diamonds and C K-Q-x. Conceal the minor suits!

Jordi Sabate: I have 11 tricks if suits break OK by ruffing two spades in hand, or two diamonds in dummy. A 12th trick can come in clubs if someone is squeezed. As West is unlikely to have C K-Q (probably he would lead C K), my best option is to squeeze East in the minors after ruffing two spades in hand, reaching dummy with trumps.

Ed Barnes: I hope East has something like S J-10-x H x-x-x D J-x-x C K-Q-x-x [so I can win 12 tricks].

Gareth Birdsall: This allows me to ruff both spades while keeping the minor-suit winners intact — which must give me better chances in the endgame.

Fraser Rew: I can’t see a 12th trick, though I’m sure it’s there somewhere. …

Dale Freeman: Opponents cannot see my diamond suit, and on the second spade ruff [or trump leads] one might pitch a diamond from four cards. Then I will duck a diamond…

Carsten Kofoed: This will create an extra trick when East has four diamonds with C K-Q.

David Grainger: Then cross in trumps; another spade ruff; another trump to dummy, and pull trumps. … If trumps are 3-2, I play D A-K and ruff a diamond next. If both pointed suits are 4-3, I lead a low club hoping to endplay East with C K-Q-x for 12 tricks.

Robert Teesdale: I aim to ruff another spade [while drawing trumps] to make 11 tricks; and if everything works favorably, I may endplay East with C K-Q-x-(x)-(x) for 12 tricks.

Dan Mytelka: Spades are probably not 6-1, or there would have been opposing bidding. I don’t want to pull two trumps because, if they split 4-1, an opponent might be able to ruff and pull another round of trumps.

Bill Powell: To endplay East in clubs, I’ll need to lead them from the table.

Craig Biddle: It seems like the best chance for 12 tricks is to find East with C K-Q and four diamonds, and this is the best line to pressure him into a nasty end position.

Jean-Christophe Clement: To make a 12th trick with a squeeze or endplay against East if he has C K-Q.

Alan Kravetz: Crossruffing will get me all 13 tricks, providing diamonds and spades break 5-2 or 4-3.

Mr. Crane would indeed be impressed. Meanwhile I suggest an appointment with your eye doctor.

Ulrich Nell: … Then return to table with a trump; ruff spade again; return with a trump, and play another trump… Now play D A-K and ruff a diamond; then a club to the jack endplays East with C K-Q-x.

Tim McKay: I hope to get 12 tricks via a squeeze. If West ruffs the second spade, he is ruffing a loser — and I still might manage 12 tricks. …

Myles Ellison: … I’m going to score two spade ruffs in hand (using trumps for communication). Even if the S 2 is a singleton and West ruffs, the S A can be used later to pitch a club.

Analyses 8X24 MainChallengeScoresTop Mission: Implausible

Problem 2

E-W Vul
S A J 2
H 9 7 6 3
D Q 9 2
C Q 9 2


2 S

All Pass
1 S
Lead: H QTableEast plays H 8

2 S South
S K Q 10 7 6
H 2
D 5 4 3
C A K 5 4

West continues with the H 5 to East’s ace, and you ruff. (Trumps split 3-2)

Next PlayAwardVotesPercent
F. Lead a diamond1013412
D. Win S K; S A; C A; C Q938133
E. Win S K; S A; C Q; C A621218
C. Win S K; S A; ruff heart529125
A. Draw trumps; lead a diamond3968
B. Win S A; S K; lead a diamond2393

Once again, the object is not to make the contract — a whooping crane could do that — but to pile up the overtricks. Notice the plural, as I’m sure Barry Crane would be plotting not just for nine tricks but for a 10th as well. To this extent, a dummy reversal is required, and entries do not permit it; i.e., you can ruff three hearts using the S A and C Q entries, but you can’t return to dummy to draw the outstanding trump. You need help from the opponents — and some might say from a psychiatrist as well for playing this game called matchpoints.

I am convinced the best chance is to lead a diamond (Line F) without revealing anything about your hand. Cashing any number of spades or clubs is unlikely to help your cause and will only paint pictures for the defense. I have no doubts Mr. Crane would do just that, giving his opponents some rope. If West plays low on the diamond, it must be right to finesse the nine (West could hardly have D A-K). Consider a typical layout and the problem this leaves East:

MatchpointsS A J 2TrickLead2nd3rd4th
E-W VulH 9 7 6 31 WH Q382
D Q 9 22 WH 56AS 6
C Q 9 23 SD 479J
S 8 3TableS 9 5 44 EH 4?S KJ7
H Q J 10 5H A K 8 45 SS 10325
D A 10 7 6D K J 86 SC 47Q3
C J 8 7C 10 6 37 NH 9KS Q10
S K Q 10 7 68 SS 78A4
H 29 NS J9D 3D 6
D 5 4 3Declarer wins 10 tricks
2 S SouthC A K 5 4

After winning the D J, East won’t know a diamond return is safe*; leading clubs could cost a trick, e.g., if South has C K-8-x-(x); and a trump might pick off partner’s queen. Chances are, a typical defender will lead another heart, and then you’re home: Ruff high; win the S 10; cross to the C Q; ruff the last heart high, and draw trumps. Crane would probably make 10 tricks even if clubs didn’t split, as the defender with four clubs would be mesmerized by the smoke screen in diamonds and pitch a club.

*Yes, an expert might deduce that declarer would not play this way with D A-x-x-(x), and work out the diamond return; but conditions were to assume average tournament players.

The main appeal of Line F is that it’s noncommittal. Besides allowing for misdefense, it retains virtually all the chances offered by direct attempts. Advancing the play with diamond leads might also lead to a legitimate gain against perfect defense. For example, if East has S x-x-x H A-K-8 D K-J-10-x-x C x-x, there is no way to stop you from later squeezing West in hearts and clubs for nine tricks. Other lines (except Line B also works) limit you to eight tricks.

The presence of the C 9 in dummy adds a slight complication; i.e., being able to draw trumps and unblock clubs in the event of C J-10 doubleton*, but this is negligible in comparison to the overall scheme. As in real life, you can always find a thorn among the roses. (In composing the problem, I gave dummy C Q-9-2 mainly to draw attention from the identical diamond holding.)

*Also note that if East drops an honor on the C A, it is still right to play for J-10 doubleton; restricted choice does not apply because East would play the same with J-10-x.

The dummy reversal is also possible after Line C (assuming you exit with a diamond next) but chances are greatly decreased after revealing your intentions. Typical defenders do not have a strong grasp on technique but rely heavily on the reverse monkey-see, monkey-do approach. If they see you lead hearts, they will go out of their way to lead something else — even when they have no clue why.

A close second goes to Line D, which offers a chance to gain a trick legitimately, as well as a chance for defensive error. Intention is to lead a third club from dummy. If a club honor is ruffed, it won’t cost anything because your fourth club can be ruffed in dummy. The bonus occurs when one player has 3+ trumps and 4+ clubs; then no enemy ruff is possible, and you still get to ruff in dummy. Also, if East has three trumps and a doubleton club, he might err and not ruff; and if he does ruff, the defense might not cash three diamonds (either by mistake or a lucky lie, such as D A-J or K-J doubleton in West). Most of these chances, however, are also available with Line F, so Line D must accept second fiddle.

Line E is considerably worse than Line D because the third club must led from hand (letting East ruff a winner). This is still better than Line C, however, because you will find out about C J-10 doubleton in time to cope (draw the last trump).

Lines A and B are the least productive, as they give up the risk-free opportunity to ruff a club in dummy. Line A does this by self-infliction, so it must be worst; whereas Line B might be given a reprieve by kind opponents.

Some people complained that I didn’t include the option to draw trumps and lead clubs, which may be necessary to cater to C J-10 doubleton; whereas, leading a diamond (Line A) offers no apparent benefit. Perhaps I should have; but being “Crane month” there is little appeal in drawing trumps and cashing winners. Who wants an overtrick your grandmother can make? A real overtrick is one you have to steal.

Comments for F. Lead a diamond

Charles Blair: Hoping for a helpful heart lead. If spades are 4-1, I may regret this; but “the silence of the lambs” makes this less likely — not to mention the problem conditions.

John Reardon: Not technically best, but it is pairs against average opponents, who may well be tempted to play another heart. Then I can reverse the dummy. This smacks of the way Crane would have played it, but I am only guessing.

Rob Stevens: Give opponents another chance to complete the dummy reversal.

Jim Munday: Eight tricks with [legitimate] chances for nine: 3-3 clubs, or one defender holding 4+ clubs and 3+ spades. A third possibility is to reverse dummy, but I lack the entries to execute it without opponents’ assistance. The key is to combine all three chances. …

Alon Amsel: …It seems unlikely that West holds D A-K, however, I will take this extra chance. If either opponent returns a heart, I have enough entries for a dummy reversal. If West wins and leads a club, I will take in hand and try another diamond — eventually following Line D.

Lajos Linczmayer: There is a chance for an overtrick [or two] by a dummy reversal if opponents lead one more heart. Failing that, there is a chance for a ninth trick if either opponent has two spades and two clubs, or if West has four clubs and five hearts.

Jing Liu: I hope opponents will return a heart after winning the diamond, then I’ll have a dummy reversal. If they are not so kind, I will have to try for 3-3 clubs, or four clubs and three trumps in the same hand.

Mauri Saastamoinen: I would like to achieve an ending of H x C Q-9-x opposite C A-K-x-x. Then Wild West would either be shot straight to his heart or whacked down with my clubs. (Violent game this bridge.) Seriously speaking, I am ready to play against West’s S x-x H Q-J-10-x-x D A-10 C J-10-8-x. Opponents can’t prevent this squeeze by playing trumps or hearts, so they must lead clubs. Play goes: Diamond to queen, king; club to 10, queen; diamond to ace. Now poor West can’t continue clubs efficiently, so he shifts to a heart or a spade. [Accordingly, I win two trumps and ruff a heart] then my last diamond is given to East, leaving S A H x C 9-x opposite S Q C A-K-x, and West will be squeezed…

Neelotpal Sahai: If I draw trumps, I have to depend on a 3-3 club break for a ninth trick. … This way, opponents don’t know which is my strong minor; and to play safe, they may choose to return another heart (average players, remember) which gives me a dummy reversal for nine tricks (or 10 if clubs split 3-3).

Rainer Herrmann: With a little help from my “average opponents” I may get a dummy reversal going. A club ruff, should either opponent be 2-2 in the black suits, can wait.

Jerry Fink: Two good things can happen: Opponents lead another heart immediately, and clubs break 3-3; or West springs up with the D K from a five-card holding.

Manuel Paulo: I want to make an overtrick by winning four club tricks; but I am not in a hurry to cash two spades and play on clubs (in case an opponent has 3+ trumps and 4+ clubs). I lead a diamond to deal with West’s 2=5=2=4 or similar distribution, in which case I can win nine tricks via a heart-club squeeze.

Steve White: Average tournament opponents will give me the extra entry for a dummy reversal; and if they don’t, this is unlikely to cost.

N. Scott Cardell: The best chances for an overtrick are a 3-3 club split or a dummy reversal, but I lack sufficient entries for the latter. However, if I lead a diamond and “finesse” the nine, East will be quite likely to lead a heart “to tap the long hand.” That’s all I need, and I may even make 10 tricks for a great matchpoint score. If trumps break 4-1, I will still be likely to manage six trump tricks and two club tricks to make my contract.

Barry Rigal: Hoping for a heart return so I can get my dummy reversal. I can always change tack if opponents don’t cooperate.

Tim DeLaney: Ruffing the fourth club in dummy or playing for a dummy reversal are both viable plans; this puts the opponents to the test. I don’t expect the D Q to win a trick, but what do they lead after cashing some number of diamonds? A trump looks like it might resolve a guess for me, while a club could easily cost a trick (dummy’s C 9 is a scare card). If they lead a “safe” heart, I make a vital overtrick with a dummy reversal.

Dale Rudrum: The dummy reversal attempt (Line C) can wait, and if clubs split 3-3 they will stay that way; so I’ll see what happens. …

Veljko Vujcic: I hope for a heart return so I can complete a dummy reversal; but otherwise, all options are still open (heart-club squeeze, 3-3 club split).

Zizhuo Wang: Whoever wins the diamond may return a heart, thus giving me the chance to ruff all of dummy’s hearts [for a dummy reversal].

Junyi Zhu: Many good things may happen: West may jump in with the D K from D K-J-x-x-x, or an opponent may help me complete a dummy reversal by leading another heart. Gotta give defenders a chance to make a mistake!

Joon Pahk: Several chances here, but the best is to catch the opponents sleeping. They may play another heart, which allows me to reverse the dummy for nine tricks — maybe even 10 if clubs are 3-3.

Jon Sorkin: Opponents may force me again with hearts (dummy reversal), give me an extra club trick, or give away a diamond if West has D K-J-x-x-x and rises.

Jordi Sabate: I don’t have enough entries to complete a dummy reversal, and it’s possible to try to ruff the fourth club later (finding a defender with 4+ clubs and 3+ trumps). Leading a diamond now also adds the possibility of a heart-club squeeze later.

Gareth Birdsall: Giving the opponents a chance to force me in hearts so I can reverse the dummy. There is still time to revert to Line D.

Norm Gordon: Not enough entries for a dummy reversal and pulling trump. I can always make nine if clubs are 3-3 (or 4-2 if the last trump is in the same hand as four clubs), but this adds an extra chance. I’m hoping for another tap, then I can use one trump and the C Q as entries to finish ruffing hearts…and draw trumps; then if clubs break 3-3, I have 10 tricks… If the defense keeps returning black cards, I still have the same chances I started with.

Thijs Veugen: Opponents might continue hearts.

Dale Freeman: Maybe D A-K is in front of the queen; maybe opponents will lead another heart, then I can ruff three hearts comfortably and draw trumps…

Sebastien Louveaux: I need a ninth trick, which can come from clubs 3-3; or a dummy reversal, for which I don’t have enough entries. … This way, I might get a favorable heart return, or find D A-K onside.

Martin Reid: I want to give opponents a chance to force me again in hearts, then I can reverse the dummy for nine tricks (or 10 with clubs breaking).

Barry Harper: Hoping opponents might misdefend and play another heart.

Robert Teesdale: I don’t have enough entries for a dummy reversal; but if opponents lead another heart, I will — [and I may win] 10 tricks if clubs are 3-3. …

David Caprera: Hoping the opponents will give me the dummy reversal. I can always play to ruff a club (Line D) if they don’t. More brain-dead defense. :)

Adolf Rappe: Hoping to ruff all of dummy’s hearts and make 10 tricks.

Paul Meerschaert: Perhaps opponents will mistakenly make me ruff another heart, which will lead to nine tricks [or maybe 10]. If they lead a trump back, I will continue with another diamond.

Barry Goren: This will be a disaster if one opponent has a doubleton in each minor and gets to pitch a club; but it gives the defense every chance to lead another heart.

Lorand Dali: Planning for a dummy reversal, but I don’t want to miss the chance of D A-K in West.

Paul Redvers: If Line D or E works, what’s the problem? [I can do that later].

Sandy Barnes: If clubs are not 3-3, perhaps this will lead to a squeeze (assisted by dummy’s fourth heart).

Albert Ohana: If opponents insist on playing hearts, I will score nine tricks even with clubs 4-2.

Analyses 8X24 MainChallengeScoresTop Mission: Implausible

Problem 3

Both Vul
S K 6
H 7 3 2
D A Q 10 7 5 2
C J 3


3 NT

All Pass
1 NT
Lead: S 4TableEast plays S 10

3 NT South
H K J 10
D 6 4 3
C A K Q 10 2

After winning the S J:

Next PlayAwardVotesPercent
E. Win C J; lead heart to jack10615
B. Finesse the D Q945139
F. Run the club suit842937
A. Lead the S Q391
D. Win C J; lead heart to king2373
C. Finesse the D 10116614

At IMPs this would hardly be a problem, as Line B stands out a mile. You need the D K onside to succeed, and the early finesse guards against a blank jack in East. Ignoring unlikely squeezes, your success depends on West having D K-J, K-x or K-x-x, which comes to 26.6 percent a priori.

Do you like your chances? Hardly; most of the time you will fail. At IMPs it’s worth the shot; but at matchpoints it matters not whether you make the contract but only how your score ranks against others. It is obvious that virtually everyone will be in 3 NT, surely with the same lead. For practical purposes, it is sufficient to compare your play with the popular line, which is clearly Line B as the voting confirms. Half the time, the diamond finesse will lose, so consider such a layout:

MatchpointsS K 6TrickLead2nd3rd4th
Both VulH 7 3 21 WS 4610J
D A Q 10 7 5 22 SC 24J5
C J 33 NH 25JA
S A 9 8 4 3TableS 10 7 5 24 WS AK2Q
H A 6 4H Q 9 8 5Declarer is down 1
D J 8D K 9
C 9 8 4C 7 6 5
H K J 10
D 6 4 3
3 NT SouthC A K Q 10 2

You can’t be sure where any of the missing high cards lie; even the S A could be with East, as the 10 would be the normal play from A-10-x-(x); but no matter where they are, taking the diamond finesse allows the opponents to win an extra trick. That is, they always get their spades and the H A, plus the D K to boot, so you suffer the maximum set.

I consider Line E to be best, as it will almost always gain a trick when the D K is offside. In the above diagram, it’s obvious. If East has the H A, I believe he would hop* because you might have opened 1 NT with six clubs (common at matchpoints) and crossing to the C J is a red flag. Even if both H A-Q are wrong, you should still gain (down two instead of down three) since those who lose to the D K should also lose two hearts (West can maneuver for East to win the fourth spade to lead a heart through).

*An expert East might duck for the same reason that you’re playing this way, i.e., concerned only about net tricks rather than success or failure of the contract, but conditions were to assume average tournament players. While there is no clear definition of an ATP, I would be quite surprised to see the H A ducked.

Let’s talk numbers. Assuming West has five spades (leaving eight remaining spaces to East’s nine) the diamond finesse is a favorite to lose.* In a nutshell, Line E gains (vs. Line B) whenever East has the D K (53 percent); Line B gains if West has the D K and diamonds run (26.5 percent); otherwise they usually break even. This shows a big edge for Line E — two tops for every bottom — so it is better than accepting the popular outcome of Line B.

*It is possible for West to have only four spades (the S 4 is ambiguous) but remote if you consider how East should play with A-10-x-x-x or 10-x-x-x-x (ace or low is correct to avoid blocking the suit). Further, West could have six spades (East’s play is then normal), so my assumption of five is really an underestimate of West’s average length.

A closer look shows the above comparison to be biased in favor of Line E. For instance, if West has a blank D K and six spades, the lines do not break even as predicted. Similarly, when West has D K-J-x, 5+ spades and the H A, declarer can succeed via Line B with a squeeze if he plays for it. Also, Line E might lose a few gains when East has the D K and brazenly ducks with the H A. Even so, these occasional dents would hardly have enough impact to overcome the edge of Line E.

It is also possible that Line E could bring home an impossible contract. If West has, say, S A-9-x-x-x H A-x-x D J-x C x-x-x, he will not be sure of the spade situation.* After winning the H A, he might return a low spade (playing you for Q-J-x) to keep communication with partner. Wouldn’t that be sweet! Actually, this wouldn’t increase your matchpoints a lot because you’ve already beaten everyone who took the diamond finesse.

*Yes, an expert would wonder why you won the jack instead of the queen (telegraphing you had both honors) and deduce you must have Q-J doubleton; but these guys are on vacation this month!

Line B deserves a close second — else I would be running for cover. Many bridge players will never accept not trying to make a contract, especially when the chance is fair, as here. Let it also be known that this may not contradict anything I’ve written so far, as it is debatable whether being a “bridge player” has anything to do with matchpoints. Even so, I’m sure I’ll get a lot of complaints that Line B should get the top score. No problem; I’ll just forward them all to Barry in the sky.

Running the club suit (Line F) is technically inferior, whether you are trying to make 3 NT or going for damage control. If you later finesse the D Q, you can’t repeat the finesse if East has a blank D J; and if you decide not to finesse diamonds, you will be in the wrong hand to lead a heart. Even so, the possibility of gaining clues from the enemy discards offers some appeal, so Line F gets a close third.

Lines A and D are misguided attempts at damage control. With Line A, West can shift to a diamond after running spades, so your opportunity to gain when the D K is offside is nullified. Line D strikes me as suicide; do you really think East would duck the H A?

Last and surely least is to finesse the D 10 (Line C), as it is only 20.6 percent to run diamonds. As far as damage control, when it loses to D J-x or a blank jack, you may need to borrow one of Crane’s bodyguards — to save your ass from partner. Ouch.

Comments for E. Win C J; lead heart to jack

Jonathan Mestel: Normal contract and lead, and I don’t know what to do. … I expect East to rise with H A if he holds it — from his perspective, I might have S A-J H K-Q-x-x D x-x-x C K-Q-10-x or various other holdings. So I’ll [usually] be down only one. The chance of a six-card spade suit reduces the attraction of this line; but it’s not teams — that would be “Mission: IMP-lossable.”

Leif-Erik Stabell: If the diamond suit comes in (26 percent or so), no doubt the room will make six. If not, I will be well-placed. Even if the heart finesse loses, West might very well decide to underlead the S A once more.

Julian Pottage: East is very likely to grab the H A, so I will often get out for one down.

N. Scott Cardell: This is a nerves-of-steal play; any twitch on my part way alert the opponents to the attempt to steal from them. It appears that West has led from something like S A-9-7-4-3, so he will be quite likely to win my heart lead and return a low spade to keep communication open. If he wins the H Q and gives me a spade, I will cash out clubs before deciding whether to finesse diamonds. A key factor is that the best legitimate play to make 3 NT (Line B) will almost surely result in down two or three if it fails;…so even if my flimflam fails, I will [usually] go down one less [than those who take a losing diamond finesse].

Veljko Vujcic: Safest way for down one.

Jordi Sabate: Line B is the best try to make the contract, but it will succeed only about 26.5 percent; the finesse will work another 23.5 percent but only for eight tricks; and the rest of the time (50 percent) this line will result in two or more undertricks. So the best play at matchpoints is try to make eight tricks, playing a heart to the jack. This is better than Line C because I think East will play the H A if he has it…

Carsten Kofoed: My goal is to go one off. In many cases East will play the H A if he has it, so I think it’s much better than 50 percent to play East for the H Q. West is a favorite to hold five spades, so perhaps he will continue with a low spade to keep communication with East.

Comments for B. Finesse the D Q

John Reardon: I can’t bear to give up on this contract; after all, the D K may be onside, and then it becomes more interesting. After the D Q holds, I would run clubs. Running clubs early gives up on a stiff D J with East and may be no better when the D K is wrong.

Manuel Paulo: Three notrump looks like a popular contract, and a spade lead should be normal. A rudimentary matchpoint analysis helped me to conclude that the gain — five tricks (27 percent) or one trick (23 percent) — is worth the risk of another undertrick (50 percent). So I play for all the tricks I can take.

It’s always good to hear something is “rudimentary” so I can pretend I understand it.

Julian Wightwick: There’s a better than 25-percent chance the whole diamond suit will run. If the finesse wins, I’ll cash clubs, pitching two hearts and a spade. …

Paul Meerschaert: I have lots of practice with contracts like this — there should be a technical term for closing your eyes and praying. :) While leading a club to the jack then a heart to the jack has appeal, there are still layouts where West will slap down the S A after winning the H A.

Jim Mendelsohn: This seems to be a field-protection problem. Probably there will be [many] others in 3 NT; nearly all will get a spade lead; and probably [most] will finesse the D Q. If it’s right, I need to do it. If it’s wrong, I’ll have company and salvage a few matchpoints.

Comment for F. Run the club suit

Charles Blair: At another table, Mr. Crane will have no difficulty to read West holding five spades, H A and D K-J-x — or to take advantage of careless defense if West doesn’t have the D K — so I’ll have to do as well here. “When there is no good alternative, declarer should play off his long suit.” -Terence Reese

Analyses 8X24 MainChallengeScoresTop Mission: Implausible

Problem 4

N-S Vul
S A K 8 6 3
H Q 7 3
D K 8 6 3
3 C
3 H
Lead: S 7TableEast plays S 2

3 H South
S J 10 9 5
H K J 10 8 4
D Q 10
C J 7

After winning the S K and playing S 10 from hand:

Next PlayAwardVotesPercent
A. Lead the H Q10837
B. Lead the H 3848642
D. Lead D 3 to queen611610
C. Lead the D K5182
F. Lead the C Q441636
E. Lead D 3 and finesse 101343

West’s lead is probably a singleton, though the spot cards are ambiguous (could be doubleton). Dropping the 10 from hand was a good decoy to confuse East, who may be reluctant to lead another spade from his guarded queen. It seems inevitable to lose a trick in each suit, and your goal is to keep it to that.

The apparent danger is to suffer two spade ruffs, instead of losing just one trick to the S Q. If you lead either minor suit, East should be able to win; and he will realize that a spade continuation is safe — if West has a doubleton, the trick will be recovered with a ruff next time since East still has the H A. Therefore, the obvious move is to lead one round of trumps; if West has only two trumps, this limits the defense to one ruff. Consider a likely layout:

MatchpointsS A K 8 6 3TrickLead2nd3rd4th
N-S VulH Q 7 31 WS 7K210
D K 8 6 32 NH 3?2J5
C Q3 SS JD 2!A4
S 7TableS Q 4 24 NS 6Q9D 5!
H 6 5H A 9 25 ED A10J3
D J 5 2D A 9 7 46 ED 4QH 66
C A 10 8 6 5 4 2C K 9 3Declarer fails
S J 10 9 5
H K J 10 8 4
D Q 10
3 H SouthC J 7

It is interesting to note that East-West can make 3 NT, but that’s irrelevant to the problem; any result by you will beat those who defend 3 NT, so your goal is to beat or tie those who play partscores in a major. Nine tricks are easy in spades, so you must hope to do the same in hearts.

The problem with leading trumps is that you lose the timing to score a club ruff; routine defense can clear trumps. Thus, your counterplan must be to develop a discard for your second club. Suppose you follow the popular choice and lead the H 3 (Line B) which East ducks; you next lead the S J to make West ruff a loser. No; West pitches a diamond, so you win the S A. Now you’re at a dead end: If you lead a trump, East will clear trumps; otherwise, West will get a diamond ruff.

More care is required. You must lead diamonds to procure a trick before West can pitch his diamonds; and the lead must come from dummy to force East to duck (else give you a second diamond trick). Further, this must be done after leading one round of trumps, or you’re back to square one. Therefore, the proper play is to lead the heart queen (Line A) at trick two, which effectively stifles the defense.

If East wins the H Q and returns a trump, West is out of the ruffing scene, so you will establish spades (unblocking of course) and have a pitch for your club if East clears trumps. If East ducks the H Q, you will lead a diamond to the queen*; then the S J, and again threaten to use the long spade or ruff a club depending on the defense. The key was to eliminate the threat of a diamond ruff.

*If East hops with the D A and clears trumps, you can pitch a club on the D K before establishing spades. This is why Line B fails; if you lead diamonds from hand, East can win the D A without giving you the extra trick.

Second place goes to Line B, as it is clearly necessary to lead trumps. If you’re lucky, East will hop with the ace; then no defense can stop you (assuming the above layout). If East ducks, of course, you’ve got a problem, as already explained.

Line D will also succeed. After winning the D Q, just lead the H J, and you’re all square with Line A. Oops! Time-out; you won’t get that far. East, of course, should hop with the D A to give West a spade ruff; and his spade plays will be suit preference, so West will underlead the C A (if necessary) to get a second ruff.

Leading the C Q at trick two (Line F) was the second most popular choice, but it actually makes the winning defense easy. East will win the trick, and West will play his highest club (besides the ace) as suit preference to emphasize the spade outage. East will then deliver two ruffs, aided by the obvious diamond return. For this reason, I think leading the D K (Line C) is better, as it might cause some confusion in the East-West camp.

There’s no question that Line E is worst. The fact that you even have an opportunity to finesse the D 10 means that East has blown the defense; so not taking advantage would be a travesty. All you have to do is win the D Q and lead the H J to make the contract; while finessing puts you down two (minus 200) as the cards lie. Ouch. Stretcher, please.

Comments for A. Lead the H Q

Charles Blair: In a perfect world, East has S Q-x-x H A-x-x D A-x-x-x C K-x-x. If the H Q wins, I continue with a diamond to the queen; then the S J. I’m worried about how closely the “National Open Pairs” approximates a perfect world.

Jonathan Mestel: If this is ducked, I play to the D Q and triumph when West has S x H x-x D J-x-x C A-10-x-x-x-x-x (avoiding the diamond ruff). …

Lajos Linczmayer: I play West for S 7 H x-x D x-x-x C A-10-9-8-x-x-x. If East ducks, I play a diamond to the queen and lead the S J.

Leif-Erik Stabell: Looks like West might have something like S x H x-x D J-x-x C A-x-x-x-x-x-x. If the first heart is ducked, I will need to be in dummy to play a diamond to the queen; then a high spade towards dummy.

Julian Pottage: I assume the lead is a singleton and plan to follow with a low diamond off dummy; then lead a high spade through West.

Neelotpal Sahai: Excellent problem… There is one loser in each suit, and a danger of two club losers if trumps are drawn prematurely, or two spade ruffs if [trumps are not led]. … Against a likely West holding of S 7 H x-x D x-x-x C A-10-9-x-x-x-x, only the H Q from dummy allows the exquisite timing [to lead a diamond next if East ducks]. …

Junyi Zhu: I must cater to the case that West holds S x H x-x D J-x-x C A-10-9-x-x-x-x. If the H Q is allowed to stand, I can play a diamond to the queen; then the S J to the ace and set up spades.

Ken Brantferger: It looks as though E-W are cold for 3 NT.

Sebastien Louveaux: The lead is an obvious singleton, and I must prevent West from getting two ruffs. It is [likely] that East has two minor-suit entries, so playing trumps first is mandatory. I also need to avoid depleting dummy of trumps…, otherwise I will lose two club tricks. Playing the H Q first forces East to duck; then a diamond, and East must duck again; then spades (unblocking) letting West score a ruff or East score the S Q, but not both.

Gerald Murphy: Spades are 3-1, so I have to cut down on the ruffs. If the H Q is ducked, I next lead a diamond…

Gonzalo Goded: I will draw one trump before leading a diamond…

Ulrich Nell: I rather hope 4 S cannot make, so I’ll play West for 1=2=3=7 shape. When East ducks, I will continue with a small diamond. If East goes up with the D A, I can discard a club on the D K. If East ducks, I win the D Q, and play the S 9 to dummy. …

Analyses 8X24 MainChallengeScoresTop Mission: Implausible

Problem 5

E-W Vul
S K 3 2
H 9 5 3
D 7 5
C A Q 7 6 3


3 S

3 H
All Pass
2 S1
Lead: D KTableEast plays D 2

3 S South
S Q J 10 6 5
D A 8 6 4
C 8 5 4
1. subversion in action

You duck and West shifts to the S 4; two, eight, jack.

Next PlayAwardVotesPercent
C. Lead the H K1015313
E. Finesse the C Q816114
A. Lead the S Q6494
B. Lead the S 55585
F. Duck a club427724
D. Win D A; ruff diamond345539

The bidding may not be to everyone’s liking — or resemble bridge, for that matter — but this is a crucial mission. Certain liberties must be taken despite the risk of collateral damage. Even Crane wouldn’t open 2 S with the South hand, so the successful move has given you an edge on the master. North’s redouble was a test firing of the IMF’s experimental XT-87 flamethrower. Stand back, opponents! South’s double was a pyrotactical decoy, then North lost power and retreated to 3 S — as debris settled over the table. (After this incident, the ACBL adopted a strict no-smoking policy at all future tournaments.)

Was the operation a success? Hard to say. Assuming West has the C K, it is likely East-West can make only 3 H, and some will stretch to four; thus, going minus in 3 S will not be a good score, maybe average at best. It would be nice to score 140 to beat all the 100s, as well as anyone in spades, and it’s barely in range with only four definite losers. The problem is to produce nine winners. Consider a typical layout:

MatchpointsS K 3 2TrickLead2nd3rd4th
E-W VulH 9 5 31 WD K524
D 7 52 WS 428J
C A Q 7 6 33 SC 4?9Q2
S 7 4TableS A 9 84 NC A105J
H A J 10 8H Q 7 6 4 25 NC 3D 3!8K
D K Q J 9D 10 3 26 WD J710A
C K J 9C 10 2Declarer fails
S Q J 10 6 5
D A 8 6 4
3 S SouthC 8 5 4

After ducking the D K and winning the spade shift with the jack, it is premature to ruff a diamond as this only provides eight tricks. There is no entry back to hand to ruff the last diamond. Instead, you must bring the club suit into focus as an alternate source of tricks; the finesse should work, so all you need is a 3-2 club break. The problem is timing the play; or more specifically, retaining entries while not allowing one of your club honors to be ruffed.

Consider taking an immediate club finesse, which wins. If you next clear clubs (ace and another), East will pitch a diamond; then West will return the D K (not mandatory) to your ace. Now there is no way to get to dummy; a diamond will be overruffed, and leading the S Q allows East to duck (or win and put West in with a heart for another diamond). If you try to keep communication by ducking a club (Line F), East can get a club ruff since he still has trump control. Alas, either way of attacking clubs directly leads to a dead end.

What about leading trumps? Suppose you lead the S Q (Line A). All would be fine if East won the S A and cleared trumps (or ducked), but he should win and return a diamond. If you next duck a club (or finesse and clear clubs), a third diamond taps dummy, and you have no answer. Line B suffers a similar fate.

The biggest thorn in the above attempts is that you have no quick entry back to hand. To get the timing in your favor, you must lead the H K at trick three (Line C). This keeps the defense at bay: If West leads either red suit, you can win two clubs with the finesse and crossruff hearts and diamonds. If West leads a second trump and East a third, you will simply duck a club to establish clubs. If East instead returns a diamond (after winning the S A), you will still duck a club, leaving the defense helpless.

Second place goes to an immediate club finesse (Line E). While clearly inferior to Line C in typical layouts like the diagram, the defense must be perfect. For example, if you next lead a heart to the king and ace, the defense must cash the S A and lead a diamond — not so obvious for typical defenders. Further, West may have no more trumps, which leaves no winning defense (if clubs are 3-2).

Next best is to lead a trump; and the queen is slightly better than low to preserve dummy’s king to prevent a possible overruff in diamonds.* Here also, exact defense is required; East must win the S A and return a diamond — not a heart, which might seem more attractive in view of dummy.

*Note that East’s D 2 at trick one is attitude (not count), so a 5-2 diamond break is plausible — but even if it happened to be implausible, it fits your mission this month.

Ducking a club (Line F) is a weaker attempt, as it advertises that you have three clubs; hence the winning defense of a club return to get a ruff should be easy to find. Further, this might lead to a debacle when clubs are 4-1.

The popular choice was an immediate diamond ruff (Line D), which I rate to be worst of all. With no entry to hand, you’ve reached a dead end; and more importantly, the winning defense should be easy no matter what you do next. “Sixty million Frenchmen can’t be wrong”; but 455 bridge players seem to be on a lunch break. Based on the large vote, I was generous and awarded it 3.

Comments for C. Lead the H K

Charles Blair: I am expecting ace and another spade, allowing me to lead a small club from dummy. (I wish the borderline private understandings typified by North’s redouble and South’s double occurred only on television.)

John Reardon: If West has S 7-4 H A-Q-6-2 D K-Q-J-3 C K-J-2 or similar, I must establish communication to be able to ruff two diamonds. If opponents draw trumps, I will establish clubs.

Jonathan Mestel: This is better than a trump, as it avoids two down if trumps are 4-1; e.g., if West has S x H A-x-x-x D K-Q-10-x C K-J-10-x.

Rob Stevens: This puts West on the horns of a dilemma, either allowing me to ruff two diamonds in dummy, or to get the club suit going with the aid of a duck and a finesse.

Jim Munday: West is likely to hold something like S 7-4 H A-Q-x-x D K-Q-J-x C K-J-x, and I need to time the play carefully. I do not have the entries to ruff diamonds, so I need to establish clubs instead; but I can’t afford to do that now as the opponents can engineer a club ruff (I need to duck the first or second round to maintain an entry to dummy to enjoy them). The H K breaks the opponents’ communication [and creates my own]. If opponents clear trumps, I will duck a club, win the return and (hopefully) run clubs [with the finesse]. [Else] I can take the club hook and ruff two diamonds, using heart ruffs to return to hand.

Alon Amsel: Seems like the only way to establish enough entries to my hand.

Lajos Linczmayer: I suppose West has S 7-4 H A-Q-J-x D K-Q-J-x C K-J-10. If opponents don’t play trump, I will ruff two diamonds. If they play one or two more trumps, I can establish clubs.

Leif-Erik Stabell: Keeps the communication open if West has S x-x H A-J-x-x D K-Q-10-x C K-10-x or similar.

Bruce Neill: Only way home if West has a perfectly normal S x-x H A-J-x-x D K-Q-x-x C K-x-x.

Jing Liu: No return can hurt me. If the C K is onside [and clubs are 3-2], I can always make the contract. Ducking a club [Line F] is dangerous because opponents can get a club ruff…

Julian Pottage: Preparing the way for a crossruff.

Mauri Saastamoinen: As in playing chess, it is the silent moves that count. This preserves both of my routes home: (1) ruffing two diamonds on the table, or (2) establishing the club suit… Line E seems almost as good, but if I give up a heart after the club finesse, the defense might take the S A and play a diamond; then I’m ruined. West should have something like S x-x H A-J-x-x D K-Q-J-10 C K-x-x.

Neelotpal Sahai: There is one sure loser in each suit, and I must restrict it to that. A very likely West holding is S 9-4 H A-J-x-x D K-Q-J-10 C K-x-x. … This keeps alive the option of ruffing two diamonds in dummy; and if opponents draw trumps, I can duck a club.

Rainer Herrmann: I must first establish communication. A club finesse first (Line E) followed by a heart could lose if opponents win the trump ace [and lead a diamond].

Manuel Paulo: If West has S 7-4 H A-Q-x-x D K-Q-10-x C K-x-x or alike, I envisage to win…four clubs if opponents continue trumps; or two clubs and two diamond ruffs if opponents switch to diamonds. In the latter case I need to enter my hand by ruffing hearts.

N. Scott Cardell: The C K rates to be onside given the bidding; but if I play clubs now, opponents may maneuver a club ruff; and if I play another trump, they can win and knock out the D A, scoring a diamond trick later. This establishes communication and threatens to ruff both diamonds in dummy. If suits break normally and West has the expected C K, no defense can beat me. If they draw two more rounds of trumps, I will just duck a club…

Barry Rigal: I plan to duck a club [if trumps are led], and this seems to set up the position best.

Tim DeLaney: This establishes communication and threatens to take two diamonds ruffs. If opponents lead trumps, I will duck a club. If West has C K-x or K-x-x, this line is a sure thing.

David Turner: If opponents punch me, I take the club finesse and ruff two diamonds (East 3=5=3=2 or 4=4=3=2). If they play trumps, I duck a club and pray.

Joon Pahk: If opponents don’t continue trumps, I can get two diamond ruffs; if they do, I can duck a club and still have my diamond stopper. …

Richard Aronson: Best case: H K wins! Next best case: East wins the H A and draws trumps (thinking East has D A) allowing me to set up clubs.

Gareth Birdsall: Set up an alternative threat to establishing clubs.

Norm Gordon: With the spade shift, it is clear that I am getting one diamond ruff at best; so even with the C K onside, I will lose three tricks in the minors. I unload the stiff heart for communication. If ace and another spade comes back, I can duck a club, win the return and try to bring the contract home with the club hook (and a 3-2 break).

Thijs Veugen: A preparation for the final plan to duck a club and finesse later (or ruff diamonds).

Brad Theurer: To break the enemy communication. I probably need clubs 3-2 with the king onside to make; but if I duck a club immediately, opponents can return a club and set up a ruff (with West’s H A as an entry). This also helps my communication for a crossruff if opponents don’t return a trump.

Larry Robbins: I am in a great matchpoint contract, as it looks like East-West can make 3 H or 4 H… If opponents play ace and a spade, I can duck a club. (Ducking a club first…could easily blow up; if East has only one club, he can get a ruff immediately; or if he has two, he can lead one back to get a ruff later.) When West wins the H A, he may well not have a spade to lead back; then I can crossruff. …

Carsten Kofoed: This opens my communication lines and keeps options to use clubs or ruff diamonds.

Gerald Murphy: If opponents continue spades, I will duck a club then finesse the C Q next.

David Caprera: Playing West for something like S x H A-x-x-x-x D K-Q-J-x C K-J-x. If I duck a club, a club return will beat me. If I lead a spade, East can return a diamond. …

Jonathan Brill: I plan to ruff two diamonds, but I have to play a heart first to create entries to my hand. If opponents draw trumps on me, I can then play to establish clubs…

Joe Fendel: Mission: Win six spades (including ruffs), two clubs and one diamond to make the contract. Objective: East started with S A-x-x-x, so clubs cannot be established… Thus, I will need to crossruff and begin by voiding hearts — West wins the ace but has no more trumps to lead.

Frans Buijsen: Breaking up communication between East and West will virtually assure seven tricks (minus 100 is probably a reasonable score) while keeping my chances for nine tricks if clubs run nicely with one loser.

Paulino Correa: The idea, later, will be to establish clubs by finessing the queen and ducking a club [if opponents clear trumps].

Daniel de Lind van Wijngaarden: If opponents play two more rounds of spades, I will duck a club and make the rest if the C K is onside and clubs are 3-2. If they play anything else, I can take two club tricks and crossruff for nine tricks.

Dick Yuen: If East-West continue trumps, my D A remains intact to guard the suit, buying time to set up the club suit. [Otherwise] I can manage two diamond ruffs.

Analyses 8X24 MainChallengeScoresTop Mission: Implausible

Problem 6

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


2 NT
4 S

All Pass
1 S
3 S
Lead: C JTableEast plays C 3

4 S South
S A Q J 10 6
H 5 2
D A 7
C K 6 4 2

A. Win C A; draw trumps1031928
C. Win C K; draw trumps924321
E. Win C K; lead club to ace721318
F. Duck the first trick531127
D. Win C K; lead hearts2444
B. Win C A; lead club to king1232

Perhaps you were trying to reignite your flamethrower from the last board by showing six spades when you have only five; but for whatever reason, you have reached an unpopular contract. Most pairs will be playing 3 NT, which has 11 top tricks (just like in spades), so it behooves you to find a 12th trick to salvage a decent score.

What do you make of West’s lead? With the C 10 in dummy, it must be a singleton or doubleton*; so you can forget about a 3-3 club break. The first thought that comes to mind is to win the C K and lead a club (Line E). If West has a doubleton, you can win the ace and give up a club to East; then you can ruff your fourth club with the S K (if necessary). If West has a singleton, he can only ruff a loser, then there still might be a squeeze for 12 tricks.

*A few respondents were suspicious souls and thought West might have made a deceptive lead from Q-J (any length). While certainly possible, I would hardly spring this on you in a play contest — or if I did there would at least be some justification such as, “a crazed Fritz on lead.” Play problems can be hard enough sometimes, so you don’t need to be paranoid as well.

Troubles, troubles. For one thing, a singleton club seems far more likely than a doubleton, because J-x would hardly be a lead of choice for most players; so you are almost banking your hopes on the squeeze. Will it work? Let’s look at a typical layout:

MatchpointsS K 4TrickLead2nd3rd4th
None VulH A K Q 41 WC J53K
D 9 8 4 22 SC 2?S 7107
C A 10 53 WD 3!
S 8 7 2TableS 9 5 3Declarer wins only 11 tricks
H J 9 8 6 3H 10 7
D Q 10 6 3D K J 5
C JC Q 9 8 7 3
S A Q J 10 6
H 5 2
D A 7
4 S SouthC K 6 4 2

Suppose you win the C K and lead a club, ruffed by West. If West returns a heart or a spade, you’re in the clover: Rattle off five spades to reach H A-K-4 D 2 C A opposite H 2 D A-7 C 6-4. This not only produces a double squeeze but lets you choose which opponent to crunch first; the C A squeezes West out of his diamond stopper, and the top hearts squeeze East, in either order you please. Alas, a diamond shift is obvious, not only because dummy has H A-K-Q-4 but because East suggested it at trick one.* With the D A knocked out, you are dead in the water for 11 tricks — and a horrible score.

*In view of dummy, East should encourage clubs with any holding if he didn’t want a diamond shift. Even with the C 2 missing (South conceals it), West should interpret the C 3 as low, discouraging clubs, hence suggesting a diamond lead. Also, many players would interpret the C 3 as suit preference, based on the likely singleton lead.

Line E offers a chance for a good score when West has two common shapes (4=4=3=2 or 3=5=3=2), as no squeeze works, and a simple club ruff in dummy yields 12 tricks. Alas, after looking at about 50 such hands, I couldn’t find one where I would lead a club. Usually, a heart lead seemed routine; sometimes a diamond sequence; and if those were unattractive, e.g., S x-x-x-x H J-9-x-x D K-J-x C J-x, I would lead a trump — especially at matchpoints. Obviously, there’s a certain amount of subjectivity in this, but I’d be surprised if West’s lead were a doubleton.

What about ducking the first trick (Line F)? In the above layout the same diamond shift kills you, and East’s signal requested it (as noted). If East has the heart stopper, he could be squeezed in hearts and clubs; but that’s odds-against when he is known to have long clubs. Further, the heart-club squeeze works just as well in notrump, so making 12 tricks will lose the board anyway to competent players.

To obtain a good score you need a path to 12 tricks (assuming a singleton C J) that is unique to spades, and this is available thanks to the ability to ruff a diamond. In essence, you need West to have four or more diamonds, which is a big favorite after the lead.

MatchpointsS K 4TrickLead2nd3rd4th
None VulH A K Q 41 WC JA!34
D 9 8 4 22 NS K568
C A 10 53 NS 43A2
S 8 7 2TableS 9 5 34 SS Q7C 59
H J 9 8 6 3H 10 75 SD A625
D Q 10 6 3D K J 56 SD 734J
C JC Q 9 8 7 37 EC QKH 310
S A Q J 10 6continued below…
H 5 2
D A 7
4 S SouthC K 6 4 2

Drawing trumps may require two discards from dummy, so the first key play is to win the C A (Line A). Draw trumps (pitch a club), win the D A and give up a diamond. Nothing matters, but assume East wins and returns the C Q to your king (crushing the 10). This leaves:

S win allSTrickLead2nd3rd4th
H A K Q 48 SH 26A7
D 9 89 ND 8KS 1010
C10 SS J!
STableSWest is squeezed
H J 9 8 6H 10 7
D Q 10D K
CC 9 8 7
S J 10
H 5 2
South leadsC 6 4

Next cross to dummy in hearts and ruff a diamond. Finally, the last trump squeezes West in the red suits. Note that if East had the heart stopper, he would be squeezed in hearts and clubs; so the heart layout is immaterial. As long as West has longer diamonds, you can always win 12 tricks.

If West had four trumps, you would draw another trump before playing diamonds (pitching another club from dummy). Then if East won the diamond and returned a club, West would be ruffout-squeezed on that trick. If West had five trumps, you would still succeed because only East could guard hearts; then a diamond duck followed by the D A would squeeze East. And if West has six trumps? OK, then you get your just deserts for bidding this way.

Line C is only slightly inferior to Line A. It works just as well in the diagrammed layout, though the first diamond must be ducked. The failing case is when West is 4=4=4=1, which leaves dummy no suitable discard on the fourth trump. Even so, Line C has a few rare gains over Line A, e.g., if East has four diamonds with any three honors, a bizarre squeeze-endplay is possible — though it’s arguable whether you would (or should) read the position.

Third place goes to Line E, a reasonable try with various chances mentioned earlier. This is clearly better than Line F, as it caters to the easy club ruff when West has led a doubleton; whereas squeeze chances are essentially the same whether the second club is ruffed or you ducked the first trick.

Leading hearts early (Line D) borders on folly, but never let it be said that you can’t cope against 6-0 spades. If West is 6=3=2=2, you can win 12 tricks by this play, provided you score a diamond ruff in hand before conceding a club. The height of folly must be Line B; when West ruffs your C K, instead of Barry Crane you may be mistaken for Ichabod Crane in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow Head.

Comments for A. Win C A; draw trumps

Charles Blair: At many other tables, I expect North to be declarer in 3 NT or 4 NT with a club lead to the jack, ducked. In order for them not to score 490, West must have at least four hearts and switch to a diamond. I think an “average tournament player” will do that only with something like D Q-J-10-x. If West has that, I can succeed by ruffing a diamond; while the tempting Lines E and F will fail due to the same diamond switch.

John Reardon: If East has club length, and West diamond length, they will feel the pressure when I play off trumps. I need to throw clubs from North, so I win the C A now.

Jonathan Mestel: I may need the C K as my squeeze card. You didn’t allow me to try to duck a diamond to West at trick two, which keeps other options — which I’d probably disdain anyway.

Jim Munday: I see two alternatives: Ruff my fourth club in dummy, or play for a squeeze. If West started with C J-x, Line E figures to succeed; but with the more likely singleton, he figures to ruff the second club… For a squeeze to succeed, I need to rectify the count; but I can’t afford to duck a diamond before drawing trumps, else suffer a ruff. If I duck the first club (playing the four), West will likely continue with a doubleton. With any lead but a diamond, I will have a simple squeeze or double (around diamonds) depending on who guards hearts; and the trump split should indicate which to play for. A diamond shift will be automatic though, so I do better with Line A. If West has three or fewer spades, I’ll continue with D A and a diamond…; after ruffing a diamond if necessary, West will be squeezed in the likely event he guards both red suits. If West has four or more spades, I can play for the same squeeze or a heart-club squeeze against East; and East’s discards may tell me which.

Lajos Linczmayer: I expect West’s C J is singleton, and he has more diamonds than East… After drawing trumps (dummy discards clubs), I lead the ace and a low diamond. If East wins and returns a club, I must guess what to discard from dummy. So I would prefer to play a diamond at trick two, intending to cover East’s card.*

*Lajos (and Jonathan) bring out a good point. An early diamond duck does remove any ambiguity when West has four spades. Unfortunately, it fails outright when West has five spades (assuming a heart switch) because you can’t test trumps before committing to the diamond ruff; hence you can’t change tack for the simple heart-club squeeze against East. It still may be better, considering that the latter also works in notrump (i.e., less matchpoints to gain) but it’s moot. Also, it could make a great hard-luck story if West has D K-Q-J-10-x-x, albeit far-fetched. -RP

Bruce Neill: I plan to ruff a diamond then guess who to squeeze.

Jing Liu: Eleven tricks are on hand, and a 12th should come from a squeeze. If West has 4=4=4=1 shape, he will be squeezed in hearts and diamonds.

Julian Pottage: With East long in clubs, I may have a squeeze against West in the red suits.

Mauri Saastamoinen: Squeeze time. If trumps split 3-3, I simply draw three rounds of trumps, win the D A and give up a diamond. [Ending described]. If West has 3=5=4=1 or 3=4=5=1, he is squeezed; or with an unlikely 3=3=6=1, East is squeezed. If trumps split 4-2, I have to take four rounds before giving up a diamond. If West has two spades, he is most likely 2=5=5=1, and I can squeeze him accordingly. If West has four spades, I must decide whether he is 4=4=4=1 or 4=3=5=1…

Neelotpal Sahai: Finally, a squeeze problem. If I…win the first club in hand, there could be discard problems in dummy. After drawing trumps, I cash the D A and give up a diamond. [Assuming West has longer diamonds] either West will be squeezed in hearts and diamonds, or East in hearts and clubs.

Rainer Herrmann: I will play West for four or more diamonds and isolate the diamond menace to execute a pseudo double squeeze with hearts the combined threat — West will be squeezed in the red suits, or East in hearts and clubs.

Manuel Paulo: If West has a 4=4=4=1 distribution, any lead defeats 6 NT; but only a heart lead sets six spades. After winning the C A and drawing trumps, discarding clubs (which is why the C A must win the first trick), I cash the D A and lead the D 7. Opponents cannot prevent dummy from winning a trick with the H 4 or the D 9.

Steve White: After pulling trumps (pitching a club or clubs) I play ace and a diamond. I hope trumps are 3-3 so that I’ll be able to ruff a diamond before leading my last trump to make the position clearer. Even if trumps are 4-2, I’ll make any time West has at least four diamonds and I read his diamond length correctly; and if the defense doesn’t return a club, I am still able to ruff a diamond to [clarify the position]. Barry Crane will read the distribution; the IMF better read it also. :)

Julian Wightwick: I need more tricks than the field, which will be in notrump; so I’ll play West for exactly four diamonds. I shall pitch clubs on trumps; then…play ace and a diamond. [Squeeze ending described]. A 5-2 diamond break is no good [matchpoint-wise] because then there are 12 tricks in notrump via the same squeeze, except on a heart lead. The alternative is to play West for C J-x and aim to ruff a club (Line E), but West will surely ruff in if he led a singleton (leading from C J-x seems unattractive when West had plenty of small trumps to lead).

Amiram Millet: Aiming for 12 tricks when only 11 are available in notrump, e.g., if West has S x-x-x-x H J-x-x-x D K-J-x-x C J.

Tim DeLaney: If the lead is a singleton, as seems likely, West probably controls the fourth round in both red suits. After drawing trumps and playing diamonds (ruffing the third round), I will squeeze him.

Dale Rudrum: … After drawing trumps and ditching clubs, if trumps are not 5-1 (or 6-0) I play D A, D 7. I win any return and start thinking…

Excellent advice, and a model for students everywhere: Always start thinking by at least trick eight or nine.

Junyi Zhu: I am not in a popular contract. If East holds four hearts, there would be an automatic squeeze against him in clubs and hearts [at notrump]; and probably most would find it in the “National Open Pairs.” So I’ll hope West holds long hearts and long diamonds. After drawing trumps (pitching one or two clubs as necessary) I lead D A, D 7

Jordi Sabate: Other pairs in notrump will score 11 tricks, so I need 12 to avoid a bottom. Line E seems OK, but it’s necessary that the lead is a doubleton; otherwise, West can ruff and play a diamond to break communication for a [double] squeeze. This is better, needing only that West has four or more diamonds (reasonable if he is short in clubs) for a double squeeze with hearts as the common suit.

Bill Powell: If West has five diamonds, or three trumps and four diamonds, the simple-played-as-double squeeze rolls in.

Paulino Correa: The lead indicates East should have C Q-x-x-x-(x). If he also has four hearts, a simple squeeze will get him for the 12th trick. But there are other possibilities; I’ll see how he discards before [committing].

Gonzalo Goded: I don’t know any expert who would lead from C J-x on this sequence… After seeing the spade distribution, I’ll rectify the count for the more likely squeeze.

John Lusky: I want to take a line that will make more tricks in spades than notrump. The obvious choice is E, planning to ruff the fourth club in dummy; however, if West is able to ruff the second club, this [probably] fails. Line A is better, with the plan of playing ace and a diamond, then ruffing a third diamond and squeezing West in hearts and diamonds (or East in hearts and clubs). I need to win the first club in dummy so that I can pitch clubs from dummy if I have to pull four rounds of trumps. If West is 3=4=4=2 or 4=4=4=1, I will make a trick more than is available in notrump.

Albert Ohana: Hoping for a trump squeeze if West guards hearts and diamonds.

Bill March: I will draw trumps (pitching clubs from dummy), then play ace and a diamond; win any return, and ruff a diamond. Unless East guards both minors, I will squeeze someone.

Comments for C. Win C K; draw trumps

Alon Amsel: I need 12 tricks since Barry Crane is playing 3 NT…

Bad news: To beat that swindler, you need 13 tricks. Good news: Crane (South) should be dummy!

Jerry Fink: I need a model for this hand. Say 18 pairs are in the normal contract of 3 NT (or 4 NT), three find their way to slam, and five are in 4 S like me. If a simple heart-club squeeze is working, I’ll get about 2 matchpoints; if not, I can hope for a whopping 5 matchpoints. No, my hope on this deal must be either that West has led from C J-x (in which case I can engineer a club ruff for 12 tricks, and pray that West holds four or more hearts), or that West has led a deceptive jack from C Q-J. My guess is that the odds favor the latter, so I’ll go for all 13 tricks and finesse the C 10!

Final Notes

I hope you enjoyed the contest, as well as the insight into a man who became a legend. Anyone who ever finished ahead of Barry Crane in any event will treasure the memory — like hitting a longer home run than Barry Bonds. Hmm. Why do all the Barrys I know have five-letter names? (Also: Rigal, Goren and White.) Inquiring minds want to know!

Thanks to all who participated, and especially those who offered kind remarks about my web site.

Comments are selected from those above average (top 557), and on each problem only those supporting the winning play and occasional close seconds. While this might be considered biased, I feel it’s the best way to ensure solid content and to avoid potential embarrassment by publishing comments that are off base. On this basis, I included over 75 percent of the eligible comments. If you supplied comments that were not used, 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 (combined with the input of comments) has determined the best solutions in theory, but oversights are possible. Feedback is always welcome.

To the following agents, I disavow any knowledge of their sanity:

Charles Blair: How many seconds does it take an “average tournament player” to self-destruct?

Joel Singer: Matchpoints is an interesting game that only sometimes resembles bridge.

Kevin Lewis: I wouldn’t mind the hot-dog stand assignment — as long as they were kosher hot dogs.

Barry White: I think everyone who played against Barry Crane had a story, and the final comment would usually be “It’s not bridge; it’s matchpoints!”

And finally, some choices aren’t that difficult:

Bill Powell: Cinnamon, I think!

Analyses 8X24 MainChallengeScoresTop Mission: Implausible

Acknowledgments to Mission: Impossible (1966-73) CBS Television
and Barry Crane (1927-85) matchpoint wizard of all time.
© 2005 Richard Pavlicek