Analyses 8X64  MainChallenge


I Heard the Bells


Scores by Richard Pavlicek

“…on Christmas Day. Their old familiar carols play.”

These six play problems were published on the Internet in December 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

The familiar, bittersweet lyrics of “I Heard the Bells” (below) are derived from the poem, “Christmas Bells,” written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1864 during the U.S. Civil War.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day. Their old familiar carols play.

And wild and sweet, the words repeat, of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how as the day had come, the belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along the unbroken song, of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head: There is no peace on earth, I said.

For hate is strong and mocks the song, of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing, on its way, the world revolved from night to day.

A voice, a chime, a chant sublime, of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: God is not dead nor doth He sleep.

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.

Longfellow’s poem was even more bitter, as it contained a few additional verses that were distasteful, if not offensive. For instance, a verse beginning, “Then from each black, accursed mouth, the cannon thundered in the South…” was prudently omitted from the song.

Enough American history! Pavlov’s dogs will now perform “Jingle Bells.”

Darek Kardas Wins!

This contest had 1108 entrants from 119 locations, and the average score was 42.18. Congratulations to Darek Kardas (Poland), who was the first of 21 perfect scores. Wow! They broke the bank at Monte PavCo. Tim DeLaney (Indiana) was next, then Bruce Neill (Australia) and Perry Groot (Netherlands). I won’t relist them all here, but suffice it say they can develop more tricks than Houdini on steroids. Curiously, the 21 perfect scores came from 20 different locations; only Netherlands managed to achieve a double perfecta.

Participation this month was the second highest ever in a play contest (February 2005 is tops with 1153) and well up from the Fritz-feared October event. The average score (42.18) was also second highest; but the highest (February 2002 with 42.75) was from an opening-lead contest, so any comparison is dubious. The 21 perfect scores sets a record (previous high 19 in February 2004). Why all the February records? No less than 526 persons scored 43 or higher to make the listing. Problems this month were generally clear-cut in deciding the best plays (only two 9 awards).

In the overall rankings, Rainer Herrmann (Germany) continued his magical touch with a fourth consecutive 60. Only trouble is that Zuzana must now address him as “Master” (as in “I Dream of Jeannie”) and feed him grapes all day. Rainer is the first ever to compile a 60.00 average. Jim Munday (California), as in the Mamas and Papas “Monday, Monday” and “California Dreaming,” is only a half point back with 59.50, followed by Lajos Linczmayer (Hungary) with 58.75, Weidong Yang (China) and Rob Stevens (California) each with 58.50.

Bidding is standard, and your opponents use standard leads and signals.
For a reference see Standard American Bridge. Assume all players are experts.

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.

Problem 1

IMPsS A 2WestNorthEastSouth
None vulH A 8 7 6 4 2LHOPartnerRHOYou
D A 9 8 21 HPass2 D
C 4Pass3 DPass3 NT
Table PassPassPass
Lead: S JEast plays S 7 
 
 
S K 8 5
H K 5
D J 10 6 5 4
3 NT SouthC A J 2

PlayAwardVotesPercent
D. Win S K, H A1024822
E. Win S K, lead D J to ace814013
A. Win S A, H K, H A723021
B. Win S A, H K, run D J415614
F. Win S K, run D J326924
C. Win S A, D A2656

Well, there you are in the all-time favorite contract. Alas, 4 H would be better, and the near-perfect fit makes 6 D the optimal spot (close to 70 percent). Perhaps North should bid again over 3 NT, but it’s not clear. At least you averted a club lead, so 3 NT has excellent chances.

Basically, you can succeed if either red suit comes home with one loser, so the goal is to combine these chances. Only hearts can be tested conclusively without giving up the lead, so that suit should be played first, planning to fall back on diamonds if hearts do not split 3-2. Consider this awkward layout:

IMPsS A 2TrickLead2nd3rd4th
None vulH A 8 7 6 4 21. WS JA?75
D A 9 8 22. NH 2QK3
C 43. SH 5C 3A9
S J 10 9 4 TableS Q 7 6 3Declarer can succeed but…
H 3H Q J 10 9
D K Q 7 3D
C K 8 6 3C Q 10 9 7 5
S K 8 5
H K 5
D J 10 6 5 4
3 NT SouthC A J 2

If you play hearts routinely as in Line A, you will end up in dummy — the wrong hand to attack diamonds properly. You can succeed by continuing with a low diamond from dummy, but that’s double-dummy. Note that if you cross to the S K to lead the D J, opponents will be able to win five tricks (two spades, two hearts and a diamond).

“I thought how as the day had come, the belfries of all Christendom.”

Yes, the day has come to cash your top hearts in the proper order and only Line D allows this:

IMPsS A 2TrickLead2nd3rd4th
None vulH A 8 7 6 4 21. WS J2!7K
D A 9 8 22. SH 5!3AQ
C 43. NH 29KC 3
S J 10 9 4 TableS Q 7 6 34. SD J!
H 3H Q J 10 9Declarer succeeds
D K Q 7 3D
C K 8 6 3C Q 10 9 7 5
S K 8 5
H K 5
D J 10 6 5 4
3 NT SouthC A J 2

If hearts were 3-2, you would cross to the D A and establish the suit; but after discovering the 4-1 break, you are in the proper hand to finesse diamonds twice — much better than cashing the D A when West is short in hearts.* Note that you must start diamonds by leading an honor, else West would play low and you’d be stuck in dummy, unable to enjoy your long diamond due to the lack of entries.

*If East were short in hearts, it would be better to play diamonds ace-first (after leading the D J to tempt a cover) based on the logic that East would usually have bid with 11+ black cards; hence, you should abandon the implausible case of a small singleton or void to pick up D K-Q doubleton.

Second place is a toss-up between Lines A and E, as either allows you to check for 3-2 hearts; and failing that, play diamonds ace-first as a second chance. The edge goes to Line E, as it gives West a chance to err by covering with D K-Q-x-(x).

Other options (Lines B, C and F) are greatly inferior, as they ignore the chance of a 3-2 heart break and rely solely on diamonds. Note that with Line C, after cashing the D A, it is too late to test hearts because dummy has no remaining entry. Lines B and F are superior, as they cater to the better percentage play (two finesses); and between them, the edge goes to Line B, as it allows you to hold up in spades, which lets you survive in the rare event East has S Q-x-x and K-Q in both minors.

Comments for D. Win S K, H A

Tim DeLaney: This enables me to test hearts, and also play diamonds correctly if hearts are foul.

Bruce Neill: Test hearts, then finesse diamonds; about 92 percent. I need to be in hand after the second heart to take a diamond finesse if hearts don’t break.

Perry Groot: Best way to enjoy 3-2 hearts, or double finesse in diamonds. For the rest I’m clueless.

Rainer Herrmann: First test hearts, then try the double finesse in diamonds if necessary. Chances for success are a bit above 90 percent.

Carsten Kofoed: First I test if hearts are sweet; if not, I hope the next present contains valuable diamonds.

Jim Munday: Nine tricks are available if I can bring in hearts or diamonds. To combine chances, I will win the spade in hand, and cash H A-K. If hearts split, I cross to the D A and concede a heart; if not, I have two entries to take the double diamond finesse… If West has the heart length, I will play a diamond to the ace instead, as West is less likely to hold three diamonds.

Leif-Erik Stabell: This will leave me in a position to take two diamond finesses if hearts are 4-1 (or 5-0).

Eduard Munteanu: Combining the chance of a 3-2 heart break with the double finesse in diamonds — about 92 percent.

Thijs Veugen: Followed by the H K. This the only way to combine the double diamond finesse with the chance that hearts are 3-2.

Steve White: Testing for 3-2 hearts; if not, two diamond finesses are available.

Fancy meeting you here… Last week I was dreaming about your Christmas.

Zahary Zahariev: Looks easy (usually means I’m wrong). This combines the best chances in both red suits. If hearts break, I have two entries to establish them; else I am in hand to finesse diamonds (twice with the C A reentry).

Joel Wooldridge: If hearts are 3-2, I have nine tricks, so I have to test hearts before diamonds. …I plan to win the second round of hearts in my hand; if they break, I still have two entries (diamonds first) to set up hearts. If hearts don’t break, I’m in my hand to take the double finesse in diamonds should West be short [in hearts].

Michael Gill: Seems free to try hearts first, as long as I end up in hand for a diamond finesse and leave two entries to dummy.

Madhukar Bapu: … Playing on hearts first (H A then H K) then running the D J on finding an unfriendly heart break has a 91.5 percent chance. First leading the D J to the ace (Line E) then going after hearts, followed by diamonds on a foul heart break, has an 88.25 percent chance. Question is, can one marshal these odds in the heat of battle!

Charles Blair: This way, if hearts are 4-1, I get to lose to D K-Q doubleton.

Steve Barcus: Preserving chances in the diamond suit if hearts don’t break 3-2.

Joon Pahk: Then the H K; if hearts break, I cross to the D A and establish them; if not, I’m in the correct hand to try diamonds for four tricks.

Chuck Lamprey: Test hearts first, then fall back on the double diamond hook if necessary. At least my card play has to be better than our bidding.

Dale Freeman: Playing hearts backward, and if 3-2, I will use the D A to give up a heart and claim. If hearts are 4-1, I will run the D J, and if necessary use the C A to finesse diamonds again. If this loses to D K-Q doubleton… Oops, next hand!

Barry White: Following up with the H K. If hearts split, I cross to the D A, etc.; if not, I play for two finesses in diamonds.

John Reardon: Testing for 3-2 hearts, and if not to play diamonds to best advantage by finessing twice. …

Julian Pottage: If hearts are 4-1, I want to attack diamonds from hand.

Brad Theurer: I must combine red-suit chances as best as possible. Best in diamonds alone is to take two finesses, so I need to be in the right hand…if hearts don’t break. …

Led Beauvillain: Best plan is to test hearts first then rely on a double diamond finesse. In order to culminate, I need to preserve the S A entry and cash the H A then H K.

Giles Woodruff: After winning the S K and two hearts ending in hand, if hearts are 3-2, I will cross back to the D A and set up hearts. If hearts are 4-1, I will play diamonds…

Anthony Golding: Then a heart to the king to take the double diamond finesse if hearts haven’t broken.

Imre Csiszar: If East shows out on the next heart, I’ll try the D A next; if West shows out, I’ll double finesse diamonds.

John Lusky: I will continue with a heart to the king. If hearts are 3-2, I will play a diamond to the ace and continue hearts for nine tricks; [else] I still have my best play available in diamonds and will run the D J. This line is especially appealing since, if hearts behave, 3 NT will make even when diamonds are foul and 6 D fails.

Venkatesh Ramaratnam: This combines chances of a 3-2 heart break with a double finesse in diamonds.

Julian Wightwick: Then win the H K, leaving two aces in dummy. If hearts behave, I will cross to the D A and concede a heart. If not, I’m in the correct hand to run the D J.

Wei Victor Zhang: Trying first for a 3-2 heart break; and if not, I will end in the closed hand to play diamonds.

Rob Balas: Testing hearts first ending in hand keeps options open, [leaving] sufficient entries to develop hearts should they be 3-2; [else] I can finesse diamonds twice.

Leonard Helfgott: Best way to combine echelon plays in hearts and diamonds, deciding how to play diamonds if the H K reveals a 4-1 break. Second choice is Line E to see if a diamond honor drops; if not, check for 3-2 hearts, then revert to 2-2 diamonds.

N. Scott Cardell: Best chance in diamonds is to finesse twice, and this is the only way to combine that with 3-2 hearts. …

Bala Iyer: Exchange sacrifice! Giving up the holdup initiative, so if hearts do not break, I am in the right hand to play diamonds.

Manuel Paulo: Taking the red suits individually, diamonds offer better prospects (76 percent) than hearts (68 percent); but I can test hearts first, and if they don’t break 3-2, rely on diamonds (92 percent).

Jon Sorkin: If hearts are not 3-2, I want to be in hand to try two diamond finesses. The H K next will tell me which route to take.

Sheldon Spier: Keeping options open for a 3-2 heart split, as well as a double finesse in diamonds.

Mark Lincoln: Maximizing chances by first checking to see if hearts split; if not, I’ll be in the South hand to lead diamonds, hoping one or both honors are onside.

Dan Mytelka: … If hearts split poorly and East the length, I’ll lead the D J and [finesse twice]; but if West has the length, I’ll play the D A, hoping for 2-2 diamonds or a singleton honor.

Shahid Hamid: If hearts break, I’ll lead the D J and overtake with the ace [to establish hearts]; otherwise, I’ll let the jack run, planning on a second finesse…

Paul Meerschaert: I will next win the H K, and all is well if hearts break; if not, I will hope for four diamond tricks by taking two finesses if necessary. Then I will head to the bar with partner to discuss our lack of bidding judgment.

Simon Cheung: This gives me enough entries to establish hearts when they break, or to tackle diamonds from the most advantageous side after discovering a foul heart break.

Richard Morse: Trying to combine chances in hearts and diamonds, while preserving entries for both.

Dmitri Shabes: Then the H K. Either hearts are breaking, or I will fall back on the double finesse in diamonds. Sounds too simple, so I’m probably missing something.

Douglas Dunn: East is encouraging spades when a club switch may be best — a warning bell that hearts are not breaking. After testing hearts, I will revert to the double diamond finesse (unless hearts break, then the D A is an entry back to dummy).

Joshua Donn: Then a heart to the king. If hearts break, I make easily with two dummy entries; else I am in hand to play diamonds to best advantage (double finesse). My next move is trying to figure out why I am not in 4 H, or 6 D for that matter.

Paul Huggins: I will make nine tricks if hearts break 3-2, or if I can pick up diamonds for one loser (taking two finesses). I need to be careful about entries to combine both chances without setting up too many tricks for opponents…

David Wiltshire: Then the H K. If hearts break, lead a diamond to the ace and clear hearts; otherwise, lead the D J and take two finesses. This line could lead to many down, as I need to unguard clubs to take the second diamond finesse, but it gives the best overall chance.

Jason Chiu: Combining chances of 3-2 hearts and one diamond honor onside.

Martin Hirschman: This will make on 3-2 hearts; and if not, I you can take percentage play in diamonds (two finesses).

Jean-Christophe Clement: This is the only option that allows me to test hearts before diamonds, and to finessing diamonds twice (best play) if hearts are not 3-2.

George Klemic: Doing this order, if hearts are 3-2, I will use the D A entry to set up hearts for nine tricks; otherwise, I am in the correct hand to hook diamonds twice.

Mauri Saastamoinen: … If hearts are 3-2, I am home;…if not, I can still double finesse diamonds, starting with the D J. I should [succeed] about 11 times out of 12.

Subhransu Patnaik: I need to test hearts first, and I should [end in hand] so that diamonds can be finessed twice (best percentage play) if hearts are not 3-2.

Robert Sandor: The idea is to test hearts first; and if they don’t break, finesse twice in diamonds. …

Michael Palitsch: Blocking myself [from establishing hearts directly] increases my chances from 89 to 92 percent. …

Richard Stein: If hearts break, I’m home immediately; when news of the 4-1 break arrives, I can go to diamonds.

Terry Lillie: I must test hearts ending in hand, in case I need the diamond finesse.

Gerald Cohen: I go for the line that lets me test hearts [first] and puts me in the right hand to play diamonds with knowledge of the heart break…

Frans Buijsen: Then the H K. If hearts break 4-1, I have the double finesse in diamonds. Otherwise, I can afford two diamond losers [to establish hearts].

Alon Amsel: Testing hearts first (H K next). If hearts split, I can safely cross to the D A and concede a heart trick; else I’m in hand for the double finesse in diamonds.

Daniel de Lind van Wijngaarden: I continue with the H K to check for 3-2 hearts (68 percent); if not, I run the D J and repeat the finesse later, [succeeding against] 3/4 of the remaining 32 percent, or 92 percent total. Even if hearts are 5-0, opponents can only take three hearts and a diamond.

Roger Morton: I’ll now come to hand with the H K; and if hearts don’t break, I’m in the right hand to tackle diamonds to best advantage.

Magnus Skaar: I want to play on both chances: hearts 3-2, or any diamond honor in West…

Nigel Guthrie: After S K, H A and H K, the heartbroken declarer can resort to diamond finesses.

In other words: Without a heart break declarer gets heartbreak.

Problem 2

IMPsS 7 5 3WestNorthEastSouth
N-S vulH J 9 4LHOPartnerRHOYou
D 8 3Pass1 S
C A Q 9 6 5Pass2 SPass4 S
Table PassPassPass
Lead: S 2East wins S A 
 
 
S K Q J 10 6 4
H K 3
D A K 2
4 S SouthC 4 3

At trick two, East leads the S 9 to your king (West follows).

Next PlayAwardVotesPercent
B. Lead the H 31020018
E. Finesse the C Q840837
C. Ruff diamond, lead H 4629026
A. Lead the H K5545
F. Finesse the C 9310610
D. Ruff diamond, lead C 51505

Your ears should be piqued — and I don’t mean in the French sense because a pique was led. There’s a heavy message in the air, not so much from West’s trump lead but from East’s trump return. Looking at a formidable club suit in dummy, East would usually switch to a red suit. Why didn’t he? Almost surely because he knows clubs won’t establish. Further, he probably didn’t return a heart (the more obvious shift) because he holds the H Q.

If the C K is onside, you have 10 easy tricks; so assume it is off. This would give East at least 7 HCP, plus he is likely to have the D Q or D J (else West might have led the D Q). Since East passed as dealer at favorable vulnerability, the H A is almost certainly offside. Therefore, if you finesse the C Q (Line E), you will need clubs to split 3-3, and East to hold the H Q (else the defense wins four tricks). Considering the two trump leads, chances of a 3-3 club break are much worse than normal odds.

What about finessing the C 9? No, playing for C J-10 onside is too much of a long shot; and imagine how silly you’d look to go down with the C K onside all the time. Forget that fantasy. Your best chance to establish a 10th trick is in the heart suit. Consider a likely layout:

IMPsS 7 5 3TrickLead2nd3rd4th
N-S vulH J 9 41. WS 23A4
D 8 32. ES 9K85
C A Q 9 6 53. SH 3!59!Q
S 8 2 TableS A 94. ED 4A53
H A 10 8 6 5H Q 7 25. SH KA42
D Q 10 7 5D J 9 6 4Declarer succeeds
C J 2C K 10 8 7
S K Q J 10 6 4
H K 3
D A K 2
4 S SouthC 4 3

The East-West cards fit the actual defense to a tee; West didn’t want to guess which side suit to lead, and East returned a trump since he has clubs well stopped. Clearly, you are destined to fail if you try to establish clubs. Also note that if you ruff a diamond and lead a heart to the king (Line C), West will switch to a club before you can establish the H J. Likewise, if you start by leading the H K from hand (Line A).

“Had rolled along the unbroken song, of peace on earth, good will to men.”

An unbroken song in bridge is to lead toward honors. If one direction is destined to fail (leading toward the H K) then go the other way. Lead the H 3 from hand (Line B shown above) and play West for the H 10 — an even-money chance. West is obliged to duck (else the H K is your 10th trick) and the trick is lost to East, who cannot attack clubs. Now it’s routine to knock out the H A to establish the jack for a club discard. You would fail, of course, if West had H A-Q and East had the C K, but so would any other line of play.

The recommended play only loses (versus finessing the C Q) in two layouts, both contraindicated by the defense: (1) When East holds H Q-10-x-(x) C K-x-x, he would see that clubs will establish, so he’d usually shift to a heart hoping West had the H K. (2) If East passed a near-opening bid such as S A-9 H A-x-x-x D 10-x-x-x C K-x-x; but even then his trump return is strange, and you’d probably fail anyway if East underled his H A.

Second place goes to the popular Line E. Finessing the C Q would be right in a vacuum, i.e., based on a priori odds and ignoring inferences. If the finesse loses, you still have the chance of a 3-3 club break or the H A onside — unless you’re put to an immediate heart guess.

Next are Lines A and C, which are basically equivalent as far as making the contract. Each succeeds if either of two cards is right (note that Line A ensures a second heart play toward the J-9 whenever East has the H A). The edge goes to Line C, as it makes an overtrick when both cards are right.

Finessing the C 9 (Line F) is considerably worse, as explained earlier. Leading a club from dummy after ruffing a diamond (Line D) is worst by far, as it gives up your second chance; i.e., you must choose between a subsequent club finesse or heart play.

Comments for B. Lead the H 3

Tim DeLaney: This seems nonsensical, but I will almost always win when West has the H 10. If West has something like S x-x H Q-10-x-x D Q-J-x C J-x-x-x, he will have to win the H Q and switch to a club; but will he know to do that?

Bruce Neill: I seem to remember that Belladonna made a play like this once. If the C K is offside, the H A isn’t likely to be onside since East passed; so I’ll try to set up a discard. If West has H A-10-x-x and East the C K, I must not play the H K first, as it allows West to lead a club too soon.

Perry Groot: Only problematic if East has the C K, in which case he [shouldn’t] have the H A, so the [best] chance is the H 10 in West…

Rainer Herrmann: I’ll assume the C K is wrong (otherwise no problem), then East is very unlikely to hold the H A; and if West holds the H Q too, there is not much chance. In the critical case, where East holds the H Q and C K, Line E essentially plays for clubs to break 3-3; while this plays West for the H 10, giving the better chance.

Lajos Linczmayer: I think West led a trump because he has honors in all side suits. I make the contract If West has the C K, but East’s trump return suggests a strong club holding. As East dealt, I suppose West has the H A, so East must have the H Q. I can play East for, e.g., S A-8 H Q-x-x D J-x-x-x C K-J-8-x, or S A-8 H Q-10-x D J-x-x-x-x C K-J-x. Playing to finesse against the H 10 is better than to rely on a 3-3 club break.

Carsten Kofoed: East probably can’t have both H A and C K (West didn’t lead a diamond honor). Therefore, I start by finessing the H 9, with the club finesse in reserve.

Jim Munday: If the C K is onside, I have no problem; so I will plan as if East has it. West is now a favorite to hold the H A… I can take the club hook now, succeeding when clubs are 3-3 (or J-10 doubleton); but I can improve on those odds by finessing the H 9, allowing me to set up a club pitch when West has the H 10 and cannot (or does not) win the H Q…

Leif-Erik Stabell: If East has the C K, West must be a heavy favorite to hold the H A. This is the only winning option if West holds S 8-2 H A-10-x-x D Q-10-x-x-x C J-x, or similar.

Eduard Munteanu: From East’s defense, he has the C K; so he [shouldn’t] have the H A, else he would have opened. Also, by not returning a heart, East should have the H Q; so leading the H 3 to the nine seems right…

Thijs Veugen: If East has the H A, the club finesse is [almost] always on. If West has the H A [and East the C K], I can increase my chances by this play. The probability of [West having the H 10] exceeds Line E (3-3 clubs).

Steve White: As a passed hand, East is unlikely to have the S A, H A and C K; but he may well have the H Q and C K… So I play a heart to the nine (hoping West has A-10) to establish a heart trick for a club pitch.

Zahary Zahariev: I can’t succeed if West holds H A-Q and East the C K; and if the C K is onside, I can’t fail (except by Line F, which I don’t think is serious). So I’ll place the C K with East, which means he [shouldn’t] have the H A (normal people open the bidding with two aces and a king). …I will finesse the H 9, hoping West has the H 10…

Joel Wooldridge: East won’t have the S A, H A and C K (plus likely a diamond honor) and not have opened; so, either East has the H Q and C K, or this position doesn’t matter. I’ll lead a heart to the nine, as the chance of the H 10 onside is slightly higher than 3-3 clubs or C J-10 doubleton — plus, East might have shifted if he had only three clubs.

Michael Gill: Sticking in the H 9. In the only case that matters (H A West, H Q and C K East) finding the H 10 onside is a better shot than clubs 3-3.

Madhukar Bapu: If declarer is a good listener, it is easy to get this right. The lead suggests East has a picture card in diamonds; so is it possible for East to have the H A and C K as well? Doubtful, since he passed. The [best chance] is for West to have the H 10, then low to the nine fetches 10 tricks.

Charles Blair: If East has the C K, West probably has the H A. You mentioned Belladonna, who was reported to have led from king-doubleton towards jack-third for different reasons in a widely publicized hand. …

Steve Barcus: Initially, I thought that if East held the C K and H A, he might have underled at trick two; but with 2 1/2 honor tricks, he might have opened the bidding. So I’ll give West the H A, and hook the H 9…

Jonathan Mestel: Surely, the C K is wrong after this defense; and given East’s pass and the lack of a diamond lead, the H A is almost certainly wrong too. Without the H Q, East might well have led one. I’m preparing my excuses when the H 9 loses — but it worked for Belladonna!

Joon Pahk: If the C K is off, so is the H A, so those one-of-two-finesses lines aren’t [even close] to 75 percent… This has decent legitimate chances: H A-10 West (or Q-10 doubleton East) or a stiff H A, plus the club hook. It also gives West an…opportunity to misdefend, since it may not be clear to shift to clubs if he wins the H Q.

Chuck Lamprey: No problem if the C K is onside; if not, the H A is likely offside as well (no opening bid by East). If West has H A-Q, I can’t make the hand; so I’ll finessing the H 9 hoping it forces the queen. This seems better than playing for 3-3 clubs.

Barry White: It is tempting to take an immediate club finesse and try for a 3-3 break if it fails, but the expert defenders lead me to believe clubs are well protected. (With C K-x-x, East would likely defend differently.) In my view, East has the H Q and West the H A, so I’ll play [to the H 9]. I am willing to trade the odds of a 3-3 club break or H A onside for the odds of the H 10 onside.

Julian Pottage: The lead (not the D Q) and East’s initial pass mean that East won’t have the H A and C K. Only Lines B and E make sense, and this is better because it’s more likely that West has the H 10 than clubs are 3-3.

Skafti Jonsson: Probably, East has H Q since he didn’t switch to a heart. Chances of finding West with the H 10 is greater than clubs 3-3… I am prepared to look silly if West turns up with H Q and the club finesse loses.

Rob Stevens: There is a problem only if East has the C K. Given that West didn’t lead a diamond, East seems likely to have a diamond honor, so the H A too would make at least 12 HCP; so I’ll place the H A with West. The reasonable plays are to take the club finesse, or lead to the H 9. Both require East to have the H Q, but the former needs clubs 3-3; the latter the H 10 in West.

Brad Theurer: If the C K is onside, I have 10 tricks; if offside, I need East to have the H Q (East is unlikely to have the H A…since he passed). So I finesse the H 9, hoping…West has H A-10, and I can safely establish my 10th trick in that suit. … This seems better than hoping for 3-3 clubs.

Anthony Golding: If East has the C K (otherwise no problem), he’s unlikely to have the H A as well as a passed hand; so I’ll play him for the H Q and finesse the H 9, hoping to set up a heart trick before West can lead through the C A.

Dean Pokorny: From the lead, West is much more likely to hold the H A than the H Q; so I will play him for something like S x-x H A-10-x-x D J-x-x C J-x-x-x, and lead to the H 9.

Ruud von Seida: If the H A is with East, the C K is with West (East wouldn’t pass with two aces, a king, a [likely] diamond honor, and not 4-3-3-3). Finessing the H 9 is 50 percent, while Line E needs clubs 3-3 (36 percent).

John Lusky: East’s spade continuation suggests he has clubs under control. If he has the C K, he is most unlikely to have the H A (passed hand); so my best shot seems to be to find the H 10 with West and the H Q with East. If this doesn’t pan out, I will fall back on the club finesse.

Venkatesh Ramaratnam: Even if clubs break, I need to take a position in hearts if the club finesse loses. On the auction and defense so far, West is likely to have the H A. Playing for the H 10 with West is better than playing for a 3-3 club break.

Toby Kenney: East is unlikely to hold the H A and C K, especially since D Q-J might have been a more attractive lead for West.

Julian Wightwick: Main chance is the club finesse; if that loses, the H A is probably with West since East didn’t open the bidding (and West didn’t lead a diamond honor). Line E needs East to have the H Q, and either clubs to break or for East to lead a heart anyway. … This needs East to hold the H Q, and West the H 10.

Albert Feasley: East would have opened with the S A, H A, C K and a diamond honor, so I will assume he has the C K and H Q, and try to set up a heart…by finessing the nine…

Alan Chapelle: Intending to finesse the H 9;…if it loses to the 10, I will fall back on the club hook.

Rob Balas: Hooking the H 9. …If East the H A, he is unlikely to have the C K (passed hand)… If West has H A-10 and East the C K, I can set up a club pitch before West can lead a club.

Manuel Paulo: In view of East’s initial pass, West holds at least one of the H A and C K; so I will assume the H A (if the C K, I win anyway) and hope for a hand like S 8-2 H A-10-x-x D Q-x-x-x-x C J-x. This play avoids a premature club lead from West, while I set up a heart to discard my club loser.

Jon Sorkin: Assuming the C K is with East, I’ll finesse the H 9 to establish a heart trick safely if West has the H 10.

Sheldon Spier: If the C K is offside (only problem), I assume the H A is too, as East wouldn’t pass two aces and a king (the way people bid today). Finessing the H 9 gives me an extra chance.

Sebastien Louveaux: East won’t have both the C K and H A. This way, I may develop a heart trick while protecting the club holding.

Jordi Sabate: East must have a very good club suit to lead another trump… I’ll play him for at least C K-10-x-x, so he’s unlikely to have the H A as a passed hand. My best chance seems to be the H 10 in West and the H Q in East. …

Richard Morse: Optimizing my chances in hearts and clubs. I’ll finesse the H 9 if West [plays low].

Douglas Dunn: Finessing the H 9; if East has to win with the queen, I can discard a club on the H J. The warning bell this time is that clubs are not dividing kindly; else East would have switched… If South had D A-Q-J (instead of A-K-2) and East had C K-x-x, only a diamond switch at trick two beats the contract.

Joshua Donn: I will hook the nine, making if West has the H 10 or C K, essentially a 75-percent shot. Line C is a similar chance, but the trump lead strongly increases the odds of West having the H A. Line E essentially plays for a 3-3 club break [rather than] a finesse…

Gonzalo Goded: This hand is making me crazy! I think this caters to one of two finesses: C K or H 10 in West (if he has the H Q too, either the C K is onside or I can’t make). Leading a club to the queen only caters to a finesse and a 3-3 break. The base of the solution is that East would open if he had two aces, a king, and any diamond honor; and West would probably lead a heart if he didn’t have the H A.

Jyrki Lahtonen: … If East has the H A, his pass makes it [almost] certain the club hook will work. This gives me the extra chance of finding West with the H 10.

Gerald Cohen: No D Q lead makes it pretty clear that East does not have both major aces and the C K. The dangerous but hopeful case is that West has the H A, and East has the H Q and C K. Then I need to hope West has the H 10, in which case East [cannot attack clubs] upon winning the H Q, and West cannot [benefit] by rising with the H A.

Junyi Zhu: East not returning a heart could mean that he doesn’t worry about clubs; and holding the S A and C K, he is unlikely to have the H A.

Daniel de Lind van Wijngaarden: Assuming the C K is offside (otherwise most lines work) and East likely to have the D J or D Q (no diamond lead), West is a heavy favorite to hold the H A (otherwise East would have opened or doubled 2 S). By playing a heart to the nine, I can set up a heart in time to discard my club loser if West has H A-10 (or A-Q-10 if he misdefends). …

Roger Morton: If the club finesse is failing, West must surely hold the H A (else East would have opened the bidding), and Lines A and C would fail on accurate defense. Ignoring West having the H Q as well (no chance), half the remaining time West will have the H 10, and a small heart to the nine is the winner — better odds than 3-3 clubs needed for line E. …

Problem 3

IMPsS 5 4WestNorthEastSouth
E-W vulHLHOPartnerRHOYou
D A K 9 7 6 31 S
C K 6 4 3 22 H3 D4 H4 S
Table PassPassPass
Lead: D QEast plays D 10 
 
 
S A K Q J 10 2
H 4 3 2
D 5 4 2
4 S SouthC J

PlayAwardVotesPercent
F. Duck the D Q1050345
E. Win D A, lead C 2734731
C. Win D A, S A, lead C J to king5646
B. Win D A, S A, lead D 54757
D. Win D A, S A, run C J3444
A. Win D A, draw trumps2757

Sleigh bells ring; are you list’nin’? Evidently the overwhelming consensus certainly was, as they properly interpreted the lead as a singleton (else it would hardly be chosen) and found the winning play to duck. East’s play of the D 10 may have confused some people into thinking East had the singleton, but it’s a typical expert play from J-10-8 (if the ace is won) to mislead declarer.*

*If choosing to duck the first trick (Line F), of course, you would not be aware of East’s play, so it should not be considered. It was necessary to stipulate East’s play because five of the options involved winning the first trick. In all my play problems, information given is valid for consideration only when it would be known at the table.

Once the correct assumption is made, Line F is a lock. Even if East has the C A (unlikely) and the defense gets a diamond ruff, you will easily win the rest. Most of the time you’ll win 11 tricks, as in this probable layout:

IMPsS 5 4TrickLead2nd3rd4th
E-W vulH1. WD Q3!102
D A K 9 7 6 32. WC A25J
C K 6 4 3 2Declarer succeeds w/overtrick
S 8 6 3 TableS 9 7
H A Q J 10 7H K 9 8 6 5
D QD J 10 8
C A 9 8 7C Q 10 5
S A K Q J 10 2
H 4 3 2
D 5 4 2
4 S SouthC J

After ducking the first trick, 11 tricks are a breeze. West might as well cash his C A and get on to the next board.

“And in despair I bowed my head: There is no peace on earth, I said.”

To appreciate the despair if you win the first trick, bow your head and consider: If you lead the C 2 to establish communication (Line E), East will win the queen and shift to a trump; a heart ruff will then yield a ninth trick, but there is no way to make 10. If instead you cross to the S A and lead the C J (Line C or D), West should grab the ace to lead a second trump; now the C K is your ninth trick, but there’s no heart ruff for 10. In all these scenarios, the diamond suit is dead as a trick source, since you cannot afford to draw trumps (heart losers) nor duck a diamond (East will lead a third diamond to kill the suit).*

*Note that West should not ruff the second diamond if led from South.

It is also worth noting that ducking the first trick works fine if diamonds are 2-2, albeit at the expense of a second overtrick. If West has D Q-J-10 and the C A, ducking will fail; but so will any other attempt. Winning the first trick only gains if West has led from D Q-J-8, but it’s hard to imagine any expert choosing that lead on the bidding. Indeed, if I were forced at gunpoint to lead a diamond, I’d choose the eight.

A distant second goes to Line E, as there is a slim chance the C A might ruff out (e.g., West has S x-x H A-Q-J-10-x D Q C Q-10-9-x-x); or that East may err and not put up the C Q.

Other plays offer no legitimate chance, assuming the D Q is singleton. My ranking is somewhat subjective, as it’s based on which improbable mistakes are more likely. Third place goes to Line C, as it is possible West might duck the C A or fail to return a trump. Line B offers less opportunity for error; even if West errs by ruffing the second diamond, he can still beat you with a heart return. Line D (running the C J) seems weaker still, as you probably already blew your only chance by not putting up the C K; and drawing trumps (Line A) leaves almost no opportunity for error.

Comments for F. Duck the D Q

Tim DeLaney: The D Q is an obvious singleton; West is welcome to cross to partner’s C A and take a diamond ruff, but that will be the last trick for the defense. …

Bruce Neill: I will look very silly if the defense continues: diamond ruff, C A, diamond ruff.

Perry Groot: Given the 3 D bid, the lead is very likely to be a singleton.

Lajos Linczmayer: If West has D Q-J-10 (Q-J-10-8), I must duck, and I need the C A is with East. If West has a singleton D Q, only the duck wins. If West has a doubleton D Q, no problem; and from D Q-J-8, he wouldn’t lead a diamond.

Carsten Kofoed: On Christmas Eve, I like to eat duck. I think I’ll invite West on this one!

And if he accepts, you might be eating crow for dessert.

Jim Munday: The diamond lead is unexpected, and I can’t imagine West leading from Q-J-8 into dummy’s suit; more likely, it is from shortness. Ducking maintains communication and will succeed unless West has three or four diamonds and the C A.

Leif-Erik Stabell: This is wrong only if West has led from D Q-J-8 and the C A — but in that case he might have found the killing trump lead instead.

Eduard Munteanu: I cannot believe that West would lead from D Q-J-8; more likely, he has a singleton. Ducking maintains control of the hand, and makes the game even if East has the C A.

Thijs Veugen: West is likely to have S x-x-x H A-Q-J-x-x-x D Q C A-x-x. A diamond lead seems silly from S x H A-Q-J-x-x-x D Q-J-8 C A-x-x, given the bidding (maybe the D 8).

Steve White: Given conditions are strange; but since I don’t know what East would play at trick one, I should duck in case (1) the D Q is stiff or (2) West has D Q-J-10 without the C A. If West has D Q-J-8 and the C A, I should win;…but that’s an unattractive lead in dummy’s suit.

Zahary Zahariev: I can’t find a sure line. [Ducking] will allow East to ruff twice if West has D Q-J-x and the C A. Taking the first diamond is bad in all cases when the D Q is singleton. No matter what I play when diamonds are 2-2. I’ll put my money on ducking, as a singleton queen is more likely than Q-J-x in dummy’s suit.

Joel Wooldridge: This is only wrong if West led from D Q-J-8 and the C A. I consider that remote in the context of the auction.

Michael Gill: How can the opponents hurt me? If West has led from Q-J-x in dummy’s suit and has the C A, good for him.

Madhukar Bapu: Did West lead from length or shortage in diamonds? And if length, would he lead the queen after hearing a 3 D bid on his left? [Hardly], so it is better to play West for a singleton and duck. …

Charles Blair: If West did not lead a singleton, I don’t consider him an expert.

Jonathan Mestel: The D Q must be a stiff or from Q-J-10, probably the former — especially after East plays the 10. :) Ducking will get the play over quickly if West has three diamonds and the C A.

Joon Pahk: Line E (scissors coup) looks nice, but it will fail if East has D J-10-8 and a trump is led at trick three; in fact, every line but this will fail if East has three diamonds. Ducking only fails if West has three diamonds…with the C A and manages to find a diamond continuation. On the bidding, West is almost surely leading a singleton. …

Chuck Lamprey: I think the lead is a singleton. I’ll be embarrassed if West led from D Q-J-x; but if he found that lead on the auction, he’s too good for me.

Dale Freeman: Most likely this is a singleton lead (why lead D Q-J-x in dummy’s suit). The duck allows me to draw trumps and run diamonds, keeping full control.

Barry White: … Did an expert West really lead from D Q-J-8 on this auction? It would appear to be the only lead to let me make the hand! … My best shot is to duck, playing West for a singleton (and hoping East played a random 10 from J-10-8). If West does produce another diamond which leads to down one via two ruffs, at least my teammates also will defeat 4 S on a different lead. …

John Reardon: West is very likely to have a singleton diamond, in which case this guarantees my contract.

Julian Pottage: Essential if the lead is a singleton. Who leads from Q-J-x in dummy’s suit?

Rob Stevens: It does not look likely that West would lead from D Q-J-x. A singleton is much more probable, and ducking allows me to keep control.

Brad Theurer: Why is West leading North’s suit? Most likely the D Q is a singleton, in which case ducking ensures the contract; all West can do is lead a club to East’s ace (if East even has that card) for a diamond ruff, holding me to 10 tricks. Even if the lead is from D Q-J-x and West continues diamonds, I still make if East has the C A.

Giles Woodruff: This hand is all about control. West surely has not led from D Q-J-x, so the play won’t continue: diamond ruff, C A, diamond ruff.

Anthony Golding: It seems much more likely that West has led a singleton than from Q-J-x in dummy’s suit. (East’s 10 is a no-cost falsecard.) The most opponents can get is the D Q, C A and a diamond ruff; then I’m in to take the rest.

Paulinho Brum: On the bidding, I can’t believe a lead from D Q-J-x (along with the C A), in which case ducking is terrible.

Dean Pokorny: West would hardly lead the D Q unless it is singleton; so I have to duck to retain control. I hope to win six spades and five diamonds.

Imre Csiszar: To assume a lead from Q-J-8 in dummy’s suit would be a long shot; even in retrospect, I believe East’s D 10 is from J-10-8. The duck clearly wins if the D Q is singleton, and it gives the only legitimate chance (C A with East) if it’s from Q-J-10. The trap of Line C is unlikely to work, as an expert West would not duck the C J.

Ruud von Seida: This is wrong only if West led from D Q-J-x, but he wouldn’t make such a lead with diamonds bid behind him…

John Lusky: So what is this odd diamond lead? My money is on a singleton (with East playing a tricky game with J-10-8), in which case ducking is the best choice. I may look foolish if West has D Q-J-8…and the C A, but that’s a very unlikely lead from an expert on this auction.

Venkatesh Ramaratnam: On this auction, West is likely to have a stiff diamond, rather than length. Even if West has D Q-J-10-8, this line is as good as any other. Ducking will fail only if West led from three [or four] diamonds and the C A. Other lines are clearly inferior if West indeed has a stiff diamond.

Toby Kenney: This seems the only way to succeed in the likely event of a singleton D Q.

Julian Wightwick: This works well if the D Q is singleton; and it also looks like my best shot if West has three diamonds, winning when East has the C A

Ron Mak: …A duck is required unless West double-dummied a lead from D Q-J-8 with the C A as an entry — then he’s my uncle, or my “Daddy” in the Red Sox nation.

Len Vishnevsky: If West led from D Q-J-x and the C A, I’ll congratulate him sincerely.

Alan Chapelle: I’ll play for West to have the stiff diamond, rather than East.

Leonard Helfgott: Seems like a singleton to me, and ducking will insure the contract even if East gets in with the C A to give West a ruff. Unless diamonds are 2-2, all other lines risk losing three heart tricks (or two hearts, a diamond and a club).

David Kenward: This works unless West has led from D Q-J-x and the C A. The danger on all other lines is a singleton D Q, which seems to be far more likely.

Dan Mytelka: The D Q must be a singleton, so the worst that can happen is a club to the ace and a ruff; then my diamonds are good and I have the rest.

Bill Daly: At worst, West has bizarrely chosen to lead from D Q-J-8 and can regain the lead with the C A after giving East a ruff. I’ll pay off to that. Everything else looks hopeless.

Jordi Sabate: I can’t understand the lead if it’s not a singleton (why lead dummy’s suit with Q-x or Q-J-x?), in which case the contract is completely safe if I duck.

Paul Meerschaert: The lead looks suspiciously like a singleton to me. If ducking loses two diamond ruffs and the C A, I’ll tip my cap to West — and then proceed to eat it.

Simon Cheung: I don’t think an expert West would lead the D Q from Q-J-x in dummy’s suit, for it is very likely to give away a trick when East has no honor. If the lead is a singleton, ducking will establish the suit while preserving my control in hearts.

Thibault Wolf: West certainly has not led from D Q-J-x with North’s 3 D bid. At worst, West can play a club to East for one diamond ruff — only three tricks for the defense.

Richard Morse: The lead is surely not from a doubleton; so who has the singleton? More likely West… I have to retain a third-round diamond link, and ducking seems the least risky way to 10 tricks — even though I will look foolish if West has, say, S x-x H Q-J-x-x-x-x D Q-J-x C A-x.

Dmitri Shabes: This is the only option to win against a singleton lead, which is much more likely than Q-J-x on the bidding.

Pire Cusi: If West has a singleton D Q, [at worst] he will lead a club to East, who will fire back a diamond, ruffed; and I’ll claim 10 tricks. If diamonds are 2-2, I make only 11 tricks when I could have made 12…

David Wiltshire: This risks going down off the top (diamond ruff, club to the ace, diamond ruff), but any other line risks being cut off from diamonds…

Ed Barnes: For this to be wrong, West has to have led from Q-J-8 in dummy’s bid suit.

Jon Greiman: The D Q is an odd lead from a defender without trump [control] and a known fit with partner in another suit. … I’m playing West for a singleton.

Mike Cassel: [Assuming a singleton D Q], this guarantees the contract. Even after a club to East’s ace and a diamond ruff, I am still in control.

David Hodge: This will lose if West has D Q-J-x and the C A; but other lines fall foul to a singleton D Q,…which is more likely on the auction.

Mauri Saastamoinen: If the lead was a true card from, e.g., S x H A-Q-J-x-x D Q-J-x C A-Q-x-x, either I’m Donald Duck or I simply don’t understand this game. Otherwise, ducking insures against anything.

Jack Shinehoft: The lead appears to be a singleton. By ducking, the worst that can happen is a club to East, then a diamond ruff. After that, I have the rest.

Barry Rigal: This wins unless West can give East two ruffs — unlikely on the bidding and lead.

Teymur Tahseen: West is likely to have a singleton diamond for his lead.

Magnus Skaar: This way, I only go down if West led from D Q-J-x with the C A.

Problem 4

IMPsS 7 4 3WestNorthEastSouth
Both vulH Q 7 2LHOPartnerRHOYou
D 10 8 21 DPassPass2 NT
C K 10 8 2Pass3 NTPassPass
Table Pass
Lead: S KEast plays S 9 
 
 
S A 5 2
H K J 5
D K Q J
3 NT SouthC A J 7 3

West continues S Q-10 (East plays S 6-8) as you win the third round.

Club Suit PlayAwardVotesPercent
E. Win C K, run C 101061055
F. Win C K, finesse C J816315
D. Win C K, C A6121
A. Win C A, C K5111
B. Win C A, run C J315514
C. Win C A, finesse C 10215714

Participants were shrewd on this one, as the percent choosing the correct answer tied the highest ever in all my contests — well, not quite, as October 2001 Problem 3 still has the edge with 55.32 versus 55.05 here. Close enough! Either you’re getting too good, or I’m slipping in degree of difficulty. OK, so I’m a kinder, gentler guy around Christmas. In retrospect, I should have posed the problem differently to include options to lead either red suit first.

After routinely holding up the S A, it appears that East held S J-9-8-6, which is good news. West is marked for the missing aces from his opening bid (as well as from East’s pass of 1 D), so East will have no entry to his remaining spade. The play seems reduced to a straight club guess, as four club tricks combined with two tricks in each red suit will see you home.

So who’s go the button? Superficially it may seem better to play West for the C Q because he has more points, but there’s a message in the air to contradict this. If West held the C Q, together with S K-Q-10 and both red aces, he would surely have opened 1 NT — barring a singleton, e.g., S K-Q-10 H A D A-x-x-x-x C Q-x-x-x. Therefore, East is a big favorite to hold the C Q.

Consider the following unfriendly layout, which requires careful play:

IMPsS 7 4 3TrickLead2nd3rd4th
Both vulH Q 7 21. WS K392
D 10 8 22. WS Q465
C K 10 8 23. WS 107JA
S K Q 10 TableS J 9 8 64. SD K326
H A 8 6 4H 10 9 35. SC 34K5
D A 9 7 5 3D 6 46. NC 10!QAD 5
C 4C Q 9 6 5continued below…
S A 5 2
H K J 5
D K Q J
3 NT SouthC A J 7 3

After winning the third spade, you lead the D K (hoping to get some help) but West ducks. Now you must play clubs, so you cross to the C K and lead the 10 to cater to a 4-1 break. Assume East covers (best) and you win the ace, as West pitches a diamond. This leaves:

NT win 5 STrickLead2nd3rd4th
H Q 7 27. SH 5!4Q3
D 10 88. NC 89JD 7
C 8 29. SC 7D 926
S TableS 810. SD Q
H A 8 6 4H 10 9 3Declarer succeeds
D A 9 7D 4
CC 9 6
S
H K J 5
D Q J
South leadsC J 7

Careful! You must now lead a low heart to the queen, then finesse and cash the remaining clubs. West is squeezed out of his long card in at least one red suit, and you must attack that suit first; e.g., if West keeps H A-8-6 D A, you must lead diamonds.

“For hate is strong and mocks the song, of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Be grateful that West offered you at least some good will by continuing spades. The truly hateful defense, albeit far from obvious, would be a low heart shift after winning two spades. You should still succeed, but the winning play is difficult: Rise with the H Q and lead the C 10. And while I’m having diabolical thoughts, imagine if West had a blank C Q and beat you this way.

Be sure to see the importance of not leading hearts early (before testing clubs) and starting the suit low to the queen. If you led the H K (or H J) first, West could duck; then he could establish his long heart when you cross to the H Q.

Second place goes to finessing the C J (Line F), which suffices when clubs are 3-2 (or West has the blank nine).

Third place is a photo between Lines A and D. The latter has the technical edge, however slight, that West might be void, thus marking the finesse. Line D also got an extra vote, which makes the ranking easy.

Finessing West for the C Q is definitely a long shot — worse than playing for the drop, as you pay off to East’s Q-x. Line B is better than Line C, as it caters to West having C Q-9-x-x.

Comments for E. Win C K, run C 10

Tim DeLaney: West’s lead must be from K-Q-10, which strongly suggests he has a balanced hand. West is marked with both red aces, and therefore cannot hold the C Q because he didn’t open 1 NT. This caters to the off chance that West led a spade holding S K-Q-10 H A-x-x-x D A-x-x-x-x C x…

Bruce Neill: I need West to have S K-Q-10, H A and D A; with the C Q also, he would have a 15-17 notrump if he is balanced.

Perry Groot: East has the S J, so there are 15 points remaining. West needs both aces for his bidding, so if he is balanced, East has the C Q, as West did not open 1 NT. If West is unbalanced, he is more likely to have a singleton club. This play takes care of C Q-9-x-x in East, as the H Q is an entry [to ensure] four clubs, which will squeeze West in hearts and diamonds; and the suit abandoned can be established first.

Rainer Herrmann: If the hand with the fourth spade has an entry, five tricks must be lost; so West must hold both aces and precisely S K-Q-10. Since West didn’t open 1 NT, he cannot be balanced and hold the C Q. This could be wrong if West has a singleton H A…

Lajos Linczmayer: If West’s hand is balanced, East must have the C Q. If East has S J-9-8-6 H x-x-x D x-x C Q-9-x-x, I must run clubs to squeeze West in the red suits.

Jim Munday: Playing West for S K-Q-10 and both red aces, East is marked with the C Q if West is balanced. … I need to be careful establishing four red tricks, lest I set up a long trick for West;…and I must retain the H Q for an entry in case East started with C Q-9-x-x.

Leif-Erik Stabell: East would probably have bid 1 S with S J-9-8-6 and an ace; so West [should have both red aces] and can hardly have C Q-x-(x), as he did not open 1 NT. A likely hand for West is S K-Q-10 H A-x-x-x D A-x-x-x C x-x.

Eduard Munteanu: More likely that West has 13 HCP rather than 11, and with 15 he would have opened 1 NT. It’s important to cash [at least] three rounds of clubs before playing a second round in either red suit…to force a discard from West…

Thijs Veugen: To make 3 NT, West must have S K-Q-10 and both red aces; if he also had the C Q, he would probably have opened 1 NT. East could have C Q-9-x-x, so Line E is better than F.

Zahary Zahariev: I must use all my resources to make this contract. …I need West to have both red aces and only three spades. If West has any shortness, it will be in clubs; if not, he won’t have the C Q since he didn’t open 1 NT. With Line E, I can reenter dummy with the H Q to finesse again if East has C Q-9-x-x and covers the 10.

Joel Wooldridge: I have to assume West led from S K-Q-10 alone and has both red aces. Playing 15-17 notrumps, West won’t have the C Q also, else he would have opened 1 NT (or led his 5+ card diamond suit). I’ll run the C 10 just in case West got creative holding 3=4=5=1 shape… It shouldn’t matter where I win the last club, since West will be squeezed out of his length in either hearts or diamonds, and that’s the suit I’ll attack…

Madhukar Bapu: Based on the auction, West is a favorite to hold both the missing aces; and if West were dealt the C Q also, he would have opened 1 NT unless [unbalanced]. This provides for a singleton C Q with West or C Q-9-x-x with East…

Jonathan Mestel: I hope West remembered their notrump range! I must force a red-suit discard or two, then attack that suit first.

Joon Pahk: To have a chance, I must hope East has the S J and West has both red aces, which fortunately looks quite likely. If so, West can’t have the guarded C Q, else he would have opened 1 NT (unless the H A is singleton)… East might have C Q-9-x-x, so I better run the C 10 on the second round.

Chuck Lamprey: West should have both aces on the bidding; and since he didn’t open 1 NT, I’ll play East for the C Q.

Dale Freeman: I predict S K-Q-10 and both red aces are with West in a balanced hand, in which case the C Q would give him a 1 NT opening. If West is unbalanced, his most likely short suit is clubs…

Barry White: It seems my best chance is to play West for something like S K-Q-10 H A-x-x-x D A-x-x-x C x-x, figuring he would have opened 1 NT with the C Q. Running clubs also exerts pressure on West’s red suits, shutting out a possible long card. Also, West might have a singleton club, so I lead the C 10 to pick up Q-9-x-x.

Julian Pottage: Since West didn’t open 1 NT, he’s unlikely to hold S K-Q-10, both red aces and the guarded C Q.

Rob Stevens: I must find both red-suit aces with West; and the C Q adds to 15, so I’ll play East for that card.

Brad Theurer: West likely has both red aces, so he won’t have the C Q, else he would probably have opened 1 NT (he is likely to be balanced since the lead seems to be from three cards). If East holds C Q-9-x-x, I can pick up the whole suit, eventually reaching dummy with a heart if East covers the C 10.

Led Beauvillain: West seems to have only three spades, so he [should] have a balanced hand; hence, with both red aces, he should not have the C Q because he would have opened 1 NT.

Giles Woodruff: West seems balanced, so he is probably 3=4=4=2, 3=3=4=3 or 3=2=4=4… He must have both red-suit aces (else I’m off anyway), so he shouldn’t have the C Q. Running the C 10 also caters for West having 3=4=5=1 shape…

Anthony Golding: West must have both red aces. Why hasn’t he led diamonds? He [probably] has only four… The C Q [should] be with East, else West would have opened 1 NT. …

Ruud von Seida: West must have S K-Q-10 and both red aces; otherwise I’m down. If he also has the C Q, he has 15 HCP in a [likely] balanced hand; so I play East for the C Q…

John Lusky: For me to have a chance, West must have both red aces, and East the S J, as seems likely… If West had the C Q as well, he would have opened 1 NT unless [unbalanced]. West’s pitches on the run of the club suit will [tell] me which red suit to play [first] to keep West from setting up a long red-suit trick.

Venkatesh Ramaratnam: West needs to hold both red aces and three spades for any chance. If West also has the C Q, he would have opened 1 NT unless [unbalanced]. This play caters to C Q-9-x-x with East.

Toby Kenney: To have a chance, East must hold the S J, and West must have both aces. West is almost certainly balanced (else a singleton club), so he would have opened 1 NT with the C Q; therefore, East has it.

Albert Feasley: West has both red aces (since East passed) and the spade plays place West with S K-Q-10. Therefore, East should have the C Q, else West would have opened 1 NT. (OK, West could have the stiff C Q).

Alan Chapelle: If East has C Q-9-x-x and covers the 10, West will show out; then the H Q entry allows another club hook.

N. Scott Cardell: The bidding marks West with the missing aces, and it’s unlikely he would have led a spade with five diamonds and side entries in spades and hearts. If he has the C Q at least doubleton, he would have a balanced 15-count (with the useful S 10) and surely would have opened 1 NT; so the C Q is with East (else singleton in West).

Tim Dickinson: … East is virtually marked with the C Q due to West’s failure to open 1 NT. Clubs just might be 4-1 (West could be 3=4=5=1…), so running the C 10 is the move.

Manuel Paulo: West must have both red aces; if he has the C Q as well, his distribution can’t be balanced. He may have S K-Q-10 H A D A-x-x-x-x C Q-x-x-x, but this is several times less likely than S K-Q-10 H A-x-x-x D A-x-x-x-x C x; so I envisage the hypothesis of East’s clubs being Q-9-x-x.

Sheldon Spier: As West has three spades, he will almost certainly have even distribution if he has 2+ clubs; and the C Q would give him 15 HCP. So I’ll play him for a stiff C Q, or [finesse against East].

David Kenward: West might have opened 1 NT with the C Q, so I’ll play East for it.

Sebastien Louveaux: Carding shows that East has the S J, and with an ace in addition he’d have bid 1 S. Therefore, West has 13 visible points; and with the C Q in addition, he [probably] would have opened 1 NT.

Mark Lincoln: … If West is balanced,…East has the C Q… If West is unbalanced, he has either a stiff heart (3=1=5=4) or a stiff club (3=4=5=1), either of which is unlikely since he has [little] reason not to lead his five-card suit. …

Jordi Sabate: West must have S K-Q, H A and D A, so there’s no room for the C Q if he has a balanced hand… With an unbalanced hand [such as] S K-Q-10 H A D A-x-x-x-x C Q-x-x-x, he would have led a diamond. So I play East for the C Q, and run the C 10 in case West has S K-Q-10 H A-x-x-x D A-x-x-x-x C x…

Paul Meerschaert: Seems I need both red aces with West; and since he didn’t open 1 NT, he is unlikely to have the C Q. This picks up C Q-9-x-x with East.

Thibault Wolf: West probably has S K-Q-10 H A-x-x-x D A-x-x-x C x-x (he did not open 1 NT). West may have a singleton club, so the C 10 must be led to win against Q-9-x-x in East.

Dmitri Shabes: As East passed 1 D with S J-9-8-6, he is unlikely to have [six hearts], so West is either short in clubs or balanced without the C Q (no 1 NT opener).

Douglas Dunn: Looks like East started with S J-9-8-6, so West must have both aces, likely on the bidding. Warning bell is that he didn’t open 1 NT so probably hasn’t the C Q. I’ll watch West’s discards to decide which red suit to play first.

Bill Powell: West didn’t open 1 NT so probably doesn’t have the C Q. With 3=4=5=1 shape, he’s unlikely to have led a spade — but stranger things have happened.

Timothy Liang Kan: West didn’t open 1 NT, and I’ll guard against C Q-9-x-x with East.

Paul Huggins: West is marked with S K-Q, H A and D A, and a likely balanced hand,…so I’ll finesse East for the C Q. … Running the C 10 works better than finessing the C J, as it picks up C Q-9-x-x…

Ed Barnes: West probably holds S K-Q-10 H A-x-x D A-x-x-x C x-x-x; but just in case there’s some way he can hold a singleton club, I’d better lead the 10.

Jean-Christophe Clement: Hoping East has the S J and no ace. East probably has the C Q, else West [likely] would have opened 1 NT.

Jon Greiman: I must assume East does not hold a red ace, else I am doomed. This gives West 13 HCP, and with the C Q he would’ve opened 1 NT. I assume West is balanced; otherwise he would’ve led from a longer suit. …

Mike Cassel: West [probably] would open 1 NT if holding both red aces and the C Q. If East holds a red ace, the contract cannot be made.

Mauri Saastamoinen: … West must have S K-Q-10 and both red aces; therefore, if balanced (likely because he didn’t lead his long suit) he cannot own the C Q. This play insures against West’s S K-Q-10 H A-x-x-x D A-x-x-x-x C x (at the end I will play the red suit in which West has fewer cards). It won’t be a problem as long as I know West has three or four hearts; if he discards one heart, I will play more hearts; if not, I will play diamonds.

Subhransu Patnaik: … West is likely to have S K-Q-10 and both aces, so he’s unlikely to have the C Q since he didn’t open 1 NT. So I’ll play East for the C Q, and running the C 10 takes care of C Q-9-x-x (H Q is entry to repeat the finesse).

Micah Fogel: To justify West’s opening, he must have both red aces. If he also has the C Q, he might have opened 1 NT, so I’m playing East for the C Q. If East has C Q-9-x-x, this is the only way to pick it up. …

Omer Kizilok: West’s hand [should] be balanced (3=3=4=3 or 3=4=4=2), otherwise he [probably] would have led a diamond; so I expect the C Q is with East.

Robert Sandor: East will need to have the fourth spade;…and West the red-suit aces, which gives him 13 HCP. Since West opened 1 D (not 1 NT), I’ll play East for the C Q.

Michael Palitsch: If West is balanced, he can’t have the C Q. If unbalanced, his only [probable] singleton is in clubs. If I am right, this will make four club tricks.

If West is balanced, I see no problem. It’s when he’s deranged that I worry.

Richard Stein: After looking at East-West’s convention card and finding their notrump range is 15-17, I’ll play East for the C Q. If East [covers the C 10] with Q-9-x-x, I can [use] the H Q entry to finish the clubs.

Rich Regan: Opponents have 16 HCP, and East has the S J. West is [likely] to be balanced, so he is unlikely to have 15 HCP. … I am convinced East has the C Q.

Terry Lillie: I am going to play West for 3=4=5=1 distribution and both aces.

Gerald Cohen: West’s failure to open 1 NT suggests the C Q is with East. (If East has a red ace, I will lose three spades and two aces regardless of where the C Q is.) This is better than Line F because clubs may be 4-1.

Sandy Barnes: Since I need both aces in the same hand that lacks the 13th spade, it has to be West. Add in the C Q, and he [probably] opens 1 NT.

Jack Shinehoft: … To make this contract, West must have S K-Q-10 alone and the two missing aces; if he had the C Q as well, he [probably] would have opened 1 NT. Therefore, East should have the C Q.

Teymur Tahseen: East’s S 9 must be genuine, so West has both red aces and three spades. … The lead from a three-card suit does not necessarily mean that West [is balanced]; but East is much more likely to have the non-stiff C Q.

Gerald Murphy: … I expect West to hold the two outstanding aces and no more spades. He is [probably] 3=3=4=3 or 3=4=4=2, so with the C Q he would have 15 HCP and open 1 NT…

Brian Meyer: Looks like West is balanced without 15 HCP, so East has the C Q. If East covers [with C Q-9-x-x], I’ll play a heart to the queen to hook against the C 9.

Problem 5

IMPsS A J 10 3WestNorthEastSouth
None vulH Q 4 2LHOPartnerRHOYou
D A 4 32 H2 S
C 7 4 3Pass4 SPassPass
Table Pass
Lead: H 7East plays H 9 
 
 
S K 7 6 5 4
H K 8
D K 8 2
4 S SouthC A 8 2

After winning the H K:

Next PlayAwardVotesPercent
A. Win S A, run S J1029126
F. Duck a club9868
C. Win S K, finesse S J647042
D. Lead the H 84646
B. Win S K, S A317616
E. Duck a diamond1212

You could almost expect to get overboard after overcalling on a balanced hand with a bad suit, but we’ve all done worse things (I’ll spare you my list in case Santa happens to read this). Partner, also, might have taken a conservative view and bid only 3 S; or better yet, 3 NT*, which only requires spades to run. Oh well; Christmas is a time for miracles, so maybe you’re about to be blessed.

*More realistic, perhaps, would be a 3 H cue-bid by partner, and then pass when you bid 3 NT.

Picking up the trump suit is just part of the problem, as you still need a 10th trick from apparently nowhere. Based on the known heart break, the percentage play in spades is to cash the king and finesse against West.* Unfortunately, playing East for a singleton spade eliminates almost any chance to make the contract. You must listen to all the bells, not just the tinkling of the trump suit — that’s the PavCo version of not seeing the forest for the trees.

*In this common situation, playing to drop the queen (2-2 break) is the proper technique when you have no outside information about the enemy distribution, or if what you know is equal. If one defender has two or more known cards than his partner, odds favor finessing his partner for the queen. (A one-card differential makes the finesse-drop odds exactly even.)

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: God is not dead nor doth He sleep.”

You’re approaching the belfry now, and the pealing cannot be ignored. Your only realistic hopes for a 10th trick are to develop an endplay to force a ruff and discard, or to squeeze West; and for either of these to work, you need West to be 5-5 in the minors. In fact, you cannot fail against this distribution with proper play. Consider this layout:

IMPsS A J 10 3TrickLead2nd3rd4th
None vulH Q 4 21. WH 729K
D A 4 32. SS 4!9A2
C 7 4 33. NS J85!C 6
S 9 TableS Q 8 24. NS 10QKD 6
H 7 3H A J 10 9 6 55. SC 2!935
D Q J 9 7 6D 10 56. WH 34108
C K J 10 9 6C Q 5continued below…
S K 7 6 5 4
H K 8
D K 8 2
4 S SouthC A 8 2

After winning the H K, you begin by cashing the S A and running the jack (Line A). It is strange to play the weak two-bidder for S Q-x-x, but you need East to be 3=6=2=2, so you play for it. Continue with the S 10 to pick up East’s last trump, then duck a club — the key play to tune your bells for the final chorus. Suppose West wins the club and leads a heart to East’s 10, leaving this position with East on lead:

S win 6 S 3TrickLead2nd3rd4th
H Q7. ED 10K!73
D A 4 38. SC A!104Q
C 7 49. SD 29A5
S TableS10. NH QAC 8!D J
HH A J 6 5East is endplayed
D Q J 9 7D 10 5
C K J 10C Q
S 7 6
H
D K 8 2
East leadsC A 8

If East routinely leads the H A, you must not ruff but pitch a loser (either minor is OK) to rectify the count for a squeeze against West. What if East isn’t so obliging? Suppose instead he leads a diamond to attack your squeeze entries. Now you switch horses! Win the D K, cash the C A, cross to the D A, lead the H Q and pitch a loser; East must lead another heart for a ruff-sluff. (The same ending would develop if West didn’t lead a second heart when he won the club.)

A close second goes to ducking a club immediately (Line F), as it is likely to succeed in practice. The winning defense is difficult: After West leads a second heart and you pitch a loser on the H A, East must lead a fourth heart to allow West to uppercut dummy with the S 9 to promote a trump trick. Could an expert East work this out? Doubtful at best. Further, if East’s spades are Q-9-8, there is no defense.

Finessing West for the S Q (Line C) gets third place, as it succeeds in the rare event East is 1=6=1=5 or 1=6=5=1 (or 1=6=4=2 with D Q-J-10-9). These hands, however, are even less likely than normal odds since many Easts would not open 2 H with 6-5 shape; and some who did would bid 5 C or 5 D over 4 S. (Don’t ask me what I would do, as I’ll take the Fifth.) It is also worth noting that Line C will avoid a second undertrick more often than any other spade play.

Leading a heart at trick two (Line D) is poor, as the aforementioned technique of pitching on the third heart to prepare for a squeeze will fail; East can shift to a diamond before you can duck a club to rectify the count.*

*Your only chance then would be a delayed-duck squeeze, which requires West to have C K-Q-J-10-9 (virtually impossible as he would have led the C K) or fail to unblock so that East can win the defenders’ club trick.

Curiously, playing for 2-2 spades (Line B) offers almost no chance. If East is 2=6=4=1 or 2=6=1=4, you can’t develop a ruff-sluff endplay*; and hoping for 2=6=5=0 or 2=6=0=5 is living in dream world.

*There are a few specific diamond holdings that allow you to succeed against 2=6=4=1, but playing for this shape is outlandish. East would almost surely win the H A at trick one and shift to his singleton club (plus West might have led a club originally or bid 3 C over 2 S).

Worst of all is to duck a diamond immediately (Line E), which I believe only works if East has S x-x and a blank C K — but I’m not sure of this and will invoke my holiday privilege to call it a wrap. Hey! We have bowl games to watch around here.

Comments for A. Win S A, run S J

Tim DeLaney: I can succeed…if West can be squeezed in the minors, which means that he must be 1=2=5=5. Therefore, East has the guarded S Q. [When I later duck a club], opponents must play hearts to prevent an endplay against East, but this rectifies the count for a squeeze against West.

Bruce Neill: Hoping East is 3=6=2=2. After drawing trumps, I duck a club. If West wins and continues hearts, I [pitch a loser] and later squeeze West; if not, I can endplay East.

Perry Groot: Only chance is a minor-suit squeeze against West (or a throw-in against East), which means East must be 3=6=2=2. I pull trumps (else West may uppercut) then duck a club.

Rainer Herrmann: Only chance seems to be to find East with 3=6=2=2. In this case, East-West can defeat either the minor-suit squeeze against West or the strip endplay against East, but not both.

Lajos Linczmayer: If East’s shape is 3=6=2=2, I can make the contract. Maybe, if I knew my opponents were also in 4 S (3 NT is better), I should play West for the S Q.

Carsten Kofoed: I can’t understand why I shall have all the presents, but I need West to be 5-5 in the minors; therefore, a singleton spade.

Jim Munday: I need West to guard both minors to have a chance, so I need East to be 3=6=2=2, and thus take the counterintuitive spade play. Next I will duck a club. If the opponents play two rounds of hearts, I will discard to rectify the count; otherwise, I will endplay East with the third heart after cashing minor winners.

Leif-Erik Stabell: I need to find East with 3=6=2=2 distribution, so to play spades another way is [almost] a non-starter.

Eduard Munteanu: To make the contract, I need West to guard both minors; so East must be 3=6=2=2. …

Thijs Veugen: Four spades can be made when East has S Q-x-x H A-J-10-x-x-x D x-x C x-x. I will draw trumps and duck a club, which will either lead to an endplay against East or a squeeze against West.

Steve White: To squeeze West in the minors, East must be 3=6=2=2. Depending on the defense,…I might endplay East instead of squeezing West; but I still need that shape.

Zahary Zahariev: Even if I catch the S Q, I still have four losers; so I need to endplay East or squeeze West, depending on the defense. Both [endings] need the same: East unable to guard the third round of either minor. So I play East for 3=6=2=2.

Michael Gill: West must be 1=2=5=5 for me to have any chance. [After I draw trumps and duck a club], if opponents clear hearts, I pitch on the third round and squeeze West. [Otherwise], I strip East’s minors and throw him in with hearts until I get a ruff-sluff.

Madhukar Bapu: … Unless West is 1=2=5=5, I can proceed to the next board. … After drawing trumps, I duck a club. If the defense gets cheeky and returns a minor suit, I will cash all my minor-suit winners and endplay East in hearts to get a ruff and discard. If the defense continues hearts, I will discard on the third round to rectify the count to squeeze West in the minors.

Steve Barcus: To achieve an elimination, or alternatively to squeeze West in the minors, I will play East for 3=6=2=2.

Jonathan Mestel: Opponents can’t avoid both the squeeze and the endplay when I later duck a club, and East is 3=6=2=2.

Joon Pahk: I’m going to have to squeeze West in the minors eventually, so I have to hope East is 3=6=2=2. Quite likely, this play will result in an extra undertrick — but nobody doubled, right?

Barry White: If East holds S Q-x-x H A-J-10-9-x-x D J-x C Q-x or similar, I can squeeze West in the minors or the possibility of a ruff-sluff endplay against East looms large. … I must draw trumps immediately to avoid a trump-promotion chance.

John Reardon: I hope East has S Q-x-x H A-J-10-x-x-x D x-x C x-x. After drawing trumps, I will duck a club…

Julian Pottage: The real problem is to avoid four losers in the side suits, and the best chance for this is for East to be 3=6=2=2.

Rob Stevens: I need a squeeze, and this is only possible if East has no more than two clubs and two diamonds. Therefore, I play him for three spades.

Giles Woodruff: I need some sort of endplay or squeeze. An endplay seems unlikely with good defense, so I [hope to] squeeze West, which probably needs East to be 3=6=2=2.

Anthony Golding: I need West to be 5-5 in the minors to squeeze him for a 10th trick.

Imre Csiszar: This can be made…if East is 2-2 in the minors. I draw trumps (finessing East) and duck a club. Depending on the defense, I will then either endplay East in hearts, or squeeze West in the minors.

John Lusky: My only chance seems to be to find East with 3=6=2=2 pattern; then I can pull trumps and duck a club. If opponents now play hearts, I can pitch a club on the third heart to rectify the count for a minor-suit squeeze. If opponents instead play a minor, I can cash the minor-suit tops and throw East in with a heart for a ruff and discard.

Venkatesh Ramaratnam: East must be 3=6=2=2 for any chance. After drawing three rounds of trumps, I duck a club; then I play for a minor-suit squeeze against West or an endplay against East, depending on the defense.

Julian Wightwick: How do we get to 3 NT? Ten tricks seem a long way off. I had better hope East is 3=6=2=2. Once I’ve picked up trumps, I’ll duck a club. If opponents continue hearts, I’ll pitch a diamond on the third heart and [later] squeeze West. If instead they lead a minor suit, I cash the minor-suit tops and exit in hearts, pitching on the third heart to force a ruff and sluff.

Ron Mak: I need to find East with 3=6=2=2 in order to squeeze West in the minors for a 10th trick. On any other layout, I’d rather be in 3 NT.

David Caprera: At first I thought that immediately ducking a club worked as well, but it might lose to an uppercut (admittedly a tough defense to find).

Wei Victor Zhang: Even if I [pick up] spades, I still have four losers. A minor-suit squeeze against West will eliminate one loser, but it requires East to have short diamonds and clubs; so I have to assume East has three spades.

N. Scott Cardell: This is my only plausible chance to make the contract. If East is 3=6=2=2, West can be squeezed in the minors, or East can be endplayed, depending on how they defend. This is far more likely that finding East with a 6-5 hand (so that I can endplay him a different way). Also, with 1=6=5=1 East might win his H A and fire back his singleton club. After drawing trumps, I duck a club. …

Manuel Paulo: I can win if East has a hand like S x-x H A-J-10-9-x-x D Q-10-9-x C x*, but this is far-fetched. I hope for a more common hand, e.g., S Q-x-x H A-J-10-9-x-x D x-x C x-x; so I will draw trumps, duck a club, and squeeze West in the minors (or endplay East).

*Manuel’s subtle technique is to draw trumps and lead the D 8, then East can be forced to win an early diamond trick; later East can be endplayed with the third heart (pitching a club) to force a ruff and discard. -RP

Jon Sorkin: I need East to have nine major-suit cards to squeeze West in the minors. A premature club duck could lead to an uppercut.

David Kenward: Only chance I can see is to play West for 1=2=5=5 shape. Then I can either squeeze West or endplay East according to the defense.

Sebastien Louveaux: I see three chances: (1) an unlikely red-suit squeeze against East with 1=6=5=1, (2) a minor-suit squeeze against West with 1=2=5=5, or (3) a throw-in against East with 2=6=3=2 or 2=6=2=3 (guessing which). The throw-in seems best, however, East will easily see it coming and almost always be able to unblock. So I will play for the minor-suit squeeze. (If East has S Q-x, I will fall back on the throw-in.)

Paul Meerschaert: Looks like I need East to have 3=6=2=2 distribution, so I can catch West in a minor-suit squeeze.

Simon Cheung: A slim chance is to play for an endplay against East, forcing him to lead away from the H A; but it is likely to work only when East…forgets to unblock. … Actually, I hope to drop a singleton S Q with West, as [some] Easts would not open 2 H with S Q-x-x…

Baran Karakurt: … Best chance is to squeeze West, which is possible only if West is 1=2=5=5.

Dmitri Shabes: Only decent plan is to play East for 3=6=2=2, so I draw trumps and duck a club. Depending on the defense, I will then either endplay East in hearts or squeeze West in the minors.

Joshua Donn: I think my best chance it to squeeze West in the minors, meaning he has to be 1=2=5=5. Actually, I don’t think it’s the best chance — just that I’m missing something better. :)

Pire Cusi: My only hope is long spades with East, so I’ll begin with that.

Rich Johnson: This contract is going to need a lot of Christmas good will!

Ed Barnes: Best is to hope East is 2-2 in the minors, so I can squeeze West.

Gonzalo Goded: This seems so unlikely, but I can’t find anything better. I need East to be 3=6=2=2 (e.g., S Q-x-x H A-J-10-9-x-x D J-x C Q-x). I better make this, too, or partner will crush me for my weird overcall.

Jean-Christophe Clement: Only hope is that West guards both minors; if so, he has only one spade.

David Hodge: Only legitimate plays for the contract seem to be West with 3=2=2=6 or 1=2=5=5, and I go for the latter (which accounts for more hands) since there is no safe way to combine chances…— unless East has a singleton [or doubleton] S Q so I know to change plans. …

Mauri Saastamoinen: West has to be 5-5 in the minors, so East is 3=6=2=2. I play three rounds of trumps and duck a club. If the defense continues (1) either minor, I strip East’s minors and play the H Q, allowing East to enjoy one more heart trick, then a fourth round gives me the contract, or (2) hearts, I discard (say, a diamond) on the third heart, then I can squeeze West in the minors.

Subhransu Patnaik: I hope East is 3=6=2=2. After drawing trumps, I duck a club. If hearts are played, I concede two hearts, and later squeeze West in minors. If a minor suit is played, I win both top diamonds and the C A, then throw East in with heart; after winning two hearts, East must give a ruff and discard.

Jyrki Lahtonen: I can’t find an unbreakable way to endplay East, so I’ll try to squeeze West in the minors. For this to operate, East should be 2-2 in the minors; therefore, he ought to have three trumps.

Micah Fogel: I don’t like my chances, but if pick up trumps this way, I have nine tricks and can look toward a squeeze against West for 10. (East can’t be squeezed unless he has a side five-card minor, which is pretty wild.) …

Richard Stein: This line looks wacky, but I need East to be 2-2 in the minors so he can be endplayed, or West can be squeezed. … If I don’t draw trumps first, a fourth heart may promote a trump trick for East.

Terry Lillie: I will need a squeeze against West in the minors, so I’ll play East for S Q-x-x.

Frans Buijsen: My only chance is to squeeze West in the minors, for which he must be 1=2=5=5. So I have to play East for three trumps.

Barry Rigal: I need a minor-suit squeeze to give me a chance. My best hope is that East is 3=6=2=2, then I can either squeeze West or strip out the minors and endplay East.

Alon Amsel: A squeeze against West in the minors only works if East is 3=6=2=2. Ducking a club [immediately] might allow a fatal [fourth] heart from East.

Daniel de Lind van Wijngaarden: I need West to hold 5-5 in the minors, so I can squeeze him for the 10th trick. With East having six hearts, West will have a singleton spade.

Roger Morton: I think East must have a doubleton in each minor (3=6=2=2) for this contract to have a chance. I can then engineer a minor-suit squeeze against West, or leave East on lead with a third heart for a ruff an discard, depending on whether the defense attacks diamonds after I duck a club.

Nigel Guthrie: Best hope is that West can be squeezed with 5-5 in the minors.

Problem 6

IMPsS A K Q 5 2WestNorthEastSouth
N-S vulH Q 10 8LHOPartnerRHOYou
D A 73 DDblPass4 H
C A 10 4Pass5 DPass6 C
Table Pass6 HPassPass
Lead: D QEast plays D 8 Pass
 
 
S 4
H A 9 7 5 3 2
D K 9
6 H SouthC Q 9 7 2

PlayAwardVotesPercent
F. Win D K, lead H 21022320
A. Win D A, run H Q939335
D. Win D K, S A, run H Q814513
B. Win D A, run H 10512611
E. Win D K, H A417015
C. Win D A, lead H 10 to ace2515

Six hearts is an optimistic contract but aided by your 6 C bid inhibiting the killing lead. Some would argue that 6 C showed a control with hearts implicitly agreed, but I think the first priority of a cue-bid on preempted auctions is to seek another strain, as it’s the only available means; hence, 6 C showed a suit (nonforcing). Anyway, you landed on your feet.

How should you play trumps? Normally, the percentage play with this combination is to cash the ace; but the bidding quickly quells that idea. With West known to have long diamonds (probably seven from East’s D 8 signal at trick one) and a weak hand (probably no outside king), indications are to finesse hearts through East. Leading the H Q stands out a mile, as it will pick up the entire suit if West has a blank jack. Consider a likely layout:

IMPsS A K Q 5 2TrickLead2nd3rd4th
N-S vulH Q 10 81. WD QA?89
D A 72. NH QKA4
C A 10 43. SH 2D 210J
S 9 6 TableS J 10 8 7 34. ES J!46Q
H 4H K J 6Declarer fails
D Q J 10 6 5 4 2D 8 3
C J 6 5C K 8 3
S 4
H A 9 7 5 3 2
D K 9
6 H SouthC Q 9 7 2

Suppose you win the D A and thrust the H Q (Line A). East covers, so you win and lead a second heart to the 10, jack. East will shift to the S J (routine for any expert) to attack your communication. Now you must rely on a 4-3 spade break, so you’re down.

“The wrong shall fail, the right prevail; with peace on earth, good will to men.”

The wrong certainly did fail. The bells peal a little softer this time, but the right can prevail. You must adopt a slightly inferior play in the trump suit (Line F) to preserve entries for a squeeze.

IMPsS A K Q 5 2TrickLead2nd3rd4th
N-S vulH Q 10 81. WD Q7!8K
D A 72. SH 2!410J
C A 10 43. ES J46A
S 9 6 TableS J 10 8 7 34. NH Q63D 2
H 4H K J 65. NH 8KAD 4
D Q J 10 6 5 4 2D 8 36. SH 9D 5C 4D 3
C J 6 5C K 8 37. SH 7D 6C 10C 3
S 4continued below…
H A 9 7 5 3 2
D K 9
6 H SouthC Q 9 7 2

Win the opening lead in hand to preserve dummy’s entry, and start hearts low to the 10 — not the H 8 as that would block the suit. When East wins the H J, he cannot drive out both the D A and S A, so suppose he returns a spade. Finesse and lead all but one trump to reach:

H win 6 S K Q 5 2TrickLead2nd3rd4th
H8. SD 9!10AC 8
D A9. NS K3C 29
C A10. NS Q7C 7D J
S 9 TableS 10 8 7 311. NC A!
HHDeclarer succeeds
D J 10D
C J 6 5C K 8
S
H 5
D 9
South leadsC Q 9 7 2

Next cross to the D A, and East is squeezed. There is no guess involved, because cashing top spades will reveal whether the long spade can be established; and if not, there’s nothing to do but cash the C A and hope the king drops. Note that if East instead knocked out the D A, you’d have a spade entry to dummy, and East would be squeezed in the same manner.

If East unexpectedly returns a club when he wins a heart trick, a curious predicament arises. Suppose you guess wrong in playing the queen (or low). Should you play for a simple squeeze against East with the missing club honor and 4+ spades? Or should you assume West is 3=1=7=2 with C K-J and establish the long spade? Odds favor the former; but would East lead a club from an honor? Tough one.

It is true that Line F fails when West has H K-x (an expert would duck smoothly) or K-x-x; but these holdings greatly reduce the chance of a 4-3 spade break, so you’d probably fail with any play. Further, Line F recaptures some of the loss by gaining when West has H K-J or K-J-x.

Second place goes to the straightforward Line A, followed by the nearly identical Line D. I decided to make these close runners-up for two reasons: (1) If West is 2=2=7=2 with H J-x and C K-x, the slam will make on an endplay*, and (2) if West has a blank H J, you will probably make an overtrick, gaining an IMP.

*After the H Q is covered, win the ace and cash the remaining top diamond and two spades; then ruff a spade (with the H 7) and exit with a heart. Only risk is a stiff spade (almost impossible as it would have been led) or a stiff diamond (negligible, as West would hardly bid only 3 D with an eight-bagger).

Remaining options are much worse. Leading the H 10 through East (Line B) is poor because it loses both benefits described above for Lines A and D. Cashing the H A (Lines C and E) is softer still, though Line E retains squeeze chances if hearts break 2-2, provided you unblock the H 10 and H Q.

Comments for F. Win D K, lead H 2

Tim DeLaney: The bidding suggests East will have both missing kings, and he is sure to have longer spades as well. I will put in the H 10, and if East wins the jack, I will later run the queen. The D A or S A will serve as a late entry for a black-suit ruffout squeeze.

Bruce Neill: I hate to give up the chance of no heart loser (singleton H J West), but the greater risk is that East may have five spades. I want to keep entries to dummy for a possible trump squeeze in the blacks.

Perry Groot: As West did not start a side suit, if he has a singleton, it is most likely in trumps. Furthermore, East almost surely has the C K and spade length. … The D A must be kept for a possible trump squeeze in case East has five spades.

Rainer Herrmann: East probably holds both the C K and spade length, in which case all of dummy’s entries are needed for a trump squeeze, should East find the spade switch.

Lajos Linczmayer: This play is about 3-percent worse in hearts, but it’s essential if West has five spades and the C K.

Carsten Kofoed: This keeps my chance for a black-suit squeeze on East. If West has H K-x, he has certainly earned this last Christmas present.

Jim Munday: Playing East for both rounded kings and spade length. I have to be careful with entries; to squeeze East in the blacks, I need to keep the D A in dummy. Opponents can win the heart but cannot successfully attack entries. … If East wins the H J and returns a spade, I will finesse for the H K and lead all but one trump; a diamond to the ace will finish East.

Leif-Erik Stabell: East’s silence might indicate that he has only a doubleton diamond, in which case West probably has very few, if any, outside values. This play is essential if East has S J-x-x-x-x H K-J-x D x-x C K-x-x, as it is impossible for the opponents to break up the squeeze against East. …

Eduard Munteanu: Keeping all entries [to dummy] for a trump squeeze. I will fail if [West] plays small from H K-x.

Thijs Veugen: East is likely to have S J-10-x-x-x H K-J-x D x-x C K-x-x, so I need to save dummy’s entries (D A and S A) to perform a trump squeeze against East.

Steve White: I need to preserve the D A as a possible entry for a trump squeeze; opponents can’t knock out both diamond and spade entries.

Zahary Zahariev: There are two possibilities to avoid a trump loser: singleton king in East (unlikely on the bidding) or a singleton jack in West. The percentage play in trumps is to finesse twice, starting with queen…, [but doing that] loses an important entry for a squeeze. This play loses the chance to win six trumps,…but I will squeeze East if he has, e.g., S J-10-x-x-x H K-J-x D x-x C K-x-x. [Play described]. I will not calculate percentages, but experience says to bet on the second way.

Joel Wooldridge: Assuming East has something like S J-10-x-x-x H K-J-x D x-x C K-x-x, I need to preserve the D A as an entry for a ruffing squeeze. If I were to win the D A and play the H Q (cover) and another heart, East would win and lead a spade [to kill] the squeeze. I plan to finesse the H 10; and on [any return], I’ll float the H Q.

Michael Gill: I must keep the D A entry to dummy for a trump squeeze… I just want to play trumps for one loser; if my H 10 draws the jack, I’ll run the queen next round, since K-J-x onside seems more likely than K-x offside.

Madhukar Bapu: Winning the D A takes away a key entry to dummy. After winning the D K, the question is whether I should play the H A or a low one toward dummy; the latter appears right…

Charles Blair: To preserve a possible ruffing squeeze in spades and clubs.

Steve Barcus: I need to preserve an entry to dummy when East has five or six spades, and a trump squeeze is needed in the blacks. Otherwise, East could wreck my communication by returning a spade when he wins the heart.

Jonathan Mestel: The D A will be a late entry if East has S J-10-9-x-x H K-J-x D x-x C K-x-x [and returns a spade]. It’s going to be embarrassing if West has H K-x, but partner doesn’t have to play with me again until 2006.

Joon Pahk: Not the best way to play hearts in isolation, but this preserves entries for a squeeze against East if he holds…long spades and the C K

Dale Freeman: I cannot decide between this and Line A. I think I can squeeze East in the blacks (or set up the fifth spade) to have no club loser. If I try Line A…and a spade comes back, I have no squeeze when spades are 5-2. If East has H K-x and West a black-suit void, this costs a ruff. Ouch!

Dean Pokorny: Intending to run the H Q if the H 10 loses to the jack, and thereafter squeeze East in clubs and spades.

Imre Csiszar: Lines A and D are marginally superior in trumps but always lose if spades do not break (over 35 percent) provided opponents have a trump trick and attack dummy’s spade or diamond entry. This enables me to play simultaneously for a spade break and a spade-club [ruffout] squeeze against East — unless West wins the H K and leads a club, then I will play for a simple spade-club squeeze.

Ruud von Seida: This leaves the best chances for a squeeze against East if he has the C K…

Wei Victor Zhang: I must keep the D A entry for a possible spade-club squeeze against East. The chance of avoiding a trump loser with Line A (stiff H J West) is too slim; better to lose one trump trick but not a club.

Rob Balas: With the D Q lead, it seems unlikely that West has a singleton spade or club. … If he is 2=1=7=3 or 2=2=7=2, I need to win the D K in hand to keep a late entry to dummy for a ruffing squeeze assuming best defense (East needs C K). Leading a low heart also picks up 4-0 hearts…

N. Scott Cardell: Line A is tempting; but unless I get a minor miracle in hearts (stiff H J West), good defense will force me to rely on a 4-3 spade split. By keeping both the diamond and spade entries to dummy intact, I can squeeze East if he has spade length and the C K, so long as I hold my trump losers to one. …

Manuel Paulo: I can afford to lose one trump if spades break well, or if East is squeezed in the black suits. This play looks more flexible than trying to play trumps for no loser; East hands like S J-10-x-x-x H K-J-x D 8-x C K-x-x confirm it.

Sheldon Spier: Likely West shapes are 3=1=7=2, 2=1=7=3 and 2=2=7=2, as a stiff other than trumps would likely be led.

Mark Lincoln: I can cater for any trump split [if I guess it], but I need to keep my entries to dummy intact.

Bill Daly: Ordinarily, I’d prefer to run the H Q; but I need to preserve dummy’s entries for a trump squeeze in the black suits against East.

Jordi Sabate: I need all the entries in dummy in order to play the second round of trumps (run H Q) and to squeeze East in spades and clubs if necessary. If East has H K-J-x or K-J-x-x [and 5+ spades], this is the only way to succeed. …

Richard Morse: Trumps need guessing (probably H K-J-x with East), and I need an extra trick from spades or a spade-club squeeze against East. Entries are tight, so I’ll win the first trick in hand and get the trump loser over with. Whatever East returns, I will be in dummy to [run the H Q]…

Douglas Dunn: The warning bell: Why weren’t clubs led?

I considered that, too, in composing the problem so I had some ding-a-ling bid six clubs.

Timothy Liang Kan: This unenviable slam requires a trump squeeze on most layouts and no more than one trump loser. Winning the lead in dummy is an unaffordable luxury. One last wrinkle is to avoid blocking trumps. Phew! (Simultaneously conveying relief, exhaustion, and the general stinkiness of a slam requiring the right play, good guessing and luck.)

Joshua Donn: I have to win the D K first; else when I lose a trump, I’m down on a spade switch if spades are 5-2. I think it’s a clear favorite to play West for the shorter trump holding (in particular since he didn’t lead a black singleton); so I plan to win the return in dummy and hook hearts. Then I’ll play for a trump squeeze — or a simple squeeze if they took out my C A.

Mauri Saastamoinen: Have to be careful! Play goes: Heart to 10, jack; spade back; H Q (finessing); all hearts but one; and finally, a diamond to dummy as the squeeze card. …

Frans Buijsen: I’ll play West for a singleton heart. I don’t mind losing a [trump trick], since I can probably squeeze East in clubs and spades.

Junyi Zhu: Aiming for a ruffout squeeze by the D A after five rounds of trumps, in case a spade is returned…

Gerald Murphy: Planning to finesse the H 10, then (assuming a diamond return) run the H Q and lead all but one heart. East has to keep five spades and the C K; now I play spades to see how they break, and if 5-2, play the C A.

Final Notes

I hope you enjoyed this holiday contest, and that 2006 brings you good health and happiness. Thanks to all who entered, and especially those who offered Christmas wishes and/or kind remarks about my web site.

Comments are selected from those scoring 52 or higher (top 209) or in the overall Top 200 prior to this contest, and on each problem only those supporting the winning play. This may seem biased, but I feel it’s the best way to ensure solid content and avoid potential embarrassment in publishing comments that are flawed. On this basis, I included about 70 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.

“A voice, a chime, a chant sublime… peace on earth, good will to men.”

Longfellow’s last seven words are laudable goals but difficult to realize.
Alas, my last seven speakers are audible souls but difficult to ostracize:

Joshua Donn: I happen to like “The Chipmunk Song.”

Timothy Liang Kan: Cash tills ring, are you list’ning!

Jouko Paganus: I just heard Belladonna ringing the bells!

George Klemic: This seemed like a Christmas present — probably means I’ll score lower than Chicago’s weather.

Mark Kornmann: We’ll find out in January how many bats we still have in our belfries.

Allan Becker: You are right! Christians have more songs; but after taking this quiz, I have more ulcers.

Julian Lim: I hope my choices were appealing.

Analyses 8X64 MainChallengeScoresTop I Heard the Bells

Acknowledgments to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-82) and “I Heard the Bells”
© 2006 Richard Pavlicek