Analyses 8X80  MainChallenge

Six Against The Rock

Scores by Richard Pavlicek

These six play problems were published on the Internet in April 2006 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

Welcome to Solitary! So you really thought you could make it off The Rock, huh? Fat chance! The patrol boat should have left you for shark bait, but humanitarian principles forced us to save your ass. Now you’ll be with us for an extra 10 years, and your next six months will be in lock-up. There will be no more bridge books, or Friday night duplicates. In fact the only bridge you’ll see is the top of your nose. Guards? Lock him up!

Wow! This might explain the decline of bridge since mid-century. Blame it on Alcatraz!

Most tournament bridge players have an Alcatraz mentality — robbing the opponents blind, stealing overtricks, finding the killing lead — so I was delighted to take the boat trip to the island six years with my son Rich and Gary Schneider. Touring the prison complex was fascinating, but also haunting. As I entered one of the barren cells, an idea sprung to improve the quality of bridge: Reopen The Rock for overbidders! No, wait… this could be my cell.

Jonathan Mestel Wins!

This contest had 1056 participants from 115 locations, and the average score was 41.86. Congratulations to Jonathan Mestel (England) who submitted the only perfect score. Jonathan is a renowned Ph.D. (mathematics) and chess Grandmaster — make that a trifecta now with bridge a hobby. Jonathan also had the top score in February but was second by tiebreaker. Close behind at 59 were Cheng Chun Wei (Taiwan), John Reardon (England), Julka Kowalska (Poland), Marcin Zbroja (Poland), Roy Yu (China) and Rob Stevens (California).

Participation was up slightly from the last contest and the third highest of all (February 2005 had the most with 1153). The average score (41.86) was well above the all-time average of 39.55 (through 34 contests with 24,673 entries from 5136 persons), and 564 persons scored 42 or higher to make the listing.

Problems were generally clear-cut in determining the best plays (no frustrating all-nighters as in some past contests) though four of the runners-up earned 9 awards, in several cases due to the voting and comments received.

In the overall rankings, Rainer Herrmann (Germany) held his lead with a 60.00 average, but next time someone could pass him (one of his four 60s expires) so don’t give up! Only half a point behind with 59.50 is Jim Munday (California), followed by Rob Stevens (California) with 59.00 and current winner Jonathan Mestel with 58.75. Next with 58.50 are Leif-Erik Stabell (Zimbabwe) and Weidong Yang (China).

Charles Blair pointed out that my jailbird image is from the “Get Out of Jail Free” card in the Monopoly board game. I thought it looked familiar but was unaware, as I found it on an image search. No problem! PavCo will simply buy out Parker Brothers or Hasbro (or whomever). Then I will own the Monopoly rights, just like the Maltese Falcon, and half the state of New Jersey. Oh well; if they intend to sue me, they’ll have to wait in line.

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 4 3WestNorthEastSouth
None vulH K J 9 6LHOPartnerRHOYou
D Q 9 8 2PassPass1 H
C K 3 2Pass2 HPass4 H
Table PassPassPass
Lead: H 7East plays H 3 
S Q J 9
H A Q 10 4 2
D A 5 4
4 H SouthC A J

A. Win H 9, lead spade to queen1028527
E. Win H 10, lead diamond to queen822721
D. Win H 10, H 9, lead spade to queen631830
B. Win H 9, lead spade to nine4323
C. Win H 9, C A, C K, ruff club high313513
F. Win H 10, lead diamond to nine2596

The Bay waters look calmer than usual, which is a welcome sight as Escape Day arrives. If you could make it to the South Rocks undetected, a leisurely start on the grueling swim might be just what you need to reach the mainland. Likewise on this first problem, a leisurely start might be just what you need to get help from an opponent.

Leading to the S Q early seems right, as spades is the only suit in which you lack control; and it gives West a chance to help, e.g., by leading a club into your A-J. The question is whether to do this immediately (Line A), or to cash a second trump first (Line D). Superficially, the latter seems better, as it may remove a safe trump exit from West. Consider this layout:

IMPsS 4 3TrickLead2nd3rd4th
None vulH K J 9 61. WH 76?310
D Q 9 8 22. SH 2?59C 4
C K 3 23. NS 38QA
S A 10 6 2 TableS K 8 7 54. WH 8JC 54
H 8 7 5H 35. NS 4K92
D J 7 3D K 10 66. ES 5J6D 2
C 10 8 6C Q 9 7 5 47. SD 43QK
S Q J 98. ED 6A78
H A Q 10 4 2Declarer fails
D A 5 4
4 H SouthC A J

Suppose you win two trumps and lead a spade to the queen (Line D). West wins the ace and returns his last trump, which you win in dummy to lead another spade. East wins the S K and returns a spade; then you cannot combine chances in diamonds and clubs. If you lead a diamond to the queen, a diamond return leaves you with insufficient entries to benefit from the favorable club layout. You could succeed, of course, by leading a diamond to the nine; but this is double-dummy, as it surrenders your best chance that West has the D K.

The main point is not to give up your two basic chances (D K West or C Q East), and only Line A allows this to be postponed.* Win the H 9 and lead a spade to the queen; West wins and returns a trump to the jack, as you unblock the 10 (important). Lead a second spade, won by East, who returns a spade to your jack, as you pitch a diamond from dummy. Next lead a diamond to the queen, king; win the diamond return, and lead the H Q to the king. Finesse the C J (finally something works), cash the C A, and lead the carefully preserved H 4 to dummy. Whew!

*Unless one opponent has six spades, and three rounds of spades are led immediately; but this is far-fetched considering both nonvulnerable opponents could have made a weak 2 S bid.

It is also worth noting that not drawing a second trump is more likely to give West a problem. For example, if West has S K-10-x-x H 8-7-5 D J-x-x C Q-10-x, upon winning the S K he might play you for S A-Q-J H A-Q-10-x-x D A C x-x-x-x, against which he must shift to the C Q (or 10); but he would never do this if East were able to pitch a low club.

Second place goes to the straightforward attempt to combine two even-money* chances with Line E. If West has the D K, you’re home immediately**; and if not, you have two trump entries to dummy to benefit from East having the C Q.

*Ostensibly, this amounts to a 74-percent chance, but West’s choice to make a protective trump lead increases it slightly. If you assume that West is, say, 60 percent to have any honor, it becomes: 60 + (40 x 40) = 76 percent.

**Barring a ruff, which is negligible after a trump lead.

Third place goes to drawing a second trump before leading a spade to the queen (Line D). While this works fine if trumps are 2-2, it loses to common layouts (like the diagram) and routine defense. Also note that you cannot change plans after discovering the 3-1 trump break, as you’ll be in the wrong hand to start diamonds.

A distant fourth goes to the unnatural finesse of the S 9 (Line B), spurning the virtually sure tactic of leading toward each honor.* If this loses to the 10, you can’t combine your two basic chances after any reasonable defense. Suppose a trump comes back and they split 2-2. If you lead a diamond to the queen and king, a diamond return knocks out your ace before you can ruff a spade to reach dummy. If you lead a second spade, a third spade taps dummy before you can lead diamonds.

*West logically cannot have both S A-K after his trump lead, so the strategy starting with Line A is almost foolproof.

Other plays are worse. Ruffing out clubs (Line C) not only eliminates clubs but one of your chances as well, and your plan is then an open book.* Leading a diamond to the nine (Line F) gives up your best chance of all, that West has the D K.

*Essentially, this puts all your eggs in one basket (diamonds), but it improves that basket by preparing an endplay. Indeed, an endplay can work against any diamond layout, but you have to guess what to play for. After eliminating both black suits, best odds are to play ace and another diamond to the queen; then East will be endplayed if you lose to a doubleton king. Unfortunately, this only amounts to about 61 percent, well short of the 74+ percent basic chance.

Comments for A. Win H 9, lead spade to queen

Jonathan Mestel: First lead toward two queens, then toward two jacks. If West has S A-K-x-x H x-x-x D J-x-x C x-x-x, he found a good lead.

John Reardon: This not only gives West a chance to err but maintains entries to fall back on the 75-percent chance Line E already offers.

Rob Stevens: Keeps open the possibility of both diamond and club finesses, and allows an opponent to err.

Bruce Neill: My main plan is try a diamond to the queen; then if that fails, a club to the jack. Meanwhile, if I conceal my hand, I give West a chance to err; with, say, S K-x-x-x-x H x-x D J-x-x-x C Q-x, he might switch to the C Q in case I have S A-Q-J H A-Q-10-x-x-x D A C x-x-x.

Thijs Veugen: At first glance it seems that either the D K or C Q have to be onside, but I’ll try to gather some more information first. …

Lajos Linczmayer: It looks like hearts are 2-2. If I lead a spade at trick two, West may return a club, supposing I have, e.g., S Q-J-9-x H A-Q-10-x-x-x D A C x-x, or S A-Q-J-9 H A-Q-10-x-x-x D x C x-x.

Bill Jacobs: What do you want from me, RP? I will put the pressure on West — then RIP.

Nigel Guthrie: I hope West errs.

John Lusky: On the assumption that West would have led a top spade holding S A-K, I will still have time and trump entries to lead toward the D Q, then take the club finesse if that fails. The advantage is that sometimes West will do the wrong thing. For example, he may shift to a club honor from S K-x-x-x H x-x D 10-x-x C Q-10-x-x, fearing that I have S A-Q-J H A-Q-10-x-x D A-J C x-x-x — indeed, more likely than my actual holding, on which I might have bid 3 NT.

Mauri Saastamoinen: What will poor West lead next if he has something like S K-x-x-x H x-x C J-x-x, Q-10-x-x? I may as well have S A-Q-J H A-Q-10-x-x-x D A C x-x-x. Isn’t there an old saying, “If you give him enough rope…?”

Dawei Chen: This is the best start, as it keeps all options open and gives chances for error.

Jon Helgason: West is unlikely to have both S A-K, so it makes sense to investigate further before committing to a line of play in the minors.

Quentin Stephens: … The lead is troubling, possibly indicating West has honors in the other suits: S K (but not S A), D K and C Q…

Only thing troubling me is why your parents named you after a prison.

Tim DeLaney: The default chance is to play a diamond to the queen, and to fall back on the club finesse. As long as I retain entries for that plan, I should give the opponents a chance to help.

Audrey Kueh: No idea what I’m doing — just rectifying the count!

Peter Breuer: … If trumps do not break evenly, I should try to establish a spade winner… On the way, I may be given a club trick for free.

Michael Palitsch: Assuming that West’s lead denies S A-K and a singleton heart.

Micah Fogel: I’ll be in Solitary when this rides around to Lefty, who then tables a diamond, [ruffed by] Righty. …

Samuel Krikler: The top spade honors are probably divided because the suit was not led.

Tim Dickinson: Better not to give an opponent with a singleton trump a chance to signal.

Anthony Golding: I’ll try to find out about the location of the outstanding high cards before touching diamonds… and West may do something helpful now.

Barry Rigal: This makes it tough for the defense to stay passive. Leading a diamond to the queen is 75 percent (either minor-suit honor well-placed), but I can fall back on this later.

Problem 2

IMPsS A J 2WestNorthEastSouth
N-S vulH A K J 2LHOPartnerRHOYou
D A K 41 NTPass
C J 5 2PassDblPass2 S
Table Pass3 SPass4 S
Lead: C 10East wins C Q PassPassPass
S K 9 8 7 6 5
H 4 3
D J 10 8
4 S SouthC 6 4

You play the C 2 at trick one, and East continues C K-A, which you ruff.

Next PlayAwardVotesPercent
D. Finesse the S J1017316
B. Win S A, S K, H A-K, ruff heart931430
A. Win S A, S K, lead spade823122
E. Win H A-K, ruff heart613213
C. Win S A, lead S J and duck queen416416
F. Win D A-K, lead diamond1424

Search beams crisscross the Bay, as you hide near some rocks on the shore, almost completely under water. Hopefully, things will quiet down soon; then after you’re “declared dead,” you can swim at a leisurely pace. With a little finesse, you should be home free — and so it will be with this problem.

East is marked with all the missing high cards for his opening bid, so you can forget about a finesse working in the normal sense. As my Uncle Cedric wrote, “The shortest route to dummy is not always a straight line but a space-time continuum… A finesse that works is often a losing finesse.” East is ripe for a red-suit squeeze, and because of entry problems, the only way to ensure its success is to take a finesse that you know will lose — or win, as it’s just a matter of relativity. Consider a typical layout:

IMPsS A J 2TrickLead2nd3rd4th
N-S vulH A K J 21. WC 102Q4
D A K 42. EC K635
C J 5 23. EC AS 57J
S 3 TableS Q 10 44. SS 63J!Q
H 8 7 6H Q 10 9 55. ES 47C 9A
D 7 6 5 3D Q 9 26. ND A283
C 10 9 8 7 3C A K Q7. ND K!9105
S K 9 8 7 6 58. NS 210KD 6
H 4 39. SS 9C 8D 4H 5
D J 10 8continued below…
4 S SouthC 6 4

After ruffing the third club, you should immediately finesse the S J (Line D). When East wins the S Q, he will return a trump, of course, which you win with the ace. Next cash D A-K (Vienna coup) and two more trumps to reach this position with the lead in your hand:

S win 4 STrickLead2nd3rd4th
H A K J 210. SS 8D 7H 2?
DEast is squeezed
S TableS
H 8 7 6H Q 10 9
D 7D Q
S 8
H 4 3
South leadsC

Finally, the last trump will squeeze East without ambiguity. If your D J isn’t good, the H Q must drop — unless East opened 1 NT in the prison Psycho Ward, but I would have told you about that (Fritz escaped years ago).

Even if West were void in spades*, Line D produces a lock. East must duck the S J to prevent the above squeeze, then either the H Q will ruff out or the D Q will drop (East can have at most six red cards). Alternatively, and better because queens are irrelevant, you can succeed by elopement — though it may be hard to find romance in Alcatraz (hmm, maybe I should rephrase that). Win H A-K; D A-K; ruff a heart; cross to the S A, and lead the last heart.

*Several people noted (or complained) that I didn’t specify West’s play on the first spade lead. Does he follow suit? Does he play the 10? As always in my play contests, with incomplete information you should assume the ordinary; i.e., West follows with a low spade. If this were not the case, I would be forced to tell you if it were significant to the problem.

Other lines come close, but none produce a lock. If you lead three rounds of trumps (Line A), it wins outright in the example (East is endplayed); but what if East has another club? No problem, it may seem, as the presence of seven black cards means his H Q will ruff out or the D Q will drop doubleton. True, but dummy remains with H A-K-J-2 D A-K opposite your S 8 H 4-3 D J-10-8, and you must guess which way to go. There is no guarantee.

Likewise, if you ruff a heart after cashing two trumps (Line B), you can always succeed; but there is no certainty. Assuming the H J isn’t good, you will cross to the D A and ruff the last heart. Alas, you must now guess whether to exit with a trump to endplay East (as in the diagram) or cash the D K to drop his doubleton queen.

Second place is a close call between Lines A and B, as each offers an immediate chance to succeed plus a second chance to guess the distribution. Line A wins outright if East has three clubs (endplay); Line B wins outright if East has three hearts (queen ruffs out). I’m sure there’s a theoretical favorite, but I won’t do time on The Rock for a second-degree felony. Instead, I’ll just call out the troops, and their assault plan favors Line B.

I decided to make Lines B and A close runners-up (awarded 9 and 8) because they gain an IMP over Line D whenever the S Q falls doubleton; i.e., after discovering the fortuitous spade break to ensure the contract, either adapts* to the same Vienna coup and squeeze to produce an overtrick (assuming the S J is unblocked). I doubt this could recover the loss from occasional failures, but it certainly narrows the gap — and I’ve lost enough matches in my life by 1 IMP to appreciate this.

*Not literally, of course, but listed options are not obligatory when the contract becomes assured, or if a development makes them silly. As a trivial example, if an option says “Finesse the jack,” you are obviously not bound to this if the queen pops up in front.

Fourth place goes to Line E, which is similar to Line B, but with the needless risk that West might overruff the third heart. Ouch! Imagine going down in 4 S when East has S Q-x H Q-10-x-x-x D Q-x-x C A-K-Q.

Line C (win S A, lead S J and duck queen) is substantially worse, since it provides no immediate success (besides S Q-x, which insures most lines). East’s obvious trump return forces you to guess his distribution in a ruffout squeeze.

Worst by far is Line F, which has no chance unless the D Q or S Q drops doubleton. Hmm… If Alcatraz reopens for overbidders, it should also accept underplayers, and I can provide 42 new customers right here!

Comments for D. Finesse the S J

Jonathan Mestel: … The squeeze looks 100 percent — I mean rock solid.

John Reardon: This looks stupid, but it establishes a [guaranteed] squeeze in hearts and diamonds. On a spade return, I win the S A, D A-K, then run trumps.

Rob Stevens: Keeping communication open for a Vienna coup and squeeze.

Bruce Neill: Weird to take a finesse I know will lose, but it clears communication to cash D A-K after I concede my possible spade loser; then I run spades to squeeze East in the red suits.

Carsten Kofoed: I now have both the tempo and the connection to squeeze East’s queens.

Jordi Sabate: The only way to squeeze East in the red suits without guessing his distribution. Curiously, the solution is to finesse for a queen with nine cards, knowing it will lose.

Leif-Erik Stabell: Keeps communication open to squeeze East. Don’t tell me he has upgraded S Q-10-x H Q-10-x D x-x C A-K-Q-x-x to open 1 NT.

Mark LaForge: This allows me to keep the S K as an entry for a heart-diamond squeeze, which guarantees the contract.

Thijs Veugen: East has all the remaining honors, and with this play I can cash D A-K before running trumps, regardless of the spade position.

Lajos Linczmayer: This may cost an overtrick, but it guarantees the contract, playing a Vienna coup.

Charles Blair: I hope that partner, pleased by the subsequent Vienna coup, will forget to complain about my “misplay” of the trump suit.

Toby Kenney: East will obviously be squeezed in the red suits, so I’m OK…even if he has four spades. …

Bill Jacobs: This has to be right — because it looks so foolish.

Rainer Herrmann: Followed by a Vienna coup in diamonds.

Ron Landgraff: No need for a frontal attack on the screw! Maintain communication and squeeze the SOB, to teach him that Vienna is famous for more than horses.

Abby Chiu: Losing the S Q will preserve the S K entry to hand and set up a red-suit squeeze. …

Barry White: A Pavlicek finesse — I know it doesn’t work, but I must take it… This allows a squeeze to operate in the ending of H A-K-J-x opposite S x H x-x D J.

Imre Csiszar: The S Q has to be lost now, retaining the trump entry to hand. Next win the S A, D A-K (Vienna coup), run trumps, and East will be squeezed.

Jim Munday: East is marked with all the outstanding high cards, and I can catch him in a red-suit squeeze without [guessing] his distribution if I maintain an entry to my hand. If the S J loses, I’ll win the trump return with the ace, cash D A-K, and run trumps… If East has S Q-10-x-x and ducks the S J, one of his red queens will drop…

John Lusky: This lets me play for a simple heart-diamond squeeze, with no need to guess East’s distribution, rather than an [ambiguous] ruffing squeeze or endplay.

Bill Powell: Rectifying the count and maintaining a trump entry to hand. This (cutely) avoids any ambiguity with the heart-diamond squeeze on East.

Dale Freeman: It seems silly to finesse when I know it will lose, however, East must return a spade [won in dummy]; then I cash D A-K and run spades to squeeze East out of one of his red queens.

Constance Goldberg: I must retain an entry to hand, so I can cash D A-K before running trumps.

Wafik Abdou: I need communication in spades for a Vienna coup and red-suit squeeze. This also works against a 4-0 trump break.

Alon Amsel: Keeping communication to my hand, so I can cash D A-K, then execute a simple squeeze against East’s red queens.

Travis Crump: Can I just claim? I’ll win the spade return with the ace, cash D A-K, and run spades (finessing if spades were 4-0) for the marked red-suit squeeze.

Ruben Buijs: Ducking a spade is needed to prepare communication for a squeeze in the red colors, since D A-K have to be cashed before running spades — else I would have to guess the diamond-heart count.

Subhransu Patnaik: This is likely to lose, but it will preserve entries to set up a red-suit squeeze against East.

Joseph Mela: I don’t need this to win (in fact, I know it won’t); I just need to concede a trump trick while I have entries to cash D A-K, then return to hand for the squeeze to work.

N. Scott Cardell: Given that East has all the requirements for a 1 NT opening, this is 100 percent, even if trumps are 4-0. The finesse always loses, but I have time to unblock D A-K and play an unambiguous simple squeeze. If the S 10 appears from West, winning the S A and running the jack is safe for an overtrick…

Roger Morton: Now I have the entries to set up a certain squeeze for the red queens by cashing D A-K (Vienna coup) before returning to hand with the last trump.

Frans Buijsen: Now I can unblock D A-K, then run trumps to squeeze East.

David Kenward: It’s not a finesse; it’s a duck.

Good point. I’ll notify the Warden after your escape so he can properly declare you a dead duck.

Mark Chen: I need to keep the S K as an entry back to hand to run trumps and squeeze East in hearts and diamonds.

Barry Goren: An automatic Vienna coup after the forced trump return.

Jonathan Fry: East wins and must return a trump to the S A; then I take D A-K and run my remaining trumps to squeeze East in the reds.

Perry Groot: Although the finesse will lose, I will have the rest on a red-suit squeeze. If East ducks [with S Q-10-x-x], I can ruff two hearts.

Josh Sinnett: Funny, how taking a finesse I know will lose makes the hand cold. Only by keeping trump communication can I reach an [unambiguous] squeeze ending.

David Brooks: I love taking finesses that I know are going to lose!

Richard King: I expect this to lose, but I now have communication for a diamond-heart squeeze against East. I’ll win the next spade (only safe return) in dummy, cash D A-K, then run spades, discarding a diamond and a heart.

Tim Dickinson: This is apparently zero percent from the wording but in fact 100 percent. I’ll win the trump return with the ace, Vienna-coup diamonds, then finish trumps and East.

David Caprera: It is difficult to take a [known] losing finesse, and I should even finesse if West shows out. (The problem would have been easier if the S J were the S 3.)

Zbych Bednarek: I have nine tricks, and one more will come from a [guaranteed] red-suit squeeze against East, who must have all the remaining points.

Marek Malowidzki: I am not “finessing,” of course, but losing a trick to the S Q to prepare a Vienna coup. After the [forced] spade return, I will win the S A and D A-K, then run spades to squeeze East in the red suits.

Daniel de Lind van Wijngaarden: East is marked with all the queens, and [later] I will squeeze him in the red suits.

Anthony Golding: Since East must have all the missing honors, this allows the timing for a Vienna coup and squeeze… Line C [and others] lead to a trump squeeze if trumps don’t break, if I guess the ending — and I’m a terrible guesser.

Gerald Cohen: Cute hand. Taking a finesse that I know will lose preserves entries, so I can cash D A-K (Vienna coup) and cross in spades for an [unambiguous] squeeze. [Other lines] may lead to a trump squeeze, which requires reading [the distribution].

Julian Wightwick: The finesse loses, of course, but this will enable me to cash D A-K before running trumps to squeeze East. At matchpoints, I would choose [Line A or B] because it gains a trick when trumps break, and [at worst] will require me to guess the distribution…

Gerald Murphy: This will lose, and East’s only recourse is to lead another spade. I win in dummy, cash D A-K, and run trumps to squeeze East in the red suits. Unless East opened 1 NT on 13 HCP, he must have [all] the queens.

Leonard Helfgott: … The hand is cold if I can cash D A-K (Vienna coup) and return to hand afterward in spades. Even if East has five clubs and returns one, leaving the S A in dummy is a safety net. Any other spade play [requires me] to guess the distribution, [usually] for a trump squeeze.

Wei Victor Zhang: Planning for the worst case: East holds S Q-10-x H Q-x-x-x D Q-x-x C A-K-Q. I need to keep the S K entry to hand to squeeze East in the red suits. Line C allows East to play back a spade [before I can cash D A-K].

Joon Pahk: Not that this will win, but it’s the only way to guarantee a reentry to hand after a Vienna coup in diamonds.

Problem 3

IMPsS A J 10 8WestNorthEastSouth
E-W vulH Q 3LHOPartnerRHOYou
D 10 9 8 7 21 NT
C K QPass2 CPass2 D
Table Pass3 NTPassPass
Lead: H 5East plays H K
(on the H Q)
S 9 4 2
H A 6 4
D A Q 3
3 NT SouthC A J 10 5

You hold up the H A, as East returns H 10 then H 8. Decide your pitch from dummy and play.

D. Pitch D 2, run S 91043541
B. Pitch S 10, win C K, finesse D Q8919
A. Pitch S 10, win D A7192
E. Pitch D 2, lead spade to jack636835
F. Pitch D 2, lead spade to eight5303
C. Pitch S 10, win C K, run D 10211311

From East’s plays, it is apparent that West began with H J-9-7-5-2*; so it is imperative to keep West off lead. Basically, you must decide whether to play for split spade honors (take two spade finesses) or the D K with East (establish the diamond suit).

*I didn’t specify West’s second and third heart plays, because they wouldn’t mean much anyway. An expert would often conceal the H 2 to instill doubt; and in view of dummy, it is likely that any suit-preference indication would be directed to deceive you.

The choice between spades and diamonds is about even; split honors will occur about half the time*, as will a successful finesse. The known 5-3 heart break has an impact that slightly favors the diamond finesse. More significant is that playing spades is not contingent on a suit break, while diamonds must split 3-2 (barring a stiff king or jack). Further, there may be complications even when diamonds break, as you may have to guess whether East has D K-x or K-x-x. This clearly shifts the odds toward spades.

*Note that leading spades will fail if either player has both honors. If West, he will split his honors to ensure an entry. If East, he will return a diamond after winning the first spade, which obliges you to win the ace; then opponents will have five tricks (at least) when the second spade finesse loses.

Among the listed spade plays, leading low to the jack (Line E) might seem best, as it conforms to a well-known technique: Assuming the first finesse loses, you can lead the S 9 the second time to retain the lead for a third finesse. Consider this layout:

IMPsS A J 10 8TrickLead2nd3rd4th
E-W vulH Q 31. WH 5QK4
D 10 9 8 7 22. EH 10623
C K Q3. EH 8A7D 2
S K 7 6 TableS Q 5 34. SS 2?6J3!
H J 9 7 5 2H K 10 85. NC K354
D K 5 4D J 66. NC Q6A2
C 4 2C 9 8 7 6 37. SS 4K!A5
S 9 4 2Declarer fails
H A 6 4
D A Q 3
3 NT SouthC A J 10 5

After winning the third heart (pitching a diamond from dummy) you lead a spade to the jack. If East wins the queen, everything is peachy; but a clever East will ruin your escape plan by refusing the trick. If you next win two clubs and lead a second spade, West puts up the king, leaving you between a rock and a hard place. Other continuations are also futile. In fact there is no recovery after the S J wins.*

*If you next run four clubs hoping for an endplay against West, he keeps S K H J-9 D K-5; or if you cash the S A first, he keeps H J-9 D K-5. In either case you are left without recourse.

The proper play is to run the S 9 (Line D), since you have adequate entries (D A and C A) for a second and third finesse without needing the nine. The point is to retain the lead if the first finesse wins, so you can continue spades without weakening your communication.

If you play on diamonds, it’s a close choice between cashing the D A (Line A) and finessing the D Q (Line B). Line A caters to a stiff D K in West but may create entry problems; e.g., you will have to cross to dummy in clubs to lead a second diamond, then East can win the D K and shift to a spade to defeat you when West has both spade honors. Further, it gives an expert East a chance to play mind games by dropping the D K under the ace from K-x or K-J-x. Thus, it seems wiser to pay off to a blank king in West.

Attacking spades incorrectly (Lines E and F) takes a big dent out of its success rate (an expert East should know to duck with honor-third), so second place will go to Line B, and Line A gets a close third. Next comes Line E and the nearly equivalent Line F (despite its inelegance). Line C clearly deserves last place, as it goes out of the way to lose a trick to the dangerous hand.

Comments for D. Pitch D 2, run S 9

Jonathan Mestel: Split spade honors is better than even odds, but I’d be badly placed were the S J allowed to hold. Playing for the D K onside is slightly more likely…but still requires me to read the lie… Releasing the D A could lead to entry problems if East switches to spades. …

John Reardon: The best chance seems to be winning three spade tricks without letting West in. The problem with Lines E and F is what to do if the first spade wins.

Rob Stevens: Playing spades must be right; but if I lead low first, I’ll be in trouble if the finesse wins.

Weidong Yang: Leading the S 9 takes care of East’s duck.

Bruce Neill: If East ducks the first spade, I don’t want to be in dummy!

Carsten Kofoed: This forces East to win the first spade; else I can [lead another] without cutting my club lines.

Jordi Sabate: It seems better to try to win two [additional] tricks in spades. I lead the nine first, because I have a communication problem winning in dummy if East ducks.

Leif-Erik Stabell: Playing for split spade honors looks like a 50-percent chance, or so. I don’t lead a small spade first in case East ducks.

Thijs Veugen: East seems to have H K-10-8, so I’ll play for split spade honors. If the S 9 holds, I can repeat the finesse.

Lajos Linczmayer: This is better than playing East for the D K (Line A) which fails if diamonds split 4-1. Leading a low spade is fatal if East has, e.g., S Q-x-x H K-10-8 D J-x-x C x-x-x-x, and ducks.

Charles Blair: Otherwise, I could have awkward decisions if the first finesse wins.

Toby Kenney: Cashing the D A lets me succeed in slightly more positions, but I may have to guess what to play for…

Bill Jacobs: Just in case the first spade finesse wins.

Rainer Herrmann: Best chance is to hope the spade honors are split, and only Line D avoids any communication trouble.

Ron Landgraff: Better odds with spades [than diamonds]. Who knows? East may not…underlead his D K when in, which leaves a diamond play for later [if East has both spade honors].

Tom Schlangen: Low to the jack is often best with this combination, but in this case it leaves me poorly placed if East ducks.

Abby Chiu: Spades provide the best chance to make the contract, and running the nine prevents East from [disrupting] my communication by ducking.

Imre Csiszar: This guarantees the contract if the spade honors are split, whereas a winning diamond position is less likely. Lines E and F are worse, as East may hold off; then West will play high on the second round so I can’t enjoy the fourth spade.

Jim Munday: I must choose whether to play for three spades (split honors) or three diamond tricks (D K onside). Both are 50 percent a priori, and West having five hearts gives a slight edge to playing on diamonds; however, since I can’t afford to finesse East for the D J, I will fail when he has D K-J-x-x. This swings the odds back in favor of spades. I must start with the S 9; otherwise East can frustrate my plan by ducking,…which will then require the diamond finesse as well.

John Lusky: Leading the nine avoids the danger of a holdup by East from three or four spades to the king or queen, which would either defeat me or force me to guess his distribution if I won the first spade in dummy.

Bill Powell: Making if West has one spade honor.

Dale Freeman: Hoping for three spade tricks. Line E or F would leave me in the wrong hand if East ducks.

Steve White: Lest East duck the first spade, and West play high on the second.

Dawei Chen: Playing for separated spade honors seems to have the best percentage. East won’t be happy to hold up spades if I run the nine.

Jouko Paganus: This way, East cannot [benefit] from ducking with honor-third or fourth.

Travis Crump: If I lead a spade to the board and East ducks, what do I do? Overtaking the second club will strand the fourth spade, and leading a diamond potentially sets up the D K entry for West.

Kevin Lane: I confess a suspicion that RP is looking deeper than this obvious choice, but I can’t see it. This wins if West has one spade honor, or if East has both honors and the D K is singleton.

Dean Pokorny: Making 3 NT via spades is about a 52-percent shot (split honors). I have to run the S 9 first because East may duck, in which case it is necessary to play the second spade from hand, keeping club communication intact.

Robert Eachus: I can make the hand (1) if the spade honors are split, (2) if hearts are 5-3, East has both spade honors, and the D K [is singleton], or (3) if hearts are 4-4, and West has both spade honors. If West plays an honor on the first spade lead, I win [and continue spades]. If East wins the first spade and leads a diamond, I go up with the ace…and finesse spades again. The real problem is if the first spade finesse wins; then there is no safe way to return to hand [so I must lead the nine].

Eric Sieg: Assuming split honors in spades, I get three spades, one heart, one diamond and four clubs. I can’t risk the diamond hook, so the D 2 is useless.

Martin Hirschman: Assuming H J-x-x-x-x in West, I will make the contract if the spade honors are split (51 percent). I lead the S 9 in case it wins. (I have two more hand entries to refinesse spades, so I don’t need to save the nine to hold the second-round finesse.) Taking the D Q finesse is arguably a 10-to-8 favorite, but it doesn’t necessarily solve my problems; if it wins,…I won’t know what to do [next], and I will [always] go set if East has D K-J-x-x.

Perry Groot: Playing on spades is 50 percent, and leading the nine is better than low because East may duck, causing communication problems [if the lead were in dummy]. …

Samuel Krikler: Playing for split spade honors and hoping to come to nine tricks via three spades, one heart, one diamond and four clubs.

David Caprera: … Running the nine is needed to protect against East ducking the first round, and West playing an honor on the second round.

Julian Wightwick: It seems that West has five hearts, so I want to play on spades to keep him off lead. If East wins and switches to a diamond, I will refuse that finesse, as I still have entries to finesse spades twice more. The trouble with a spade to the jack is that East might duck; then my entries are not quite good enough to cope with all eventualities…

Wei Victor Zhang: If East ducks the first spade finesse (with S Q-x-x or K-x-x), Line E would be in trouble.

Richard Stein: … There will be nine tricks as long as West has the decency to have been dealt one high spade. If I finesse the S J, things could get very thorny if East finds a duck.

Problem 4

IMPsS 8 6WestNorthEastSouth
Both vulH K 5 3 2LHOPartnerRHOYou
D K JPassPassPass1 D
C K J 6 4 31 SDblPass4 H
Table PassPassPass
Lead: S QEast plays S 2 
S A K 7 3
H Q 10 9 7
D A Q 10 9
4 H SouthC 2

After winning the S A:

Next PlayAwardVotesPercent
A. Lead the H Q1010310
C. Win D K, lead heart to queen9676
E. Lead C 2 to the king831730
B. Lead H 7 to the king630629
F. Lead C 2 to the jack5949
D. Win D K, lead heart to 10316916

The tide is rising, as you bravely cling to the South Rocks, completely submerged and breathing through a marsh reed. You wonder if this is your moment. The long swim looms even more challenging as darkness approaches, but you’re determined. As you push off, the swirling current is exhilarating, and your thoughts go from “Jailhouse Rock” to “It’s Now or Never!”

The auction and lead reveal two important clues: (1) West is marked with exactly one of the two missing aces, as with both he would almost surely have opened 1 S, and with neither he wouldn’t overcall (or East would have acted); and (2) West has exactly five* spades, as with six he would have opened 2 S, or perhaps overcalled 2 S if prevented from opening because of a side four-card heart suit.

*Note that East’s signal at trick one is attitude (not count) per system carding agreements, so the S 2 is consistent and proper with a doubleton. Playing a high spade might cause West to continue with Q-J-9-x-x into South’s A-K-10-x.

You’ve reached a sound contract, probably needing little more than a 3-2 trump break; but dangers lurk. Based on West’s indicated spade length, the instinctive trump play is low to the king, since West is likely to be shorter in hearts, though it may be better to start clubs first. Consider a plausible layout:

IMPsS 8 6TrickLead2nd3rd4th
Both vulH K 5 3 21. WS Q62A
D K J2. SH 7?6K4
C K J 6 4 33. NH 2810J
S Q J 10 9 4 TableS 5 24. WH A3D 29
H A J 6H 8 4Declarer fails
D 7 3D 8 6 5 4 2
C 10 8 5C A Q 9 7
S A K 7 3
H Q 10 9 7
D A Q 10 9
4 H SouthC 2

After winning the S A, suppose you lead a heart to the king (Line A), which wins. Now what? If you lead a second heart, West will win and cash a third, leaving you a trick short. If you stop leading trumps, East will be able to overruff with the H 8, or gain the lead in clubs to return a trump. Indeed, after this start you’re dead in the water — not exactly good news for your escape plan either.

It seems better to start clubs first, so suppose you lead to the C K (Line E) to locate the missing aces. When it loses, you can be sure West has the H A. Unfortunately, this information doesn’t help much. East will return his last spade, then you must guess hearts to succeed. If you lead to the H K, you’re DOA (like you may be anyway when you reach the shore). Suppose instead you lead the H Q to West’s ace — still no good, as a third spade is fatal.* To succeed, you must run the H 10, surely double-dummy.

*Even if you ruff low (overruffed) and guess to finesse West for the H J, it won’t help, as drawing West’s trumps leaves you a trick short. Nor does it help to ruff with the H K, as East can overruff the next spade; or if you lead trumps to stop it, West can lead a third round.

The best play is to lead the H Q from hand (Line A). If West wins the H A and leads a spade to your king, next lead a club to the jack (you know East has the C A). If this forces the ace, you can guard against East having H J-8-6-4 by winning the C K (pitch a spade) and leading a low heart.* If the C J loses to the queen, you need a 3-2 trump break; so cash the H K and crossruff.

*This safety play also works when West has H A-J-8-x, provided he is 2-2 in the minors.

What if the H Q holds? Then you should lead a club to the king; if it loses, you know West has the H A, so you can next lead a heart to the king. If West has the C A and hops (best) to return a spade, you could just lead another trump and succeed with a 3-2 break; but it seems better to abandon trumps (cash minors and ruff a club with the H 10), as this will sometimes succeed when East has H A-J-8-x, and it takes quite a parlay to fail with trumps 3-2. Further, West’s decision to hop with the C A is ominous, perhaps suggesting a 4-1 trump break.

Line C (win D K, lead heart to queen) looks the same as Line A, while guarding against a blank H A with East.* Not really. Leading diamonds might come back to haunt you. Suppose West wins the H A and returns his last diamond. It’s too early to cash the H K (East could have H J-x-x and C A-Q), so you lead a club to the jack, queen. East now returns a diamond, which West ruffs. To succeed, you must not overruff but pitch from dummy; and if West had only two hearts (A-8 or A-6), you would fail no matter what you did. Even so, West’s diamond return is far from obvious, so Line C deserves a close second.

*An unnecessary precaution, as losing the H Q to East’s ace marks West with the C A. Therefore, with a club trick establishable, you can afford to run the H 10 to guard against West having four hearts.

Leading to the C K immediately (Line E) gets third place. I’m toying between 7 and 8, but I’ll make it 8 per the large vote. Leading to the C J (Line F), however, is much weaker, as it discovers little when East wins the queen, and it blows an easy make when West has ducked the C A. Therefore, fourth place goes to leading a heart to the king (Line B), and Line F gets fifth. Taking an immediate finesse for the H J (Line D) must be worst.

Comments for A. Lead the H Q

Jonathan Mestel: This should be safe if hearts are 3-2 and West has an ace. Did I overbid a little?

Weidong Yang: Shall I try clubs to discover hearts? Or hearts to discover clubs? The latter prevails, since in some cases I need to guess clubs right. If the H Q wins, I would play East for H A-J-8-x, and lead to the C K next.

Bruce Neill: To find out who has the H A before touching clubs.

Jordi Sabate: I hope hearts are 3-2, in which case I want to lead trumps only twice or win a trick in clubs. If East has C A-Q, then West must have the H A; so it’s better to start with the H Q because he can’t duck it. If the H Q wins, I will play a heart to the king; then if East has H A-J-x, the C A will be in West, and the C K [will win a trick].

Leif-Erik Stabell: West can hardly have both aces but must have one. If East can duck and then draw another trump, fine; the C A is onside. Line A is slightly better than Line C, in case West is 6=2=1=4 or similar.

Charles Blair: If this holds, I will continue with a heart to the king. “It is a sure indication to declarer that he is up against top-class opponents when his attempts to force out their high cards early meet with failure.” -Terence Reese

Toby Kenney: I will next lead a club to the king. Leading to the C K first risks getting forced if the C A is offside.

Barry White: If East wins, I should be able to get a club pitch, as West will very likely hold the C A. (Presumably, West would have opened the bidding with both aces.) If West wins, I play to cash the H K and ruff two spades. If the H Q wins, I will lead a heart to the king. I do not play for Line C, as this may give me communication problems.

Imre Csiszar: This guarantees 4 H if trumps behave, barring an unlikely spade ruff (West didn’t preempt). Opponents can win two hearts to prevent two spade ruffs only if East has H A-J-x and ducks the H Q, but then the C K will be a 10th trick. If Line B is tried and West has H A-J-x, there is no assurance of winning a club trick.

Nigel Guthrie: Is West 6-4? Doubtful, but let’s get the kiddies off the street.

Bill Powell: This makes whenever trumps are 3-2. A duck by West is futile, and a duck by East means the C A is onside.

Dale Freeman: Hopefully, finding the H A will allow me to play clubs correctly later. The H K may be necessary to ruff a spade, as I am willing to lose two hearts and a club.

Constance Goldberg: West didn’t open 1 S or 2 S; so if he has six spades, he has four hearts… East may have two spades and four hearts, so I need to be able to ruff a spade high. …

Steve White: If trumps are 3-2, the danger is that someone can win H A-J on the second and third rounds; if East, I’ll know I can score the C K. I will keep two diamond entries to be sure I can ruff both spades.

Mark Chen: Planning to play the H K to draw a second round of trumps, then ruff two spades in dummy.

Sandy Barnes: I want to avoid giving up heart control, so it is difficult for an opponent to play an early third trump.

David Brooks: Hardest problem of the set. I need to lose the first, not the second heart.

Gerald Cohen: It [may be] crucial to guess clubs to make this hand, so now is the time for a discovery play. Entry considerations make Line C worse.

Richard Stein: This will locate the H A; then I can use that information to place the C A, [considering that] West overcalled but could not open…

Problem 5

IMPsS K 6 4 3WestNorthEastSouth
Both vulH K 8 4 2LHOPartnerRHOYou
D Q 7 3 21 H2 C
C QPass2 NT3 H5 C
Table PassPassPass
Lead: H 9East plays H 10 
S J 2
D A K 5 4
5 C SouthC A K J 10 9 8 7

You play low in dummy and ruff. (All follow to first trump.)

A. Duck a spade10737
F. Win C Q, ruff heart, win C A-K-J, D A-K933231
D. Win C Q, lead spade to jack742740
E. Win C Q, ruff heart, win all trumps4929
B. Win C A-K-J-10, duck spade3777
C. Win C A, all trumps2555

Your escape plans took a detour when you missed the boat from San Francisco (that would’ve been too easy), and you missed the boat here by not raising partner to 3 NT (also too easy). Oh well, you wanted a challenge, and this should provide it. One thing’s for sure: I wouldn’t give you a 5 C contract with 11 top tricks, so don’t expect a 3-2 diamond break.

What do you know about the distribution? East is marked with seven* hearts and 100 honors, as West would lead low from three; and East surely has the S A to justify his bidding. Let’s assume diamonds are 4-1 with West having four, else there is no problem.** The most obvious extra chance is to lead toward the S J early, establishing a trick by force when East has S A-Q. Consider the following layout.

*Eight is possible but highly unlikely, as most Easts would bid 4 H (over 2 NT) with, say, S A-x-x H A-Q-J-10-x-x-x-x D x C x, since any entry in West could make it laydown with the H K advertised onside.

**If East had four diamonds, the contract would be easy, as his S A would fall early to set up the king. You can also rule out a diamond void in East, as he would have played his lowest heart (suit preference) at trick one to let West win the H 9 (if a singleton) and shift to a diamond.

IMPsS K 6 4 3TrickLead2nd3rd4th
Both vulH K 8 4 21. WH 9210C 7
D Q 7 3 22. SC 8?6Q2
C Q3. NS 37JQ
S Q 10 8 5 TableS A 9 74. WH 64QC 9
H 9 6H A Q J 10 7 5 35. SC A3D 24
D J 10 8 6D 96. SC K5D 3H 3
C 6 5 3C 4 27. SD A679
S J 28. SS 210!49
H9. WD 8QH 54
D A K 5 4Declarer fails
5 C SouthC A K J 10 9 8 7

Suppose you ruff the first trick, cross to the C Q, and lead a spade to the jack and queen. West returns his last heart, which you ruff. Your only chance now is to draw trumps (pitching two diamonds), cash the D A, and duck a spade. If East wins he is endplayed, forced to establish a king in dummy; but West will play the S 10 to prevent this, and you’re down.*

*Even if East had S A-10-x, West could defeat you by returning a spade when he won the queen, giving East the lead while he has a safe exit in a minor.

A winning alternative in the above layout is to endplay West to force a spade lead from the queen. After ruffing two hearts, drawing trumps and testing diamonds, just exit with a diamond and duck the spade return. Line F allows this, but note that it fails when East has the S Q. Alas, if there were only a play that is independent of the location of the S Q.

And there is! It is natural to focus on East from the bidding, but the key victim may be West, who is likely to have four or more spades and may ultimately be squeezed. Only Line A allows this:

IMPsS K 6 4 3TrickLead2nd3rd4th
Both vulH K 8 4 21. WH 9210C 7
D Q 7 3 22. SS 2!839
C Q3. ED 9A62
S Q 10 8 5 TableS A 9 74. SC A6Q2
H 9 6H A Q J 10 7 5 35. SC K3H 44
D J 10 8 6D 96. SC J5D 3H 3
C 6 5 3C 4 27. SS JQK!A
S J 28. ES 7C 854
H9. SC 10H 6H 8H 5
D A K 5 410. SC 9!?
5 C SouthC A K J 10 9 8 7West is squeezed

After ducking a spade at trick two, suppose East leads his singleton diamond, though nothing matters. Win the D A, draw trumps* (pitching a heart and a diamond from dummy) then lead the S J; queen, king (crucial to keep West off lead), ace. East cannot lead a heart with the king in dummy, so he exits with his last spade, which you ruff. Finishing trumps then squeezes West in the pointed suits.

*If trumps are 4-1, the squeeze against West cannot be developed (dummy is squeezed on the fourth trump); but in a way that’s good news because diamonds will then split — unless East has a giraffe (7-4 shape).

Line F gets a close second, as it works whenever West has the S Q, which is favored by 7:4 odds.* Further, holding S A-Q, some Easts would duck the H 9 (signaling high as suit preference for spades) — a dubious play, as it provides a road map when declarer ruffs (likely after the decision to bypass 3 NT), and a spade shift would rarely be necessary anyway. In any event, playing West for the S Q is a clear favorite, so going the other way (Line D) must settle for third.

*Based on known information and the presumed 4-1 diamond break, West is 2-4 in the red suits (7 unknown cards) and East is 7-1 plus the S A (4 unknown cards). The auction has little bearing on these odds, as East would probably bid the same with or without the S Q.

Other plays (Lines B, C and E) offer almost no chance against sound defense when West has four diamonds (the primary danger). Rather than split hairs — I don’t want to end up on Death Row (Solitary is bad enough) — I’ll rank them by the voting.

Comments for A. Duck a spade

Jonathan Mestel: East must have the S A and seven hearts, and wouldn’t have overtaken the H 9 with a diamond void. I will win the diamond switch, draw trumps, and lead to the S K; then East must either establish the H K or isolate the spade threat. I go down only if East is 4=7=1=1, in which case we’re playing with a vile pack (anagram).

John Reardon: Irrespective of diamonds, this wins whenever West has spade length.

Rob Stevens: If East has less than three lower spades with his S A, this always makes. If a club is returned [to stop me from ruffing out the S A], I will draw trumps, cash one high diamond, and play a spade to the king; East is either squeezed in the red suits, or diamonds break, or he has to lead another spade allowing me to isolate the menace for a squeeze against West.

Weidong Yang: This will work when East has less than four spades — very likely, as otherwise he may have bid 4 H.

Thijs Veugen: East should have the S A and maybe the S Q, but this works whenever he has at most three spades. Later I draw trumps, cash one round of diamonds, and lead a spade to the king and ace; so East will have to lead his last spade, then I catch West in a spade-diamond squeeze.

Lajos Linczmayer: It looks East has seven hearts, and he doesn’t want a switch. My plan is to squeeze West in diamonds and spades. After drawing trumps, I’ll cash the D A, and lead a spade to the king.

Charles Blair: If East is 3=7=1=2, he can later be thrown in with the S A, forcing him to isolate the spade threat. …

Toby Kenney: The only danger is 4-1 diamonds, in which case I need to squeeze West in the pointed suits. … If a trump is returned, I [draw trumps] and cash the D A before exiting with a spade to the king and ace; then East is forced to return a spade, isolating the menace.

Constance Goldberg: Best return is a club; then win C A-K-J, pitching a diamond and a heart; cash the D K, and play the S J. If West plays low, I’m cold. If he covers, play the S K, and East must play his third spade, allowing me to squeeze West in diamonds and spades. I only lose to S Q-x-x with West.

Wafik Abdou: Either the S A comes down, or I will squeeze West in spades and diamonds.

Mauri Saastamoinen: My plan is to squeeze West in spades and diamonds, if East has something like S A-x-x H A-Q-J-10-x-x-x D x C x-x (or S A-Q-x). I need to maintain the C Q as an entry, in case I have to ruff the third spade myself. Line D is better only if East has something like S A-Q-x-x H A-Q-J-10-x-x-x D x C x, S A-Q-x H A-Q-J-10-x-x-x D x-x-x C --, or S A-Q-x H A-Q-J-10-x-x-x D -- C x-x-x. How likely are those hands?

Franco Baseggio: My goal is to ruff a spade in hand, then run trumps, in case West is 4-4 in spades and diamonds.

Tim DeLaney: East has seven hearts (possibly eight), and I have no problem if he has more than one diamond. He needs the S A for his bidding, but not necessarily the S Q. If I thought East had four spades, I would need to guess who has the S Q; but it’s much more likely that he has two or three spades. (With a diamond void, East would have played low at trick one, so I am not worried about a diamond ruff.) Next I will pull trumps, cash the D A, and lead a spade to the king. This forces East to lead a third round of spades, [isolating the threat] for a spade-diamond squeeze against West.

David Kenward: Planning to squeeze West in spades and diamonds, if diamonds break 4-1.

Douglas Dunn: If a diamond is returned, I’ll cash three clubs and lead the S J, playing the king [if West plays the queen]. The plan is to squeeze West in spades and diamonds, if diamonds don’t break 3-2.

David Hodge: I’ll lose when East has four spades; but after his bidding, I don’t rate him to have that many…

Joon Pahk: I’ll play West for longer spades [than East]. If he also has four diamonds, he’ll be squeezed.

Problem 6

IMPsS A K 8 6 5WestNorthEastSouth
N-S vulH A 5 3LHOPartnerRHOYou
D 8 31 D
C A 6 22 H2 SPass3 NT
Table Pass4 HPass6 D
Lead: S 10 PassPassPass
H Q 4 2
D A K Q J 10 9
6 D SouthC K 7 4

Note: All follow to first trump lead.

C. Win S A, four trumps, duck heart1024623
A. Win S A, lead S 5 and pitch heart8909
F. Duck the first trick639437
B. Win S A, ruff spade, win all trumps521821
E. Win S A, all trumps4495
D. Win S A, five trumps, duck heart1596

Wow! Looking at “175 honors” in diamonds is deja vu, a grim reminder of the $175,000 diamond theft that put you in this joint. Let’s hope you do better with your breakout attempt than you did with the heist. If not, you’ll be in Solitary for years.

West’s opening lead in dummy’s bid suit has singleton written all over it, killing the chance of a 4-3 spade break that would let you succeed by suit establishment. With 11 top tricks, thoughts immediately turn to a squeeze. West surely guards hearts (per his weak jump overcall), East guards spades, and both opponents probably guard clubs, suggesting a double squeeze. Therefore, you need to lose a trick at some point to rectify the count. Consider this layout:

IMPsS A K 8 6 5TrickLead2nd3rd4th
N-S vulH A 5 31. WS 105?QJ
D 8 32. ES 3D 9H 76
C A 6 23. SD A236
S 10 TableS Q 9 7 4 3 24. SD K48S 2
H K J 10 8 7H 9 65. SD Q5C 2C 3
D 7 5 4 2D 66. SD J7H 3C 5
C Q 10 8C J 9 5 3Declarer fails
H Q 4 2
D A K Q J 10 9
6 D SouthC K 7 4

Yes, West only has five hearts (note the vulnerability). If you assumed six, you are living in a cocoon (hey, that’s better than Alcatraz) or playing against easy opponents. Welcome to the real world. White versus red, most seasoned players would bid 2 H; and holding a sixth heart (say, one less diamond) many would bid 3 H.

One safe way to rectify the count is to duck the first trick (Line F), but it leads to complications. Suppose East wins the S Q and returns a spade, which you ruff (I hope) and draw trumps in four rounds. Alas, discarding from dummy becomes a problem, and there’s no way to execute the squeeze. Note that the H Q is only a mirage; it cannot be used as a threat against West, as this leaves both singly guarded threats in front of their stoppers (at least one must be behind); instead, your heart threat must be in dummy, which means you must ruff a heart (after pitching two hearts on S A-K) to isolate the threat to West.*

*If trumps were 3-2, you could succeed by pitching a club on the third trump; then win the H A, pitch two hearts on S A-K, ruff a heart, and lead the last trump. Even then, however, success is only a gift from East, as a heart or club return at trick two would defeat you. Thus, ducking the first trick is wrong.

A better way to rectify the count is to win the S A and lead the S 5 to pitch a heart (Line A), as the defense must be more accurate to foil your effort. East must play low*, forcing West to ruff the trick; then West must shift to a club to break the squeeze.

*If East plays the S 7, you can switch horses: Ruff and lead all your trumps and the C K to leave S K-8-6 H A C A in dummy. Suppose East keeps S Q-9-4 (to prevent suit establishment) and H 9-6. Next win the C A to squeeze East out of a heart, then cash the H A and duck a spade.

Cell Blocks A and F seem to be under siege by mortar fire, so your only chance to escape is to move toward the middle. The best way to rectify the count is to duck a heart, and only Line C allows this to be done at a convenient time. After winning the S A, draw four rounds of trumps, pitching a spade and a club from dummy. The H Q is irrelevant as a threat card, so you might as well lead it — with Chinatown just across the Bay, it might even win. When West covers with the king, duck to leave this position:

D win 7 S K 8 6TrickLead2nd3rd4th
H A 57. WC 10A54
D8. NS K7H 2H 7
C A 69. NS 6QD 9H 8
S TableS Q 9 710. SD 10!C 8H 5H 6
H J 10 8 7H 611. SH 410A?
DDEast is squeezed
C Q 10 8C J 9 5
H 4 2
D 10 9
West leadsC K 7 4

West’s best defense is to return a club honor*, which you win in dummy. Cash the S K to pitch a heart, ruff a spade, and lead your last trump. If West abandons clubs to protect hearts, discard the H 5 from dummy; then the H A will squeeze East in the black suits. Better defense is for West to pitch a heart at Trick 10, then you must deduce whether he threw away his stopper or started with six hearts.

*If West returns a heart, it gives you a cinch (another edge in leading the H Q). Win the H A, pitch a heart on the S K, and ruff a spade. Then the last trump completes a simultaneous double squeeze, thanks to the twin entry in clubs.

Line A clearly deserves second place, as it takes perfect defense to defeat it. Line F is defeated more easily (three out of four leads with trumps 4-1, two out of four with trumps 3-2), so it deserves only a distant third.

Leading all your trumps (Line B or E) effectively kills squeeze chances (count is not rectified) and leaves only a remote chance to endplay West; e.g., if he has C Q-J-10 (no way to unblock), you could force him to win a club trick and lead away from the H K. Alternatively, you could attempt to endplay West by ducking a heart, which requires a precise holding of H K-J-10-9-8-(7) assuming best defense. The edge goes to Line B, mainly per the voting, as a spade ruff is unlikely to help.

Curiously, Line D must get last place despite being close to the winning Line C. What a difference one trump makes! Leading a fifth trump hopelessly squeezes dummy, spoiling any squeeze chance; and ducking a heart next kills any endplay chance. Oh well; no chance kind of sums up your escape plan too.

Comments for C. Win S A, four trumps, duck heart

Jonathan Mestel: [On the four trumps], I throw a club and a spade. West may have only five hearts, so I want to duck a round of that suit, then play for a double squeeze. A lead from four spades on this auction is unlikely.

John Reardon: This allows the double squeeze, even when trumps are 4-1.

Rob Stevens: A double squeeze with clubs as the pivot suit (do people use that term anymore?). In this kind of squeeze I must cash S A-K before the last trump is led. Opponents will (should) attack clubs when I duck a heart, so I must then be in a position to get off the dummy to lead the last trump, while preserving the C K. Most other lines make it unsafe to cash S A-K, or force declarer to ruff away his menace.

Weidong Yang: This will work even if West has only [five cards] in his weak-two suit.

Bruce Neill: Hearts should be 6-1; but in case West is a frisky type, I’ll make sure dummy’s third heart is a menace. West having five hearts seems a greater risk than him leading the 10 from a four-card spade suit.

Jordi Sabate: A double squeeze with clubs as the common suit: hearts-clubs against West, spades-clubs against East. Only four trumps [can be led immediately], else I squeeze dummy.

Thijs Veugen: I will have a double squeeze with clubs as the central suit. From dummy, I discard a club and a spade.

Lajos Linczmayer: To make this, I must duck a heart (not a spade), so I draw trumps. If West has S 10-x H K-J-10-x-x-x D x-x C Q-10-x, I play four rounds of trumps, discarding a club and a spade. As I need two low spades [in dummy], I must not ruff a spade at trick two.

Charles Blair: “Rural Free ‘livery!” -Clyde Love

“Rural Free Lechery.” -Courtney Love

Toby Kenney: Preparing a nonsimultaneous double squeeze. If I lead five trumps, I’ll squeeze dummy first.

Rainer Herrmann: A spade ruff will later clarify who holds the remaining spade and whether to squeeze West in the majors or play for a double squeeze.

Ron Landgraff: I hope the Warden is East. I plan to squeeze the life out of him and his SOB partner.

Barry White: Trying for an end position of S 8 H A-5 C 6 opposite H Q D J C K-7. The last trump is taken, and West must pitch a club to retain two hearts; dummy’s small heart is pitched, and now a heart to the ace squeezes East holding the master spade and two clubs. This line was necessary because I needed to ruff a spade back to hand…

Imre Csiszar: Preparing for a double squeeze if West has short spades, as the lead suggests. Unless West preempted with a five-card suit, it will be possible to count the ending exactly. On the trumps, a club and a spade are pitched — one more trump (Line D) would squeeze dummy.

Nigel Guthrie: The last trump operates a double squeeze in a four-card ending. If West exits in hearts [after I lead the H Q and duck], it will be simultaneous: S 8 H 5 C A-6 opposite D A C K-7-4. If he exits in clubs, it will be nonsimultaneous: S 8 H A-5 C 6 opposite H 4 D A C K-7.

John Lusky: Playing for a double squeeze with clubs as the middle suit. I will have to cash the top spades before playing my last trump, and I can’t play more than four trumps early without squeezing dummy. Opponents can knock out one of dummy’s round-suit entries but not both, and the squeeze succeeds whichever entry remains.

Bill Powell: I should be able to navigate the Type B1 double squeeze from here.

Dale Freeman: On the four trumps, I pitch a spade and a club. Probably a club comes back, won in dummy; S K (pitch heart); spade ruff; then the last diamond will squeeze West in hearts and clubs; and [if West abandons clubs], the H A will squeeze East in spades and clubs.

Constance Goldberg: If a club is returned, I win in dummy; cash the top spade, pitching a heart; ruff a spade, then the last trump squeezes West out of his club guard, and a heart to the ace squeezes East.

Mauri Saastamoinen: I would like to achieve one of two classic endings: S 8 H 5 C A-6 opposite D A C K-7-4, or S 8 H A-5 C 6 opposite H 4 D A C K-7. [Play described].

Steve White: I need to duck a heart so that only West can guard the H 5. Only four trumps [can be led first], so I don’t have to pitch prematurely from dummy.

Dawei Chen: This allows for the H A being protected and keeps a hand entry (ruff spade) to execute the double squeeze.

Alon Amsel: After a club return, I will need to cash the S K and cross to hand with a ruff to keep communication for a double squeeze.

Franco Baseggio: I want to rectify the count in hearts (in case they’re 5-2) for the double squeeze. I can safely pitch a spade and a club, but no more; so only four trumps. After ducking the heart, I win the return in dummy, cash the S K, and ruff a spade back for the last trump. If opponents dislodge the C A, the squeeze will be nonsimultaneous.

Jon Greiman: This should set up a nonsimultaneous double squeeze. The H Q is totally a red herring.

Travis Crump: I can afford to pitch a club and a spade; a fifth trump squeezes dummy. [Play described]. All should be fine as long as West isn’t 4-6 in the majors.

Tim DeLaney: Ducking the spade lead is a bad play, even if it happens to work; usually East would win the S Q and return a heart, knocking out a vital entry. Line C results in a double squeeze with clubs as the “both” suit…

Jerome Rombaut: [On the four trumps], I discard a club and a spade from dummy. I will take the club return in dummy, cash the high spade, and ruff a spade. Next I cash the last trump to squeeze West in hearts and clubs; then I go to dummy with the H A to squeeze East in spades and clubs.

Kevin Lane: After the fourth diamond, I have S K-8-6 H A-5-3 C A-6 opposite H Q-4-2 D 10-9 C K-7-4; then I feed West the H Q to rectify the count for a double squeeze. …

Dean Pokorny: On the third and fourth trump, a spade and a club are discarded from dummy. [After a heart duck and a club return], a nonsimultaneous double squeeze is executed…

The Warden may have the same plan for you. What would you like for your last meal?

N. Scott Cardell: … Unless I risk a ruff by cashing a second high spade at trick two, this is the only sequence that leads to a successful double squeeze when trumps are 4-1. …

Roger Morton: [On a heart return], I’ll win the H A, cash the S K, ruff a spade, and [lead the last trump] to execute a double squeeze…

Frans Buijsen: This is the only play that has the right timing for a progressive double squeeze.

David Kenward: [On a club return], I win the C A and S K, ruff a spade, then the last trump starts an RFL double squeeze around clubs.

Audrey Kueh: … I win the return in dummy, cash the S K, and ruff a spade; then I have a lock (simple or double squeeze) unless West’s jump overcall is just H K-J-10-x-x (yuck).

Theo Chin: [On the four trumps], I discard a spade and a club. I win the club return with the ace; cash the S K to pitch a heart; ruff a spade; then the last trump squeezes West out of club control, and the H A squeezes East finally in the blacks.

Michael Palitsch: On the four trumps, I throw one spade and one club. Afterwards, West is squeezed in hearts and clubs (I can throw a heart on the S K); finally, East is squeezed in spades and clubs.

Thibault Wolf: To finish with a double squeeze after: C A, S K, spade ruff. The last diamond squeezes West, then the H A squeezes East.

Neelotpal Sahai: … A nonsimultaneous double squeeze with clubs as the bridge suit.* The H Q is a mirage…

*What I call the common suit has been referred to as: pivot suit, central suit, middle suit, both suit, bridge suit — and maybe I missed one. Nobody’s right or wrong, of course, but I think “common” describes it best. -RP

Micah Fogel: All I know for sure is that Lines A and F are wrong, since losing an early trick to East begs for a heart return… I don’t know which of the other four is best, so I’m guessing how best to go set.

Finally, someone has mastered this game! My Uncle Cedric would be proud.

Tim Dickinson: … If East has long spades, a double squeeze will materialize; but what if West has four? Would he have led dummy’s suit with S 10-9-7-3 H K-J-10-9-8-7 D 7 C Q-5?

Douglas Dunn: Planning on a double squeeze, I’ll win the club return with the ace; cash the S K; ruff a spade; then the [last trump] squeezes West in hearts and clubs, and the H A squeezes East in spades and clubs.

Marek Malowidzki: Preparing a double squeeze in hearts-clubs (West) and spades-clubs (East).

Daniel de Lind van Wijngaarden: At this vulnerability, West will often have only five hearts. Line C will usually set up a double squeeze; but if West started with S 10-9-x-x and six hearts, I can read it and [play for a simple squeeze].

Brad Theurer: I can’t play more than four trumps [immediately] without damaging the position for an eventual double squeeze, probably nonsimultaneous. [Play described.]

Julian Wightwick: I pitch a club and a spade on the four trumps. When opponents put me back in dummy after winning the heart, I play the S K and ruff a spade. So long as East guards spades, there is a double squeeze around clubs. Unfortunately, this fails if West is 4-6 in the majors, unless I [guess it]. …

Leonard Helfgott: A fifth trump would squeeze dummy first in this nonsimultaneous double squeeze. [Play described].

Manuel Paulo: If West has a hand like S 10-x H K-J-x-x-x-x D x-x C Q-J-x, he can lead a club [when I duck a heart], but it’s too late to destroy the impending double squeeze. [To beat me], he had to lead a club [honor] originally.

Joon Pahk: Either West will be squeezed in the majors, or there will be a nonsimultaneous double squeeze around clubs (much more fun). [Play described].

George Klemic: Can’t quite work out the finish, but it seems like I can’t run [more than four] trumps right away, since dummy will be squeezed. …

Ned Stokes: After [four trumps], why not run the H Q? It would appear that East must have the H K. How could you duck the first trick? Is this a trick question? Are you stir crazy?

Final Notes

I hope you enjoyed the contest, as well as the revisit to Alcatraz. We Americans are proud of our prisons! Many countries waste their money on schools, but we know better — a good education means nothing if there’s no place to lock you up. Thanks to all who participated, and especially those who offered kind remarks about my web site.

Comments are selected from those scoring 48 or higher (top 205) or in the overall Top 200 prior to this contest, and on each problem only those supporting the winning play. This may be considered biased, but I feel it’s the best way to ensure solid content and avoid potential embarrassment in publishing comments that are off the mark. On this basis, I included about 75 percent of the eligible comments. If you supplied comments that were not used, I thank you for the input.

Use of a comment does not necessarily mean I agree with it, but generally they are all worthy. Comments are quoted exactly except for corrections in spelling and grammar. Where I have included only part of a comment, an ellipsis (…) indicates where text was cut. Text [in brackets] was supplied by me to summarize a cut portion or fix an omission. Comments are listed in order of respondents’ rank, which is my only basis for sequencing. I am confident that my lengthy study of these problems (assisted by comments received) has determined the best solutions in theory, but oversights are possible. Feedback is always welcome.

Uh-oh! Here come the screws. It’s going to be Lights Out any second, so I might not be able to fini

Andy Caranicas: An escape from Alcatraz would be easy compared to these play quizzes.

Curt Reeves: Please don’t arrest me for felonious declarer play!

Bill Powell: I trust entries from penal colonies will receive preferential marks?

Barry White: This is the 100th anniversary of the Great San Francisco Earthquake (April 18th as I write), which kind of makes you think about “the rock” of San Francisco.

Anthony Golding: These problems are strictly for The Birdman.

Analyses 8X80 MainChallengeScoresTop Six Against The Rock

Acknowledgments to the 1987 film by Koch Vision Studios
© 2006 Richard Pavlicek