Analyses 8Y80  MainChallenge


Scores by Richard Pavlicek

These six problems were published on the Internet in October 2007 as a contest open to all bridge players. As East, you had to decide your defense after partner has made a horrible opening lead.

Problem 123456Final Notes

If you thought this was the end of Fritz, I have some more bad news. He has contacted Matilda (see my June Contest) and the two are en route to San Francisco — yes, in a Wienermobile — to play in the Fall Nationals. By all accounts, this has to be the worst partnership in the history of bridge, so if you plan to attend, beware! Don’t play on any pick-up teams!

Thanks to Mike Frentz (Washington) for the following Poe-tic addition. Hmm… Frentz? Fritz? Close enough!

And the maven, never moving, writes upon the scorecard proving
His atrocious play has cost us, dealing with it, such a chore.
Here I sit, near catatonic, sipping on my gin and tonic
This is worse than playing Chthonic, that bridge-playing bot of yore.
Asks Fritz, “When will I learn enough to have a winning score?”
Quoth the maven: “Nevermore!”

Franco Masoero Wins!

This contest had 636 entrants from 109 locations, and the average score was 37.28. Congratulations to Franco Masoero (Italy) who was first of nine to submit perfect scores. Franco has been tapping at my chamber door with excellent scores all year, so his win is no surprise. Also scoring 60 were Leif-Erik Stabell (Zimbabwe), Jim Munday (California), Sjaak Smetsers (Netherlands), Rainer Herrmann (Germany), Ding-Hwa Hsieh (Missouri), Bruce Neill (Australia), Perry Groot (Netherlands) and Wuping Lu (China) — a list that could make your aces disappear mid-trick. Also noteworthy is the diversity of locations, comprising five continents.

I knew you could do it! The lowest participation, not only this year but in over five years (since June 2002) makes this a fitting termination of my bell curve. With Fritz on the prowl, I guess it’s no big surprise, so I got what I deserved for trying to toughen up your game. Now you can return to easy bridge and sugarcoated problems from an ACBL certified teacher (is that an oxymoron?) or give up the game for something less challenging like quantum physics.

The average score (37.28) was the lowest in the 2007 series (edging out poor Matilda in June with 37.65). Only one problem (#2) was aced by the consensus, and the consensus scored a mediocre 38. Only 297 persons scored above average (38+) to make the list. Two problems were close enough to warrant a 9 award, but all the winning choices were clear-cut (no all-nighters).

Overall standings count the best four scores in the last six contests. Retaining her top spot with yet another 60 and a perfect average is Ding-Hwa Hsieh (Missouri). Only half a point behind with 59.50 is Jim Munday (California), followed by Darek Kardas (Poland) with 59.25. Next with 59.00 are Franco Masoero (Italy), Rainer Herrmann (Germany) and Jordi Sabate (Spain). Completing the Top 10 with 58.75 are Bruce Neill (Australia), John Lusky (Oregon), Lajos Linczmayer (Hungary) and Joanna Sliwowska (Poland).

Bidding is standard unless noted. For a reference see Standard American Bridge.
Assume declarer is an expert. Fritz is a moron but assume he won’t do anything stupid after his opening lead.

Each defensive problem offered six plausible leads or options for East early in the defense. The merit of each is scored on a 1-to-10 scale per my judgment, which may be influenced by comments received.

Problem 1

MatchpointsS Q 9 8 6WestNorthEastSouth
None vulH A 8 7FritzDummyYouDeclarer
D 10 2PassPass1 S
C K 10 7 2Pass2 C1Pass2 D2
TableS K 10 4Dbl2 S3 DPass
Lead: S 2H J 9 5 2Pass3 SAll Pass
D J 6 5
3 S SouthC A Q J1. midnight Drury
2. light opening

1. WS 2?910J
2. SC 45KA

Next LeadAwardVotesPercent
C Q108914
H J96610
D J717928
S 469014
H 2511218
D 5210016

Terrific. You had a trump trick coming, and Fritz manages to make it disappear. Oh well, a diamond probably would have cost as well; and if you had the S 8 instead of dummy, Fritz would have been a hero. What’s that proverb about dead heroes? Never mind. I was overcome by wishful thinking.

At least give Fritz credit in the auction. His lead-directing double might be considered inane, since he would be on lead, but it allowed you to compete and push the opponents to 3 S. But then, ‘inane’ would be a definite upgrade for Fritz.

The best chance to defeat 3 S is to win two clubs, two diamonds (Fritz probably has D A-Q) and a heart (Fritz will need at least the H Q) giving South something like S A-J-7-x-x H K-x-x D K-x-x C x-x. This will be easy unless South has some critical intermediate cards. If South has H K-10-x, leading hearts is dangerous; if he has D K-9-x, leading diamonds will establish the D 9 for a heart pitch from dummy.

Continuing clubs would seem to help declarer, as a third-round ruff establishes the C 10 in dummy. Perhaps you should just return a trump and let declarer decide his own fate. Consider this dangerous layout:

MatchpointsS Q 9 8 6TrickLead2nd3rd4th
None vulH A 8 71. WS 2910J
D 10 22. SC 45KA
C K 10 7 23. ES 4?3D 48
S 2 TableS K 10 44. NS QKAD 7
H Q 6 3H J 9 5 25. SC 367J
D A Q 8 7 4D J 6 56. EH JK!37
C 9 8 6 5C A Q J7. SD 3!810J
S A J 7 5 3Declarer succeeds
H K 10 4
D K 9 3
3 S SouthC 4 3

Leading a diamond at Trick 3 clearly loses (declarer will duck or cover the jack). Leading the H J is temporarily safe, but declarer will win the king to freeze the suit and put you back in with a club; then what? Suppose you return a trump; Fritz already exposed your holding, so declarer will pick up your S K anyway. Declarer wins cheaply, draws your last trump, and ducks a club to your jack. Your only hope now is to lead the H J, but declarer has various counters, e.g., he can win the H K to freeze the suit and play diamonds from hand, eventually establishing the C 10 for a heart discard.

The winning defense is to continue clubs until ruffed. Declarer cannot benefit from good C 10. If he crosses to dummy with the H A and leads the S Q, you will not cover; then if he draws your last trump, he cannot reach the C 10 in time. If declarer instead leads a diamond from hand, Fritz will duck (playing the D Q would be stupid) to your jack; then a diamond return allows Fritz to lead a fourth club, which you ruff to kill the C 10. Declarer has no way to succeed.

A close second goes to the H J. At double-dummy, this is actually better than the C Q; but I had to demote it, since it sometimes requires impossible play, e.g., if South has H Q-10-x, Fritz must duck when the queen is played. In the most likely scenario (South having both red kings) it is clearly better than the D J, because it fails only if South has both the H 10 and D 9; whereas the D J fails whenever South has the D 9. If declarer wins the H K and leads a club, you will next lead the D J; then partner will switch back to hearts if he held H Q-10-x, or continue diamonds if he has the D 9. Other possibilities exist, but my study showed a distinct advantage for the H J over the D J. It is also the only lead to produce a two-trick set when South has H Q-x-x and D K-9-x.

Third place is a close call between the S 4 and D J. In the most likely scenario (both red kings South) the S 4 loses when South has the H 10, and the D J loses when South has the D 9. Because Fritz is more likely to have the D 9 than the H 10, the edge must go to the D J. Other scenarios tend to favor the S 4, but I give these less weight because Fritz usually has a K-Q holding (hearts or diamonds) which makes his trump lead even less palatable. But this may all be meaningless, as I truly believe Fritz led his singleton to get a ruff.

A close fifth goes to the H 2. While grossly inferior to the H J in theory (losing immediately to H K-10-x) it is not so bad when you consider that declarer may misguess, playing the H 10 to cater to a lead from Q-J-x-(x). The H 2 is also deficient (versus the H J) when declarer has H Q-x-x D K-9-x, as he can let Fritz hold the H 10 to avoid a two-trick set.

The worst lead by far is the D 5, not only because Fritz might mistakenly cash out but because he will be endplayed when South holds S A-J-7-x-x H K-10-x D K-8-x C x-x. Best he can do is exit in clubs, then declarer has the timing to ruff a diamond and establish the C 10. In essence, when you shift to a diamond, the defense must lead three rounds to tap dummy, which requires the D J start.

Comments for the C Q

Leif-Erik Stabell: South could easily have S A-J-7-5-3 H K-10-x D K-9-x C x-x, so I better not touch either red suit.

Jim Munday: Fritz likely has D A-Q given his failure to lead one, and only five diamonds given his failure to bid 2 D. Declarer’s play at trick two suggests a doubleton, so I give him something like S A-J-x-x-x H K-10-x D K-9-x C x-x. I hope to ruff dummy’s fourth club. If declarer crosses to the H A to play a spade, I will duck; then he cannot enjoy the long club and ruff a diamond. This defense caters to a number of different red-suit layouts.

Rainer Herrmann: If declarer has something like S A-J-7-5-3 H K-10-x D K-9-x C x-x, he is short of entries to dummy to do everything; so I return a club and threaten to ruff his high club. (Ducking the club at trick two might have been better for declarer.)

Bruce Neill: If partner were anyone but Fritz, I might hope for suit preference on this trick. :)

Perry Groot: I’ll play South for S A-x-x-x-x H K-10-x D K-9-x C x-x. Declarer won’t have entries to enjoy the fourth club if he pulls trumps; and otherwise, West can lead a fourth club [for me to ruff].

Carsten Kofoed: This will kill the club trick for declarer when I ruff the fourth club.

Jerry Fink: Too great a chance that a heart or diamond switch will work to declarer’s benefit. We should be able to ruff out dummy’s established C 10, or cost declarer a diamond ruff to bring in trumps and get to the C 10 in time.

Dean Pokorny: While the H J sets declarer two tricks with S A-J-x-x-x H Q-x-x D K-x-x C x-x, I prefer the C Q, which is [necessary] to set S A-J-x-x-x H K-10-x D K-9-x C x-x.

David Kenward: Either red suit could give a trick away; and even if this sets up the C 10, declarer won’t be able to cash it usefully.

Dale Freeman: The D J might work if Fritz has the D 9, or a heart might work if he has the H 10; but rather than open up a red suit, I’ll lead clubs for declarer to ruff, setting up his C 10. Declarer will then have to lead a red suit; and when Fritz wins a diamond, maybe he’ll lead a club so I can kill the C 10.

Lajos Linczmayer: South seems to have two clubs. If he has S A-J-7-5-3 H K-10-x D Q-10-x C x-x, or S A-J-7-5-3 H K-10-x D K-10-x C x-x, only the C Q then C J defeats the contract.

Jonathan Mestel: Playing South for S A-J-x-x-x H K-10-x D K-9-x C x-x. The C 10 is curiously useless.

Bineet Jha: I would rather let declarer earn his tricks than risk shifting to a suit in which he may have some trapping spot cards. If he follows to three clubs, I will shift to a diamond. If he ruffs one of them, his good club in dummy will be rendered useless; if he reaches dummy via the H A, I will duck the S 9; then removing my S K denies himself further access to dummy.

Manuel Paulo: Consider this possible South hand: S A-J-7-5-3 H K-10-x D K-9-x C x-x. Declarer compensated Fritz’s lead with a failed trial. I lead my club quacks, and declarer will lose two clubs, two diamonds and another trick, despite the promoted C 10.

David Grainger: Give declarer S A-J-x-x-x H K-10-x D K-x-x C x-x, and after club leads he cannot pick up the S K and cross back to dummy before we get a heart trick. The D J is fine if partner holds the D 9 and plays three rounds — but opposite Fritz?

Ronald Kuip: A singleton trump lead, of course; why not? :) A spade return is out of the question;…a diamond, ah no; the C Q and then a diamond? I can’t even be sure if Fritz has two clubs (5-3), three (9-8-5, 9-6-5 or 8-6-5) or four (9-8-5-3). If he has S 2 H K-x-x-x D A-Q-x-x-x-x C 5-3, the C Q will strip him of his exit — no, Fritz would have led a doubleton club. The C Q it is.

Bill Cubley: Why did I bid diamonds when I have four hearts? Richard will tell me in November.

Bill makes a good point that the double of 2 D would be better played as a light takeout of spades, however, standard interpretation is to show diamonds despite having little value as a lead-director. -RP

Problem 2

MatchpointsS 10WestNorthEastSouth
N-S vulH K 3FritzDummyYouDeclarer
D K Q J 9 51 SPass
C Q 10 7 5 4Pass2 D2 S3 NT
TableS A Q J 9 8 3PassPassPass
Lead: H JH A 8 7
D 4 2
3 NT SouthC K J

1. WH JKA2

E. Lead H 8, if wins then S Q1017227
C. Lead the S Q813822
D. Lead H 8, if wins then S A66110
B. Win S A, lead H 85437
A. Win S A, lead S Q313621
F. Lead H 8, if wins then H 718614

Oh, the pain. A simple spade lead and declarer would be eating dust, having to endplay you to escape for down one. Now Fritz is trying to give away the contract. Is Fritz void in spades? No, he’s void from the neck up. Oh well; what can you do about it?

South surely has the S K and both minor aces for his bid, plus the known H Q, which gives him seven top tricks. Adding the S K makes only eight, so the obvious defense is to shift to spades to establish your suit (Option A or C) while you still have clubs stopped. Careful! Where there’s eight, an expert can often produce nine with an endplay, and your club holding stands out like the wart on Fritz’s nose. Consider a likely layout:

MatchpointsS 10TrickLead2nd3rd4th
N-S vulH K 31. WH JKA2
D K Q J 9 52. ES A?4210
C Q 10 7 5 43. ES QK6C 4
S 6 2 TableS A Q J 9 8 34. SD 36K2
H J 10 9 6 5H A 8 75. ND 54A7
D 8 7 6D 4 26. SD 108QH 7
C 8 3 2C K J7. ND JH 8S 5C 2
S K 7 5 48. ND 9S 3H 4H 5
H Q 4 2continued below…
D A 10 3
3 NT SouthC A 9 6

Suppose you shift to the S A then S Q (Option A). Declarer will win and run diamonds to reach this ending:

NT win 3 STrickLead2nd3rd4th
H 39. NH 3S 8Q6
D10. SS 7!C 3C 59
C Q 10 7 511. ES JC 6H 9C 7
S TableS J 9 8East is endplayed
H 10 9 6H
C 8 3C K J
S 7
North leadsC A 9 6

Next a heart from dummy will force you to discard a spade, then declarer will exit with the S 7 to endplay you in clubs. Ouch! It would not have helped to keep S J H 8-7 C K-J as your last five cards, for then declarer could establish clubs directly.

Leading the S Q at Trick 2 (Option C) would lead to a similar ending with one more card. To beat this you must stay cool and plan ahead. Declarer’s ability to lead a heart at the end is a crushing blow, so you must prevent this by leading a heart yourself. Suppose you lead the H 8, which declarer must duck, then shift to the S A (Option D) and S Q. Declarer will duck then win the third spade, cash the H Q and lead diamonds to reach this ending:

NT win 3 STrickLead2nd3rd4th
H11. ND 9?
D 9East is squeezed
C Q 10
S TableS 9
H 10H
C 8 3C K J
S 7
North leadsC A 9

Your fears are realized once again. The last diamond forces you to give up your high spade or club stopper, and declarer wins the rest.

The good news is that you’re getting warm. After leading and winning the H 8, the solution is to retain the S A to prevent declarer from rectifying the count. Shift to the S Q (Option E); and if it holds, the S J* which declarer is obliged to win, else the S A is the setting trick. Now the count is not rectified for the squeeze, and declarer can’t reach his hand after running diamonds to endplay you.

*Optionally, you could just exit with a red suit, since declarer lost his chance to win the S K, and you can set the contract upon winning the C K.

The downside of finding the winning defense is that it sent Fritz dancing around the table, ecstatic about his brilliant lead to defeat 3 NT with only 1 HCP. Justifiable homicide?

Second place goes to an immediate shift to the S Q (Option C). To escape the endplay described above, this requires (1) South to have only two clubs or (2) Fritz to have the S 7 (not singleton) or S 6-x-x. You will have to decide which to play for. In Case 1 you must pitch only spades (keep two hearts). In Case 2 you must pitch both hearts and a middle spade (keep the S 3).

Third place is a virtual tie between leading the S A then H 8 (Option B) and vice versa (Option D). Either defense breaks up the endplay threat by removing dummy’s major cards (declarer must lead a club after running diamonds) but allows declarer to rectify the count for a squeeze, unless he has only three spades. Some might argue that Fritz would never lead a heart with as many as three spades, but idiocy has no bounds. As usual, the tie is broken by the voting.

Fifth place goes to leading the S A and S Q (Option A). This also requires South to have only three spades but further needs Fritz to have the S 7. Declarer must win the S K to have a chance, then on the diamond run you can discard two middle spades (keeping S J-3) and a heart to foil any endplay.

Last and surely worst is to lead the H 8 and H 7 (Option F), which offers no hope to defeat the contract. Declarer can just establish clubs, since you are unable to take more than four tricks.

Comments for E. Lead H 8, if wins then S Q

Leif-Erik Stabell: This leaves no tempo for declarer to squeeze or endplay me.

Jim Munday: There are several traps to avoid: Cashing the S A early will leave me susceptible to a black-suit squeeze, and leading the S Q right away will leave me badly placed when declarer runs diamonds. The key is to kill the communication to declarer’s hand without rectifying the count. Declarer must duck a second heart (if he can), then the S Q shift will finish his chances; if ducked, I will lead a middle spade. After running diamonds, declarer will have to lead a club from dummy, setting up my fifth trick.

Rainer Herrmann: Cutting declarer’s communication in the majors. [In the unlikely event] declarer is 3=3=5=2, he can succeed only if he has S K-7-x.

Bruce Neill: Breaking squeeze threats, firstly by taking out heart communication, and secondly by keeping the S A to prevent declarer from rectifying the count.

Perry Groot: Destroying the link with dummy, so I will not be squeezed on the run of diamonds.

Carsten Kofoed: Stripping off North’s “major equipment” gives me the tempo to destroy a squeeze.

Jerry Fink: Objective now is to prevent a strip-squeeze (being thrown in with a spade at the end to lead from C K-J). First, I lead the H 8 to cut declarer’s communication in hearts; then I establish spades so declarer cannot simply set up dummy’s clubs. Cashing the S A at trick three would lead inevitably to a killing spade-club squeeze; hence, the S Q.

Steve White: I must remove declarer’s heart entry to hand for a strip squeeze and avoid rectifying the count for a simple squeeze.

Tim DeLaney: Fritz’s heart lead seems crazy — and it is — but in fact has given away nothing if South has S K-7-x-x H Q-x-x D A-x-x C A-x-x. Declarer must duck when I return the H 8, then the S Q leaves him without resource (not the S A, which sets the table for a black-suit squeeze).

Dean Pokorny: This sets declarer (with S K-x-x-x-x H Q-x-x D A-x C A-x-x) by preventing a throw-in against me. …

David Kenward: I want a line where Fritz doesn’t follow to the S A. :)

Good point. If Fritz had any sense, he would revoke on your spade leads. Might save his life!

Junyi Zhu: Only this can foil the impending black-suit squeeze or strip squeeze. South should have S K-x-x-x H Q-x-x D A-x-x C A-x-x, or similar.

Dale Freeman: I must take the heart and spade off dummy before declarer runs diamonds to stop an endplay; and I must not give up the S A, lest declarer rectify the count to squeeze me in the black suits.

Sebastien Louveaux: First, I play a heart to avoid being strip-squeezed (declarer needs the H Q as a late hand entry); then I retain the S A to avoid rectifying the count.

Lajos Linczmayer: If South has S K-7-x-x H Q-x-x D A-x-x C A-x-x, this defense avoids a squeeze or a throw-in — and we get an average score.

Jonathan Mestel: You may not know that “Fritz” is quite a strong chess-playing computer program. You malign him here, yet he has clearly calculated that if declarer has the S 10, a heart is the killing lead.*

*Good observation. I actually have Fritz 8.0 but lost interest in chess after it beat me every game. Grr… at least playing my son, I could win sometimes. Maybe that’s why I chose the name for “The House on Phantom Lane” (October 2003) — trying to get even. -RP

Douglas Dunn: If I just play hearts, declarer can set up clubs. If I only play spades, I can get squeezed in spades and clubs.

Dan Hohor: I need [to develop] five tricks and not be endplayed (if I lead only spades) or squeezed (if I cash the S A early).

Charles Blair: Edgar Kaplan used to say, “Sorry, I should have opened and rebid hearts; then you would have led a spade.” …

John Reardon: Declarer must duck the H 8, or it is easy. If I then cash the S A, he will duck the next spade and squeeze me in the black suits. If instead I clear hearts, he can give up a club.

Gerald Cohen: Taking out declarer’s entry, so he can’t toss me in with a spade after the diamond run.

Bill Powell: This destroys the simple and strip squeezes — unless our friend overtakes the H 8 and plays another heart.

N. Scott Cardell: With Fritz marked with H J-10-9, South needs every other missing high card for his bidding. If his spades are as good as K-7-x, I am in mortal danger of being strip-squeezed; or if I win four tricks early, simple-squeezed. In order to avoid both Pisinoe and Aglaope, I must remove dummy’s major-suit cards and avoid cashing exactly four tricks. Fortunately, partner probably has H J-10-9-x-x, which means declarer must duck the H 8; then I lead the S Q, and if that is ducked, the S J… [Play described].

Franco Chiarugi: South is probably 4=3=3=3 with all the remaining honors, and partner should have H J-10-9-x-x. Declarer cannot win the H 8 (else contract is easily defeated), and this eliminates a safe exit from dummy after cashing diamonds. …

Terry Henry: Leading the H 8 removes the late entry to declarer’s hand, as well as the danger of my being endplayed after the run of diamonds. Then the S Q (followed by the S J) prevents declarer from rectifying the count for a spade-club squeeze. To get any matchpoints here, we need to beat this…

Paulino Correa: Damn Fritz for not leading my suit! He’d better have six hearts or at least one diamond, but definitely not three spades — or I’ll break his head at the end. … The H 8 return is in order; and if it wins, the S Q; and if that wins, I’ll exit with the H 7 and quietly wait for two more tricks. Of course, I realize that if declarer has S K-7-x H Q-x-x D A-x-x-x-x C A-x, he’ll win the S K and all his red winners to squeeze and endplay me for the contract. …

Jon Greiman: I must win a [heart] trick first to avoid the endplay; then I can set up my spades, [queen first].

Manuel Paulo: Consider these possible South hands: S K-x-x-x-(x) H Q-x-x D A-x-(x) C A-x-x. Declarer must duck the H 8;…then I must establish spades (else declarer can set up clubs) and retain the S A (else I’ll be squeezed in the black suits).

John Lusky: If South has a hand like S K-7-x-x H Q-x-x D A-10-x C A-x-x, it is necessary to extract dummy’s major-suit cards and prevent declarer from rectifying the count for a regular black-suit squeeze. The strip squeeze fails because declarer must play a club himself after running diamonds.

David Grainger: The H 8 must be played now, else declarer will have an entry to hand later to throw me in with a spade. If I cash the S A at trick three, declarer will duck the next spade to rectify the count for a black-suit squeeze.

Julian Wightwick: A strip-squeeze looms. This defense removes dummy’s exit cards, so declarer will have to play a club after running diamonds. Cashing the S A (Option D) leads to a simple black-suit squeeze after ducking the S Q. Declarer can’t duck the S Q with Option E, because I would switch, and the S K would never score.

David Brooks: This ensures that I cannot be endplayed to lead a club.

Toby Kenney: Removing declarer’s entries to hand to prevent a squeeze throw-in. If I cash the S A, I risk a positional squeeze in the black suits. This way, the count cannot be rectified.

Harry Elliott: Declarer has eight tricks counting the S K, and a ninth may come from establishing clubs, endplaying me, or a black-suit squeeze. [Losing options explained]. This forces declarer to take the S K (else lose his eighth trick); then cashing the H Q and running diamonds reduces to a four-card ending, in which a club must be led from dummy…

Jonathan Brill: Partner cannot have an [entry] for his pass, so no use playing a third heart. Only question is which spade to play; the queen maintains control to stop any possibility of a squeeze…

Brad Theurer: I need to lead the H 8 to disrupt transportation for a potential strip squeeze against me in the black suits, plus not rectify the count for a simple squeeze. If declarer wins the S K, cashes the H Q and runs diamonds, I can throw spades safely.

Roger Morton: Even Fritz must have five hearts for this lead! Declarer has to duck the second heart, then I must clear the spade on the table; otherwise I will get thrown in to lead from C K-J at trick 12. If diamonds are 5-5 (allowing declarer to run the suit ending in hand), I will have to keep the S 3 and hope Fritz has the S 7 — and doesn’t pitch it…

Problem 3

MatchpointsS 10 9 4WestNorthEastSouth
E-W vulH J 10 9 8 5FritzDummyYouDeclarer
D K 41 C
C A 10 5Pass1 HPass1 NT
TableS K QPassPassPass
Lead: S AH A 6 3
D 10 9 7 2
1 NT SouthC K J 9 8

1. WS A?4K2
2. WS 59QJ

Next LeadAwardVotesPercent
C J108013
C K88413
D 10722435
D 2616125
H 327612
H A1112

Oh dear. It seems you’ll always be a trick behind the field, as only a moron would lead the S A. Bingo! South bears a smug look as he tosses the S J, probably an unblock from S J-x-x to create an extra entry to dummy.

The obvious defense is to shift to diamonds, which requires Fritz to have at least D Q-8-x-x to be effective. Alas, this would leave South with all the remaining HCP to justify his opening (S J-x-x H K-Q-x D A-J-x C Q-x-x-x) so hearts will establish immediately to give declarer eight tricks. And what will be your matchpoint score? Zero, or close to it.

The best hope to salvage something after the moronic start is for Fritz to have the H Q or C Q. The latter is long shot, but the following layout is a reasonable chance:

MatchpointsS 10 9 4TrickLead2nd3rd4th
E-W vulH J 10 9 8 51. WS A4K2
D K 42. WS 59QJ
C A 10 53. EC J!Q65
S A 7 6 5 3 TableS K Q4. SH K!483
H Q 4H A 6 35. SH 2Q96
D 8 6 5 3D 10 9 7 26. WC 710K2
C 7 6C K J 9 87. EC 93S 3A
S J 8 2Declarer wins 7 tricks
H K 7 2
1 NT SouthC Q 4 3 2

If you can hold declarer to seven tricks, you will get some matchpoints, since 2 H can be made against any defense. To do this, you need to establish two club tricks before declarer can establish hearts. Therefore, you must shift to the C J, forcing the queen to win.* If declarer next leads the H K, you must duck; then when Fritz wins the H Q, a second club through dummy will establish the needed tricks. Minus 90 might even be above average, as some East-Wests may buy the contract and be minus 100.

*If the C J wins, Fritz probably has C Q-x and you should continue, hoping declarer will not hold up for fear of Fritz having the H A and establishing spades. However, if you think declarer ducked with C Q-x-x-x, you must abandon clubs, then Fritz will lead a second club when he wins a heart.

Second place goes to leading the C K, which works just as well if declarer takes the ace (likely) but he might see through your plan and duck, leaving no way to stop eight tricks.

Third place goes to the mundane diamond return. Between the D 10 and D 2, there’s no difference (either loses if South has D A-J-8) so they’re ranked by the voting. On your luckiest day, you might catch Fritz with five diamonds plus the H Q to defeat 1 NT, South holding S J-x-x H K-x-x D A-Q C Q-x-x-x-x. Don’t hold your breath.

Leading a heart is futile, unless trying to keep pace with Fritz, then the H A stands out a mile. When this hands over nine tricks, Fritz will offer you a high five as he chortles, “We kept ‘em out of game!”

In retrospect, I should have included the C 8 as an option (instead of the H A) because it does have a winning scenario. If Fritz has C Q-x, albeit unlikely, leading the C 8 is necessary to establish three tricks, while leading an honor blocks the suit.

Comments for the C J

Leif-Erik Stabell: At the table I would perhaps have chosen the C 8, since Fritz may have indicated the C Q with his (potentially) smallest spade. Also, if he has S A-x-x-x-x H x-x D x-x-x-x C Q-x, his crazy lead hasn’t cost anything, and minus 90 should be an excellent score. However, the C 8 is not listed, so I settle for the C J, hoping South has S J-x-x H K-x-x D A-Q-J C Q-x-x-x. This unfortunately means that a small spade would have defeated the contract trivially; but minus 90 still beats minus 110 (the most likely result in 2 H), and anything else gives declarer an easy overtrick.

Jim Munday: I guess Fritz thought the contract was 7 NT with that lead. He can have at most one queen left; and I hope it is the C Q, which means he had no entry to his spades anyway, and I might salvage something. … If Fritz has C Q-x, declarer will be hard-pressed to read the situation; he’ll almost certainly duck the first, and can’t safely duck the second, as Fritz could establish spades if he had the H A. The C J also gains [if] Fritz has the H Q [and C x-x] as it sets up two club tricks. If I lead the C K, declarer can duck.

Rainer Herrmann: If South has S J-x-x H K-x-x D A-Q-x C Q-x-x-x, only the C J will hold declarer to seven tricks; while 2 H is also on. (Declarer would duck the C K.)

Bruce Neill: I must have missed the point on this one, as I’d be delighted to get back to average after the S A lead; so I’d switch to the C 8, playing declarer for S J-x-x H K-Q-x D A-Q-J C x-x-x-x. That holds declarer to the minimum seven tricks, the best we could do on any defense. Nearest option: C J. Maybe declarer will win the second club, hoping to make eight tricks.

Perry Groot: Aiming for two spades, two hearts and two clubs, when South has S J-x-x H K-x-x D A-Q-x C Q-x-x-x.

Carsten Kofoed: This forces South to win the first club, so West can return a club when he wins the H Q.

Mauri Saastamoinen: If declarer has C Q-x-x-x,…and partner has an entry in hearts, we will score six tricks.

Neelotpal Sahai: One notrump is making, but this will probably restrict overtricks if partner has a high heart.

Debbie Cohen: I hope partner has the C Q [or H Q]. The C J is better than the king in case [declarer ducks].

Steve White: The best chance to recover from Fritz’s disastrous lead is to hope declarer started with S J-x-x H K-x-x D A-Q-J C Q-x-x-x. If Fritz then cooperates by playing a second club when in with his H Q, we can hold this to 1 NT, while opponents could make 2 H.

Tim DeLaney: This time Fritz has pitched a trick, but all is not lost. If South has S J-x-x H K-x-x D A-Q-J C Q-x-x-x, I can surround the C 10 and hold declarer to seven tricks, which will win a few matchpoints since opponents can make 2 H.

Dean Pokorny: This is the only way to prevent an overtrick when South has S J-x-x H K-x-x D A-Q-x C Q-x-x-x, expecting partner to return a club when in with the H Q.

Junyi Zhu: Trying to establish two clubs, together with two spades and two hearts, for six total tricks before declarer gets to eight. South may have S J-x-x H K-x-x D A-Q-x C Q-x-x-x.

Jonathan Mestel: Wild optimism leads me to hope Fritz will continue my suit. Then we’ll beat those defending 2 H; but not those defending 1 NT, alas.

Douglas Dunn: If declarer wins the C Q, partner can play another club when he gets in. If declarer ducks the C J, I will switch to a small heart.

John Auld: Hoping to recover, with partner having a heart entry to continue clubs. The C J is better than the king, since declarer can’t [gain] by ducking with C Q-x-x-x.

Franco Chiarugi: Fritz’s lead is really shocking; however, at some tables contracts may be 2 S by West (one down) or 2 H by North (making), so 1 NT just made could be a satisfactory result — and I can’t see anything better! South should have four clubs without any four-card major. Fritz cannot have anything better than S A-x-x-x-x H Q-x D J-x-x-x C x-x; he will take the lead only once, so his spades are useless. I need to develop two tricks in clubs before declarer develops hearts. …

Jon Greiman: Setting 1 NT is impossible now, but we can hold it to one by setting up two club tricks. If I lead the C K, declarer can duck.

Problem 4

MatchpointsS J 4 3WestNorthEastSouth
Both vulH A K Q J 8FritzDummyYouDeclarer
D J 5Pass1 HPass2 NT
C 10 7 2Pass3 NTPassPass
TableS 10 8 7 2Pass
Lead: H 10H 9 7 5 3
D A 4
3 NT SouthC A J 8

1. WH 10A34
2. ND J?

For once, Fritz doesn’t lose a trick with his lead!

C. Win D A, lead H 51012219
B. Win D A, lead S 299214
A. Win D A, lead S 887512
D. Win D A, lead C J717027
E. Win D A, lead C 83427
F. Duck (play D 4)213521

A heart lead? Fritz seems to be playing for the wrong side as usual, though this time he may have struck gold by not blowing a trick and attacking declarer’s communication. Even Fritz would prefer to lead a five-card suit (note Problems 2 and 3) so South has five diamonds, which is reinforced by the D J lead from dummy.

First, it is surely right to capture the D J, else a trick would be lost on many layouts. Then what? Nothing really stands out, and anything could be right. South’s most likely shape is 3=2=5=3, but 2=2=5=4 is possible with a positional holding of S A-Q or K-x. Declarer surely has a spade stopper, so a club shift is the only chance to run a suit. Perhaps Fritz has C K-9-x-x, in which case leading the C J will trap declarer’s queen; alas, this only produces three club tricks.*

*Declarer must guess to cover the jack and not play the C 10 next, but these are be normal plays after West’s short-suit lead.

Consider a typical layout:

MatchpointsS J 4 3TrickLead2nd3rd4th
Both vulH A K Q J 81. WH 10A34
D J 52. ND JA26
C 10 7 23. EH 5!628
S K 9 6 TableS 10 8 7 24. NH K7S 5S 6
H 10 2H 9 7 5 35. NH Q9C 6C 3
D 10 8 7 6D A 46. NH JS 2C 9C 4
C K 5 4 3C A J 87. ND 54K7
S A Q 58. SD Q8S 3S 7
H 6 4Declarer fails
D K Q 9 3 2
3 NT SouthC Q 9 6

Shifting to either black suit would assist declarer in developing a ninth trick. The killing return is “partner’s suit” which forces declarer to take his heart tricks now or lose them, but doing so obliterates his hand. Declarer will probably pitch black cards, banking on the D 10 to drop, but there is no path to success, even at double-dummy.*

*but not Fritz-proof: If declarer wins only two more hearts (pitching diamonds) Fritz must pitch two clubs, then if declarer leads a spade to the queen, Fritz must duck.

Second place is a close call between the black suits, so I ran a 1000-deal simulation, which showed a greater trick average for spades. For example, three rounds of spades develops the setting trick if South has S K-x-x H x-x D K-Q-x-x-x C K-Q-x, though a heart return also works in a cruel way. Between the S 8 and S 2, I see no compelling favorite so the voting decided.

A close fourth goes to the C J; indeed, the first four places are scored as high as possible* because they are all sound. Even if declarer guesses correctly, this beats the contract (as does a heart) if South has S A-Q-x H x-x D K-Q-x-x-x C Q-x-x, but you must be careful not to set up a squeeze against Fritz (three rounds of clubs and a spade switch is fatal).

*Per precedent, all options are given unique awards (no ties) using whole numbers only.

Other choices are poor. Leading the C 8 blows a trick when South has C Q-x-x-(x), but this still beats ducking the D J, which could blow several tricks, and even Fritz does better than that — sometimes.

Comments for C. Win D A, lead H 5

Leif-Erik Stabell: This time Fritz might have hit the jackpot: S K-x-x H 10-x D 10-x-x-x C K-x-x-x is a live possibility, and South will squeeze himself if he takes his heart tricks. Well, when you lead a random card on every hand, this sort of thing has to happen sooner or later; but when South discards a diamond, perhaps Fritz will do the same.

Jim Munday: An odd lead; it suggests honors in short suits, but who knows with Fritz. I don’t have much to go on, but ducking the diamond can easily surrender a trick. I’ll give declarer something like S A-Q-x H x-x D K-Q-9-x C Q-x-x-x; then a second heart will force him to run his winners, and he’ll wind up squeezing himself.

Rainer Herrmann: Fritz’s lead makes it likely he has all the missing queens. If declarer has S A-K-x H x-x D K-10-9-x C K-x-x-x, only a heart return will hold him to nine tricks.

Ding-Hwa Hsieh: If declarer has S A-Q-x H x-x D K-10-9-7-2 C K-Q-x, this will hold him to three. Would South bid 2 NT or 2 D over 1 H? Who knows, but it makes sense even for Fritz to lead a heart with 3=2=4=4. If Fritz is 3=2=5=3, for a club shift to be right, his diamonds have to be 10-9-8-7-6, with which I trust he would lead one. Right?

Bruce Neill: If South has S A-Q-x H x-x D K-Q-9-x C Q-x-x-x, I must remember to congratulate Fritz on his inspired lead.

Perry Groot: It seems strange to return the suit Fritz led, but the run of the hearts may squeeze South. Other leads may set up tricks for declarer.

Carsten Kofoed: Fritz has hit the killing lead! At least declarer will get no overtricks.

Mauri Saastamoinen: Too difficult! I do not want to guess what to lead next, so I’ll let declarer play all his hearts first.

Jerry Fink: Fritz got off to a killer this time. I’ll just follow his lead and force declarer to squeeze his hand to destruction.

Neelotpal Sahai: If South has D K-Q (no 10), ducking will sell the contract. One idea is to win and attack clubs; the C J is a good choice, but it won’t work when South has the C 9 to go with his C Q. A heart return may squeeze declarer…

Tim DeLaney: Fritz’s brilliant (?!) lead allows me to hold declarer to nine tricks — but only if I continue hearts. Ya gotta love matchpoints!

David Kenward: It looks like Fritz has found a good lead. I hope a heart back will restrict declarer’s options.

Junyi Zhu: Forcing declarer to cash his heart winners and inflict a suicide squeeze; South may have S A-Q-x H x-x D K-Q-x-x C Q-x-x-x. Even one round of clubs (leading C J) may be damaging…

Dale Freeman: Maybe the Fritz defense is the killer? Maybe declarer will have to cash his hearts and squeeze himself? Ugh! Maybe I am getting Fritzitis, or maybe we need a quiz on opening leads to find out how many Fritzes are out there.

Sebastien Louveaux: Forcing declarer to cash his heart tricks now; if he has vulnerable black-suit holdings (like S A-Q-x H x-x D K-Q-x-x C Q-9-x-x), this will suicide-squeeze him.

Charles Blair: Always return partner’s suit! I hope declarer has more discarding problems than Fritz — at least I won’t have any.

John Auld: At matchpoints, I won’t risk helping declarer with a black-suit switch. This way, he has to discard early from hand and may go wrong.

Bill Powell: Perhaps declarer will have to cash his hearts inconveniently early.

Franco Chiarugi: Fritz does not have four spades, and not even S A-K. South probably has five diamonds with a lateral entry (perhaps S A-x-x H x-x D K-Q-x-x-x C Q-x-x), and partner must have at least D 10-x-x-x. Dummy’s hearts might squeeze partner,…but not if declarer has to cash them immediately; hence, a heart return… Any other exit may help declarer develop his ninth trick, while maintaining communication with dummy.

Paulino Correa: … If declarer has S K-Q-x H x-x D K-Q-10-2 C Q-9-x-x, he could have succeeded on the nice club distribution (with low probability); but leading the D J is an understandable error. I must come up with the D A at once not to give declarer a second chance, and lead a heart to cut communication…

Manuel Paulo: Good lead, Fritz! Consider this possible South hand: S A-Q-x H 6-4 D K-Q-9-2 C Q-x-x-x. If I duck, declarer leads the D 5 and trots out nine tricks; so I win the ace and follow partner’s passive defense.

John Lusky: Since declarer did not want to run hearts right away, I should try to force him to do so… This will be awkward for him with a hand like S K-Q-x H x-x D K-10-x-x C K-Q-x-x.

David Grainger: If partner has good clubs [and no diamond stopper], I must play clubs; but if he has something in diamonds and spades, a heart now will force declarer to run the suit and could embarrass his hand.

Leonard Helfgott: So as not to create a ninth trick or remove declarer’s guesses.

Peter Gill: Fritz aimed to sever our communication, but he misfired and accidentally destroyed the timing of declarer’s access to dummy. My postmortem of praise is ready: Nice lead, partner!

Mark Chen: Forcing declarer to run hearts early and hoping he has discarding problems.

Problem 5

MatchpointsS A K 7 6 5WestNorthEastSouth
N-S vulH K 9FritzDummyYouDeclarer
D J 4 31 S2 D4 H
C K Q 35 C5 HPass6 H1
TableS Q 10 2PassPassPass
Lead: C AH A 2
D K Q 10 8 71. with Fritz on lead, why not?
6 H SouthC J 7 4

1. WC A?34H 5
2. SH 63K?

D. Duck, win H A, lead S Q1010617
E. Duck, win H A, lead D K816326
B. Win H A, lead H 277311
F. Duck, win H A, lead C J6345
C. Win H A, lead D K423637
A. Win H A, lead S Q2244

Sigh. Maybe if you overcalled in clubs, Fritz would have led a diamond, but the travesties continue. Your role is like a deep-sea diver trying to salvage something from a sunken ship — an analogy that also brings happy thoughts of Fritz at the bottom of the ocean.

Declarer probably has seven hearts, which gives him 11 tricks (six hearts, two spades, two clubs and the D A) and there are two ways he might reach 12: Set up spades with a ruff*, or squeeze you in spades and diamonds. The first requires an outside entry to dummy, which can only be in trumps, so you must foil that by ducking the heart (Option D, E or F) or winning and returning a heart (Option B).

*South does not require exactly two spades to establish the suit, as he can pitch a spade or two on dummy’s clubs.

Many would argue that partner must be void in diamonds to lead the C A, which behooves winning the first heart and leading the D K to ruff out the ace. Did you forget who your partner was? Also note that if South were 1=7=5=0, he could not succeed with any defense.

As far as squeeze defense, there is no problem if South is 2=7=4=0. Fritz can guard spades (even with as little as S 8-4-3) while you guard diamonds. More likely, South is 3=7=3=0, which means only you can guard spades, and the defense will be challenging. Consider this layout:

MatchpointsS A K 7 6 5TrickLead2nd3rd4th
N-S vulH K 91. WC A34H 5
D J 4 32. SH 63K2!
C K Q 33. NH 9A74
S J 8 TableS Q 10 24. ED K?A23
H 4 3H A 25. SH QC 2S 5C 7
D 9 2D K Q 10 8 76. SH JC 5S 6D 7
C A 10 9 8 6 5 2C J 7 47. SH 10C 6S 7D 8
S 9 4 3continued below…
H Q J 10 8 7 6 5
D A 6 5
6 H SouthC

Suppose you duck the first heart (crucial) and win the next, then lead the D K. Declarer wins and leads all but one trump to reach:

H win 6 S A KTrickLead2nd3rd4th
H8. SS 38A2
D J 49. NC KJD 58
C K Q10. NC Q?
S J 8 TableS Q 10 2Declarer succeeds
D 9D Q 10
C 10 9 8C J
S 9 4 3
H 8
D 6 5
South leadsC

Declarer next crosses to the S A and cashes C K-Q (pitching diamonds) and you’re caught in a ruffout squeeze. If you blank the D Q, one ruff establishes the jack. If instead you pitch a spade, declarer cashes the S K, and his nine is good.

A crucial aspect of the above ending is having two spade entries, one to reach dummy after the penultimate trump, and another to reach the established D J. Therefore, the winning defense is a spade return after the second heart. Any spade will do in the above layout, but the S Q guards against South being 2=7=4=0 with S J-x (blocks the suit). If South has S J-x-x, you are history no matter what you do.

If declarer held D A-9-x, he could succeed regardless. You must return a spade to break up the ruffout squeeze, but then cashing C K-Q and crossing to the D A results in an ordinary squeeze thanks to the D 9 threat. In the diagrammed deal, declarer has no diamond threat behind East and must fail, provided Fritz hangs on to his D 9, which is the only suit he could possibly protect.

Second place is a virtual tie among Options B, E and F, any of which prevents declarer from establishing spades but does nothing to stop the ruffout squeeze. Rather than split hairs, though the idea has appeal with Fritz across the table, awards follow the voting order.

Winning the first heart and returning the S Q (Option A) or the D K (Option C) are worse, allowing declarer to succeed whenever he has two or more spades. Option C gets the edge for fifth place, netting a two-trick set for those who expected a diamond void.

Comments for D. Duck, win H A, lead S Q

Leif-Erik Stabell: South’s most likely hand is S x-x-x H Q-J-10-x-x-x-x D A-x-x C —; but he might also have S J-x H Q-J-10-x-x-x-x D A-x-x-x C --. This defense is necessary in the first case, and sufficient in the second — provided Fritz hangs on to his three small spades.

Jim Munday: In self-defense, I will begin overcalling suits I don’t want led, thus increasing the chance of Fritz leading the suit I want. All is not lost if declarer has only seven hearts, as there are still only 11 tricks available. I must be careful to avoid being squeezed and not allow declarer to establish dummy’s spades… Ducking the first trick prevents the latter, as there is no reentry. Declarer’s likely pattern is 3=7=3=0 (even Fritz might have led a stiff diamond), which leaves me vulnerable to a trump squeeze. I must shift to a spade after winning the second heart, and I play the S Q in case South has S J-x; if he has S J-x-x, I am toast.

Rainer Herrmann: If declarer has three spades, a ruffing squeeze threatens; so I duck then return a spade — the queen in case declarer has S J-x… If he has S J-x-x, there is no defense, though the S Q return will make his life easy.

Jerry Fink: Even with Fritz’s help, declarer has only 11 tricks (two spades, six hearts, one diamond and two clubs). Danger is a trump squeeze (spades and diamonds) if South has S 9-x-x, and I leave dummy with two late spade entries.

Neelotpal Sahai: Now that partner has given two free tricks and a squeeze opportunity to declarer, he better produce the S J and D 9. South’s likely distribution is 3=7=3=0. If I win the H A, I have to return to trump (else declarer simply sets up spades), so it is important to duck; then I return a spade to break up the trump squeeze. … If South has the D 9 instead of partner, there is a simple spade-diamond squeeze against me.

Debbie Cohen: This breaks up a possible trump squeeze if Fritz has the S J, and is still safe if declarer has S J-x.

Steve White: I must duck the heart, lest declarer set up spades with the H 9 as an entry; and I must play a spade to break up a potential trump squeeze — the S Q in case South has S J-x. I hope even Fritz realizes it would be stupid to pitch a spade if he started with three spades, or to pitch a diamond if he started with only two spades. …

Dean Pokorny: The heart should be ducked to prevent the H 9 from being an entry for long spades; and a spade should be returned to remove an entry for the trump squeeze declarer is preparing with S x-x-x H Q-J-10-x-x-x-x D A-x-x C --.

David Kenward: This breaks up a spade-diamond ruffout squeeze, and still works if South has S J-x.

Sebastien Louveaux: I need to play spades to break the impending ruffing squeeze, which needs two spade entries… Note that S J-x will not help declarer if communication in hearts is broken.

Lajos Linczmayer: If South has S x-x-x H Q-J-10-9-8-7-6 D A-x-x C —, he has 11 top tricks, and a ruffing squeeze threatens.

Jonathan Mestel: Entries and squeezes. [Guarding against] South having S x-x-x H Q-J-10-x-x-x-x D A-x-x C --; and still OK if he has S J-x and D A-x-x-x, which is perhaps a more likely 6 H bid.

Douglas Dunn: Playing spades will break up a ruffing squeeze if South has three spades; and the S Q [guards against] South having S J-x.

John Reardon: I hope South has S x-x-x H Q-J-10-x-x-x-x D A-x-x C —, in which case this is the only way to beat him.

Bineet Jha: If declarer has S J-x-x, he can always succeed by playing all but one trump, keeping S A-K D J-x C K-Q in dummy, S J-x-x H x D x-x in hand. [Ruffout squeeze described]. Sacrificing my S Q at trick three not only renders South’s S J-x useless, but also removes an entry to dummy needed to reach the established diamond after the squeeze [when South has S x-x-x].

Adrian Barna: Breaking the ruffout squeeze if South holds S x-x-x H Q-J-10-x-x-x-x D A-x-x C —. A small spade return would work too, but not against S J-x H Q-J-10-x-x-x-x D A-x-x-x C --.

N. Scott Cardell: Declarer surely has the D A and less than four spades; with eight hearts he has 12 easy tricks, so I assume seven. He could easily have S x-x-x H Q-J-10-8-x-x-x D A-x-x C -- (his hearts could be useless in a spade contract), in which case only a spade lead breaks up the looming ruffout squeeze. I lead the S Q to block the suit should South have S J-x H Q-J-10-8-x-x-x D A-x-x-x C --. Fortunately, I have Pavlicekian dispensation that Fritz won’t do anything “stupid” after his lead; so with nothing else of potential value in his hand, he will not discard a spade from three (even S 8-x-x).

Thijs Veugen: Declarer may have S x-x-x H Q-J-10-x-x-x-x D A-x-x C —. If I don’t duck the heart, he will develop spades; still he can make on a [ruffout] squeeze, unless I return the S Q.

Franco Chiarugi: … I have to play partner for S J-x and attack communication to destroy the ruffing squeeze. Declarer can always win with S J-x-x (3=7=3=0 shape)…

Paulino Correa: Beautiful lead. :( Now declarer [is cold] with S x-x-x H Q-J-10-x-x-x-x D A-9-x C —; [play variations described]. …I’ll have to hope Fritz has D 9-x or three spades to be able to destroy the squeeze, and only this defense works in both situations.

Manuel Paulo: Consider this possible South hand: S x-x-x H Q-J-10-8-7-6-5 D A-x-x C —. I duck to deny an extra entry to dummy; then if I don’t lead a spade, I’ll be trump-squeezed in the pointed suits.

John Lusky: This stops declarer from setting up spades,…and stops the ruffing or crisscross squeeze if he has S x-x-x.

David Grainger: Giving declarer seven hearts, this will take an entry away for the trump squeeze when he has three spades and three diamonds. If declarer has two spades and four diamonds, he has [no squeeze].

Peter Gill: Maintaining the symmetry of both of us leading our highest black card at the first opportunity. Would it be ethical for me to lead the C 4 out of turn at trick one? Giving declarer five options to pick from must be better than having Fritz on lead. Will Fritz keep his spades? Because they look so small and useless, he’ll probably keep them. Such faith I have in partner.

Rob Wijman: This should cater for declarer holding S J-x H Q-J-10-8-7-x-x D A-9-x-x C —.

Roger Sun: I hope Fritz has S J-x D 9-x to destroy a ruffing squeeze; or at least S 8-x-x [to stop a simple squeeze].

Jonathan Brill: Making sure Fritz keeps his spade stopper!

Sandy Barnes: I must avoid the diamond-spade [ruffout] squeeze.

Mark Chen: Playing South for S x-x-x H Q-J-10-x-x-x-x D A-9-x C —, I need to attack spade entries to dummy to prevent a possible spade-diamond [ruffout] squeeze. I lead the S Q in case South has S J-x.

Problem 6

MatchpointsS A K Q 8 5WestNorthEastSouth
None vulH A J 8FritzDummyYouDeclarer
D J 10 91 C3 D
C J 23 SDblPassPass
TableS 9 4 24 C5 DPassPass
Lead: S JH K 10 6 2Pass
D A 2
5 D SouthC A K 8 4

1. WS J?A2C 3
2. NS K4C 93
3. ND J?

B. Win D A, lead H 21011218
D. Win D A, lead C A810116
A. Win D A, lead S 97102
E. Win D A, lead C 4681
C. Win D A, lead D 24416
F. Duck (play D 2)336457

Last hand, and never could this be more appreciated as my contest title begins to haunt. Having seen your club tricks disappear on Fritz’s lead, you now face a decision on the first trump lead. Instinct is to duck, especially with my note, “If you win the D A, Fritz plays D K," but you must be fair and realize that information given is not authorized until it would be known in actual play.*

*This issue has arisen before, and I’ve always emphasized that my contests emulate conditions at the table, else they would have little benefit. Hence, you would not know Fritz has the D K when the jack is led. I had to tell you this, because it may affect your next lead if you won the ace.

Suppose you follow the majority vote and duck the diamond (Option F). Everything is peachy when Fritz wins the king, but Fritz having the D K is far-fetched after South’s bid. Consider a realistic* layout:

MatchpointsS A K Q 8 5TrickLead2nd3rd4th
None vulH A J 81. WS JA2C 3
D J 10 92. NS K4C 93
C J 23. ND J2?37
S J 10 7 6 3 TableS 9 4 24. NS Q9H 36
H Q 5H K 10 6 25. NC 2KD 45
D 7D A 26. SH 45A!2
C Q 10 7 6 5C A K 8 47. NC JAD 56
Scontinued below…
H 9 7 4 3
D K Q 8 6 5 4 3
5 D SouthC 9 3

*Few if any would condone Fritz’s bidding, but ‘realistic’ only applies to South. Morons are excluded.

In real life the D J will win, then declarer will cash the S Q (noting the S 9 falling), ruff a club, cross to the H A and ruff dummy’s last club to reach this position:

D win 4 S 8 5TrickLead2nd3rd4th
H J 88. SD 6C 79A
D 10 99. EH 67Q8
CWest is endplayed
S 10 7 TableS
H QH K 10 6
C Q 10 7C 8 4
H 9 7
D K Q 8 6
South leadsC

Declarer exits with a trump, and you must lead a low heart to Fritz’s queen. Fritz must then yield a ruff-sluff or lead a spade and allow the S 8* to win a trick.

*If the S 8 were insignificant (S 9 did not fall) declarer would have to play Fritz for H 10-x: Exit with a diamond after one club ruff, ruff the club return, and lead a heart to the eight. In the actual case, H K-x or Q-x is more likely.

Therefore, the proper defense is to win the D A immediately. Seeing Fritz’s king fall brings sad regrets, but kibitzers are having a field day: Three tricks lost on first three tricks! What a pair!

Hopefully you regain composure to realize that declarer still has only 10 tricks, and your next lead stands out a mile: the H 2 (Option B). If you fail to lead a heart, Fritz may play low on the first round, allowing declarer to play ace another for an endplay. If South has the H Q, nothing matters at this stage.

Second place is a toss-up among Options A, D and E (spade or club return) as each gives declarer the losing option to eliminate clubs and play Fritz for H 10-x, thus allowing defeat even when Fritz fails to unblock. As usual, the tie is broken by the voting.

Fifth place goes to a diamond return (Option C) which forces declarer into the winning endplay, since he lacks the entries to ruff out clubs before leading a heart.

Alas, the four-eyed play of ducking the diamond ends up in the basement. I feel a little guilty about this, because I knew my note would persuade many to accept the easy trick. Sorry about that, but you should know by now I can’t be trusted. Nonetheless, the true experts came through with devout wisdom, as the following comments testify.

Comments for B. Win D A, lead H 2

Leif-Erik Stabell: Oh, you had the D K, Fritz? Well, you must have the H Q as well, and I better force you to put it up to prevent another accident. We could easily have had 500 here, but 50 is OK, since North must be Fritz’s cousin; he could have passed 3 S and collected 500 in 4 S doubled moments later.

Jim Munday: My first step is to check the back of the cards; did Fritz really bid 3 S? Without knowing the diamond position, ducking is an error, as it leaves me susceptible to an endplay when South has S -- H x-x-x-x D K-Q-x-x-x-x-x C x-x. The D K is an unwelcome surprise. I see only two choices from here: Play a club in case declarer is playing a deceptive game with S -- H Q-x-x D Q-x-x-x-x-x-x C 10-x-x; if he cashed three rounds of spades, I’d [routinely] duck the diamond as an [extra] chance to beat 5 D, since there was no longer fear of an endplay. That would leave Fritz with S J-10-x-x-x H x-x-x D K C Q-x-x-x. Is that remotely possible? With an expert partner, that is what I would do. With Fritz, I must worry about him failing to unblock the H Q, so I shift to a heart forcing him to play the queen with S J-10-x-x-x H Q-x D K C Q-10-x-x-x (a more likely hand on the bidding).

Rainer Herrmann: If Fritz has a red-suit honor, the contract can be defeated. Going up with the D A (playing Fritz for the H Q) to avoid an endplay is clearly right on frequency grounds. I return a heart to ensure that Fritz will unblock the H Q.

Perry Groot: Ducking may lead to an endplay. Fritz must have the H Q to have a chance for three tricks, and this makes it easy for him [to unblock].

Carsten Kofoed: If Fritz doesn’t have the H Q (a little justification for his bidding), South will get his 11 tricks.

Mauri Saastamoinen: Yeah, that’s the right way to do it! First we blow two tricks by not cashing our clubs; then we crash our trump honors on the same trick. It is surely difficult to take a second trump trick with the D 2; but if partner has Diana (H Q) lurking in his hand, this was the right defense. Sorry partner, but the coming King Charles (D K) was not enough.

Jerry Fink: Ducking the D J will lose if South has H 9-x-x-x D K-Q-x-x-x-x (far more likely than H Q-x-x-x D Q-8-7-6-5-4-3), since either Fritz will be endplayed if he keeps the H Q, or I will be endplayed if he unblocks it; [play described]. Too bad about the D K; now I need to help Fritz get rid of that H Q.

Neelotpal Sahai: Declarer’s likely shape is 0=4=7=2 (with three clubs he would have cashed another spade); if he has H Q-x-x-x, he gets 11 tricks perforce. If partner has H Q-x, he has to play the queen when declarer plays small toward dummy; otherwise he will get endplayed. This is too much of a risk with Fritz, so I win the D A and return the H 2 so he’ll play the H Q (not stupid). Danger of an overtrick is not there.

Debbie Cohen: This forces Fritz to unblock with H Q-x. …

Steve White: Beating this at all should be a good score, and the best [chance] is for Fritz to have the H Q,…but I can’t risk having him play low when declarer leads a heart to the ace. So I win the D A and play a heart; now it would be stupid not to play the queen.

Dale Freeman: If I duck the D J and Fritz produces a low diamond as expected, declarer will [succeed by an endplay]. Therefore, up with the D A (horrors to see D K) then a low heart to Fritz’s queen. Anyone who makes these opening leads and is classified as an idiot would not unblock on his own [so I must force it]. Trick or treat?

Sebastien Louveaux: South is obviously 0=4=7=2. Ducking the D J banks everything on partner having a diamond honor; else declarer can win the S Q, H A, strip clubs, and endplay me with the blank D A. After hopping with the D A, playing a heart is the best way to ensure partner unblocks his (now needed) H Q to escape the endplay.

Lajos Linczmayer: Declarer must have both missing diamond honors (I can see D A-J-10-9) and a doubleton club, so I’ll play him for S -- H x-x-x-x D K-Q-8-7-6-5-4 C x-x. In this case the unlucky lead did not cause us any damage.

Do I detect some sympathy for Fritz? History confirms only one unlucky event in his life: a live birth.

Jonathan Mestel: Third hand high is easier than second, and Fritz has already mastered fourth hand high in trumps.

Douglas Dunn: Fritz might not have the D K or D Q but is likely to hold H Q-x. [If I duck the D J], I could get thrown in after clubs are eliminated… Best to win the first diamond and exit in hearts.

Charles Blair: I start out hoping declarer has misguessed with SH Q-x-x D K-Q-8-x-x-x-x C Q-x-x; but after [the D K falls], I’ll protect against Fritz playing low with H Q-x.

Gerald Cohen: Playing South for a swan (0=4=7=2) without the H Q. Ducking works badly if South has D K-Q (we’ll get endplayed).

Bineet Jha: From the play of the first two tricks, South seems to be 0=4=7=2. If he has the H Q and D K-Q [or D K and guesses to rise], 11 tricks are assured. If I duck the diamond and partner has the H Q, [endplay described]. After winning the D A, leading the H 2 prevents declarer from indulging in any endplay.

John Auld: Ducking often allows an endplay. As it goes, Fritz needs the H Q, so I play a heart to help him [unblock].

Bill Powell: Not expecting Fritz to have a diamond picture, it seems he needs the H Q to defeat this. Even so, it will be doubleton, so this avoids the possibility of an endplay.

N. Scott Cardell: Initially it looks like declarer has something like SH x-x-x-x D K-Q-x-x-x-x-x C 9-3; and if I ducked, he would ruff a club, cross to the H A, cash the S Q, ruff another club and exit to the D A, forcing an endplay. When the D K drops (to my horror), I still need Fritz to hold the H Q; so leading hearts will [force Fritz to unblock]. If South has the H Q, my D A play has Fritzed the hand; but returning a heart costs nothing, as I’ll still get my H K.

Thijs Veugen: … This may help Fritz to play the H Q soon.

John Lusky: Ducking the diamond would be fatal if partner has a small diamond and H Q-x, as declarer could ruff a club, cross to the H A, cash the other high spade, ruff a club and exit with a diamond. Having won the D A, I clearly need partner to have the H Q and play it on the first round of the suit; so I lead hearts myself to make sure he does.

Leonard Helfgott: Assuming partner will fail to unblock the H Q if hearts are played by declarer, this [prevents] an endplay. Ducking the D J also [results] in an endplay if South has D K-Q.

Ronald Kuip: Forcing Fritz to put up the H Q to ensure two heart tricks when South has SH x-x-x-x D Q-x-x-x-x-x-x C x-x.

Julian Wightwick: Declarer is surely 0=4=7=2, so I need Fritz to have the H Q or a diamond honor. If I duck and the D J holds, declarer can cash the S Q, ruff a club, win the H A, ruff a club and get out with a diamond; a heart to Fritz’s queen then endplays him. Fritz having a diamond honor is at best 2/8, surely less because South might not preempt with only one honor. Fritz having the H Q is at least 1/3, probably greater since Fritz could have passed 3 D. Once my D A drops the king, I still hope for Fritz to have the H Q. One down should still be a good score, since we were not making 4 C.

David Brooks: This ensures that Fritz plays the H Q if he has it. If I knew Fritz had the D K, ducking is correct; but it’s more likely he has H Q-x, in which case I don’t want either of us endplayed.

Toby Kenney: If I duck and declarer has SH 9-x-x-x D K-Q-x-x-x-x-x C 9-3, he can ruff a club, cross to the H A, cash the S Q, ruff another club and exit with a trump [for an endplay]. Once I’ve taken the D A, everything should be OK as long as Fritz remembers to unblock the H Q — returning a heart makes this easy for him.

Rob Wijman: Despite the hint, it is still tempting to choose Option F. :) Anyway, Fritz will now need the H Q to beat this.

Final Notes

I doubt you enjoyed the contest, but some days are like that. At least now you’ll be wary of playing with pick-up partners. Warning: Fritz wears many disguises, so never rely on the name someone gives you. Insist on a passport ID! And if your air conditioner goes on the fritz, seal off the air vents, lest the miscreant pop out in your living room. Thanks to all who participated, and especially those who offered kind remarks about my web site.

Comments are selected only from those scoring 41 or higher (top 205) in this contest or the Overall Top 100 and above average this time. For each problem, I only included comments that support the winning defense. This may seem biased, but I feel it’s the best way to ensure solid content and avoid potential embarrassment by publishing comments that are off base.

Of all the eligible comments, I included about 80 percent. 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. If I use only part of a comment, an ellipsis (…) shows where text was cut. In some cases I have inserted text [in brackets] to supply an omission or to summarize a cut portion. Comments appear 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.

Before I close the chamber door,
I’ll leave you with a brief encore.
Comments you would best ignore.
Words of wisdom? Nevermore!

John Galt: This’ll teach me to show up without a partner five minutes before game time!

Ben Bateson: This explains why the folks at the bridge club keep calling me Fritz.

Peter Gill: These hands must be from the 1964 European Championships held in St. MoFritz, Fritzerland, where Fritzi Gordon and Rixi Markus of Great Britain failed to win, because Fritzi played a match with a substitute when Rixi was sick. I have always wondered who the sub was in that big loss. Now I know!

Charles Blair: Bridge can be a great way to meet people. Matilda, meet Fritz.

J. Larry Miles: By the way, what is “gormless?”

Well, it might describe anyone who couldn’t look it up in a dictionary.

Auf Wiedersehen!

As recently announced, this contest will end the 2007 series. Thanks to all who made this an enjoyable run, and especially the sharp-witted regulars whose comments were extremely helpful in determining the awards. Unfortunately, bridge is not as popular as it used to be, which is only logical considering the multitude of new games and pastimes. Perhaps bridge will regain its prominence as newer generations come to realize its tremendous benefit to mental acuity.

Analyses 8Y80 MainChallengeScoresTop Nevermore

Acknowledgments to “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49)
© 2007 Richard Pavlicek