Friday, September 10, 2010

Winners Up and Down

Some bridge positions have an inner beauty - an exotic touch that can hardly be explained to the ever-interested colleague from work, always asking "So, how was it this time, did you win anything, did anything out of the ordinary happen at that bridge tourney?".

I was in Mamaia, Romania when August ended. Under a cloudy sky, this beauty was talking a walk:

Session 4, Board 2
Dealer: E
E-W Vul
              ♠ 9832
              ♣ KJ654 
    ♠ JT654
    ♥ K42
    ♦ KT543
    ♣ -

Sitting South I opened 1NT, on which North used Stayman and elected to bid 3NT over my 2H response.

Judging that a spade lead might give away a trick, West chose to lead the 4, 4th best. The opponents were playing standard count and reverse attitude, with Lavinthal discards. 

I won the first trick with the Q , East contributing the  J. I had 10 top tricks and a chance for 11 when West has both honors (or a doubleton honor) in hearts.  I continued with a heart to the nine, won by East with the queen. The 8 came next and out went dummy's now stiff ace, with West playing the 3.

I cashed the A and paused on seeing West discard the 4.

From the fall of the cards W was marked with 5 diamonds and most likely 3 hearts and 5 spades - judging that she was unlikely to hold a doubleton heart honor EXACTLY with the 2, and that a more relevant discard than 4 could have been made holding QJT654 or QT9654 or QJ9654 in spades, while probably no spade discard would've been made holding only 4 cards.

As for the K, on top of the statistical argument for the split heart honors (75% probability), I doubted West would have made an "attacking" lead without an entry, holding 5 safer spades.

Therefore West controls diamonds, spades and hearts. So I cashed all my club winners to reach this five card ending:

              ♠ 983
    ♠ JT
    ♥ K4
    ♦ K   
    ♣ -
              ♦ 9
              ♣ -
North has played 4, I discarded the 7 and West is caught in a squeeze without the count of the criss-cross variety.

If the K is discarded (as happened at the table), a spade to hand ensures trick 11 with the 9.
If the heart is discarded, the ace of hearts is unblocked and a spade to hand makes trick 11 happen via a heart.
Finally, if the spade is thrown, the A unblocks spades and all tricks belong to N-S!

Note the presence of the 9, the extra menace against West's KT. Should you switch 9 with the 8 from East's hand, East can protect diamonds and West can safely discard K, holding declarer to 10 tricks.

3NT + 2 was 90% for N-S. Thanks@Mihaela Balint (West), Valentin Dumitru (East) and Mihnea Nedelcu (North) for helping me uncover this board, where winners up and down exist and the communication path between North and South must carefully be maintained.

Here are my favorite books on squeezes. Kelsey on Squeeze Play (Master Bridge Series) and Bridge Squeezes for Everyone have a clear and practical approach towards squeezes, and The Expert Game has a whole chapter dedicated to exotic squeezes and end positions. Bridge Lessons: Endplay and Squeeze offers a comprehensive vision on squeezes and endplays.

Other than that you can find GREAT articles and resources on squeezes at Richard Pavlicek's Website:

Looking forward to your opinions on this board.

'Till next time,


  1. Nice one, thanks for sharing. Interestingly, if you go with the assumption that LHO started indeed with Hxx in hearts you can also discard D9 instead of H7 with the same result - but only if you keep both spade honors (HA, SA and heart if W discards DK, otherwise makes +3)

    An interesting variation is if LHO started with 6 diamonds and 4 spades. On a quick DD analysis you can still make 5 assuming split honors in H - however this requires not playing H at trick 2 and an endplay in spades in the end (assuming LHO keeps all 3 hearts, otherwise finessing H9 will drop HK) This probably needs guessing the exact distribution at some point which might be a bit unrealistic; still...

    This brings me to the question of the necessity (or not?) of playing hearts at trick 2... Then again maybe it's the late (or early) hour and I'll see it in the morning :

  2. I got also the diamond lead on this one, but i chose the simpler line of playing all the clubs. W threw 3 spades(!?) and 2 diamonds for +3.

    However thank you for the analysis, i always hoped to found comments on the way good players actually think the hands.

  3. I think playing a heart at trick 2 is normal - it enables you to discover the hand a bit more and to avoid any guesses when discarding on the fifth club - see Radu's variation. Not to mention the immediate return when W has KQx..x in hearts or Kx/Qx.

  4. doesn't it also provide clues to opps on what cards to keep when you finally decide to run clubs?

  5. Maybe it does provide clues, but I think it is a secondary concern in such cases - when the contract is safe and you can develop tricks via a suit's position or a squeeze. As on the actual board, the clue was useless to the defense - they can deduce I have 4 hearts without KQ but it's not of any help.

    Consider West holds:

    xxx Kx Kxxxx xxx

    , and you first cash 4 clubs. West discards a spade. On the fifth club you throw a heart and West a diamond. Now you play a spade to hand and a heart to dummy's 9, won by East. East switches to a spade, killing your entry to the (now good) hearts. You lose two more spades from dummy. When in fact you always had 3 hearts, 2 diamonds, 2 spades and 5 clubs with the simple heart play at trick 2.

    There could be variations where you actually squeezed the opponents (or they erred), but you must guess what happened.


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