Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Squeeze Step

I keep thinking that a squeeze is a technical masterpiece that happens most often after at least one of the players made an imperfect action - be it in bidding, leading, defending or playing out a bridge hand. 

Observe the following bridge hand I played on BBO in August 2010 during a friendly "team match".
Sitting South I held, at IMPS, all vulnerable:

♣ AJ

West dealt and passed, North as well, and East opened 1♠. 
The textbook call is 3♠. In red, with a passed partner, you show a strong 1-suiter that requires little from partner in order to make 3NT. Should partner have a balanced collection of points including a spade stopper, he'd bid 3NT. Without the spade stopper you will probably make enough tricks in 4 or 5 diamonds. You can expect partner's hand to contain those 5-8 points that will make these contracts playable.

Having said and thought that, I doubled the 1opening. I fell in love with my controls and hoped to find a magical hand on the other side - something like Kxxx KQJx xx xxx when slam is certain and safe.

So it went : double, 2from East, 4from partner, pass. Passing 4is out of the question - partner can have the above hand when you DO make the diamond slam - so I bid my (now) normal 5 which ended it.

The 2 of spades was lead (3rd - 5th) and I got to play this:




The first trick went 2, J, K, 5.

Next came the 3 and it was time I did some thinking on this board.

It was clear that East had AKxxx in spades. The King showed the Ace as well, at least on this occasion - I knew it was next to impossible that East underlead the A on the bidding, risking to never make it.

It was also impossible that East underlead the K at trick 2 - this would have been  very clumsy play. Surely East deduced from the bidding that I had the missing top heart, diamond and club honors. So playing a heart from the King could not have been a winning move.

Hearts were probably 3-3 (after consulting the opponents and finding out that they give standard count). This left West with the most likely distributions of 3-3-4-3 or 3-3-3-4.

What were my chances against these hands? There were always two spade losers, and no entry to dummy to develop and cash the clubs. There seemed to be a heart loser as well. The way to succeed would be to cash diamonds and find East with the (almost certain) K and the (desired) Q. True, in this case East had a sub-minimal opening, but plausible in 3rd position.

If all my presumptions were correct - and so they were - the board was something like:

All Vul

              ♠ QJ6
              ♣ KT852
       ♠  T32 
    ♥ KT9 
    ♦ T865 
    ♣ Q43 
  ♠ AK874
  ♥ J53
  ♦ 32
  ♣ 976
              ♠ 95
              ♦ AKQJ974
              ♣ AJ

I rose with the A and I played all my diamonds but one. When the last diamond was played the situation became:

              ♠ Q
              ♣ KT8
    ♦ -    
    ♣ Q43 
              ♠ 5
              ♣ AJ

West is now cooked and can only make one more trick.

A spade discard enables me to cash clubs (West cannot cover or dummy wins the T) and exit a heart, taking the last trick with dummy's K.

A heart discard allows me to cash the Q, while a club discard (as happened at the table) simply lets me cash the A and the J. West covers with the stiff Q and I can finally cash that isolated T.

Since all squeezes have beautiful names, allow me to introduce you the Stepping Stone Squeeze. An opponent is under fire in two suits - clubs and hearts. Declarer "almost" has the needed tricks, but cannot develop and cash them (an extra club in South's hand would have solved the blocked suit problem).

The menaced opponent (West) must discard his only communication with his partner to protect these two menaces - otherwise declare duly cashes the established winners. However, declarer then simply unblocks the blocked suit (clubs) and endplays the defender with the other, natural winner (hearts).The endplayed hand now acts as a "Stepping Stone" over troubled waters, permitting declarer to gently hop to his inaccessible winner (T)

Notice that the squeeze would have worked in the same manner when West held the A. In the 5 card ending all discards would have been killers. This version was not possible on the bidding and lead.  

There is an amazing bridge book out there that shows expert bridge technique such as Stepping Stone Squeezes, and I dedicate this board to its authors for describing this position. It's "The Expert Game", by Terence Reese, revised edition by Barry Rigal. I dearly recommend it to everyone dedicated to learn bridge or improve their bridge to an expert level.

You can find it under the link below or by visiting Hef's Bridge Attic, an powered store on which I bring you the most important and valuable bridge products out there - bridge books, playing cards, bridge software, bridge apparel.

What is your opinion? Are squeezes beautiful, useful and common or should we instead try to focus on matters of solid, earthly technique - such as knowing what to bid with the above hand...I would love to discuss this with you, let's comment!.

Kind regards,


  1. Squeezes are without a doubt a beautiful technique, and of course are also useful. They are a weapon that can make a difference but one that can backfire if (ab)used as a substitute for "solid, earthly technique" (and I've seen many self-titled expert players misusing it on BBO).

    That being said, I very much agree with your double and also with the subsequent bidding. Even if agreed that 3D should show good diamonds *and* a good hand, you have more than 18 HCPs, not to mention a beautiful diamond suit, this looks more like a 21+ pts hand to me so a double is a much, much better choice. I know I would never expect such a good hand from partner after a 3D bid.

  2. You mean from a 3S bid.

    Still, with a passed hand and very little slam possibilities, I think 3S is best.

    As of squeezing, I think it's one of the most beautiful parts of the game. And I've much developed my game by studying them - maybe it's their almost mathematical composition, the discipline and imagination it takes to "see" them, or their uttermost impact when properly found & used. So I would really suggest people trying to improve their game to study those exotic beasts :)

  3. Err... right, 3S, I was thinking about players like Garozzo bidding 3D in similar situations with intermediate hands. Anyway I think a double is more flexible even if slam is not so good a prospect. For instance if you go beyond 3NT with opps messing around some people might wrongly assume that 3S showed some kind of spade control (shortness) and things could go bad.

  4. Could be, that's why it's important to establish such things with thy partner.
    Anyway, 3s should make no promise in spades. Again, the idea is not to find thin slams, but to find a possible 3NT. With a spade shortness, a double is more suitable.

  5. switch the !cT with the !cJ and you can work a position for the !cQ in any hand. how do you then choose between E starting with AKxxx xxx xx Qxx or with AKxxx xxx xx xxx? (i don't believe the !hJ makes a world of difference, just place it anywhere)

  6. Good point Mihaela.

    First of all let's take the path of detailing the possible positions:

    xxx KJx xxxx xxx
    AKxxx xxx xx Qxx


    xxx Kxx xxxx Qxx
    AKxxx Jxx xx xxx

    So the last 5 cards are

    T K - Qxx over A J - xxx
    T K - xxx over A J - Qxx

    I would lead the last diamond. They cannot both lose their clubs. West cannot discard the heart K, East cannot discard the spade Ace. So the following can happen:

    1. W spade, E heart. If this heart is the Jack I think it's normal to play W for the club Q (the raise is more likely). If I've already seen the Jack from E, same logic. If from W, I will guess the club queen to be with E - and exit my spade to endplay him.
    2. W spade, E club. I do not know many people discarding from a tripleton Queen...if E is one of them he deserves -1.
    3. W club, E heart. I would tend to play E for the club Queen, same logic as 2.

    There is also another interesting, more technical point: holding the club Queen with two other clubs, would you return a heart in East's shoes? Would you not cash the other top spade first? Remember: the spade position is clear, dummy has no entry, and you have a slow club trick. Would you not cash 2 top spades, then play a passive trump? Why risk to give the contract away when declarer has

    xx AKx AQJTxxx A ?

    I think a heart return = no guarded club honor. If you can deduce spades 3-5, trumps 4-2 and hearts 3-3, it means W has the club Queen.


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