Play on, MacDuff!

by John Turner

A quite common error, I suspect, is to give up too easily. The situation looks hopeless - better to concede now rather than bore everybody stiff by playing the cards to the bitter end, one thinks. But maybe there are possibilities of which, at this moment, one has no conception. Maybe there is a valid squeeze or other type of end-play that will save the day; perhaps there's an unlikely but possible layout of the cards that will allow success; or maybe the opponents, who won't necessarily know precisely what's going on, will take a reasonable though losing course of action. Or of course oppo may simply slip up.

This hand came up recently at a Teams night at the Cambridge Club at Shire Hall.

6s by S
H Q1085
D Kxx
C 10xx
S xx
H 3
D Qxxx
C AKQxxx
W         E
S xx
H J976
D Jxxx
C Jxx
S AKxxxx
H AK42
D Ax
C x

At one table I was South and was playing in 4s, West having overcalled in clubs. West led h3 to the 8, 9 and my K. I drew trumps by playing off the Q-J, returned to the hA and discovered that I had a heart loser. My 12 easy tricks had shrunk to 11 - lucky I wasn't in 6s! I claimed at this point, cheerfully conceding two tricks (a heart and a club).

At the other table things were more tense. Here, N/S had done extremely well to reach the excellent 6s by South on pretty thin values, West having again overcalled in clubs. West, for our team, led two top clubs, East following with small cards. Declarer ruffed, drew trumps with the Q-J and correctly tested the hearts by starting with the A-K. When West showed out on the second round, the hand seemed dead and a disgusted declarer simply conceded one down.

Both declarers should have played on, for they still have good chances of the extra trick. That innocent-looking c10 in dummy could be a killer! If West has all the top clubs (quite possible in view of the bidding) the double-squeeze will operate for certain. Let's consider what should have happened at the second table. Declarer should at the point reached simply cash the hQ and then run the trumps, pitching first the remaining heart then lastly the c10 (unless this is now high). In the three-card ending, if West started with all the top clubs he will be squeezed down to just two diamonds, and East will then be squeezed in the red suits.

In practice East has the cJ and formally the squeeze fails. But closer examination shows that the defenders are not yet out of the woods. West has a tricky choice of discards and has to throw all his clubs, keeping his diamonds - not the other way round, for then East would be squeezed in the reds. Equally, if East is slightly careless and prematurely throws the cJ, this will resurrect the double-squeeze. How easy is it to see the correct defence? I think it is quite challenging, for it requires an ability to foresee and counter single- and double-squeezes - not trivial stuff at all. And as with so many bridge problems, the situation initially looks innocuous and the first challenge is to see that there IS a problem. Surely this is just the sort of ending that many defenders are likely to muddle.

At my table declarer should, at the point already reached, try a low club from hand, ducking in dummy. This transposes into the same position as at the second table with the same squeeze chances.

[A useful principle when discarding in situations where both defenders are being squeezed is to try to guard the suit held on your right rather than the left. This is because you may later end up discarding after that hand, and a "positional" squeeze will not work. That principle doesn't help here, however, and instead the winning strategy is for both defenders to retain a guard in the suit which has no entries attached to it. Then in order to exert pressure on the defence declarer has to kill entries to one hand or another. Note also that if North held d10 a "guard squeeze" could work as when East throws diamonds, West is exposed to a finesse. In that case the only hope for the defence would be to attack the entries with diamond leads. But few would lead a diamond as West! (ed.)]