Stepping on It

by John Turner

Gareth Roberts came to Cambridge about six years ago to take up a lectureship in Mathematics at the University. In that time he has certainly made his mark on the bridge scene, winning the County Pairs and County Knockout Teams on several occasions and doing well in national events. Gareth plays a careful, thoughtful game and is always pleasant to both his partners and his opponents. He has now been appointed to a Professorship from September - congratulations to him, but unfortunately for bridge here his new post is at Lancaster University. I wish him every success in his new environment. At the very least it will be easier for him to watch Liverpool at home.

One of my most annoying missed opportunities as declarer happened when Gareth was dummy. I didn't record the hand, which came up several years ago, but it was something like this:

Game All
H xxx
D K9xxx
C QJ8x
Dealer North
S 98x
H AJxxx
D Jxxx
C x
W         E
S KQJ10x
H Qxxx
D x
C xxx
S xxxx
D AQ10
C AK109x

As South I was declarer in 6c, and West led the s9. I played a trump to hand, spade ruff, trump to hand, noting the 3-1 break. If clubs had been 2-2 it would now have been right to attack diamonds. As it was, I continued with a second spade ruff and then came back to hand with a top diamond, drew the last trump and played off my remaining trumps. This line yields an overtrick if the diamonds come in. Unfortunately when I tested the diamonds RHO discarded on the second round. 13 tricks had now shrunk to 11, it seemed. I continued with the d10, just in case LHO was totally asleep and covered, but no luck there. Thinking the hand was now dead I played low from dummy; with the lead still in hand and just two cards left I pulled out a random card from hand - which was a spade, and I duly went one off.

After a second or two I realised something had `happened.' What I had overlooked is that LHO might have been under pressure: one of his last two cards is the losing dJ, and if his other card is a master I can simply endplay him and he will have to give the last trick to dummy's dK. At the point where I played my last trump, without realising it I had set in motion a stepping stone squeeze, LHO being forced to bare his hA. This then reduced to a two-card ending where LHO's hA becomes the stepping-stone to the stranded dK. It is most irritating that I messed up this pretty ending - in a slam, of all things. Some partners would be scathing about such dimness. Gareth, amiable as always, merely commented that he didn't much like my play to trick 12.

Although the ending looks obvious in retrospect, its rarity makes it quite difficult to spot unless one is already familiar with it. The essence of a stepping-stone squeeze is a partly blocked suit, together with a lack of entries to the long hand. I am still on the lookout for another opportunity.