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THE BRIDGE WORLD

The Quest

by Frank Stewart

This piece is in remembrance of Geza Ottlik's extraordinary and award-winning article of the same title. It appeared in The Bridge World's December 1967 issue, some 50 years ago.

Much of my work involves analyzing deals. I produce a 7/52 newspaper column—avoiding errors there is a treacherous business—commentary for ACBL-wide events and articles for various publications. As long as I can do the New York Times Sunday crossword, I figure I'm not on the brink of senility. Still, having passed my three score and ten, I must worry that my brain may be headed toward atrophy.

To keep my powers of analysis from corroding, I often look at the deals from a nearby club; they are posted online with a double-dummy analysis. It can be an amusing exercise. The results reflect the skill level in a typical club game. I see contracts so bizarre that how they happened defies my imagination. I have seen—more than once— three notrump played in both directions, and three notrump (making) when declarer had a low singleton club on his own hand and in dummy. I have seen a result of four hearts, making seven, when a defender had quene-jack-seven of trumps behind declarer's ace-king and three notrump, down three, when declarer had nine top tricks. I hope I never find out how such things happened.

I focus on the number of winnable tricks at the most common contract. If the analysis indicates that South can make three notrump and it looks utterly impossible, I try to figure out how it can be done. And so my quest.

Sometimes a solution is self-evident.

NORTH
A 10 4
A K Q 2
K 8
J 8 6 5
WEST

10 8 5 4
10 7 6 4 3
K Q 10 9
EAST
Q J 9 2
J 7 6 3
A J 9 5
A
SOUTH
K 8 7 6 5 3
9
Q 2
7 4 3 2

At three spades, South is off two trumps, three clubs and a diamond, but the analysis stated that he can take nine tricks. Clearly, only an endplay against East could produce that result. Suppose West leads a diamond, and East takes the ace, cashes the club ace and exits with a diamond.

Declarer wins and must not take the ace of trumps. He cashes three hearts for club discards and ruffs dummy's last heart. When he leads a trump next and West discards, dummy plays the ten (or the four). If East returns a red card, declarer pitches his last club as dummy ruffs, and East gets one more trump trick. If instead East leads a trump, his second trump trick vanishes.

That deal was easy enough, but on many occasions, a winning play is less obvious.

NORTH
A Q 10 5
A K 3
A K 7 4
J 3
WEST
9 7 6 3
Q 10 8 5
J 8
6 5 4
EAST
K J 4 2
J 9 2
Q 10 5 3 2
K
SOUTH
8
7 6 4
9 6
A Q 10 9 8 7 2

North-South—so says the analysis—can make seven clubs.

West leads a trump. I saw 12 tricks, and I noted that South could transfer the guard in spades to West by leading the queen and later the ten from dummy, forcing East to cover. But the thirteenth trick eluded me; garden-variety squeezes were unpromising. If declarer cashed some trumps, East would have to pitch a heart to guard spades and diamonds and prevent declarer from setting up a trick in one of those suits. Still, East would have an idle spade to discard, and since he was discarding behind dummy . . .

Eventually, I returned to West's significant spade spots. Let South win a heart opening lead, take the spade ace and lead the queen: king, ruff, six. He leads a diamond to dummy, returns the trump jack and runs the trumps to reach:

NORTH
10 5
A
A
WEST
9 7
Q 10

EAST
J 4
J 9

SOUTH

7 6
9
7

When declarer takes the diamond ace next, neither defender can spare a spade. If West pitches one, declarer leads the spade ten from dummy, pinning West's nine; the five is high. So both defenders can keep only one heart, and declarer takes the ace and wins the last two tricks with a trump and a heart.

Sometimes an analysis will have an embedded clue: A contract will be shown to be makable from only one side of the table.

NORTH
K Q 5
A K Q
9 7 6
A K 9 3
WEST
A 10
10 5 2
Q 10 4 2
Q 10 7 6
EAST
J 8 7 3 2
8 7 4
A 3
J 8 5
SOUTH
9 6 4
J 9 6 3
K J 8 5
4 2

In real life, the contract was usually three notrump by North after he opened two notrump. A few Souths passed two notrump—right in theory but not in practice. East led a spade, and West took the ace and returned a spade. Declarer unblocked his high hearts and led a diamond, and even if he misguessed and played the jack from dummy, he had a chance for a second diamond play later. He won two spades, four hearts, two clubs and a diamond, and plus 600 was a common result.

But the analysis indicated that three notrump by North is down. For a change, I saw the reason quickly. Let East lead the diamond three! If North puts up the king, his entry to the fourth heart is gone. He can take two spades, three hearts, a diamond and two clubs but no more. If instead declarer plays the jack on the first diamond, West wins. and a club shift lets the defense prevail.

Three notrump played by South is unbeatable, though if West leads a club, South must guess to lead a diamond to the king. If West leads a diamond, and East wins and returns a diamond, South can duck to West. West can't gain by returning a diamond. South can win a club shift, unblock in hearts, get to his hand with the diamond king to take the heart jack, and (luckily) win two spade tricks.

A hazard I face in discerning a winning play is to start down a false path and stay on it too long.

NORTH
7 5
Q 8 7 2
9 4
A K 10 9 3
WEST
Q 10 9 7 2
A K J 6 4
K
8 7
EAST
J 8 4
9 5 3
Q J 10 6 2
J 4
SOUTH
A K 3
10
A 8 7 5 3
Q 6 5 2

How North-South might get to five clubs is unclear, but the analysis says they can make it. When I saw that, I thought declarer might endplay West to concede a heart trick or maybe do something with South's diamond spots. All that was illusory, of course, as eventually I found out. If West leads a trump, declarer draws trumps, takes the top spades, ruffs a spade, comes to the diamond ace and leads a heart, but West can win and lead a fourth spade; the ruff-sluff doesn't help declarer, who can score his remaining trumps separately anyway. He still has only the ten tricks with which he began.

The answer lay down another path. Declarer (South) wins a trump opening lead with dummy's ten and leads a heart. The defense wins and leads a second trump. Declarer continues with a heart ruff, the diamond ace and a diamond conceded. If East leads another diamond, declarer ruffs in dummy, ruffs a heart, ruffs a diamond and leads dummy's last trump in this position:

NORTH
7 5
Q

A
WEST
Q 10 9
A

EAST
J 8 4

Q
SOUTH
A K 3

8

A double squeeze brings home the contract. If the defenders lead spades early, they break up the squeeze, but then declarer wins 11 tricks with a crossruff.

As summer was fading away, I encountered a deal that put me in the unknown for days and sleepless nights.

NORTH
10 4
A 6 5 4 3
A 8 3
A J 4
WEST
K 2
K 7
10 5 4 2
K 10 8 6 2
EAST
Q 5 3
J 10 9 2
Q J 7
9 7 3
SOUTH
A J 9 8 7 6
Q 8
K 9 6
Q 5

North-South could make four spades (and four notrump) easily enough, but the analysis assured me that they could make five spades. That looked out of the question, but it had to be so.

Suppose West leads the diamond deuce. South has five trumps in his hand, a heart, two diamonds and two clubs. I tried various—and fruitless—lines. There had to be a squeeze, but the deal was complex; the mechanism eluded me.

One thing I have learned from my years of dissecting deals is that miraculous things can happen when declarer runs a long suit. While staring at the ceiling in bed one night, I imagined that South could win the first diamond in dummy, lead a trump to his nine and West's king, win the next diamond and lead the club queen: king, ace, three. He cashes the club jack and runs some trumps, reaching:

NORTH

A 6
8
4
WEST

K 7
10
10
EAST

J 10
Q
9
SOUTH
7
Q 8
9

When South leads his last trump, East-West can turn in their swords. Suppose West discards a diamond; dummy does also. Then, if East throws a club, declarer exits with a diamond; on that trick, West is feloniously squeezed between hearts and clubs. If instead East throws a heart, South can lead the heart queen, pinning East's remaining honor to make the eight high.

If West discards the ten of clubs on the last trump, dummy discards a diamond again. East must keep his club nine to beat the four and discards the diamond queen. Then declarer exits with a diamond, forcing West to lead from the heart king.

And so I found that, born of a remarkable end-position, the 11 tricks that had been promised were duly there.

My quest had ended.

ESOTERICA

This section is devoted to weird, wild and wacky material. For bridge friends, lovers of arcana, pursuers of special interests, and anyone intrigued with a particular facet of the game of bridge.