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1600 Games XXXIV: A Grand Finale, part two

The last hand of the evening was about to be dealt. Willy picked up the scorecard, pulled his green iPhone from his pocket (he'd left his favorite red one at home, so as not to get it confused with Bar's), and pecked some numbers in the calculator mode.

“The grand slam y'all bid and made on the previous hand put us in trouble,” he said to Bar and 'Chelle, stopping for a moment as he ogled his hostess's blue dress. “As I reckon it, we'll need a grand slam to make up the deficit. That's a very tough assignment.”

Though he had previously assessed his side's chances as somewhere between slim and none, he couldn't help but allow himself a crack of a smile when he picked up a hand strong enough, as they said back in the Ozarks, to crush rocks.

AQ10 A987 AK862 10

He began wondering which slam might be possible and how he'd get there, no matter what the risk, when he heard his wife, who was dealer, say something unexpected: “One spade.”

Maybe his hearing was getting bad, that happened sometimes to people who'd had a bypass. But there was no harm in asking. “Say wha!? What was it you said, darling?”

Hilly waved her hands in exasperation. Willy's mind, she thought, was wandering; he was probably looking back at all the good times he'd had when they lived in this lovely old house. “I bid 1, honeychile, is there anything wrong with that?”

“Not at all, not at all,” replied Willy, sticking his face back in the cards and thinking that the bonanza they were about to collect might be even more gratifying that some of those very fat fees for speaking engagements. “Let's get on with the bidding.”

The rest of the auction was pretty straightforward. Willy started with 2 and, over Hilly's 3 rebid, followed up with 3, something he'd heard called fourth suit forcing. When Hilly continued with 4, confirming a five-bagger, he called out Old Black (in clubs, the partnership's last-bid suit).  When he discovered his wife had two keys plus the Q, he prayed she had the king-fifth of spades, and drew a deep breath. “Seven spades. I'm bidding seven spades,” he said. “I don't want to pressure you, dear Hilly, but if we make it we win the match.”

North
AQ10
A987
AK862
10
South
K9843
5
J4
AKQ93
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4NT
P
5
P
7
P
P
P

The opening lead was the K and Hilly surveyed the prospects. One possibility seemed to be playing for the opponents' diamonds to be 3-3, in which case she would be able to draw two rounds of trumps while leaving the A or Q in dummy to serve as an entry, ruff the third diamond and reenter hand with the carefully preserved master trump. Two club discards on the long diamonds would leave four sure black-suit winners in dummy, bringing her trick total to a very fortunate 13.

Clubs, she thought, offered another possible salvation. There were two options there: Finding either opponent with a doubleton or tripleton J, or finding the the card her friend Cherie Blair so quaintly called the knave in a finessable position. If only Steve Bloom or one of those other guys who was so good at statistics was around to help. Maybe the calculator on the red iPhone...but no, she'd left that at home, so it wouldn't get mixed up with Bar's similar device.  Time was running short and they had to get up early to catch a plane to Little Rock, for the Regional due to start tomorrow. Eventually she decided to opt for drawing trumps and then taking the club finesse, assuring that she'd go only one down if the vital card was had knavishly stationed itself in the wrong place. When the finesse worked she had begun to claim all the rest when 'Chelle, in the East seat, interjected. “Honey, I'm really sorry, but the J doesn't fall. See, I've got four of them left. Guess that means you're down one.”

Willy played the role of the supportive husband to the hilt. “That was a very good try, partner,” he said. “I don't see any way for you to make it.”

It was up to Bar, who had been scribbling something on a scrap of paper with the 1600 monogram on it, to have the last word. “I think the hand is makeable, but the line of play is one I'm not sure any of us would find at the table,” he said. “Declarer has to win the A at Trick One, of course, cash two high spades in dummy and ruff a heart to get to her hand. When there, she cashes one top club, ruffs a club with dummy's remaining 10 and cashes the A, being careful to unblock the J. Now another ruff puts her back in her hand to draw the last trump in this position,” Bar said, holding out the scribbled paper:

West
J
Q
1075
North
9
K862
East
J
Q
J76
South
K
4
KQ9
D

“Now, Hilly, on the last trump, discard one of dummy's diamonds and 'Chelle is finished. She can't discard a club, which establishes that suit for you. Nor can she pitch a diamond, which allows you to finesse against the 10 after cashing the club winners. A heart discard? No way, that leaves me under the gun for a simple squeeze in hearts and diamonds on the run of the clubs.”

Hilly picked up the paper, furrowed her brow, and pulled the pink iPhone from her purse. (One of the 1600 staff who was in the room at the time says she dialed a number in the 607 area code, which includes Ithaca, New York, and spoke in hushed tones to the person at the other end of the line.)

“I think it's called a guard squeeze,” she said after closing the connection. “I'll have to study up on that before we reciprocate by inviting you to this house for bridge, I hope in another four years.”

West
J52
KQ106
10753
84
North
AQ10
A987
AK862
10
East
76
J432
Q9
J7652
South
K9843
5
J4
AKQ93
W
N
E
S
 
1
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4N
P
5
P
7
P
P
P
D
7 North
NS: 0 EW: 0

 

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