While experts may be able to pull off all manner of complicated squeezes routinely, like many bridge players I often don't see even routine squeezes at the table in time to properly plan and execute them. That leaves me far from qualified to teach squeezes, but playing matchpoints online with robots last night the following hand arose which I got half right. When I realized what I had missed, a little lightbulb went on for me, so I thought I would share the hand in the hope that it is helpful for others. I will describe how I (mis)played the hand at the table despite executing a squeeze for a top on the actual layout, then what I missed.
I was dealer, and picked up the following hand at favorable vulnerability:
Playing 15-17 1N I nevertheless thought 1S was clear; this hand, with such an excellent spade suit and prime values was far too good for 1N. After the splinter while it was possible we were losing two hearts 4N seemed right. The ♠8 was led and dummy had hearts covered just fine:
Think about your plan.
Squeeze for a top
I had 10 top tricks, and two diamond ruffs would bring the contract home.
Now what about my prospects for a 13th trick? At first it seems grim. Yes, if someone has QJT of hearts they will ruff out and I can set up a long heart, but that is two layouts out of 128 for the hearts. Anything else?
Well, after I ruff a heart only one opponent will be guarding hearts. This is sometimes called "isolating the menace" but I find that terminology silly; the menace is where it is, and what I am doing is isolating the defenders' ability to guard against it to one hand, which hopefully is occupied with another threat. While dummy's 4th club isn't a useful threat in a grand with no prospect to get to it without giving up a club trick along the way, if the opponent with 4 hearts also has 4 clubs, the other opponent can only have two clubs so the 3rd club will threaten the (now only one) player guarding hearts and they will eventually have to unguard one of the round suits.
At the table I won the trump lead with the A and cashed the ♠K, LHO discarding a club. My plan was to ruff two diamonds in dummy, using the ♣A and a heart ruff for the two trips back to my hand to ruff the second diamond and then draw the last trump. Unless RHO has a club void or a singleton heart I will make the contract, which rates to score well since those who opened 1N may have missed slam. If LHO started with 4+ hearts and 4+ clubs, it (the perfect pronoun for a robot) will be squeezed when I run my trumps and I will be able to establish a long club or a heart in dummy.
I proceed with this plan, opponents following small unless otherwise stated:
- ruff a diamond, righty following with the Q
- low ♣ to the A in my hand
- ruff another diamond and see the ♦J on my right
- cash dummy's two top hearts, with the ♥J appearing on my right on the second heart
- ruff a heart to my hand righty following with the T
- draw the last trump, pitching a small ♣ from dummy and my LHO pitching the ♣J
I have now reached the 3 card ending I was looking for:
Do you remember what cards are outstanding?
In ♥ only the Q remains; the ♣Q and ♣T are still out, and three diamonds.
So how to play the ending? My hope for a legitimate squeeze is that my LHO is guarding hearts and clubs. I play the ♠7 to squeeze LHO, who pitches the ♣Q while RHO lets go a ♦. I now know that dummy's clubs are good, so I can pitch the ♥9.
What if I hadn't been paying perfect attention to the club pitches? Even so if I had simply been watching for the ♥Q I can pitch the ♥9; it isn't good and there is no way I can squeeze anyone out of the Q, so I might as well pitch it and see whether the club is good.
After pitching the ♥, I play a club to the board and cash my good clubs.
1460, good for 97% of the matchpoints.
Good result, but what do you think of my play? Do you see why I said I got it only half right?
What I missed
I correctly identified early in the hand that I had a chance to take all the tricks if the opponent with 4+ hearts also had 4+ clubs.
What I missed is that it wasn't just dummy's long clubs that were a threat; the third baby club in my hand was a threat too. Yes, A32 in my hand was threatening to set up a length trick!
Why does this matter?
On the actual layout it was my LHO who guarded both hearts and clubs. If RHO had guarded both round suits, my line would have failed.
Do you see why and do you see how I could have played differently so that I could squeeze either opponent for the overtrick?
On my actual line, I had to pitch before RHO. If RHO guarded both threats, they can simply pitch their heart guard on my last trump. If I hang onto the heart, they can pitch a club. I may have a long club in hand, but I have no way back to it.
My error was all the way back at trick two. By playing a high trump from hand, I later needed to play a club back to the A to ruff the second diamond.
Instead, had I played ♦A and ♦ ruff, then a small ♠ to the K. Now I can ruff the second diamond, cash the hearts and ruff a heart to hand, draw trumps and cash my last trump and come down to a 4 card ending:
Now when I play the squeeze card, I simply pitch a club from dummy, keeping a 3rd club in hand as a threat. Now if either opponent has the ♥Q and sole guard of clubs, they have to give up one suit or the other when they come down to 3 cards. If either opponent drops the ♥Q, I play ♣A, then a club to dummy's K and cash the good heart. If neither opponent drops the ♥Q, I play a ♣ to dummy's K, come back to my A and cash my last small club, which will be good if either opponent was guarding both round suits
The way I actually played the hand, the squeeze worked only against W (what is known as a "positional squeeze"). On the actual layout when W showed out on the second round of spades and E followed to three rounds of diamonds I know later in the hand that E can't have 4 of each round suit, but I didn't know that at trick two when I played the ♠K. If I had played the diamonds first, the squeeze would have worked against either opponent (an "automatic squeeze").
There is another reason I believe I erred at trick two. If I don't lead a second round of spades and instead immediately play the ♦A and a diamond ruff, I can play a small spade back to my hand. When the trumps don't break at that point, I can make a decision:
- play as described above for the automatic squeeze, which risks the contract when hearts are 61 but takes an overtrick whenever the same opponent guards both round suits
- ruff another diamond, then play a club to my hand, draw the last trump, then cash two hearts and ruff a heart; in this line the trumps are drawn before I play on hearts. I still have the positional squeeze against W, and I don't risk the contract when hearts are 61
So even if I hadn't noticed the threat card in my hand, I should have realized I could isolate the heart guard later.
The full deal
Declarer and dummy's spots are exact; I did not capture the exact defensive spots.
Live and learn
In retrospect I think I got it wrong because A32 just didn't look like it was threatening a length trick.
In looking at dummy's 4-card club suit I realized that even the third one could be a threat, but I didn't translate that into the third one in my hand being a threat too. Not making that (in retrospect obvious) realization, and imagining both threats in dummy, the ability to decide where I won the club trick in the end position was not relevant, so using the club A to get back to hand seemed free. As far as needlessly risking a 61 heart break, I just screwed up. Perhaps knowing I needed to ruff a heart it just looked convenient to use that needed heart ruff for a trip back to my hand.
Next time I have seven cards divided 43 and I am thinking about threats, I will remember that I might have a length threat in either hand. More generally, I will remember that whenever one opponent has shortness in a suit, I may have a threat against the other opponent. With this in mind I expect to see a lot more threats in the future.
Meanwhile, I will also remember this as the hand where I took "isolating the menace" both seriously and literally. I took it seriously when I risked a heart ruff to isolate the heart "menace" to my LHO, and it turns out I accidentally took it literally when I isolated the club menace to dummy. Hopefully next time I will isolate the opponents guard and leave my menaces in both hands!
Plus... it's free!