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I've been reading through Krzysztof Martens' books. These are wonderful, and I really recommend them. The play problems are always interesting, with clever, fascinating themes.

I do have some gripes - for starters, he is very much a minimalist problem poser. He poses the problems giving you only the opening lead, or the play to the first couple of tricks. Often, the real problem won't arise until a bad break occurs, or a key finesse loses.Moreover, he never gives the auction, so important inferences aren't available.

And, of course, he and I sometimes disagree. Here are three Martens' problems, with interesting themes. These are, of course, hands where I much prefer my own solution.

(1)

West
North
K43
J98
J7
87532
East
South
AQ87
KQ6
AQ
A1094
W
N
E
S
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
1

You get to 3NT, on a diamond lead. Plan the play.

(2)

West
North
842
A
7543
J10872
East
South
A10
K65
AK2
AKQ65
W
N
E
S
3
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
9
1

East opened 3, and you got to six clubs in some unknown way. Plan the plan on a spade lead.

(3)

West
North
Q109
10975
A42
865
East
South
J874
AKQJ3
Q7
A10
W
N
E
S
1
P
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
1

West opened 1, and some undisclosed auction got you to four hearts. West starts with the top spades, and plays a third round, East following. Plan the play.

This hand is pretty simple - there are nine obvious tricks, and really only one play for trick ten - lead a diamond toward the queen. West could easily have an opening bid without that diamond king. Of course, this wouldn't be a Martens problem if the diamond king was friendly, so you can assume that the auction revealed that West must hold almost every outstanding card. Maybe the bidding started out, 1D P P 1H X, or maybe you saw the diamond king off-side. So, plan the play assuming West holds the diamond king!

The first hand is an early problem, intentionally quite easy, and one that nearly every reader aces. Martens wants us to test spades, then knock out the heart ace if they break, otherwise play on clubs. Simple, and mostly correct, but he fails to appreciate those powerful spot cards.

For starters, the first club lead should come from the table, to tempt a foolish East into splitting, from, say, QJ6 or KQ6. Then there is that wonderful 8. We don't need a 3-3 spade break to run the suit, J10, J9, or 109 doubleton with West will also suffice. Moreover, if we see two honors appear, playing to the eight is a huge favorite, much better than hoping the third honor drops, or clubs split out.

The right line of play, according to me, is to win the second spade on the table. If two honors have dropped, continue with a spade to the eight. If nothing interesting has happened in spades, play aclub to the ace next. Then test spades, and finish off with hearts or clubs, as needed.

You get full Martens credit if you test spades. But you don't get full Bloom credit unless you won the second spade on the table, planning to finesse the spade eight, or play a club next.

For (2), the main plan is, once again, pretty clear. We need East to be short in diamonds. Draw trumps, eliminate hearts, throwing a spade from the table, cash two high diamonds, and exit the 10.

Martens looks more deeply into the problem, and considers how to continue if it develops that East cannot be short in diamonds. His line: Win the spade, and make the key play: Cash the diamond ace. Then heart ace, trumps, heart king, heart ruff. Here was the full hand:

West
9
J1087432
Q106
94
North
842
A
7543
J10872
East
KQJ7653
Q9
J98
3
South
A10
K65
AK2
AKQ65
W
N
E
S
3
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
9
2
J
A
3
1
0
A
6
3
8
3
2
0
5
2
A
9
1
3
0
2
3
A
4
3
4
0
K
9
7
3
3
5
0
K
3
4
Q
3
6
0
6
7
8
5
1
7
0
7

We will be on the table in this position:

North
8
754
J10
South
10
K2
Q65

If East has shown up with one club and two hearts, as here (or two clubs and one heart), then the main line can't work, but diamonds are 3-3, and we can establish the long diamond for a discard, so long as East never gains the lead.

Now it is clear why Martens cashed that diamond ace early. Unless West started unblocking diamonds immediately, West will be down to the Q10 in diamonds, and we can always lose a trick to West.

This is a clever, thoughtful, line of play, and one that would never occur to me. I would woodenly play along with my elimination plan, only realizing, much too late, when East showed out on the third heart, that I should have planned ahead more. Fortunately for wooden me, Martens dealt North that huge 7, and, for me, this was the full deal:

West
9
J1087432
J98
94
North
842
A
7543
J10872
East
KQJ7653
Q9
Q106
3
South
A10
K65
AK2
AKQ65
W
N
E
S
3
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
9
1

Since it never occurred to me to cash a high diamond early, I had arrived at this ending:

North
8
7543
J10
South
10
AK2
Q65

At this stage, I would lead a diamond from the table, and duck the six. If East played a higher diamond, I'd win, return to dummy, and lead diamonds again, for a second avoidance play. Wooden me would always prevail, so long as East held the diamond six.

Clever Martens needed a diamond blockage, and perhaps, a little misdefense. Wooden Bloom simply needed to win a finesse against the 6.

Okay, one more problem for you: Why is that diamond seven so huge?

Wouldn't the same double-avoidance play work if we swap the 6 and 7?

West
9
J1087432
J98
94
North
842
A
6543
J10872
East
KQJ7653
Q9
Q107
3
South
A10
K65
AK2
AKQ65
W
N
E
S
3
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
9
1

No! Here would be the revised ending:

West
J1085
J98
North
8
6543
J10
East
KQ76
Q107
South
10
AK2
Q65
D

East plays the 10 (or queen) on the first diamond lead. We win, cross back in trumps to play a second diamond, but West discards a diamond, and East puts up the queen on the second round. Curtains.

Wouldn't that be a fun defense to find at the table?

Here was the full hand in (3):

West
AK6
4
K10965
KQ92
North
Q109
10975
A42
865
East
532
862
J83
J743
South
J874
AKQJ3
Q7
A10
W
N
E
S
1
P
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
1

Martens recommends running off our major suit winners, cashing the club ace along the way, discarding a diamond from the table, to reach this ending:

West
K10
Q9
North
A4
86
East
J8
J7
South
3
Q7
10
D

When declarer leads the last trump, West is in trouble. A diamond discard is no good, and throwing the 9 leads to an endplay, so West tries the club queen. North throws a diamond, and South exits hopefully with the 10. When that big nine drops, everyone applauds.

This is really pretty, but wrong. We've been seduced by that 8. Better play would work even if North's clubs were the 432. Declarer should run off major suit winners, without cashing the club ace, and throw aclub,not a diamond from the table. This will be the ending:

West
K109
Q9
North
A42
86
East
J83
J7
South
3
Q7
A10
D

The heart squeezes West. West can't throw the small club, or South exits with the 10. Throwing the club queen sets up a club finesse, so West must discard a diamond. North throws another club, and now it is East's turn. What can East discard? A club? Declarer plays club ace, club. A diamond? Duck a diamond, and dummy wins the long diamond.

This squeeze is new to me. No idea what to call it, maybe a guard-strip-double squeeze? Pretty cool. But I would have led a diamond toward my queen at the table.

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