STRIP SQUEEZE by Stephen Rzewski Try your hand at the following play problem, which came up at a local duplicate club game: North ♠ 972 ♥ AK6 ♦ KQ109 ♣ A83 South ♠ KQ ♥ J74 ♦ AJ7 ♣ Q10765 bidding: S W N E 1♣ 1♠ 2♦ P 2NT P 3NT (all pass) opening lead: ♠ 10 (showing 0 or 2 honors higher) East follows with the 4 of spades on the opening lead, and you win the queen. Decide on a line of play before reading on. * * * * * * * You have eight top tricks. The problem with trying to set up club tricks is that as soon as you give up the lead, West is likely to run a pile of spades on you. There are a couple of remote chances, such as a doubleton queen of hearts, or a singleton king of clubs, but before committing yourself to such improbable cases, start by playing your best suit and watch the discards. On the first three diamond leads, everyone follows, but on the 4th diamond, West throws a heart. Now you might test the hearts to see if a small miracle happens: on the ace, both opponents follow low, then on the king, no queen appears, but West throws a spade. Many players would essentially give up and play the ace of clubs now, settling for down one unless the king is singleton. But you should stop and ask yourself: with West out of red cards, why is he throwing away a potentially good spade? The answer is that he must be protecting something in clubs. Even if he began with a 6-card suit, he can’t have more than four spades left now. So you should lead a spade, in the following position: ♠ 97 ♥ 6 ♦ ----- ♣ A83 ♠ AJ86 ♥ ----- ♦ ----- ♣ K4 ♠ K ♥ J ♦ ----- ♣ Q1076 West can cash his four spade winners, but on the run of those tricks you sluff down to the A-8 of clubs in dummy and the Q-10 in your hand. West is now endplayed and must lead a low club away from the king, which you allow to come around to your queen for the game-going trick. The full deal: ♠ 972 ♥ AK6 ♦ KQ109 ♣ A83 ♠ AJ10863 ♠ 54 ♥ 92 ♥ Q10853 ♦ 432 ♦ 865 ♣ K4 ♣ J92 ♠ KQ ♥ J74 ♦ AJ7 ♣ Q10765 Declarer might come around to this play almost accidentally in the manner described above, but one might also conceive the general line of play from the very beginning, as West’s overcall would be pretty thin without the king of clubs on the side. The key point on a hand like this one is to visualize two or more defensive assets in the same hand, here the long spades and the king of clubs, then try to put pressure on that hand by playing off as many winners as possible in the other suits. The play is called a “strip squeeze”, since one begins by stripping the West hand of all the cards in the irrelevant suits (in this case hearts and diamonds), mostly to deprive him of any possible exit cards in those suits in preparation for a throw-in and endplay. Additional winners in those suits may then compress that player’s black-suit holdings to his disadvantage. The same line of play would also work if West had started with only five spades and a hand such as: ♠ AJ1086 ♥ 92 ♦ 432 ♣ KJ4 In this case, West would probably discard a club on the 6th red-suit play. In any event, it is essential that the top hearts be played as well as the diamonds in order to remove any possible exit cards in West’s hand, so that when he is given the lead with a spade, he will be forced to lead a club in the end. Now try another: North ♠ AQ8 ♥ A109 ♦ 765 ♣ 8432 South ♠ K7 ♥ KQ6 ♦ K10 ♣ AQ10765 bidding: S W N E 1♣ 1♦ 2♣ P 2NT P 3NT (all pass) opening lead: ♦ Q North has an awkward call at his first turn. A negative double, which would imply 4-4 in the majors is out of the question, and passing is very risky with such good values. A 2♦ cuebid, promising a limit raise in clubs, seems pushy with a square hand and only four weak trumps. The simple raise is probably the least of evil choices. On the first trick, East follows with the 4, as you win the king. Again, plan the play before reading on. * * * * * * * Once again, you have eight top winners. If you can pick up the club suit, you will end up with all 13 tricks, but if you get the suit wrong, you will go down. If you think the king of clubs might be in the East hand, the best play is probably to lead a low club from dummy and finesse the queen, but what if the king is in the West hand? Should one simply go up with the ace and hope the king is singleton, or is there an alternative play? Knowing the opponents’ bidding style can sometimes be helpful in deciding which hand holds the king of clubs. One would normally expect such an honor to be in the overcaller’s hand, since, once again, a bid on the West hand without a side card would be a very light action. But players seem to bid much more aggressively today, and some might make a tactical bid with AQJxx and no side card, especially as a lead- directing call. With a 6-card suit such as AQJxxx, one would expect a player with no outside card to make a pre-emptive 2♦ call, but bid only 1♦ with a more constructive hand (such as one that includes the king of clubs). However, many players also don’t follow such guidelines and will make the jump overcall with both hands. Since your first play in the club suit will likely determine the outcome of the deal, postpone the clubs and play off your major-suit winners before committing yourself, and once again, watch the discards to see if you can glean any pertinent information as to the location of the king of clubs. If West actually holds that card along with the long diamonds, perhaps you can apply some pressure on his hand. Let’s suppose you start by playing your three heart winners, on which both opponents follow. When you next play the king of spades, both opponents follow, but when you lead a low spade to the ace, West shows out, discarding the 13th heart. Then on the queen of spades, he throws a diamond. Once again, with West stripped of his major-suit cards, the discard of a potential diamond winner suggests that he is protecting clubs. The club finesse will probably fail, so lead a diamond and let West cash his four winners. He will be endplayed in clubs, forced to lead into your A-Q to give you your 9th trick. The full deal: ♠ AQ8 ♥ A109 ♦ 765 ♣ 8432 ♠ J ♠ 10965432 ♥ 8753 ♥ J42 ♦ AQJ932 ♦ 84 ♣ K9 ♣ J ♠ K7 ♥ KQ6 ♦ K10 ♣ AQ10765 Possession of the 10 of diamonds in your hand adds some insurance to this play, since if East held that card, he would be able to win the attempted throw-in, cash major suit winners, or lead a club from his side to set you. An important factor declarer needs to read is the discomfort level shown by the West hand during the play. An average player, for instance, will usually exhibit some pain and suffering as he gets down to the crucial discards, which can give away the vital information declarer needs to know to make the right play. An expert defender, on the other hand, will foresee what is happening early in the play and may well casually discard a club on the last major-suit winner, or perhaps even earlier in the play, baring the king. Will declarer get it right, and go up with the ace of clubs in that instance? If declarer is himself an expert, and judges his left-hand opponent capable of such a play, then quite possibly yes; otherwise, probably not. (Thanks to my good friend, Jeff Lehman, for providing the 2nd deal).