by Ted Muller
Contract: 6♠ by South
1. Declarer's Par — make the hand
A club lead (as good as any) goes to the ace. Declarer optionally finesses one
or two rounds of trumps, then leads the heart queen. That card must be covered
for the defenders to have any chance; otherwise, west could be subjected to a
strip-endplay — that is, thrown in with his trump king and forced to lead a
heart after his minor-suit cards are eliminated.
Declarer captures the heart king with the ace, ruffs a club, and cashes the jack of hearts. Now, three rounds of diamonds are played off and dummy's last club is trumped in hand, to this position:
The heart deuce is led to east's ten, whereupon west's spade holding is smothered! He cannot win a trick. It makes no difference whether declarer finesses just one round of trumps early, or none at all.
2. Defenders' Par — win a trump trick
If the smother play can be circumvented, then west will score his trump king eventually. So the objective is for east to avoid being handed the lead at an inconvenient time, no matter what the cost.
Plan A: Let's try the play again with a club out. The defenders' principal strategy will be to sacrifice their heart trick! West will not cover any heart leads from south, and east will discard a heart on any trump lead. Those ploys prove inadequate, however. After two rounds of spades and three winning rounds of hearts, a club is ruffed. The queen of diamonds is overtaken by dummy's king and another club is ruffed, to this position:
Declarer cashes the ace of diamonds and underplays dummy's ten, as he is anxious to lose the next trick! The third round of diamonds goes to east, who cannot unblock the suit, and once again west's trump holding is squelched. Declarer simply transfers the endplay from hearts to diamonds.
Plan B: What about an initial diamond lead? Declarer's
winning option is to play both the ten and the ace on the first
trick. After cashing the ace of clubs, he must test hearts first to learn how
the defenders will handle that suit. If they keep a stopper, declarer opts
for the heart
throw-in; if they unblock the hearts, then declarer goes for the
gambit in diamonds. The defense has no counter.
Plan C: This time, east adopts a new
tactic — he will
discard two diamonds on trump leads. Now, after declarer is permitted to win three
heart tricks, east cannot be thrown in with a third diamond. Yet declarer has an
answer for that as well — he simply declines to finesse two early rounds
of trumps! Although he can afford one lead, it is unnecessary to play on spades at
all until the end. This denies east the opportunity to get rid of his diamonds.
Plan D: One requirement of the trump-suppression matrix is that south's trump holding be reduced to the same length as west's. Two club ruffs are necessary in order to mold the hands into the desired pattern.
And that's the key to a successful mission for east-west. The requisite
end-position can be thwarted by forcing out a dummy entry prematurely —
that is, before the ace of clubs has been played off. The opening lead must be the
king of hearts!
This Merrimac Coup saves par for the defenders, and it is the only way to do it. Now declarer must resign himself to (ho-hum) simply giving up a trump trick and claiming the balance.
Note: declarer could always deny west a trump trick, by refusing to win the opening lead of the heart king! That would preserve the dummy entry and enable south to arrange a smother play after all; but in the process he would lose two tricks and go down, and that option was stipulated as unacceptable.
3. Bonus Teaser — swap the six and seven of hearts, then defeat the contract
The opening lead of a low spade enables east to discard a heart. Now west can stop that suit even after covering south's honor lead. As east no longer can be thrown in profitably, a trump loser is unavoidable as well as a heart, and the contract fails.
East must be careful, however, not to discard his last heart on another trump lead;
otherwise, west could be
strip-endplayed just as if he had not covered the first