Deal Of The Week: February 17, 2023

A Bridge Play Named At Yankee Stadium!

And How To Make It Work For You

A problem for you to begin:

Partner passed as dealer and RHO opened a 15-17 1NT. You passed and LHO responded with a Stayman 2. Partner passed and opener denied a major with 2 and you decided to double for a diamond lead, in case partner got in at some point. Responder continued with 3NT and you were on lead with dangerous options everywhere and no clues. You chose to go with the J opening lead, won in dummy with the Q, partner playing the three and declarer the two. Declarer thought for a moment and led the 4 from dummy, five, ace, and your two. Next was the nine of hearts from declarer's hand. What card do you play to this trick?

The king is a winner but partner rates to have something in the suit. Dummy's 11-count, declarer's 16 (give or take a point) and your 9, leave about 3-5 points for partner, none of which appears to be in clubs or spades. The A and the J are both possibilities to be in partner's hand; possibly even both.

It's not unreasonable to duck this so early in the hand. It's certainly rather difficult to smoke out the actual danger in doing so. Read on...

It was not long after contract bridge was played for the first time in 1925, on Harold Vanderbilt's cruise through the Panama Canal with card-playing friends and his new scoring table, before Ely Culbertson became the accepted authority on the popular new game. Culbertson founded The Bridge World magazine and promoted his system in articles and books, much to the consternation of other writers who had not made the transition from auction bridge to contract bridge as fast. By the end of the decade Culbertson had set up a nationwide league of teachers to teach and promote the Culbertson System and the money was rolling in to the New York headquarters, and on one day in the late 1920s or early 1930s, the New Yorkers on the Culbertson staff, all enthusiastic bridge players, took an afternoon off from the work of answering letters and producing articles for newspapers and their new magazine, to go watch Babe Ruth hit some home runs.

What they actually saw was a less common baseball play, where a runner on third base runs for home as the pitch is thrown, a very low percentage play since the ball is coming at a much faster speed to the defender who will simply tag him out. The batter is supposed to stay out of the way and not interfere with the catcher's tag on an attempt to steal home, but still has the right to try to hit the ball. The strategy employed to get the runner on third base safely in to score was for the batter to bunt! Instead of swinging, the batter simply lets the ball hit the extended bat and then roll to a stop a few feet in front of home plate. It's an easy out at first base, but if the bunt is executed perfectly and does not roll into foul territory, it is nearly impossible to prevent the runner on third from scoring.

This baseball play is called a squeeze play. There are two types, a safety squeeze, where the runner on third waits until contact is made before breaking for home, and a suicide squeeze, where the runner breaks as the pitch is thrown, risking a certain out if the batter is unable to make contact.

And in the seats at Yankee Stadium, Ely Culbertson watched this happen and heard the fans around him calling this a squeeze play, and had one of those 'AHA' moments.

We are blessed, nearly a century after the invention of our game, with a common style for writing about it. As with most fields, this has been arrived at through trial and error. Reading old books or newspaper articles from the first years of contract bridge is difficult because this standard form for writing about common plays had not yet been developed. And as well as a standard format for bridge writing, there were some strategies that hadn't yet been named. Bridge writers in 1927 didn't really have a term for a play where a defender, or even both defenders, was forced to part with a winner because declarer was running a long suit. It was well-known that such strategies existed, and that quite often the defender was victimized only in his own mind, but there was no name for these plays. Now there was. Culbertson began using the term 'squeeze' to describe plays where an extra trick was 'squeezed' out of the defenders by forcing them to break up their hands by discarding. The name stuck and various different types of squeezes began to pop up; the most common being the 'pseudosqueeze,' where a defender discards or unguards a key high card thinking there is no other option, when in fact partner has it covered.

We know today that a good name gets any bridge strategy considerable popularity. As I write this, the in vogue convention seems to be an asking bid after responder's major is raised to the 2-level by opener. Such schemes have been known for many years, but are now reaching players because they have a cool new name: Spiral Raises. I keep hearing 'do you play Spiral?' and, just like 'Montreal Relay,' whenever I look it up online, I discover there are at least a dozen variations; but the most common response I hear is a quick 'yes,' and then they move on to something else, and the eventual disaster is set to happen on a random schedule...

Anyhow, no doubt Ely went whole hog for squeeze hands in The Bridge World for the next little while after coining the term, to make sure the name stuck, and the nationwide army of Culbertson players began to run their long suits hoping for something good to happen but not really understanding why. And more than two decades later, in the middle fifties, a Detroit-area group of players led by mathematics professor Clyde E. Love, began collecting squeeze hands and categorizing them, and in 1959 Love wrote one of the best bridge books ever written: Bridge Squeezes Complete or Winning Endplay Strategy. Love's treatise set up rules for sniffing out and executing squeezes that many follow to this day. Surprisingly, most squeezes do not require the declarer to remember every card the defenders discard; usually, you simply watch for one or two or sometimes three key cards and if they don't appear you have no choice but to hope something good has happened in another suit.

And now you are no doubt beginning to suspect that ducking that K was a mistake....

Click the 'Next' button repeatedly and watch the comments appear below to go through the deal with me...

Want to try another? This time, no peeking at the defenders' cards...

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