There is Only One Meckstroth

It is the last round of a regional Swiss, and unfortunately we have no chance to win. We were doing well until the previous round when we had to play Meckstroth and Rodwell. They blitzed us to knock us out of contention. I am playing with a regular partner who prides himself on aggressive game bidding, and we are at the table of a stodgy old couple who thus far in the round have proven to be surprisingly competent.

With both vul, I pick up as dealer  S:AKQxx H:109x D:xxx C:Kx.

I open 1S:, and partner responds with a game forcing 2C:. Though 2C: is ostensibly natural, we also begin with that bid on most game forcing balanced hands so he can easily have a 3-card suit. We have a useful set of artificial follow-ups here, so I use one, 2D:, which shows one of: any minimum hand with at least 6 spades, extra values with at least 6 not-great spades, or a minimum balanced hand. This gets doubled on my left, so I hope our methods haven't given our opponents an advantage on this hand. My partner next bids 2S:, which shows a balanced hand with 3-card spade support and eliminates the possibility that his 2C: bid was based on a good 5 card suit. My bids on the next round are essentially natural, so 2NT through 3H: all show a concentration of strength in a balanced minimum, 3S: and 3NT show a minimum and a maximum respectively with 6 spades. I choose to fib a little with 3S: since none of the bids to show balanced hands look particularly descriptive, and if partner has slam ambitions, I want to alleviate his trump suit concerns. Partner then ends the auction with 4S:.

S: 8xx
H: AQ72
D: Axx
C: Qxx
S: AKQxx
H: 109x
D: xxx
C: Kx
3S:(4)Pass4S:All Pass
1) Game forcing, natural but can be a 3-card suit in a balanced hand.
2) Either 12-14 balanced, or 6+ spades but inappropriate for an immediate 3S: or 4S: bid.
3) Spade support in a balanced hand.
4) Minimum with 6 spades.

I get the D:K lead. I see partner stretched to force to game as usual, and now it's up to me to justify his overbidding.

I decide to duck the opening diamond lead, as my general idea at this point will be to set up hearts to pitch a diamond loser, and for this to work RHO will have to be out of diamonds whenever he wins a heart trick. There is also the chance that LHO will hold D:KQ10xx and switch suits, playing me for D:Jxx. Unfortunately RHO plays the D:9 (standard carding), and LHO continues with the D:Q which I win, RHO's dropping the jack. Too bad RHO's spot wasn't smaller.

I next draw two rounds of trumps, leaving one in dummy as a later hand reentry. RHO follows with the 9 and J, so unless he is being tricky with J109 he seems to have a doubleton spade to go with his doubleton diamond. I next lead the H:9, hoping to slip it by something like KJx on my left, and also catering to the unlikely legitimate chance of 8x offside if RHO has something like  S:J109 H:8x D:Jx C:AJxxxx. The H:9 gets covered in order by the jack, queen, and king, and RHO immediately plays back a low heart.

It's reconstruction time. The fact that RHO didn't play a spade back now seems to confirm my suspicion that he began with a doubleton in the suit. Since I am giving RHO 9 round cards to my LHO's 5, it looks as if hearts are not breaking. I'm going down right now if hearts are 1-5, and a club surely would have been returned if the C:A were on my left, so I give my RHO 2425 with the C:A. Since that gives LHO one small heart and RHO three, the odds are heavily in favor of the H:8's being on my right. Now I can visualize a really cool ending.

I duck the heart and win cheaply in dummy with the H:7 as LHO follows low, leaving:

S: x
H: A2
D: x
C: Qxx
S: Qxx
H: 10
D: x
C: Kx
I next play off the rest of my trumps, throwing a diamond and a club from dummy. RHO has to keep H:8x, so he is squeezed out of his club length. I follow by unblocking the H:10, which has done its job admirably, and play the C:K. RHO ducks but this only delays the inevitable. I exit with my last club to him and wait for him to give me the H:A at trick 13 for my steppingstone squeeze.

A fascinating aspect to this hand is that RHO can beat me in an amazing way, by ducking the first heart trick! Double dummy, I could simply draw the last trump next and pass the H:10 to RHO, who would be endplayed. But who in the world would do anything but draw the last trump and play a low heart toward the ace, hoping for KJ doubleton or KJx onside? It's lucky for me that RHO is not Meckstroth.

Unfortunately my conscience is eating at me. The above analysis escaped me at the table, and I actually played the H:10 from hand on the heart return to avoid blocking the suit in case hearts were 3-3 or J8 doubleton onside. It's too bad, since this hand would have helped me feel better about a relatively unsuccessful day. Apparently I'm not Meckstroth either. Today was full of reminders that there is only one Meckstroth.

Copyright © 2005 Josh Donn