The hero of our story today is Mary Kay Scarborough, playing in a recent Monday game at the club. Sitting West, Mary Kay picked up against me and Marshane Griffin the following so-so collection of points:
Following her partner’s opening bid of 1♣, Mary Kay bid 1♠. Her partner then jumped to 3♦,a strong jump shift in their methods, and Mary Kay signed off at 3NT. Marshane and I passed throughout. Marshane led the ♦6, and the following dummy came down.
Mary Kay successfully finessed the ♦Q, and then cashed the two top clubs, clubs splitting 2-2. From here, as the cards lie, the hand was cold for 7NT. Mary Kay played the hand beautifully to make exactly that. See if you can match Mary Kay’s feat of card play. Here is the the play of the hand after the 3rd trick, with Mary Kay in the dummy, the ♣QJ having dropped doubleton:
How did Mary make 7NT? Click the link below to see the solution.
As you might have guessed from the title, this article is about squeeze play. Some players even at an advanced level feel that squeeze play is an utter mystery. To achieve real mastery of the subject, a good deal of study of the topic is is indeed required. But there are many squeezes that just fall into your lap and they are often executed by accident. This hand illustrates one of them.
But first of all, what do we mean by a squeeze? A squeeze is any sequence of plays which forces a defender to weaken his hand because she has too many suits or high cards to guard. The squeeze works when one or more defenders has no choice but to discard a card which promotes an extra trick for the declarer.
Most defenders have felt the exquisite pain of being caught in the jaws of the squeeze, typically when the declarer is running a long suit with no idea that they are subjecting the hapless defender to a squeeze. But the declarer can sense your pain — when you ponder what to discard, touch one card than another, sigh, sweat and finally discard what turns out to be the wrong card, often not realizing that there was no right card to discard — you were caught in a squeeze.
In almost all squeezes the declarer must run a long suit — the so-called “free suit.” And the reason so many accidental squeezes happen is because many declarers with nothing else to do, will just run their long suit and hope something good happens. And sometimes something good does happen, either because the defender discards erroneously, or the defender discards the best that she can, but is caught in an unavoidable (albeit accidental) squeeze.
But as a declarer, without any deep understanding of squeeze play, you can make your own luck by doing a couple of the preliminary steps necessary to set up the squeeze. This is what Mary Kay did here. First, you need to have all of the rest of the tricks off the top save 1. So if you want to make 7 of something, you must have 12 tricks off the top — the squeeze, hopefully will get you your 13th.
Second, you must have some longish 2nd suit with a sure entry opposite your final long suit which you intend to run.
If these two conditions exist, run your long suits and suit what happens. If the squeeze works, one or both of the defenders will be forced to discard 1 or more winners, which will promote either secondary honors in your hand, or a low card in the longish suit in dummy.
Let’s see how this worked for Mary Kay in practice. After the 1st three tricks, here are all 4 hands after Mary Kay had dropped our doubleton clubs:
Mary Kay could count 12 tricks off the top, assuming the diamond finesse worked again (which it does): 3 spades, 1 heart, 3 diamonds and 5 clubs. So she has all of the rest of the tricks save one. So let’s cash these tricks in proper order.
First, showing excellent technique, Mary Kay led her ♣4 back to her ♣8 in hand so that she could take the diamond finesse again while preserving the entry to her 4 spades in hand. The finesse won again. Now time to cash her first long suit — clubs. When she did so, she first squeezed me, sitting South. This is the dilemma I faced when, having cashed all of clubs, Mary Kay cashed her ♦A.
Knowing from her 1 spade bid that Mary Kay had 4 spades and fearing that they were AKQx, I knew I had to keep my 4th spade. So I discarded my heart. I thought I was being very clever by discarding the ♥8 — Marshane had already signaled me that she had some strength in hearts so I trusted her to have the ♥Q; I thought it safe to unguard my King. Little did I recognize at the time that I had just been squeezed.
Now it was time for Mary Kay to put the screws to Marshane. Mary Kay indeed did have AKQx of spades and when she cashed out this 2nd long suit, watch what it did to Marshane’s hand (sitting North):
When Mary Kay led the ♠Q, Marshane was ground into the dust. She could not discard the ♦K because then the ♦9 becomes good. So she discarded her remaining heart, hoping that I maintained my heart guard. That hope was to no avail, as I had been squeezed out of heart guard 3 tricks before to protect my 4th spade. Seeing that her ♦9 was now useless, Mary Kay discarded it. Then she played her ♥J to the Ace on board, crashing Marshane’s ♥Q and my ♥K. Making 7NT for a top.
I quickly realized what had just happened to us, and turned to Mary Kay and asked her: “Did you know you just executed a double squeeze?” Mary Kay responded: “No. I don’t even know what that is.” This just illustrates my point — Here Mary Kay made her own luck to execute a relatively rare so-called “progressive double squeeze” where first one opponent (here, me) is squeezed out of a guard, and then at a later trick the 2nd opponent (here, Marshane) is squeezed out of a guard. All it required was good card play technique by her; watching her entries and keeping her entry in hearts on the board to the very end to create the opportunity for the squeeze.
So if you want to start execute some squeezes without really trying too hard, remember to do the following:
- First, count your tricks. You need to have all of the rest of the tricks off the top save 1. In this case Mary Kay could see she had 12 tricks off the top, and so perhaps a squeeze could get her a 13th.
- Second, you must have some longish 2nd suit with a sure entry opposite your last long suit which you intend to run. Here, Mary Kay ‘s longish 2nd suit was hearts — not very long at all, but it became crushingly long when Marshane and I were forced to unguard our heart honors.
When this is in place, start running your long suit(s). Here, Mary Kay had to run first her clubs and then her spades (and not the other way around), which is quite natural to do given her singleton spade in the dummy. Then see what happens. When defenders start to squirm, you know that you have caught them in a squeeze. Happy squeezing!
— Tom Hunt