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DEFENSIVE SIGNALS
HOW NOT TO LOSE TOP TRICKS ON DEFENSE

On Board 14 from the Friday 9/27/13 SBBC game, South declared either 3 or 4 seven times and twice East-West declared 3♠. Against the heart contracts, the East-West defenders could have cashed the ace and king of both spades and diamonds - and yet all seven declarers scored at least ten tricks.

Some potential solutions for the defense are discussed first, followed by comments on the given auction and other possible auctions.

East Deals
None Vul
9 7 5
10 4 3
8 7
A K Q 9 6
A K Q 3
9 8 5
K 5 2
10 4 3
N
WE
S
J 10 6 2
J 2
A 10 9 4 3
8 2
8 4
A K Q 7 6
Q J 6
J 7 5

WestNorthEastSouth
  Pass1
1♠2♣2♠3
PassPassPass
3 by South
Lead: ♠A

Defense

For the East-West pairs defending 4, not cashing the defense's four top tricks meant earning one matchpoint instead of a cold top if the heart game had been set. It appears there was not a shift to diamonds after the first or second spade was cashed.

How could the East-West defenders signal to ensure holding declarer to nine tricks by cashing their four tricks before declarer could gain the lead?

When West leads the ♠A, East can play the ♠2 as a discouraging signal. This discouraging signal implies a tolerance for a shift to a different suit, and with the club suit threatening in dummy, diamonds is the "obvious shift" suit, dummy's short and weak suit. West will be tempted to shift to a diamond after cashing as many spades as possible, but may be concerned his diamond shift from K52 may be into declarer's AQ.

How good should East's diamonds be to discourage spades and imply he can stand a shift to that suit? Usually, the discouraging signal implies possession of at least one of the top two unseen honors (A or K because there are no diamond honors in dummy) in the obvious shift suit, although having the third highest unseen honor (the Q) might be good enough if there is a very threatening suit in dummy and a shift from partner's hypothetical K is required.

Perhaps the above sounds complicated, but here is an easy way to summarize this principle. If you can tell your partner may be tempted to shift to another suit and you have a useful high honor in that suit, it will usually be right to make a discouraging signal on partner's opening lead.

At trick 2, West leads the ♠K and East holding a remaining ♠J106 plays the ♠6 as his lowest remaining spade showing count (an odd number of spades). Since all the lower spades have either been played or can be seen by West, he is certain the ♠6 is East's lowest remaining spade and East started with four spades. Since no more spades can be cashed and East implied a high card in the diamond suit with his initial discouraging signal, West shifts to his lowest diamond at trick 3 and East wins his A. East leads a diamond back for two reasons: (1) he knows a third spade will be ruffed by declarer and (2) West shifted to a LOW diamond, implying desire for a diamond return.

There are other methods that will also solve this potential problem. On the ♠A opening lead, East can play the ♠J, promising the ♠10. West can lead his low spade at trick 2 and when declarer surprisingly fails to ruff the ♠10, it will be clear to East to shift to diamonds. From West's perspective, this defense may be necessary on some deals where declarer's diamond suit is headed by the AQ.

A third method is to play the opening lead convention of leading the ace asking for attitude and leading the king asking for count whenever it's reasonably possible the lead is from a suit headed by the ace and king. If using this opening lead convention, West can lead the ♠K and East plays the ♠J to show an even number of spades (which must be a four-card suit for the spade raise). When West cashes the second spade, East can play his ♠10 as a suit preference signal strongly encouraging a diamond shift.

Auction

The auction given occurred at my table, but there are several possible reasonable auctions. Note that West overcalled on a 4-card suit which is acceptable because (1) the overcall is at the one-level, (2) the suit is very good, and (3) the hand is reasonably strong. The disadvantage to overcalling is possibly finding partner with a doubleton spade and a long minor that couldn't reasonably be bid after an overcall but could be after a takeout double.

West also could have made a takeout double of the opening bid as he holds at least three cards in all the unbid suits. (West would like shorter hearts for the takeout double, but he has no wasted heart honors and four cards in the unbid major which are both plusses.)

A third possibility is for West to pass the opening bid, but either doubling 1 or overcalling 1♠ is recommended.

After the overcall, North had the option of bidding his clubs or immediately showing an invitational heart raise with a 2♠ cuebid or 3 jump if played as invitational. Although it usually is best to show the heart support immediately, North bid 2♣ due to the excellent quality clubs and his heart support having no high honor. The danger in North bidding 2♣ was seeing East bid 3♠ before North could show partner his heart support, causing North to guess whether to bid 4 hoping partner held better than a bare minimum opening bid.

On the given auction after the spade overcall and 2♣ response, East has several options. He could (1) raise to 2♠, (2) raise to 3♠ if played as a weak bid, or (3) bid 2 and later bid 2♠ or 3♠. This last choice allows a lead directing diamond bid with the spade support, but could backfire if South jams the bidding with a 4 bid and is passed back to East when he hasn't yet shown his spade support.

An immediate 3♠ raise when played as a weak bid promises four-card or longer trump support. Not only does this often make life difficult for the opponents, but it may make any later defense easier for partner knowing the raise was not on three-card support.

Points To Remember

1. When partner leads a high honor on opening lead and he will be tempted to shift to another suit, if you hold a high honor in that suit, it usually will be correct to make a discouraging signal, no matter what your holding is in the opening led suit.

2. It is usually best during the auction to immediately show trump support for partner's major. If you decide, however, to bid another suit and delay showing your trump support, it likely is because your own suit is very strong. Realize there is a danger the opponents may raise the bidding to a high level, putting yourself in a potentially awkward position if you have not yet shown trump support for partner!

Bud Hinckley
budh9534@gmail.com

     
 
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