X-Def 08

Signalling is an absolutely indispensible requirement for good defence. Here is another example of why it is so necessary. The following deal comes from a recent match point session where the contracts were either 3NT or 4H. Once more the opening leads should have been different depending on the contract, with the defender on lead each time holding the ace and king in the same suit. The defenders should all have followed the rule that ‘God didn’t deal you both the ace and king in the same suit for you to lead any other suit’. But in one case, against 4H, only the ace is correct, whereas against 3NT either the ace or ‘fourth highest’ would have been acceptable this time. And, before anyone tells me that any lead but a spade from South will defeat 3NT, that’s true but we’re not here to defend like Deep Finesse, just defend sensibly!

Dealer East NS Vul


The bidding should land EW in 4H, either by West or East. If it is West, the end for declarer will come rather quickly when North leads the jack of spades, a stand out lead given the bidding and North’s cards. Three spade tricks for the defence followed by the king of trumps when the finesse loses. However some Wests might bid straight to 3NT when East opens 1NT, other pairs might be playing transfers and end up in 4H by East, the most likely contract these days. As it happens, 3NT cannot be defeated whereas 4H should always be defeated with proper defence. But we’re not here to discuss how to land up in the right or wrong contract but how the defence might go against the different contracts.

Firstly, when e.g. East opens 1NT and West raises to 3NT. With no other information to go on, South has the obvious lead of a spade. But, South can start with either ‘fourth highest’, or the ace. Fourth highest is usually best, but with only four spades, South can start with the ace to get a signal from partner and hope that, even if partner has three small spades, the suit can still be established for three tricks by following with a LOW spade.

So, South leads the ace, and gets a discouraging signal (I prefer ‘standard’ i.e. old fashioned signals where high means encourage and low means discourage). When South sees the three, South can infer that North has three low spades and not the queen, or possibly a doubleton Q3. In either case, it is now right to follow with a low spade, which will hopefully set up two more spade tricks for the defence.

The advantage of starting with the ace rather than a low one is that, depending on what you see in dummy, and partner’s signal, it may be right to try another suit. But it is not a good idea to start with the ace if you have more than four cards in the suit, because, as we should know by now, it is important to keep contact with partner. With a four card suit, chances are that partner will have three and you can then lead a low one to keep that communication with partner.

So, against 3NT, we have two opening lead options with this South hand, as long as we don’t start with the ace and continue with the king, which will cut us off from partner. Nothing is certain but you can increase your chances of success by following the best guiding principles. That also goes for the defence against 4H.

Against 4H, the only correct lead is the ace of spades, telling partner that you also have the king (unless you have a doubleton Ax, a remote possibility) and that you are hoping for an encouraging signal, which will mean either that partner has a doubleton and wants to ruff the third round, or that partner has the queen and is happy for you to continue in the hope of taking three spade tricks.

Against a trump contract, taking three tricks on the go with the three top cards in defenders’ suit is extremely unlikely of course, so you do have to look for alternative sources of your tricks.

So, let’s see what can happen if South is on lead against a 4H contract after the correct transfer sequence by the opponents. South starts with the ace of spades. Don’t even consider a low one! Because this is against a TRUMP contract, you must ensure that you make your two spade tricks at least. But you’re hoping for more: If North has a doubleton spade, a spade ruff may be possible for the defence. Only signalling can tell the defence whether that is possible or not. Of course if North has the queen North will also signal, but in this case, North has neither the queen nor a doubleton, so North must discourage as strongly as possible to stop South from continuing spades. Why? Because if South cashes up the top spades, declarer’s queen will take the third trick. But if North can persuade South to not take the second spade, North can see that by leading the jack through East’s Q9 later, the defence will score two more spade tricks. Far too many defenders are only too keen to take all the tricks they can far too early. Here, South may well decide to take the king anyway, thinking ‘what harm can it do, at least it’s another trick, and it might run away if I don’t take it now’. This is where it is also necessary to try and work out what might happen in later play. The continuation of the king will certainly set up a trick for declarer’s queen, and the third spade won’t get ruffed by partner, so is that second trick so important that it must be taken now, or can South wait for it? The answer is that South should think things through and work out the possible distribution of declarer’s hand and decide whether a switch can possibly lose against the certainty that a continuation will give declarer a sure trick with the queen.

With this South hand, and when we look at the hands in this deal, we can see the answer. Continuing to take your second spade gives declarer the contract, whereas a switch at trick two will allow North to lead the second spade through declarer for two more spade tricks. North, more than South, can see the danger if South continues, so must signal discouragement and hope that South gets the message and comes to the right decision.

I should mention here that this deal is a disaster for ‘reverse attitude’ signals because North’s THREE of spades would enocurage South to continue, whereas the JACK or TEN would discourage a second spade lead BUT....declarer then has a tenace with the Q9 over North’s 103 when North leads a spade through.