In standard (American) carding practice, we give attitude when Partner leads a suit and we give count when the opponents lead a suit (high-low to show an even number). Here are some examples where giving count was the key to finding the successful defense.
Related Play Problems Play Problem 78
Related Extracts from Past Wednesday Games
With 3-3 in the minors, most players prefer to open 1♣, but let’s not be too dogmatic about this when the Diamonds are so much stronger. Here, opening 1♦ has the incidental benefit of picking off the opponents’ 9-card fit, with the result that they end up in the inferior 8-card Club fit. With the aid of a double hook in Clubs there are no fewer than 10 tricks available in Diamonds, but good defense beats 3♣:
North leads a Diamond to South’s Ace
♦K is cashed
♥K shift is won by Dummy’s Ace
Club lead and South must split her honors!
Declarer leads the ♠K and South must duck!
Now Declarer cannot reach the board for another Club finesse and the defense gets 5 tricks. How did South know that she could afford to duck the ♠K? Could it not have been a singleton? No, North will have been careful to give a count signal on the ♠K lead, showing an odd number and making things crystal clear.
West and East are both minimum for their No Trump bids so it’s no surprise that 3NT is a perilous place. North leads the ♥J to South’s Ace, then a Heart back, won by Declarer’s King. Declarer cashes the ♠A, and runs the ♠J. Now a Diamond is led to Dummy’s Jack, and when the ♠Q comes fluttering down on the 3rd round Declarer is home. With one Spade left to cash, here is the end-position:
♠ ♠ 9
♥ Q8 ♥
♦ KQ8 ♦ 42
♣ K ♣ Q85
Now Declarer has a choice to make. Thanks to the lucky Spade situation he has 9 certain tricks just by pitching a Diamond on the last Spade, and then leading a Diamond. But at matchpoints greed is good and Declarer might see a chance for 10 tricks if he throws the ♣K on the last Spade. He’ll reason that North’s bidding, and South’s lack of bidding, strongly suggest that North has both minor suit Aces, making the ♣K pitch quite safe. Now it is North’s chance to shine. Watch should she pitch on the last Spade? Not the ♣J, that will make it obvious that she is down to three Hearts and two Aces, allowing Declarer to play a Diamond from Dummy and low from hand! Making 10 tricks! But North can create doubt by pitching a Heart on the last Spade. Now Declarer will be taking a big risk by playing low on that Diamond … if North is down to ♥ T9, ♦A9, ♣A then Declarer has just gone down in a cold contract! So Declarer is likely to play it dafe and play a Diamond to the King for 9 tricks.
If South religiously gives count signals then she will give the game away by playing high-low in Diamonds. This won’t help her Partner, but if Declarer trusts the signal then he will guess the Diamonds correctly.
3♠ can be beaten one trick, but it requires careful defense. A Diamond lead from South, low from the board, won by North’s Ace … then the defense cashes 2 Clubs, and reverts to Diamonds … now, if Declarer draws trumps he has a 2nd Diamond loser, and, if he plays on Hearts, South will win the Ace and lead a third round of Diamonds, forcing Dummy to ruff and promoting a trump trick for the defense.
The defense looks pretty easy when you can see all four hands, but it’s easy to see how a trick might be lost. For example, North wins the opening Diamond lead, the defense tries to cash 3 Clubs … Declarer ruffs the third one, of course, and loses a Heart … now, it’s too late for the defense to get that trump promotion and 9 tricks is the result. How does the defense avoid this trap? Careful count signals and spot-watching are required. When North wins that opening Diamond lead, she must shift to the appropriate Club spot. For example, if N-S play 4th best leads, North shifts to the Five, and then when South cashes her second Club, North plays the Four … this sequence of plays should make it pretty clear that North started with 5 Clubs, and that the third one won’t cash. Similarly, if N-S play “3rd and 5th” leads, at Trick Two, North shifts to the Four, and South should be able to work things out.
East’s 2♣ was the so-called “Inverted Minor” convention.
North leads a low Heart, and Declarer should call for the Ten from Dummy. This holds, South playing the Four and Declarer the Three. At this point in the proceedings, North knows almost for certain that South started life with precisely 9xx of Hearts. How so? The logic is as follows:
- South is supposed to give count in this situation … after all, if she cannot beat Dummy’s Ten, her attitude is already known! A good rule of thumb is that, if Dummy wins with the Queen or a lower card, it’s a count situation. If Dummy wins with the Ace we would normally give attitude, encouraging if we held the King or Queen. And if Dummy wins with the King, we encourage if we have the Queen.
- When we signal we always make the signal as clear as is safely possible. When South played the Four was she showing an odd number from 974? Or an even number from 9742? Clearly it’s the odd number, because, with 9742 South can spare the Seven in order to make the signal unambiguous.
Against 3NT, East leads the Spade Ten, won by Declarer. The A♥ is knocked out, and East returns a low Spade, maintaining communications with Partner. Now, when the Hearts don’t split, Declarer has no way to score more than 9 tricks.
One small point in the play. Declarer should win the opening lead in her hand with the King (or Queen), rather than play the Jack from the board. This might persuade a gullible and optimistic East to lay down the A♠ (after winning the A♥) in the vain hope of catching North with KQ doubleton. This would not be good play by East who should be wondering why West would play the Four from 6543 on the first trick. Whether that card was intended as count or attitude, surely West would play his highest or lowest, and not the in-between Four.
Nowadays, most players lead Ace from Ace-King against suit contracts. But, if West leads the ♥A against 3♣, how will he know that it is safe to cash the ♥K at Trick 2. That would certainly be wrong if Declarer held a singleton Heart and two small Diamonds. There are a couple of useful carding agreements which will help in these situations:
- When the Queen appears in Dummy, third hand can give count, in this case making it clear to West that a second Heart is cashing.
- When a suit has been bid and raised by the defense, that is a situation where we are more likely to lead the Ace without holding the King. So, it’s a useful partnership agreement, in this situation, to play King from Ace-King (Partner gives count) and Ace from an unsupported Ace (Partner encourages if he has the King).
Anyway, against 3♣, West’s opening lead is a high Heart and, via one of the above agreements, East gives count. Now West knows that the second Heart is cashing but it might be wrong to do so, maybe Declarer has two small Diamonds, in which case a Diamond shift is required at Trick 2. There’s no guarantee here, but West will reason that South is more likely than Partner to hold the ♦K and therefore the other Heart needs to be cashed pronto, before Declarer’s Heart loser goes away on the Diamonds. Now all that remains is for Declarer to guess the Clubs correctly for 10 tricks.
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