home

Don't follow partner's signals blindly

Berry Westra ( Netherlands )

 

  Berry Westra lives in Rotterdam where he is the editor of a monthly Dutch bridge magazine called Bridge Beter. It is a magazine for improving players and has a circulation of 17,000. He also writes bridge books that are very popular in the Netherlands .

His biggest triumph as a player was being part of the Dutch team that won the 1993 Bermuda Bowl but before that he had won a European Junior Championship in 1986, a World Junior Championship in 1987 and was placed third in a World Team Olympiad in 1992. He has had a longstanding bridge partnership with Enri Leufkens.

 

Where: A bridge tournament anywhere in the world.

When: Just after a beatable game has been allowed to make due to defensive error.

 

Possible conversations:

A:      'There's no point in signalling with a partner like you! I ask for a heart and you play a club. What's the point?'

B:      'Partner, why didn't you play back a club?' 'But you signalled for a heart.' 'That doesn't mean you have to play one! Why don't you think for yourself?'


Which conversation is more likely? Ten to one says it's 'A' for obvious reasons. If your partner obeys your signal and it turns out wrong, you go easy on him. You might even take part of the blame. However, when partner ignores your signal and that is the wrong thing to do, oh boy, you hit him with everything you've got!

It is therefore very understandable that many players tend to see partner's signals as a command (who needs a scolding?) rather than a suggestion. This is the wrong way to handle signalling. Signals are indispensable in solving many of the difficult problems that come up, for any partnership. However, they should be an aid to the right defence and nothing more. Defence starts with analysis.

 

AN example is the next board which was played in a local Dutch tournament. Here it clearly paid off to use your own judgement rather follow partner's signal.

    J 8 2    

 

 EW Game

 A 9 5

 

 

 

  Dealer East    

 Q 10 9  6 5 3

 

 

 

 

 10

 

 

 

 

 

N

 

 

K 9 5 3        

 K 6 4 3

 

W           

 

 

 4

 

 

 

 

 J 8 7 4

 

 

 

 

                           

After East opened the bidding with One Club, South reached Four Spades, doubled by West.

At several tables West led the four of diamonds to the three, ace and king. East played back the two of diamonds and West ruffed South's jack. Of course East's two of diamonds asks for a club return and in fact some Wests fatally followed their partner's signal.

Huub Bertens, one of Holland 's most talented players, realized that a club return could wait. However, if East held the queen of hearts, then a heart switch was needed immediately and this is what he proceeded to do. This was the full deal:

 

East Dealer

 J 8 2

 

 

 

E-W Game

 A 9 5

 

 

 

 

 Q 10 9 6 5 3

 

 

 

 

 10

 

 

 

 

 

              N

 

 

K 9 5 3

 

 

 7

 K 6 4 3

 

W                         E

 Q 10 7

 4

 

 

 A 8 7 2

 J 8 7 4

 

 

 K Q 5 3 2

 

 

 

               S

 

 

 

 

A Q 1- 6 4

 

 

 

 

 J 8 2

 

 

 

 

 K J

 

 

 

 

 A 9 6

 

 

                  

Declarer went two down whereas the club return would have allowed the contract to make. Perhaps East should have played back a more neutral diamond, but he wanted to show West that underleading his hypothetical ace of clubs would be safe.

THE next deal shows that partner's signal can never be the sole guidance for the defence, simply because it sometimes happens that you know more about the hand than he does.

 

South Dealer

 Q 2

 

Game All

 Q J 6 2

 

 

 A 7

 

 

 8 7 6 4 2

 

 

 

             N

10 8 6 4

 

 

 10 5 4

 

W                         E

 Q 10 3

 

 

 A J 3

 

 

W

N

E

S

 

 

 

1NT*    * 15-17

Pass

2♣

Pass

2

Pass

2NT

All

Pass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Against 2NT West led the four of spades to the queen, ace and five. East returned a spade to the nine and ten. A third spade went to declarer's king, dummy pitching a heart and partner producing the jack. Declarer next led the king of clubs which held, East contributing the five. The queen of clubs was taken by the ace and this time East discarded the two of diamonds, a discouraging signal. Before automatically cashing his high spade West decided to analyse the situation. He had seem the king of spades and king-queen of clubs in the South hand, eight points. Considering South's pass over 2NT, he was very likely to have exactly 15 points. That could be either the king of hearts and king-jack of diamonds or the ace of hearts and king of diamonds. In the first case, the defence held six certain tricks, so West focused on the second possibility.

It would seem that with these cards declarer should always have eight tricks (three clubs, two hearts, two diamonds and a spade). However, things are not always what they seem!

 

South's holding in clubs was KQ109 so the suit was potentially blocked. If the defence could succeed in driving out the ace of diamonds before declarer unblocked the club suit, they could prevent the eight of clubs taking a trick. Therefore, despite partner's two of diamonds, a diamond switch was mandatory. Furthermore, West realized he could not even cash his spade trick as that would allow declarer to pitch the blocking club. Here is the whole hand:

 

 

South Dealer

 Q 2

 

 

 

Game All

 Q J 6 2

 

 

 

 

 A 7

 

 

 

 

 8 7 6 4 2

 

 

 

 

 

             N

 

 

10 8 6 4

 

 

A J 7 3

 10 5 4

 

W                         E

 K 9 8

 Q 10 3

 

 

 J 8 5 4 2

 A J 3

 

 

 5

 

 

 

              S

 

 

 

 

K 9 5

 

 

 

 

 A 7 3

 

 

 

 

  K 9 6

 

 

 

 

 K Q 10 9

 

 

                           

West played a diamond at trick six and another one when he won the jack of clubs. East completed the good defence by not covering the queen of hearts.

 

My BOLS bridge tip is:  

Don't stop thinking when partner signals.  

Work out the hands and base your defence on that analysis in conjunction with partner's signal.  

home