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The Intermediate Series

Lesson 6

Defensive Play


Defensive Signals


I have been writing a column for the Unit 181 for five years or so. All have been on bidding, as are my books. Time for a change. Let’s talk about the hardest part of the game – defence. Today – signals.



Defensive Signals Introduction


This is a very difficult aspect of Partnership Bridge. First you have decide whether to signal. Then, determining what to signal. Finally the easiest way to do this.


There are 3 primary signals:

1.    Attitude

2.    Count

3.    Suit Preference


1. Attitude


Partner leads an honour, you get to say if you want partner to continue or not. It does not promise an honour or a specific holding, it just says, ‘please continue.’ Maybe you do not want a shift to another suit. Maybe you have a different motivation. Unless partner knows something that you don’t (i.e. he has another good lead in a different suit, such as KQJ), he should abide by your request.


The other common attitude signal is when partner leads and the hand to the right wins the trick. Since ‘third hand high’ no longer applies, attitude is the signal (see exception below).


There is no universal practice, but I strongly believe that a singleton or void in dummy does not change the trick 1 message. Encouraging means continue, and is not suit preference or count.


Sometimes partner’s signal is unclear, because of the spots out. All you can do is your best. However if you want partner to continue a suit, let’s say with K8643, play the 8, or the highest card you can afford (assuming standard signaling). Don’t play a wishy-washy 4 or 6. This practice will minimize ambiguous situations, and playing a suit not wanted by the leader’s partner.



1.    Count


This signal is mostly used when declarer (or dummy) is on lead. If you do not have to win or play a specific card, your card played is a count card. However there are a couple of other specific instances when count is preferable to attitude:

1. Partner leads the heart 3, and dummy has J108, and you have 7532. Play the 5 (or 7) so show an even number of hearts. This will often help partner if he gets on lead before you do.


2. Partner leads the King against a five level or higher contract. This is the best card to lead at high levels with AK in a suit, and asks partner to show count, so he knows whether a second trick in this suit is going to cash. Often you want to lead an unsupported ace against a five or six level contract, either to cash a trick or two, or look at dummy. Partner will signal attitude, encouraging with the King.


3. Partner leads the Queen or Ace against notrump. Count is usually the most beneficial signal. The ace usually shows a solid, or near solid suit, and asks partner to drop his highest honour, or if holding no high honour, give count.



1. Suit Preference


This is the defensive signal with the lowest frequency, but with the greatest abuse. There are three common applications:


1.    When your suit finally sets up in notrump, the last card played indicates where your entry is located.


Example: You lead the K from AK872 against 3NT. Spades are 3-3-2 around the table with declarer having Qxx. If you cash the ace at trick 2, lead the 8 if you want a heart back, the 7 for a diamond, and the 2 for a club.



2.    Partner leads a suit where you are known to have length. If you discourage, a relatively high spot asks for the higher ranking suit, and a relatively low spot discourage asks for the lower ranking suit:


Example:You open 3h with KJ108742. Partner leads your suit. J says ‘if you get in please continue’. The two says I don’t want you to continue, but I want you to switch to the lowest logical suit. Finally the 7 says I don’t want you to continue but switch to one of the two higher ranking suits, whichever one looks more logical or inviting.



Bridge Rules


Regardless of the signals used you must fully inform the opponents as to your methods on your convention card, and when they ask during a specific situation. Not to do so is illegal, unethical and subject to discipline and other penalties.




Defensive Signals – Quiz and Exceptions


The Intermediate Series

Lesson 6


Defensive Play



I have been writing a column for the Unit 181 for five years or so. All have been on bid

ding, as are my books. Time for a change. Let’s talk about the hardest part of the game – defence.


Defence and Introduction


Defence requires partnerships agreements, cooperation, and learning from experiences.


This is an area that requires constant communication between yourself and partner. As situations that come up where something went wrong on defence, discuss it. Did one partner do something wrong? Give the wrong count? Showed count in an attitude situation? This is how you learn – from your mistakes.


Defence is an art.


You may start off with each 3NT contract looking the same. But as time goes on, you will find each situation is slightly different than another, and may require a different approach.


Better defence from carefully listening to the bidding.


Your defence success rate will improve immensely when you carefully listen to the auction and look at your hand. Some questions to answer:


·       Why did they avoid notrump?

·       How big a fit do they have?

·       Did they get to game by an invitational sequence, which suggests more conservative defence, or by trying for slam?

·       Will one hand or another have shortness, and if so, in what suit?

·       Have the opponents shown a 2nd fit, which may indicate shortness in partner’s hand?

·       Are trumps splitting well for declarer?

·       Are side suits breaking well or are finessable cards onside or offside?

By listening carefully to the bidding, you can make better leads with a certain goal in mind.


Better defence from better declarer play.


Your defence will improve as your declarer play improves. Why? Because you will recognize situations and know what declarer’s strategy will be, or what dummy will have.


1. Leading



This is an area in which no player is ever perfect. You can make the best lead which will work a majority of time, but it will not work 100% of the time. Maybe not 80%. So don’t be discouraged when you make a well-reasoned lead that doesn’t work. Keep using the same logic and over time you will be right more often than not.


At this stage in your bridge development it is important to know the best leads. As you start to master situations, only then can you learn exceptions to the rule.


Leading against Notrump


4th best from longest and strongest. This is still the best advice. Even if it is a weak suit, it can still set up quickly.



You                             Partner

108732                      A654 





One lead from this weak suit sets up your suit.


High or low?


You are taught to lead high form a sequence. So from QJ1093 you lead the Q. That is correct. But sometimes your suit will be weaker which will leave you with a more difficult choice as to whether lead high or low. Here are some examples, with my recommendations:

1. ♠AJ10xxx – lead the J playing standard leads.

2. ♠AJ10xx – still the J.

3. ♠AJ10x – the J.

4. ♠QJ9xxx – the Queen

5. ♠QJ9xx – This one is close. I would lead 4th best. There is too good a chance that partner could have 10x, Kx, or Ax. And leading the Q either blocks the suit or gives the opponents an extra trick.


EX 1:




You                             Partner

QJ932                        K4      




If declarer plays the ace from dummy East will either set up a 2nd stopper if he plays the king, or block the suit if he chooses the 4.


6. KQ10xx     Lead the K.

7. KQ9xx       Most textbooks say lead the K

8. KQ8xx       Lead small*

9. AK10xx      Lead small*

10. AK87       Lead the 7*

11. AK7          Lead the King.

12. KQ32       Lead the 2.

13. QJ82        Lead the 2.

14. QJ92.      Lead the Q

15. Q109       Lead the 10.

16. 9732       Lead the 7. 2nd highest from an honourless suit is standard. In this way partner will usually be able to realize this is not 4th best, by using the rule of 11. In this way if partner gets in, he will know whether to continue your suit, or switch to a different one. (The 2 is also acceptable, but may cause partner to play you for a better suit.)

17. 1092       Lead the 10.

18. 1082       Lead the 2.

19. ?2            Lead the ?, the higher card, always.

20. ?               Use your judgement J


Bridge is not played in a vacuum


All of these leads are suggested on 1NT-3NT auctions. But often the bidding will be different. Since there are other factors that may alter your lead from some of the standard ones listed above.


Defensive Points –


since the opponents will have on an average 26 HCPs to bid game, your side will generally have 13-14. Often these points are split evenly. However when one defensive partner has the majority, then the goal will usually be to set up a suit that he has or may have.

Ex2: You hold ♠J3 ♥10754 ♦107 5 ♣10932


2♦ - 3NT

What do you lead?


Partner has most of the high cards between you. He also has at least 4 spades. Lead a spade. Here is a likely layout:




♠ K 8 7 6
♥ A 5 4 2
♦ K J 3
♣ 8 6 4

♠ J 3
♥ 10 7 5 4
♦ 10 7 5
♣ 10 9 3 2

Bridge deal

♠ Q 10 9 5 2
♥ Q J 8
♦ Q 8
♣ A J 5


♠ A 4
♥ K 9 6
♦ A 9 6 4 2
♣ K Q 7



Partner overcalls.Generally speaking, lead partner’s suit. If you have a doubleton lead the high one, with three or more lead your small one.


Matchpoints versus IMPs.
At IMPs or teams beating contracts is worth the risk of an overtrick or two. The above leads with asterisks are at this form of scoring. At matchpoints giving up overtricks can be catastrophic to your score. So the lead would more focused on taking and setting up tricks, whether it beats the contract or not. So with AK1093 lead the 10 against an IMP 3NT, but the AK playing pairs.


Opponents try for slam.

If the opponents investigate a slam but stop in game, take your tricks at matchpoints. Lead an ace if you have one. At IMPs often a strategy is to try and get a ruff, as it sounds like you can’t beat the game on power alone. So often a good lead is Kx, Ax, or even Qx.


Opponents show a major(s).

If the auction is


2S- 3NT

You know that declarer has four spades and LHO has four hearts. So at IMPs, the card you lead will change. If you hold in either major QJ932, AKQ32, KJ1032, AQ1032, K10932, KQ1032 or KQJ32 lead the 3! You are hoping that the major is distributed 5-4-2-2 around the table and partner will have an honour to either run the suit or setup the suit. In either case you will still have communication with partner has he will still have a card in the suit left.

Even this is good enough, as declarer will misguess on the 3♥lead:



♥J984                                    ♥65





Defensive Signals



Both vul, IMPs at IMPs scoring you hold as south: ♠A K93 AK106 ♣AK1063




What do you open?




NOTE:Just to let you know my new book, The Right Bid at the Right Time is has been released and is available for purchase.


Here is a hand from a recent match between two tops teams in the Canadian Online Teams Championship. Sitting South was a so-called expert. He decided to open 2NT.


Yes, this is close to the right point count. Yes, this simplifies the auction. Yes, this is one of the worse bids I have seen from a high caliber player.


Yes, that is unfortunately true. Time and time again I see players showing notrump shape with singletons. (Haven’t seen it with a void yet!) This is lazy bidding. First your auction is easier, but inaccurate. Natural bidding will be beat notrump auctions 9 times out of 10. Another reason players do this is that they can all but guarantee they will be declarer. What that has to do with Partnership Bridge, I am not sure.


The best bid is 1♣. One bids are up to 21 HCPs. That is what you have. Having said that the only reason I open 1♣ is that your suits are the minors, which are notorious difficult to describe when you have to start at the two level. Better to open 1♣ and make a one round force with 2♦. You can still force to game.


This hand is VERY good. Much better than your high card will indicate. Much better than a 2NT opener. Give partner ♠xxxx ♥Qx ♦Qxxxx ♣xx and 6♣ is an excellent contract.


Back to what happened at the table? South got his just desserts in my view. The full deal:




♠ Q108764
♥ A65
♦ 53
♣ Q2

♠ KJ932
♥ QJ10
♦ 82
♣ J94

Bridge deal

♠ 5
♥ 8742
♦ QJ974
♣ 875


♠ A
♥ K93
♦ AK106
♣ AK1063



North transferred into 4♠, down one when declarer’s play matched his bidding.




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