By Ken Masson


Defense is justifiably considered to be the most difficult part of bridge. Whereas declarers have the benefit of seeing all their side’s assets as they attempt to make their contracts, defenders must struggle with only certain knowledge of half their combined holdings. It would definitely make life easier if each defender could tell the other what cards they held but unfortunately that is against the rules!

However, there is a perfectly legal way to talk to your partner when the two of you are defending a hand. It involves using the cards that you have to convey a message by playing a high card or a low card in specific situations. Generally speaking, when a defender is unable to follow suit and must discard in another suit, the play of a high card will suggest an interest in that suit while a low card carries the opposite meaning. Nevertheless, it is important that the defenders learn to use this tool judiciously.

In this month’s deal, South opened the bidding with 1 Heart and North responded 1 NT, which in their system was forcing for one round. South rebid 2 Hearts to show a six card suit, North invited game with a bid of 3 Hearts and South accepted. West led the Spade 10 which declarer won on the board with the Ace. Declarer now cashed the Ace and King of hearts to discover that there was a sure trump loser. As there was also a loser in the Spade suit, it was important that declarer should restrict losers in Diamonds to one.

But there was an interesting development when the second high Heart was played–East discarded the Diamond 4 showing a dislike for that suit. As East had shown only one Heart card, the odds were that East would hold more Diamonds than West and therefore be more likely to hold the outstanding honour cards, the Ace and the Jack. Left to his own devices, declarer would likely have started on the Diamond suit by leading a low card from the dummy to his 9. This would have lost to the Jack and later West would have won the Ace to set the contract one trick.

But the astute declarer took advantage of the information at his disposal by leading a low Diamond from the South hand towards the dummy. When West followed low, declarer successfully finessed the 10 and all he lost was one trick to the Ace in that suit to make his game.

The lesson from this hand was that East should not have been too eager to let his partner know that he was bereft in Diamond values, as the declarer was also in on the message and was able to take advantage of it. It would have been far safer for East to have discarded a small spade on the second round of trumps and let declarer try to figure out how to play the Diamond suit for himself.

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