Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

It is not what a lawyer tells me I may do; but what humanity, reason and justice, tell me I ought to do.

Edmund Burke

S North
Both ♠ Q 4
 A 6 5
 8 7 3
♣ K Q J 10 8
West East
♠ J 9 8 6 3
 9 8 7
 A 4 2
♣ 9 2
♠ 10 7 2
 J 10 2
 Q J 10 9 6
♣ A 6
♠ A K 5
 K Q 4 3
 K 5
♣ 7 5 4 3
South West North East
1 NT Pass 3 NT All pass


Today’s deal is the second proposed to me by Jacques Guertin, and is almost identical to yesterday’s problem for East against three no-trump.

West again leads the spade six against three no-trump. Declarer wins with dummy’s queen and plays the club king. East ducks and sees West follow with the nine, then wins the next club as West follows with the two. What should East do next, and why?

Unlike yesterday’s deal, both West and East know holding up the club ace will not keep declarer from running the clubs, even if he has to expend an entry to dummy to do so. The real issue is what East should shift to after winning the club ace. Since both East and West know that, West’s card at trick two should specifically relate to that issue.

The Smith Echo is a signal designed to address that question, but be aware it can be played in many ways, and is very tempo-sensitive. Partnerships using it must try to follow in tempo in critical positions, and should be careful to plan their defense at trick one.

If you decide to play it, I suggest you use it as originally written. At no-trump when a count signal is not relevant, an immediate echo by West — in the suit declarer plays on first — asks for a shift. But East’s echo shows extras in the suit his partner led.

So West’s echo in clubs here shows no interest in a spade continuation, and East must win the club ace and play on diamonds. Had West not echoed, East would have led back a spade.

Had the opponents not bid, your hand would have fallen very awkwardly into a gray area. It is unsuitable for an inverted raise or a pre-emptive jump raise, with a one-no-trump call being right on values but wrong in every other way. Here, though, you can raise to two diamonds and plan to bid on to three diamonds if necessary.


♠ 10 7 2
 10 9 2
 Q J 10 9 6
♣ A 6
South West North East
    1 1

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Iain ClimieMay 8th, 2018 at 10:13 am

HI Bobby,

I think the Smith Echo / Peter technique may have been independently developed by different people. Wasn’t Dorothy Hayden (later Hayden-Truscott) also credited with this concept too?



bobbywolffMay 8th, 2018 at 12:08 pm

Hi Iain,

Although I have certainly been around long enough to have a thorough education in who developed what, I just do not remember whether Dorothy Hayden (Truscott) had much, if anything, to do with Smith Echo. Not so for splinters, which she did, but that is a different tale.

However, in spite of what I consider a nothing less than sensational example of legal signalling, vitally present, in today’s hand, in order to direct a crucial diamond shift as opposed to the “play like a beginner partner and return a spade”. From a “feel” standpoint, which I admittedly over emphasize, in truth, and from an 100% position, it is likely close to 50% whether East should continue spades or switch to the winning diamond queen.

While logically thinking that the 6 of spades lead (4th best) may or may not include the ace jack of spades or if not will West have the ace of diamonds and three total rather than only the king, no honor at all, and/or just the ace doubleton with declarer ducking the first diamond.

IOW, blind flying is critical on today’s hand, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the possible ethical problem looming.

As soon as West sees East contribute a low spade on the queen, he can be sure that declarer has the king (East’s standard count card, the deuce) and exactly three of them including the 10 (if East had a singleton spade, or the 10, declarer would have let the lead float to hand).

Therefore and likely specifically on the logistics of this hand between the pointed suits, East, if he has the ace of clubs, will be looking for legal information following when declarer starts clubs immediately (if he doesn’t, West surely should surmise that declarer, FWIW possesses that card).

Therefore both defenders will surely assume, especially once declarer now leads the king of clubs from dummy, that here and now becomes the defining moment in the defense of this hand (assuming at IMPs or rubber bridge) that defeating the hand may or may not be at stake, but if it is, East has to be directed toward the winning return.

IOWs, experience dictates that when East either wins the first club or more likely ducks, waiting legal clues, West then has the responsibility to play the right card (whichever it happens to be, whether he has two, three or even four). Therefore it is unrealistic to expect West to make a fast discard, but it does alert East that his partner is aware of his now attempting to figure out, which card to play to signal what.

It then becomes a ticklish situation whatever West plays, best handled by previous discussions in just this type of situation, but often the case, of something fairly rare, making a fast or even routine play almost impossible to make.

Some partnerships (or even later their opponents) may claim a fast club might mean,
what I said above, “just return my lead”, but a thoughtful one instead, may convey “please switch, since spades will not likely work”.

Such is high-level bridge as we know it, with both bridge acumen and the active ethics nature of the EW pair at stake in what does happen at that table in this precise moment.

Without delving even deeper we can all see these special problems emerge and can only hope that the four players at this table appreciate the same feeling and go out of their way to defend ethically. Not an easy task, since IMO no one can forecast, assuming the EW pair got it right, whether they benefited from the tempo or not.

Leaving my partnerships out of it, I will only comment, some do and some don’t, not shedding much light on a very complex subject and that applies to a regular club game up to a crucial World Championship. So go FISH!

Of course the above hand discusses a legal method of conveying what to do, that is, if that partnership is clever enough to find a logical reason wherein the partnership understanding rather than the fast or slow tempo determined the result. However, at the very least, when West considers what club to play, that in itself is proof positive to alert East that he is on the same wave length as partner, making the tempo cry out that “don’t worry, I am aware”!

Bob LiptonMay 8th, 2018 at 12:15 pm

Although it would have no effect against a top pair playing Smith Echoes, I would not win the first trick with Dummy’s Queen, but with Declarer’s King.


Iain ClimieMay 8th, 2018 at 12:49 pm

Hi Bob,

It shouldn’t work (would you really play low from dummy with Axx) but we all know players who’d take T2 with the CA and slam a spade on the deck. Playing the person is part of the fun if you know your victims.


bobbywolffMay 8th, 2018 at 1:00 pm

Hi Bob,

Thanks for your attempt to “muddy” the waters for the defense, but in reality, just in case West, not East held the ace of clubs, it indeed would be folly, while playing with and against experienced players to convince the defensive opponents, that while holding only king third in hand that some effort be made to provide more safety when the ace of clubs turned up with West not East.

Of course, sometimes, particularly in average club games, a declarer will either intentionally or unintentionally try some ruse, but not to step up with the queen in dummy while holding ace and king in hand (and, of course) having no way of knowing the location of the key ace of clubs would be surprising since at least IMO, by not doing so, my guess is that it eliminates a very possible natural situation (ace of clubs with West and, of course also the ace of diamonds), but, depending on the experience of the EW players, almost anything may work, so who am I to dispute the possibility of your play confusing the so called worthy opponents (meaning worthy is overrated).

Iain ClimieMay 8th, 2018 at 2:00 pm

Hi again,

Actually there is one genuine scenario where Bob’s idea could work, but needs East to have the SJ and involves playing the SA at T1. If South had SA10 alone, he has an awful guess at Trick 1 and holding up would only work if spades were 7-2. Consciously giving the impression that you’ve done that when holding AKx would be wrong, but it is still an extra chance.


bobbywolffMay 8th, 2018 at 3:53 pm

Hi Iain & Bob,

Proving again, just how great a game we love.

bobbywolffMay 8th, 2018 at 5:21 pm

Hi again Iain & Bob,

Not to mention playing the 10 from Q10 or K10 doubleton in dummy when holding Kxx or Qxx in hand. Gives two legitimate shots at scoring two tricks (though loses position when the jack is with 3rd seat) making the major honor the possible winning play, when a key ace is at large in our key suit. Percentage is all in favor of playing the ten, except possibly when LHO to the declarer has bid the suit, showing both length and strength as against Jx(x) with RHO.

With bridge being taught in schools around the world, a really good teacher, who thoroughly understands the possibilities will be of enormous help to youngsters with above average potential, teaching them to make choices, both for percentage holdings but also for positional advantages, which, after all, is often what good declarer play, with defensive understanding, definitely in the mix.

Isn’t that what good business practices, not just bridge playing, when both pros and cons (advertising thrown in) is also to be determined as against the cost? To me when business is in the air, it is less painful to discuss choices when fun games are involved, but maybe the above is just my bias speaking, or is it?

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