A Must Read for Club Players

Jon Shuster, Gainsville FL

Watch those spot cards

If you are a club player, it is almost a certainty that when you are declarer, you play your spot cards up the line. Likewise, when you are defending at the club, it is nearly certain that you do not take advantage of the fact that the opposing declarers almost never falsecard their spot cards. There are a few exceptions, but since you tend to play against the same players repeatedly, good observational skills will tell you who they are. This board from a recent Commongame is a perfect example.

Dlr: South ♠ Q 7 6
Vul: All 6
10 8 7 6 5 3
♣ 9 5 4
♠ 5 4 ♠ J 10 9
A K 10 3 Q J 9 8 5
A K 9 2 Q J 4
♣ K J 10 ♣ 8 2
♠ A K 8 3 2
7 4 2
♣ A Q 7 6 3
West North East South
Dbl 2♠ 3 3♠
4 All Pass

Against East’s final contract of 4, South leads the ♠A.
North–South should play A is for “attitude” and K is for “kount.” They were playing standard signals, high is encouraging (shows the ♠Q) and low is discouraging (denying the ♠Q). North plays the ♠7 and East plays the ♠9.
If you are in tune with this tip, unless you have seen otherwise from declarer, partner is virtually certain to hold the ♠6, so you can lead the ♠8 (suit preference for diamonds) to partner’s ♠Q, and partner gives you a diamond ruff, with the ♣A taking the setting trick. Declarer, who has no reason to suspect a diamond void, will carefully be planning to play South, the opening bidder, for the ♣A. For example, if South cashed two rounds of spades followed by a low club (from a hypothetical suit with one club honor), declarer would plan to put up the ♣K to make five when South has underled the ace.
Results: Setting 4 was worth 87% of the N–S matchpoints, but letting them make 4, was worth 22% of the matchpoints in 1303 plays. Only 88 N–S pairs (9%) held heart contracts to nine tricks out of 934 E–W heart contracts.
You might suggest that upside-down count and attitude would solve the problem immediately. But switch North to ♠Q 10 9 and East to ♠J 7 6, and now standard signals win.
Tips for play at the club: (1) When you declare, randomize your equivalent spots, or better, play the same signals as the opponents (high encourages vs. standard and low encourages against upside down); (2) Pay close attention to the behavior of your opponents when they declare. Absent evidence to the contrary, assume your opposition declarers do not falsecard; (3) Ask your opponents about their methods or read their convention card to determine their signaling methods.

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