Source: Toledo Blade – 26 Dic 1993

MANY small cards you hold will not be useful in taking tricks, but you can use those cards to give signals to your partner. You can tell partner what suit to lead or not lead, and you can indicate your distribution, so that the defense can overcome the advantage declarer has by seeing both his hand and dummy.

Signals involve the size and order of the cards played. I recommend you play these seven signals:

1. The echo (attitude signal): The first card you discard is a high spot card followed by a low spot card (high-low signal). This asks partner to lead this suit when he gains the lead.

2. The trump echo: You play a middle card followed by a low one in the trump suit. This tells partner that you have trump left and you are able to ruff something. You need to ruff, otherwise the trump you hold would be useless.

3. The length signal (count): When you use the high-low signal in a suit other than trump, you can show an even number of cards in that suit. When you play a low card followed by a higher card, that shows an odd number of cards held in that suit. The count signal is most valuable when a defensive holdup is necessary, and partner needs to know how many cards declarer holds in a given suit.

4. The suit preference signal: This signal lets you tell partner which suit to lead, even when you are unable to play a card from that suit as a come-on. If you return a high carding in a suit it tells partner to lead a higher ranking suit. A low card tells partner to return a lower ranking sult. This signal is most useful in telling your partner what suit to lead after ruffing a trick.

5. The queen signal: When you play your queen underneath your partner’s lead of the king, you show either a Queen-Jack combination or a singleton queen. It is a command for your partner to underlead his ace. This signal is best used when you think a lead from your side will be advantageous.

6. The down and out signal: When you have played your highest card from a three-card sequence, your subsequent play should be your middle card followed by the smallest one. With four cards, you should return your fourth best in a similar situation.

7. Smith echoe-s vs. No-trump: This is the most modern of the seven signals. When defending a no-trump contract a high-low signal in declarer’s first suit that he attacks indicates you like partner’s opening lead. It is not always clear to your partner what is going on; this signal helps clear up ambiguity.

The following hand illustrastes both the suit preference signal and the trump echo. You will often use more than one kind of signal on a hand, incidentally.

South was the dealer and everyone was vulnerable.

A 9 6
A Q J 8 4
A 108
J 10 5 3
10 6 5 3
10 7 6 2
K 8 4 2
K 9
A 3
K Q 9 5 3
Q 7
7 2
Q 9 8 5 4
J 7 4 2
West North East South
Pass 1 2 Pass
Pass 2NT Pass 3
Pass Pass Pass

Opening lead: 6

The opening lead was the six of clubs. North’s second bid of two no-trump was a poor choice. South could have had a weak hand and heart support. South might also have a five card or longer spade suit. Double is the correct bid. North is not entirely to blame for the poor contract, however. With help in the club suit, South should have passed two no-trump. West led the six of clubs.

East won the queen of clubs, and returned the nine, a suit preference signal for spades. I ruffed with the six, and returned the jack of spades. Needing an entry to finesse hearts, South ducked the ace. This allowed East to win the king. East returned the three of clubs, a suit-preference signal asking for a heart return. I ruffed with the two of diamonds, completing an echo in the trump suit. Echoing in the trump suit indicacated at least three trump, and a desire to ruff something.

When I led a heart at this point, South finessed the queen, which lost to the king. East played the king of club, forcing South to win the trick in dummy with the jack of diamonds. When South played the king of diamonds, East won the ace. East’s lead of her last club allowed West to score his 10 of diamonds on an uppercut.

South could have done much better. The six of clubs was an obvious singleton. When the opponents are attempting to get ruffs, start playing trump. On opening lead, when you hold four trump, it is often right to lead your long suit. Your objective is to force declarer, so that you will eventually have more trump than he has. However, when partner has most of the high card strength, singleton lead is more effective.