Expert Spot Usage

Author: Larry Cohen
Date of publish: 08/01/2020
Level: Intermediate to Advanced

I was commentating on BBO when this deal arose from the 2017 European Championships:


Dlr: East
♠ Q6
♥ KJ875
♦ Q52
♣ A73
♠ A1052
♥ 943
♦ 863
♣ 652
  ♠ K9874
♥ A2
♦ 97
♣ K1094
  ♠ J3
♥ Q106
♦ AKJ104
♣ QJ8

South opened 1NT (15-17). I see only 14 HCP, but as frequently happens, players upgrade for good 5-card suits. Perhaps the abundance of queens and jacks should have prevented such optimism.

Anyway, game would have been reached regardless.

After 1NT, North transferred to hearts and then offered a choice of games with 3NT. South chose 4♠ and West got off to a good lead, a low club (this pair leads low from xxx). When East doesn't double the 2♠ transfer, that is a slight nudge away from a diamond lead and makes a club a slightly better guess (leading the ♠A or from it is never an option; a trump is possible).

Declarer played low from dummy and East won the ♠K. Now what?

From our catbird seat, it is easy to see 3 more defensive top tricks. But how would East know to dangerously switch to spades? Declarer could have ♠Axx or even ♠AJx where this would be costly. Instead, East returned a normal ♠10 (maybe partner had ♠Qxx).  Declarer won, West playing the ♠6.

Declarer led the ♠Q and West played the ♠9.  What's with the unnecessary high club and heart spots?

Expert defenders use lots of subtle suit-preference signals. Since those club and heart spots make no sense for other uses (like count or attitude), they should send a message about the other suits (spades/diamonds). West's high cards in both cases, screamed spades. East got the message and (just in time) switched to spades (upon winning his ♠A) for down 1. Had East stayed passive, declarer would have made an overtrick (throwing dummy's spades on his good diamonds).