The classic example is:
- Dummy holds KQJxx of a suit and you hold Axx of the same suit. There are no other entries to the table for declarer to enjoy and they need four tricks from the suit to make their contract. When do you take the ace?
Obviously that all depends on how many of the suit declarer holds. If they have two, you take the ace on the second round and the suit is isolated for ever. If declarer, however has three of them, you have to wait until the third round of the suit before cracking down the ace. But which is it? Is there a law of guesswork involved. When’s Shrove Tuesday? Have you got enough onions? You could always peer round declarer’s hand and have a look at it but, oddly, this is not encouraged. Or legal.
So let’s see how it’s done without guessing. You can see eight cards of the suit (5+3) so there are five left between partner and declarer (13-8 = 5). These cards will split 5 - 0, 4 - 1 or 3 - 2. If declarer has 4 or 5 of them there is nothing you can do. If declarer has 0 or 1, then again you can’t get it wrong. So the 3 - 2 split is the key one. Does declarer have 3 or 2? You could always ask, but all my years of experience have led me to believe you will NEVER get an answer. Other than a pithy rude one. Luckily, none of this matters as the answer is that you don’t need to ask declarer as your partner will tell you. Your partner – loving, kind, beautiful, considerate partner – will be giving you the count of their suits on every card declarer plays, no matter whether or not they have any idea if this information will be useful to you or not. You will, naturally in response to partner’s beneficence be doing exactly the same thing so that they can work out what to keep, what to chuck, what to duck, what to play. Aha yes. But HOW?
The answer is monumentally simple. If, when declarer plays a suit where partner cannot win the trick, and partner holds an ODD number of cards in that suit they will start with a LOW card and then play a HIGH card. If they have an EVEN number they will play a HIGH card, then a LOW card. SO....
1) Declarer plays a card from his hand to dummy and partner plays the 2. This instantly telles you that partner has one, three or five cards in the suit. Declarer has one so it’s one or three. Declarer returns to hand and plays a second card of the suit on which partner plays the 7. Declarer has now played two cards, partner has played two cards but has indicated three! So now you can take your Ace secure in the knowledge that declarer has no more of the suit as they only had two, and when declarer regains the lead, they will not be able to access the remaining cards in dummy.
2) Declarer plays a card from his hand to dummy and partner plays the 9. They have one, two or four cards in the suit. Declarer returns to hand and plays a second card of the suit on which partner plays the 5. Now you must NOT take your Ace. Partner has an even number of the suit: two or four. It cannot be four as declarer has a second one (i.e. the suit is not 4 - 1). Therefore declarer has 3! If you take your Ace declarer will be able to get to the now unisolated suit and play off all the established winners, making a contract that should have gone down. So you simply wait until declarer plays the third card in the suit and take that. And then on the 3rd round of the suit partner gives you a Suit Preference signal and you know what to lead back!!! (You know you do…)
This is why you should give count signals all the time. You have no idea – initially – what partner has. Nor they what you have. So tell each other. Work together. All the time. Every card. Until it is utterly second nature to count partner’s hand and at the same time declarer’s hand.
This is the key to playing well. Even if you don’t fully count the hands, then try to spot the key suit or suits and just count them.
“Hi - Lo Even Carding, every time you play now baby,
I see your cards are telling everything I need…
…So it’s obvious.”
Sung to the chorus of this ditty…