Friday, July 15, 2011

When third hand couldn't show attitude

Here's a thorny problem that I've been thinking about recently since it actually came up a couple of months ago.  I'm only going to give you one suit and no auction.  Yes, I know many of you are going to complain!

You are on lead to 1NT (let's assume for the sake of argument that it went 1NT all pass).  Here's your holding in the suit in question:  QJ52.  You decide to lead the 2 and dummy's holding in the suit is T7.  Declarer calls for the T and partner produces the K which is headed by declarer's A.  Notice that partner hasn't been able to show attitude -- he simply was trying to win the trick.  

A couple of tricks later in the hand you are on lead again (partner hasn't had the lead yet) and you decide to cash the Q of this suit.  Dummy plays the 7 perforce, partner's card is the 6, and declarer plays the 8.  How do you continue?  Yes I know you want to know the rest of the hand but please bear with me.

There are three unseen cards: 9, 4 and 3.  Here are partner's seven possible holdings:
  1. K9643
  2. K964
  3. K963
  4. K643
  5. K96
  6. K64
  7. K63
If partner is showing (present) count from #6 or #7, then declarer started with A984 or A983 in which case if you continue with the J, you will actually give a trick to declarer. 

We can probably rule out #4 because playing the 6 would be confusing to partner (and this doesn't look like a situation where it would be helpful to confuse declarer).

What about #1, #2 and #3?  Could partner be showing attitude?  Wouldn't he play the 9 then?  Well, yes, he would with #2 or #3 because he can afford to play the 9 to show attitude.  But where partner has all three of the missing cards (#1), he cannot play the 9 because the suit will then block!  Partner may have no outside entry.

There's one more possibility: #5 -- partner is simply playing his lowest card.

The bottom line is this: with #1 (attitude) we want to continue with our J and then the 5.  With #5 (attitude, kind of), we should continue with our 5 to partner's 9.  With #6 or #7 (count) we must not continue at all.  #2, #3 and #4 are impossible (according to our logic above).

Can we actually tell what to do?  Is partner showing attitude or count?  The books are silent on this issue.  Kantar and Bird don't cover it.  Neither does anyone else that I've found.  But according to the logic that, in following suit, partner shows attitude first, then count, then suit preference, it seems to me that partner should be showing attitude because he didn't get a chance when we led the suit before.  It would be different if partner got the lead and returned this suit: by convention, he shows present count by returning his original fourth best card (or high from an original holding of Kxx).  

So what happened in practice?  Partner started with holding #1 (K9643) and opening leader never played the J.  So, from a suit where we should have taken four tricks, we actually took one!  Not a good result :)


  1. some of you are going to point out that partner might have started with K6 tight. I eliminated that from my considerations on the grounds that declarer didn't bid the suit (it was spades in fact). I should have mentioned that in the narrative. Yes, it's possible that declarer has five cards in the suit but if that's the case we pretty much trashed the hand already!

  2. This kind of situation is what various "attitude towards led suit" echos, such as Smith Echo, were invented to cover. If your partner had been able to give such a signal during the play (I like to use the version where your partner, third hand, plays a high card on the first round of the first suit declarer attacks, in order to say "I have an unusually good holding in the suit you led", and you play low on that trick to say "I like the suit I led, return it if you can) then you would have known what to do.

  3. Yes indeed, David. Unfortunately we don't play the Smith Echo (or RSE).

  4. Should partner's follow on the second round won by your Q be the same card which partner would have led on the second round of that suit (that is, a count card)?

    This would mean that the six is consistent with only holdings 6 and 7 from your list. With holdings 1 through 4, partner would follow with his original fourth best (the three or the four) and with holding 5, he would play the nine.

    Not sure if this is "right", but those would be the plays I would make with your partner's holdings.

    I agree with David that Smith echo would prove useful.

  5. Jeff, that's what my partner expected. But it isn't logical based on the normal sequence attitude -> count -> suit-preference. Nevertheless, I think your treatment might be "normal", though why I don't know. In any event, I haven't found a source to stipulate one way or the other.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. If the "normal sequence" here is attitude -> count -> suit preference and this is partners first card is it not attitude?
    It looks like you play natural attitude and the 6 feels high so I'm imagining K643 - only in #5 is continuing wrong if we assume the 6 is attitude.

    Why does the suit block if partner plays the 9 from K9643? The 6 is sufficient to overtake your 5.

  8. Good point, David. I guess I inadvertently switched the 5 and 6 spots. I couldn't find the original hand records (or at least I didn't look hard enough).