From Noah Webster's point of view, it doesn't matter whether your partner gives you the deuce or the dickens. Either way, you get the devil. But a bridge player's view is apt to be different from a lexicographer's, as you will see by the story behind this week's deal.
The Olympic Games in Rome reminded me of this hand. Back in the early '30s a series of par contests, called the World Bridge Olympics, was presented to bridge players the world over. Participants in various segments of the globe simultaneously played the same deals against pre-established par results. Next year, under the supervision of the World Bridge Federation, a similar contest is to be staged.
Hands for that contest are now being prepared by a group of Australian bridge experts, chosen because they had had wide experience with such contests. The vast distances between Australia's bridge centers make this sort of tournament popular, if not necessary. This deal is typical of the kind the experts will select. South had a classic minimum no-trump opening, and North, whose nine points are buttressed by a five-card suit and an abundance of intermediate cards—10s and 9s—was justified in jumping to game. It is no sound objection that the partnership count was as little as 25 points. Even with South's minimum holding, the game would have been a lay-down if South had held the jack of hearts instead of the jack of diamonds.
East played the deuce of spades on the first trick. South took it with his ace and tried to establish dummy's clubs, leading the king. West ducked and also let the queen hold. Notice that on this first lead of clubs East played the deuce, one of several eloquent signals. On the third club lead, which West won with the ace, East dropped the deuce of diamonds.
West persisted with spades and declarer gladly accepted the trick, winning two spades, three diamonds and four clubs to bring home the game.
When East pointed the finger of scorn at his partner, he was justified. "I'd have taken five heart tricks, for down two. It seems to me I made it clear I didn't want you to lead spades or diamonds."
West retorted mildly, "Why did you discard the deuce of diamonds? We didn't have to set the hand two tricks to get a good result. You should have signaled with the 8 of hearts to tell me what to lead."
West's post-mortem analysis was as unsound as his play. Had East chosen to signal with the 8 of hearts, he would have parted not only with one of the setting tricks, he would actually have tossed away both. With the 8-spot used as a lavish signal, West's heart return would allow East to win three heart tricks. But South's 7 would then control the fourth round. The defenders would win only three hearts and one club, and declarer would still make his nine tricks.
The only chance East had was by telling his partner what suits not to lead. So he was right in giving his partner the deuces as well as the dickens for ignoring them.
A five-card suit is usually worth an extra trick in the play of a no-trump contract, so with nine points and a fair five-carder, raise all the way from one no trump to three. Also, when you signal your partner, don't give a positive signal at the expense of throwing away the setting trick.