"The most formidable family bridge team to be assembled in recent years is the Beckers: B. Jay Becker, his brother Simon, B. Jay's two sons, Mike and Steve, and Simon's son, Robert. During a recent team event, somebody asked Jay how the team of Becker, Becker, Becker, Becker and Becker was doing, and his answer was, "Not as well as it sounds." But there is every likelihood that, given a bit more experience, the boys will live up to the illustrious tournament records of their fathers, both of whom have played for the U.S. in international competition.
In the following deal, played in the Reisinger Team Championship of the Eastern States tournament, Steve and Mike managed the defense so as to make the spade 5 the high trump, thanks, in part, to a suit-preference signal.
A teen-ager like Mike Becker might be expected to over-estimate the power of the East hand, but sound bidding is a Becker family tradition. Operating entirely from his own hand, East could never take more than seven tricks with hearts as trumps. Indeed, a perfectly timed defense would hold him to six, assuming that North-South could collect their three spades, one diamond and one club trick before leading the third round of clubs that would make a winner of South's heart 10. Mike's two-heart bid was reasonable, but he could not safely compete above that level.
Playing against four spades, Mike won brother Steve's lead of the singleton heart and returned the 3 for West to ruff. This lead of a low card was a suit-preference signal. It told partner to return the lower of the other side suits after he had ruffed. The name of Becker has come to be associated with suit-preference signals because B. Jay Becker has written so much about them.
Without the signal, West might have been tempted to return a diamond in the hope that East could ruff. In fact, East could have demanded such a return by leading an unnecessarily high card if he had been void of diamonds. However, with the club return, East won the club ace and launched the uppercut procedure that eventually built his 5 of spades into the setting trick. He led back another low heart to insure that his partner would force one of dummy's honors if, as his previous ruff with the 6 suggested, he had a high enough trump to do so.
West trumped with the spade 9 to force dummy's jack. When the spade queen was led, East covered with the king, forcing South's ace. Declarer got back to dummy with a diamond to lead the spade 7 and East covered with the 8. South had to take this trick with the 10, and East's spade 5 was now the high trump, good for the setting trick.
If East had returned the high jack of hearts, West might have trumped the trick with the useless 9 of spades anyway. But East didn't leave his partner anything to wonder about. And, of course, without the high ruff by West, declarer would have been able to pick up the trumps without a further loser, thus bringing home his game contract.
Pay attention to the spot cards. They can tell you a great deal about the distribution of the unseen hands. And sometimes, when they are properly promoted, they can be turned into aces.