When Declarer (or Dummy) leads a suit the general style is for the defense is to give count when they follow with a spot card. This helps the defenders to build a picture of the distribution and, hopefully, to put that information to good use. But, there is another useful signal, known as the Smith Echo, used in No Trump contracts only, which conveys an entirely different message.
You are West, the enemy bidding goes 1NT-3NT and you lead the ♥4. This is what you see:
Partner contributes the Jack which is won by Declarer’s King. Next is a Diamond to Dummy’s Ace followed by the losing Club finesse. What next? Two options present themselves:
(a) If Partner has the ♥Q (and started with 3 Hearts) then the suit is running and you should continue with a low Heart.
(b) If Partner does not have the ♥Q then the best chance is to shift to a Spade, hoping that Partner can win the ♠A and shoot a Heart through Declarer.
Unless you play the Smith Echo you will be on a total guess here. But if you do play Smith then Partner’s play in Declarer’s first played suit will reveal all. So, at Trick 2, when Declarer crosses to the ♦A, Partner does not give a count signal in Diamonds. Instead, playing Smith, he follows with a high Diamond to say “I like your opening lead”, and a low Diamond to say “I don’t”.
To recap: you led your 4th best Heart and Partner’s Jack forced the King. Now, when Declarer crossed to the board with a Diamond, Partner followed with the Eight. That’s a big Diamond, so Partner likes Hearts, surely he also has the ♥Q. You lead a low Heart and that’s down one.
But this may be the full hand:
Same Heart lead, same Diamond to the board and the same losing Club finesse. But this time, on the Diamond, East plays the Six. This low card means that he doesn’t like Hearts, in other words he doesn’t have the ♥Q. That being the case, West will know to shift to Spades. Partner has not guaranteed the ♠A, of course, but it’s the defense’s best chance. East wins the ♠A, reverts back to Hearts and the defense have 6 tricks.
One more point. After winning the ♣K, when shifting to a Spade (because of East’s discouraging Smith signal), West led the Nine, not the Two. This high card conveys the message that West has a poor Spade holding and would like a Heart back at Partner’s earliest possible convenience.
Playing Smith Echo, it’s not just the partner of the opening leader who expresses his approval (or otherwise) of the opening lead. The opening leader also gets to have his say. In the examples on the previous page, West really loves his own opening lead when he sees Partner’s Jack force Declarer’s King. So, when Declarer crosses to Dummy with a Diamond, West also uses the Smith Echo, playing the ♦9 to indicate his ongoing Heart interest.
Here’s an old Wednesday Game hand (30th August, 2006, Board 18), slightly rearranged to illustrate the principle. Once more, you are West after a 1NT-3NT auction. You lead your 4th best Spade and this is the situation:
Looking at all 4 hands we know what should happen. Declarer wins the opening Spade lead, loses to the ♦A, the defense cashes 4 Clubs and it’s down one. But life in the trenches is not always that easy! First of all, we can assume that South is a slippery fellow, so the first trick will go Four, Three, Jack, King. That is the play most likely to raise the Spade hopes for East, who will no doubt be fantasizing about KQx in Declarer’s hand.
Now, Declarer plays on Diamonds, East takes his Ace and then he, er, yes, what exactly does he do? Well, hopefully East was paying attention and noticed that West played a low card on the first round of Diamonds. Playing Smith, that means that West doesn’t like Spades! With that information, what could be simpler that to shift to a Club. And East had better make that a low Club if he wants to avoid blocking the suit. Down one with a Club shift, making an overtrick if East continues Spades!
Of course, we always seek to make our signals as clear as possible … we discourage with our lowest card (that’s pretty easy to do) … and we encourage with the highest card that we can possibly afford.
On the previous board we glibly said “West played a low card on the first round of Diamonds”. Well, sort of. What he actually did was play his lowest card, but it was also one which East would find impossible to read. Was that ♦7 from 987 (the actual case) and saying “Don’t like Spades”? Or was that ♦7 from 764 saying “Spades are jolly fine with me”?
As East has absolutely no way of figuring out Partner’s signal on the first round of Diamonds he should wait until the second round. That’s right, East simply ducks the first Diamond! West’s second Diamond play will reveal all and the killing Club shift will set the contract.
One More Example
Another 1NT-3NT auction, another 4th-best Spade lead, this time by your Partner. You play the Ten and the dastardly Declarer wins the King! Nice play! Declarer has sacrificed a Spade trick in order to avoid a Diamond shift, but the good old Smith Echo will expose this mendacity. At Trick 2 Declarer plays on Hearts and Partner, who might well hold ♠AJ862 on the play so far, promptly disabuses you of such notions by playing the ♥2. West doesn’t like Spades! Three cheers for the Smith Echo as East shifts to a Diamond. But not just any old Diamond. East shifts to the ♦Q and 3NT is down one!
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