Almost everyone has a set of ‘carding’ agreements with their partners to convey information when defending. But I’m always amazed by how many people feel compelled to do so at every turn, broadcasting loudly how many cards they have in each suit, and whether or not they hold an honour. The truth is, the better your opponents, the more they will make use of the information — and the better your partners, the less they need it. I know a couple of professionals who actually ban their clients from giving any signals at all. That was certainly true of the great Rixi Marcus. ‘Don’t give me any signals!’ she would bark at lesser players. ‘After a few tricks I will know what you’ve got better than you know yourself.’ She enjoyed relating this hand, from a Vanderbilt Cup final, as a cautionary tale:
South’s 2♣ was strong; 2◆ was a relay. Over 2NT, North transferred to spades, then bid Blackwood. When he continued with 5NT, South jumped to the grand. West led a club. South drew trumps, then played three more clubs. West discarded the ◆8, then the ◆5 — high-low to show he liked the suit. Realising that the diamond finesse would fail, South decided instead to try for a Vienna Coup: he cashed the ◆A, then played two more trumps, ending in dummy. In the end position, dummy held ♠6 ♥5 ◆104, South held ♥AKJ ◆Q and West held ♥Q106 ◆K. On the play of the ♠6, South threw the ◆s and West a heart. Now South played hearts from the top, bringing down the ♥Q. Who said honesty pays?