Ross Taylor

3 cheers for Mr. Smith

Many players use some version of the Smith echo against no trump contracts. Some even use it against suit contracts too. Today’s hand was much easier for the defenders who use (reverse) Smith echo, but at the other table, there was no such tool. South bid up to 3NT after some interference from the opponents.


West North East South
  1 club     3 clubs   pass      
3 spades Dble pass 3NT
pass pass pass  


East’s 3 club bid was explained as a form of Michaels, showing both majors. The lead was a low spade from the king, and the layout was as follows:


Dealer: north

Vul: none

West East
Kxx J1098x
10x AK9xx
K9xxx 10xx
xxx void


In the closed room, the auction was similar, and the lead was identical. Declarer won the ace of spades in dummy, east playing the jack, and led a heart toward his jack at trick 2. East won the king, as his partner gave count. East agonized over whether to continue the assault on spades, or to attack dummy’s entry to the long clubs. After much thought, a diamond hit the table, and south scampered home with nine tricks.

In the open room, declarer also played a heart from dummy at trick 2. (yes I am aware south just has to take a diamond hook for nine tricks, but that didn’t happen)

As east rose with the heart king, west followed with his lowest heart – which in reverse smith parlance, meant he favored a spade return. Presumably, if west had the club queen guarded and a suitable holding in diamonds, he may have warned off the spade suit.

Thus, east placed the spade jack on the table. South could still make his contract – if he could divine the spade layout. He could duck this spade and the next one, and he would be home free.

South did duck the first spade, but could contain himself no more when yet another spade hit the felt. He covered with his queen which suited west just fine. Down 2 was the swift end to the hand.

Smith practitioners all have their own horror stories with the convention. Even here, east was hoping his partner had not begun with a singleton heart – because if he did – that was no signal – that was just partner following suit !

I am not saying Smith echo is the panacea for all difficult defensive decisions vs NT, but it helps more than it hurts, of this I am confident.


Bobby WolffApril 10th, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Hi Ross,

This hand is well worth discussing and then analyzing. While I am not against Smith, even playing it against suit contracts, the perils of playing it are usually left unmentioned. Here, if EW were playing reverse Smith, certainly a spade would be continued at trick 3 by East, not the failing choice of trying to kill the diamond entry to dummy. However, of course, assuming EW makes clear what their convention means, would certainly enable the declarer to duck the next two rounds of spades since it would become apparent that West, after leading from 3 little would not try and persuade his partner to continue spades unless his partner wanted to do it anyway.

However, unless the opponents would be brought up to snuff, they may not have enough chutzpah to both find and make use of their important information. While this is not the place nor the time to get deeply into Active Ethics, it may be worth thinking about.

Years ago and while addressing an appeal at the 1998 Lille World Mixed Pairs I cautioned the declarer in retrospect that he should have made sure their inexperienced opponents knew what his bids were supposed to show and to not do so is like “shooting fish in a barrel”. He retorted, “Mr. Wolff (I was even old back then) I was taught that shooting fish in a barrel was the goal of the game, not that it may sometimes be construed as unethical”.

We must decide what the standards should be or otherwise “go fish” (excuse the pun). BTW the declarer’s side did not win the appeal!

I love your blogs and the way you present them.

Ross TaylorApril 10th, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Your analysis is on the mark Bobby. The more I write, and source hands from my playing experiences, the more I see how difficult it is to come up with “pure” problems; since often there was enough information at hand (if looked for) for the protaganist to find the winning solution to a problem.

As you know better than most of us – bridge is primarily about making fewer mistakes than the other guys – it’s a given mistakes will be made – the subtlety and nature of mistakes will vary depending on the calibre of the player in question, but there is far more blog fodder from imperfect plays (I find anyway) than from brilliancies.

To produce a daily column for 25 years plus is truly a remarkable achievement; all the more so while adhering to your (almost) impossibly high standards. Congratulations to you, and thank you for your continued advice and commentary.

Bobby WolffApril 10th, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Hi Ross,

I’m overwhelmed by your compliments and even more so, by your positive attitude.

You are so right about the road to winning runs through making fewer mistakes than your opponents and like Zia has so eloquently pointed out, “Bridge is the master, always will be and just when I begin to think I know something, the mysteries of the game rise up and bite.”

Producing a daily column for many years does require an attention to detail, but I have been truly blessed through the years with the talented and wonderful people who have mightily contributed. Very simply, without any one of them, I would either have failed miserably or been forced to quit.

Please keep gracing bridge by making us have to use our brain or go bust.

Dave Memphis MOJOApril 10th, 2010 at 9:26 pm

Looks like I’m late to the party to add any worthwhile comments other than to say nice hand.

Julie BerdockApril 15th, 2010 at 9:05 am

Ross, I thoroughly enjoy the blog and never fail to gain insight from the hands presented. My compliments on the manner in which you describe the hands and the play, and especially on the clever commentary you provide. Today’s hand (featuring Smith Echo) demonstrates the old adage that each convention works brilliantly in some cases and poorly in others. If only I could add to my system precisely those tools which work 100% of the time, I might actually be able to compete with the top players more successfully. Alas, they don’t exist so I will take your excellent advice and simply focus on trying to make fewer errors than my opponents.

Ross TaylorApril 16th, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Julie thank you sincerely for your very kind feedback. Your check is in the mail !

You might be interested to know there was another variation on this hand, which I chose not to write up for fear of losing my audience. One west saw at a glance that an honest Smith signal would do them in. The combination of his low spade lead; partner’s jack at trick one; and an honest Smith play would surely scupper the defense against a capable declarer.

So this west psyched his Smith card ! He played the heart 10, which in reverse Smith parlance denied warm feelings towards spades. It was an instinctive play, in tempo, and not one he could recall making before.

He hoped his partner would have no choice but to play back a spade anyway, but in this instance, surely declarer would go wrong.

Alas, the patient died on the operating table. Partner decided spades had no future, and shifted to a diamond.

Now west is wondering if the convention card should be annotated to say that they have psyched Reverse Smith on occasion.

Neil JaffeApril 21st, 2010 at 7:08 am

In Smith Echo, how do you handle the situation where declarer wins the first trick and leads a suit in which you (the defender) are void? Do you echo in another suit or do you use some sort of suit preference signal?

Thanks for any help.

Ross TaylorApril 26th, 2010 at 5:00 pm

That’s a very good question Neil. In fact, a variation of that same question arguably determined who won this year’s Vanderbilt final. (In that instance, the defender who led had a singleton in the suit declarer attacked at trick 2.)

Some partnerships play a form of “Extended Smith” – which, once named, I suppose can be a variety of different agreements.

That is, some play that the actual suit they pitch is irrelevant – the size of the card they discard is in fact a Smith echo for the originally led suit.

Others might play a form of odd even or Lavinthal discards – which, although not necessarily defined as Extended Smith per se, have the ability to point sunshine at the first led suit.

In my own partnerships, we have not adopted any of these agreements. We pitch as informatively as possible and try to tell partner what we think he needs to know on this particular hand.

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