You are West, defending against Four Hearts, South having bid one heart, North two hearts and South four hearts. When you lead the eight of diamonds, your partner wins with the ace, South playing the six, and returns the three. South plays the king, which you ruff. What would you do now?
If you have faith in partner, you should return a low club. You should assume that East read your diamond lead as a singleton and expected you to ruff the diamond return at trick two.
Under these circumstances, East’s lead of the three — his lowest diamond — has a special meaning. It is a suit-preference signal indicating that he wants you to return a club rather than a spade at trick three. Had partner wanted a spade return, he would have led a high diamond instead. (If partner had no preference, he would return a medium-sized diamond.)
Declarer’s hand probably looks something like:
in which case South goes down one if you return a club, but makes the contract if you return a spade.
It is true that leading a club away from the king at trick three, with dummy holding Q-J-7-3, looks very unappetising. But, assuming that East is familiar with standard suit-preference signals and does not play his cards idly, it is clearly the right play.
If it turns out that partner has the spade ace and not the club ace — or neither ace — and declarer makes the contract as a result of your club return, you can always show your partner this column to teach him the error of his ways.
For details about local bridge events, go to the HK Contract Bridge Association website www.hkcba.org