By Prof Tony Campbell CBE

SEMAPHORE signals began to be used routinely in the Navy during the 19th century.

In fact, they are still used today. Such visual signals to partner are strictly forbidden in bridge! A famous accusation was made against two of Britain’s top players, Terence Reese (1913-1996) and Boris Shapiro (1909 – 2002), during the 1965 World Championships in Buenos Aires.

The claim was that they were using the number of fingers on the front of their cards to show how many hearts they held. Furthermore, in a key hand it enabled Shapiro to make a good sacrifice of five hearts over the Canadian’s four spade bid. Reese and Shapiro were sent home. It caused a furore back in Britain, as both players were highly regarded, Reese being an acclaimed player and bridge author.

Both were founders of the Acol system. I bought several of Reese’s books as a student and found them inspiring. But an enquiry came to the unsatisfactory conclusion that the case was unproven. Reese followed this up with a book ‘Story of an accusation’, arguing that they had been very badly treated.

However, an article in The New York Times ( made the unlikely claim that Reese later admitted his guilt, but that this should not be revealed until both players were dead.

Whatever really happened is history. Reese is still regarded by many of us as one of the greatest bridge players of all time. Yet there is an accepted way to signal information to your partner through what cards you choose to play, in particular circumstances. Here is a recent hand where a signal to partner after his lead was vital in defeating a three no trump contract

The Auction

With thirteen points and a balanced hand North opened one no trump. South, with four spades, asked his partner if he also had four spades by bidding Stayman. After North showed his four-card heart suit, South was not interested and decided his twelve count with two tens was strong enough for three no trumps.

The play

East was on lead and paused. Was it possible to catch an honour in hearts held by North as his stop in no trumps? East led the ace of hearts. East/West had a simple signalling system in place, known as ace for attitude, king for count. They were also playing reverse attitude, where a low card played was encouraging, whereas high was discouraging. After North played the two from dummy, West played the three of hearts, signalling to East that he held the queen. East therefore was able to lead the six of hearts at the next trick. West won this with his queen and returned his last heart. Declarer was now doomed.

His jack was caught. East won this trick with the ten and cashed his ace of hearts on the next trick. So far, the defence had made four tricks. East now had a problem. It was likely on point count that his partner, West, held one other honour. So, East could not lead a spade, as this would allow South’s queen to make. In the event, East led his singleton diamond, which he felt was the safest play, expecting to make his king of spades later on.

Declarer then took his four diamond tricks, ending in dummy, and took the spade finesse. East won this with the king and returned a club. North now knows West must hold the king of clubs and so took the trick with the ace.

The only hope of only going one down was that the spades started as 3/3 in the East/West hands, as they were. So, declarer took the last three tricks with the ace, queen and eight of spades, one off. Bad luck.

Note that without the reverse attitude signal by West, three no trumps may make. If East led the ace, king, and another heart, won by West, this would have set up declarer’s jack. A spade back from West would be won by East’s King. But the defence would have no further play now, as declarer makes nine tricks - three spades, one heart, four diamonds and the ace of clubs.

What have we learnt?

1. Signalling systems are essential in defence if you want to get good results.

2. Many players play the simple signal of high being encouraging and low discouraging. But here this might not work, as the highest heart West could play would be the four. East would have to make a judgement when North plays the seven.

3. I play the reverse attitude system, which has worked well. There are several other signalling systems. A popular one invented by Lavinthal, is named after McKenny who promoted it. When discarding, a high card asks for the higher-ranking suit when partner is next on lead, a low card the lower ranking suit.

Remember that audible or visual signals are strictly forbidden!

Penarth club results

Here are the results of last week from the Penarth-Sully online bridge, details and the hands are available on the Penarth Bridge Club web site. Click on Results and then the date. Wed. 28th May; 1. Val Davies and Carol Cochlin (69.1%); 2. Judy Collins and Janet Cunnington (63.5%); 3. Ann Hirst and Avril Collins (55.4%). Fri 14th May; 1. John Salisbury and Seculer (73.3%); 2. Mick Green and Peter Millar (68.3%) 3. Katherine Garven and Guest Dorus 39 (52.2%).

Please contact me or Meryl if you want to join. Peter Sampson’s Spring ladder was won last week by Jenny Vaughan and Nalini Dewan who beat Angela and Rod Hudson 56.5 % to 43.5%. Well played. Penarth Menagerie had a well contested league match against the Ace of Clubs. The result hung on the last board, a well bid slam. Penarth lost by only 4 IMPS. But we are currently lying second in Division 1 with two matches to play.

Further information

If you have any views, hands, and information you would like to share, please email me, My articles are available online. Keep well. Keep safe. Bon chance.