Jeff Lehman

Not so obvious shift

Because it takes a bit of memorization, I do not play “obvious shift” defensive signaling except in one partnership.  But I do like that signaling, taken from the Granovetters’ book Switch in Time.

Had we been using the method in today’s club IMP pairs game, we might well have defeated the opponents’ 2 contract on this board.

West North East South
P P 1NT (15-17) P
2C (!) P 2H All pass

Dealer: West

Vul: None





















Partner opened the A.  I discouraged with 2.  Breaking clubs is clearly dangerous from partner’s perspective and so he switched to J, won by declarer with A.  Declarer led a spade up and partner won his K.  With little to guide him, he contined a second diamond, declarer now winning with the K.  Declarer led a third round of spades to Q, in order to take a heart finesse: 2, 4, J, Q.  We still had a chance to set this, with two high clubs ending in my hand and then a diamond ruff.  Or with two high clubs ending in partner’s hand and then the thirteenth spade being ruffed by my K, and promoting partner’s 9.  But that was hard for partner to see, and -110 was a substantial loss to datum because most our way were setting 1NT.

What has Obvious Shift agreements to do with our defense?  Playing OS, my discouraging 2 at Trick 1 would have welcomed a shift to the OS suit, which, according to Switch In Time book, would be clubs, thus promising either A or K.  That information might well have led partner to either of the two winning defenses: (1) receiving a diamond ruff by accessing my K after two rounds of diamonds; or (2) promoting a second trump trick by cashing our four black suit winners, to be followed by a third round of spades and then later, when partner is in with his K, the play of the thirteener spade.

Obvious shift principles do not always lead to a winning defense, but I think they quite often produce more effective defenses than “standard” signaling.
(Note: text corrected on March 15, 2011.)


BrianMarch 14th, 2011 at 10:20 pm

“Declarer led a spade up and partner won his ♠K. With little to guide him …”

Partner should give suit preference on this trick, which would make the club shift easier

Jeff LehmanMarch 14th, 2011 at 11:27 pm

That’s a good point, Brian, one which partner and I did touch upon in our post mortem at the club. (I did, in fact, play up the line.) Our defensive agreements are that when partner leads a new suit that is not trumps, our first follow is attitude and if partner nonetheless continues, the second follow or discard is generally present count. Here, the second lead in the suit is by declarer and count is not particularly relevant. Maybe those are not the optimal agreements. Interestingly, the Switch in Time book suggests a lot of suit preference situations (but never at Trick 1). Even in my partnership where I play Obvious Shift, we have chosen not to follow the later suit preference signaling recommendations of Switch In Time: too slowing, too much of a departure from normal count-driven signals … and so we restrict later suit preference signaling to more normal situations of suit preference in trump suit and in seeking ruffs vs suit contracts and showing entries to long suits in notrump contracts. That prejudice stated, I think your comment is valid for this easier situation. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

PaulMarch 16th, 2011 at 1:36 pm

I think Switch in Time is mandatory reading for every serious partnership. Even if you do not adopt Obvious Shift it raises questions that you need to have agreements on.

Jeff LehmanMarch 16th, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Should anyone be interested in buying Granovetters’ Switch in Time CD, you can order through this link: (I assure you that I have no financial interest in the CD!).

I agree with Paul that just reading the CD text is a useful tool for improving one’s defense. Among the concepts inherent in the Obvious Shift principle are these: (1) understanding that Trick 1 attitude is not so much a report card on what partner has already led, as it is an aid to what partner should next lead; and (2) empathizing with what suits might look attractive to partner if partner is planning to switch: for example, you might be sitting with KJ9x over dummy’s side suit of AQTx, but it is quite unlikely that partner will find a switch to that suit no matter what you do; ergo, if you do request partner to switch, have a reasonable expectation that he might switch to a “weak three card side suit” of dummy; if you are not prepared for a switch to THAT suit, then perhaps you are better placed to encourage continuation of the first suit led.

I think these concepts are important to understand even if a partnership has not studied the CD details that specifically define the suit of the Obvious Shift or the specific holdings third hand might want to hold to make a switch to such a suit attractive.

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