Barnet Shenkin

The London Times by Andrew Robson prev/next

November 27th

Table presence is that elusive quality that enables you to guess the location of a crucial missing card with a better than even money chance of success.

Try this Table Presence Test with a trump suit of (say) AJ73 facing K1094. You need to pick up the missing queen to make your (say) slam. Who has the queen in each of these scenarios?

  1. Opponent A plays a card but it appears stuck to his fingers.
  2. Opponent A asks you if you want a coffee whilst you are thinking.
  3. Opponent A wants a detailed explanation of the bidding before he leads.


  1. Opponent A is nervous, his hands are perspiring; he has the queen.
  2. Opponent A is trying too hard to appear nonchalant. He has the queen.
  3. Opponent A would not want to appear so intense if he held the queen. Opponent B likely holds the card. [Note that Opponent A should only ask questions if he genuinely wants to know the answer; not to deliberately put declarer off. Such tactics are for a different table – the poker table.]

See if you can do as well as Scotland’s (now Florida’s) Barnet Shenkin on this grand slam deal:

Dlr: North
Vul: N-S
♥A K Q 7 5 3
♦K 6 4
♣J 4
W♠J 7 3 2
♦? 7 2
♣K 8 7 6 2
  E♠10 9 8 6
♥J 10 8 6
♦? 8
♣10 9 5
  S♠Q 5 4
♥4 2
♦A J 9 5 3
♣A Q 3
1♥(1) Pass 2♦      Pass
3♥     Pass 3NT (2) Pass
4♦      Pass 4♥      Pass
4♠ (3) Pass 5♣ (3) Pass
5♠ (4) Pass 6♦ (3) Pass
 7♦ (5) end    
  1. Strong Two not available.
  2. Might raise to 4♥.
  3. Ace-showing cue bids.
  4. ♠K – having cue bid ♠A.
  5. Hoping for ♦AQxxx and ♣A opposite. 7♦ was not a good contract – however the superior 7♥ would have failed on the 4-1trump split.

West puts his opening lead face down without a fuss whereupon East asks for a detailed explanation of the bidding. Who is more likely to hold the queen of trumps?

West. East would never show such interest with that queen. He would try to appear calm and hope to score that queen.

Declarer backed his table presence, winning West’s (small spade) lead in dummy and playing trumps in anti-percentage fashion, crossing to the ace, then running the jack.

Correct! West's diamonds were ♦Q72 and East’s ♦108. The ten was pinned and the grand slam made.

A further reason for the correct trump view was West’s lack of trump lead – the traditional choice v a grand slam. He might have led a trump from ♦1072; never from ♦Q72.