Over the next two weeks, I'll suggest ways to fill your partner's Christmas stocking while lifting his game to the lofty level of yours.

Prolific author Eddie Kantar has two new books that set a high standard for clarity. "Modern Bridge Defense" treats the basics: leads, discards and signals.

Kantar warns against relying on defensive axioms such as "second hand low." Today's East takes the ace of spades and returns the nine, and West plays the three, letting South's queen win to keep communication. South then leads a heart to dummy and returns a club.

If East ducks, South steals his ninth trick. But East knows West had five spades; and with J-10-8-5-3, West would lead the jack. So East wins and leads his last spade to beat the contract.

"Modern Defense" (and "Advanced Defense," reviewed tomorrow) display Kantar's engaging style and humor. Available from 2700 Neilson Way 334, Santa Monica CA 90405. $22 each postpaid, $40 for both. Autograph on request.

DAILY QUESTION

You hold: S Q J 2 H Q 10 2 D A Q J 4 C K Q 5. Your partner opens one spade, you respond 3NT and he next bids four hearts. The opponents pass. What do you say?

ANSWER: Bid four spades. Your 3NT described your hand: you promised a hand you'd have opened with 1NT, with about 17 points and balanced distribution. Show your spade support and let your partner move toward slam if he wishes. If he cue-bids five clubs next, you'll try five diamonds.

Both sides vulnerable

NORTH

S 7 6

H A K 4

D K 9 3 2

C J 10 9 8

WEST

S K 10 8 5 3

H 9 8 6 5

D J 5

C 7 4

EAST

S A 9 4

H J 7 3

D 8 7 6

C A 6 3 2

SOUTH

S Q J 2

H Q 10 2

D A Q J 4

C K Q 5

South West North East

1 NT Pass 3 NT All Pass

Opening lead -- S 5

(C) 1999, Los Angeles Times Syndicate