INTERMEDIATE BRIDGE COURSE
DEFENSIVE PLAY OF THE HAND
“Signaling” is the language of defensive play. It is the method by which Defenders legitimately exchange information about the make‑up of their hands. It is central and crucial to the defense being able to collect the greatest number of tricks to which they are entitled, to limit Declarer’s tricks, and to potentially even set the contract at hand. Defenders are normally disadvantaged because they lack the ability to make decisions based upon seeing each others cards. The ability, therefore, of each Defender to be capable of describing his/her hand through specific carding becomes paramount. Defenders have the ability to utilize one from any number of various methods of Signaling. Standard, Upside-Down, Odd-Even, and Laventhal Discards are amongst the major systems used today. Each partnership must choose from amongst these various available systems, and Declarer, at the start of any hand, may inquire from the Defenders as to which of the various systems of signaling they employ. No matter which system Defenders use, however, they share with each other, via the cards they play, the following four main categories of information during the signaling process:
Four Categories of Standard Defensive Signaling:
(1) Attitude Signals Regarding a Specific Suit: (The signaling which evidences whether Partner wishes to encourage a continuation of that suit already led, or, conversely, to discourage a continuation of the suit referenced),
(2) Count Signals Regarding a Particular Suit: (The signaling as to the number of actual cards one holds in a specific suit referenced),
(3) Suit Preference Signals for a Particular Suit: (The preferential signaling as to which suit you desire partner to lead at his/her next available opportunity),
(4) The Play of Specific Cards at Specific Times: (Specific Carding which have unambiguous messaging under Specific Circumstances when played at specific times).
The planning and sharing of such information as outlined above is central to the ability of the Defenders to properly decide which suits to play, and which suits to avoid playing; which suits to keep, and which suits to discard; whether or not to continue a suit already played, or to switch. There are times, however, when a Defender may not wish to signal when he/she feels that Partner cannot use such information to the team’s advantage, or when he/she feels that the information be better withheld from Declarer. When it is advantageous to share such information between Defenders, however, the standard techniques employed to accomplish these goals are herein presented as follows:
1. Attitude Signals
1. The Lead by Partner of any New Suit when that suit is First Played: (Whether at the start of the hand on the first card led at the start of the play of the hand, or at anytime during the extended play of the hand subsequent to the opening lead) When Partner first makes the lead of any new, as-yet-unled suit, whether against a Suit Contract or a No Trump Contract, it is important that the Partner of the one who leads do one of two things:
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a) When the card led is other than an honor: One’s Partner must be cognizant of playing 3rd hand high; i.e., the highest card necessary to beat Dummy, or to take the trick if one is capable of doing so without, potentially, giving up a future trick. Such play of 3rd hand high is normal and customary.
b) When the card led is an honor: Here Partner must give an attitude signal (a preference or a dislike) as to whether or not he/she, from his/her personal perspective, desires a continuation of that suit just selected by Partner. The play of an unnecessarily high card (the highest that one can afford without potentially giving up a future trick) shows a desire for that suit to be continued. (Example: Playing the 8 on Opener’s Ace when holding K862). A High Card by played Partner is Encouraging! (One should never use a potential trick‑taking card for such a signal.) (Example: Do not play the J from KJ82; rather, alternatively, the Eight) Once given a positive attitude come‑on, Opener may, of course, exercise his/her own prerogative and refuse to continue the suit if he/she thinks there is a better alternative, or if the lead of that suit may be trumped by Declarer or by Dummy, and, therefore, a continuance be worthless.
Possible Reasons Why Partner may wish a Continuance of Opener’s Choice of Suits Led
a) Partner may wish to signal the capacity to trump a subsequent round of that suit.
b) Partner may wish to signal the ability to take a subsequent trick in that same suit (Ex. QXX).
c) Partner may wish to force Declarer to trump producing a so-called “uppercut” in Trumps in order to promote a later trump trick for the Defenders, or to shorten the numbers of Trump cards in either Declarer’s or Dummy’s hand.
Alternatively, the play, by partner, of the lowest possible card to the trick shows a desire for Partner not to continue leading that suit which he/she previously played. A Low card played by Partner is Discouraging! Naturally, here too, Partner’s attempted dissuasion can be over-ruled if the original Partner who has led the suit feels an advantage for a continuance, notwithstanding any discouragement by his/her Partner.
2. When first Discarding (“Sluffing”) when showing out of any suit led: - The play of a high card as one’s first discard shows an interest (encouragement) in the suit discarded; and, alternatively, the play of a low card evidences a lack of interest (discouragement) in the particular suit discarded.
2. Count Signals
1. When Declarer first Leads a Suit, either from the Dummy or from Declarer’s hand: - When Declarer leads a suit, either from Dummy’s hand or from Declarer’s, each defender should give the other Count, which reflects the number of cards each possesses in the suit led by Declarer. They each evidence an even number of cards (2, 4, 6, etc.) with a High-Low Signal; or an odd number of cards (1, 3, 5, etc.) with a Low-High Signal. In this manner, each partner of the defending team is given information possibly important in the management of that suit in the later play of the hand. Each Defender, receiving this count signal, may then calculate how many cards Declarer has in the suit deduced from the information received coupled with that which can be seen by him in Dummy and what he/she holds personally.
2. When a Trump suit is played by Declarer in a suit Contract: - A Trump Echo: - In order to give an accurate count in the trump suit, the defenders should give a count signal, whenever possible as, occasionally, although, it is important not to play a card which might, otherwise, give up a trick. The play of High-Low by either Defender evidences, specifically, three (3) pieces of trumps. The play of Low-High by either Defender shows any number of Trumps other than three.
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3. When Partner is following suit to a suit led by his/her Partner, but when he/she cannot beat the card played by Dummy – Normally, when Partner leads a suit and you are playing third to the trick, it is customary for third hand to play high. When the third hand player cannot beat a card played from Dummy, however, Partner should give a count as to the number of cards he/she holds: a High-Low Signal shows an even number of cards held within that suit, a Low-High Signal evidences an odd number of cards held.
2a. Combined Attitude/Count Signals
1. The Second Card with which one Plays to the Suit which Partner has Led: - The first card played to Partner’s lead of any suit gives an attitude signal as suggested above. A high card encourages, a low card discourages. If Partner chooses to continue with, or even without, your encouragement, however, it is important for you to then give count as to the number of cards remaining in the suit with which partners continues to play. The second card which one follows to any suit led by Partner shows a count as to the remaining cards held, at that moment, within that suit led. When one signals a High-Low Signal, it signifies an even number of cards remaining (2, 4, 6, etc.) when one signals a Low-High Signal, it signifies an odd number of cards remaining (1, 3, 5, etc.). In this manner, partner is given information possibly important in the management of that suit in the later play of the hand.
3. Suit Preference Signals
Sometimes situations exist which call for neither attitude nor count signals. Under these circumstances, one alternatively has a need to direct his/her Partner to lead a specific suit. This is accomplished by a Suit Preference Signal. There are two (2) circumstances where this type of signal has usage:
1. When following suit to partner’s led suit but when it is clear to both you and to Partner that it would be useless for Partner to continue the suit. – There are occasions when Partner has led a suit where Dummy will be void in the suit Partner has led if it be led once again. It is then therefore obvious that to continue leading that suit would be fruitless and a switch of attack is, therefore, appropriate. When continuation of any suit led by Partner appears fruitless, the play to Partner’s trick of a high card asks for a switch to the higher-ranking of the two remaining suits (the two suits exclusive of the Trump suit), and the play of a low card asks for a switch to the lower-ranking of the two remaining suits.
1. When Leading a Card that you know will be trumped by your Partner: - Such a signal is called a Suit Preference Signal or a “Laventhal” or a Secondary Suit Signal. The assumption is that there are two suits from which to choose. When giving a suit preference signal, a high card signals a preference for the higher of the two remaining suits, a low card signals a preference for the lower of the two remaining suits.
The suit in which the signal is given does not count nor does a second suit (usually obvious), usually the trump suit. One very useful opportunity to put the suit preference signal to work is in the situation where you are leading a suit for partner to ruff and desire to signal how Partner can re-enter your hand so as to proceed with yet an additional ruff. In the following examples, partner has led what you have reason to believe is a singleton Club against a 4H contract. After winning the Ace of Clubs which card do you return for partner to ruff from each of the subsequent hands?
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1) A964 2) 765 3) 1064
104 104 A43
765 A964 765
A1062 A1062 A1062
1) 10 Clubs (Signaling a Spade Preference; i.e., Spades as opposed to Diamonds)
2) 2 Clubs (Signaling a Diamond Preference; i.e., Diamonds as opposed to Spades)
3) 6 Clubs (Signaling no preference for either, possibly encourages a Trump return)
4. Signals Made with the Play of Specific Cards
1. The Play of Cards Held In Sequence –
a. When following suit to any trick being played, holding a grouping of cards in a sequence, one should play the lowest of the cards held in sequence (Example: J109).
b. When leading a suit holding a sequence, however, one should always lead the highest card in the sequence (Example: J109).
2. The Lead of either an Ace from an Ace-King combination or a King from an Ace-King combination – Either is acceptable, subject only to partnership understanding, but applies only to an opening lead. When leading other than in an opening lead scenario, one always plays King from Ace-King or King from King-Queen.
3. The Lead of 4th Lowest from either of the top three (3) honors (A, K, or Q) – When leading a suit one should (subject to partnership agreement) lead low from any King or Queen (Example: K64 or Q653), and second highest from any holding absent a King or Queen
4. The Lead of a Queen – The lead of a Queen is either from a Queen-Jack Sequence, else from a King Queen-Ten Sequence. If Partner or the Dummy holds the Jack then it was, by a process of elimination, from the latter holding. This special instance asks partner to dump the Jack so as to allow the Partner who has led the suit to continue without giving away a trick. Absent Partner dumping the Jack, the player who has led the suit will discontinue the play of that suit until Partner can lead the suit back instead. If Partner were to hold doubleton Ace, such a lead asks Partner to unblock the suit by playing the Ace on Opener’s Queen, then to return the suit. If Partner does not hold the Jack, he/she is obliged to give attitude when the Queen is led.
5. The Lead of Partner’s Bid Suit – When leading Partner’s bid suit it is important for you to signal your holdings in that suit. Top of a sequence; Top of a Doubleton; Low from Three or more to any Q, K, or A; or Second highest from Three small, then planning to play the highest and then the lowest (“MUD” – Middle-Up-Down) are all recognized as correct.
6. Leads against a No Trump Contract – Usually 4th Best from Longest and Strongest, but:
a. When Leading an Ace – calls for Partner to play his/her highest card to the trick.
b. When Leading a King – Calls for Partner to show attitude.
c. When Leading a Queen – Calls for Partner to drop the Jack if held; otherwise to give attitude
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7. Playing to a trick where Partner has led and you cannot beat the Dummy – Naturally, third hand plays high, and so if you can beat the card played from Dummy, one is expected to do so, and even to normally play one’s highest card. If, however, the third hand player cannot beat the Dummy he/she is expected to:
a. In a Suit Contract – To give Attitude
b. In a No Trump Contract – To give Count
8. When Breaking (Leading) a New Suit (Against either a suit or a NT contract) – Lead low from a Q, K, or A; else lead second highest, top of sequence, or top of any internal sequence:
Q764 (or) J83 (or) QJ10X (or) KJ10X
9. The Opening Lead of a Singleton or a Doubleton against a Suit Contract – Under certain optimum conditions, a lead of a Singleton (or, rarely, a Doubleton) can, oft times, produce a trick or more through a ruffing process. Such plays work best when:
a) When one holds a Trump Control
b) When Partner has bid the suit in which one is short
If on is short in a side suit, however, but holds four (4) or more trumps, it is, oft times, best not to attempt to ruff; rather to go for a forcing attack in order to play the defending teams long suit(s) so as to make Declarer ruff instead thereby causing him/her shorten Declarer’s trump holding and, as a result, to loose control of the hand.
10. The Lead of Ace from any A-K combination – Dependent upon partnership agreement, most teams on opening lead to any contract will play Ace from A-K and then King from A-K at any other time other than opening lead. (Naturally, if only a doubleton A-K is held, the presence of a Doubleton is evidenced by total reversal of the above-mentioned sequences.)
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