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Signalling through discards. What to discard?

HELD, Reverse HELD, McKinney or Rotating?

How is it that some partnerships always seem to have a regular habit and nasty way of defeating you when you're declarer? It's as if they can see eachother's cards, which of course would be cheating.

Well, some of them CAN see eachother's cards! Defending partners can simply choose to play apparently unimportant weaker cards in a way that gives a coded meaning or signal to eachother in order to reveal their hands - and to guide eachother's subsequent card play.

This "Defender's Communication" is probably the single most significant thing you can do to win hands more often! It comes in various forms, to be used at various significant moments:

  1. at the very start, when choosing a card (after your partner opens the lead)
    • signal: that you like or dislike the suit (attitude)
  2. at the very start, when choosing a card (after your partner opens the lead)
    • signal: how many cards you have in the suit (count)
  3. when choosing a card after your partner first leads a new suit
    • signal: that you like or dislike the suit (attitude)
  4. when choosing a 'losing' card after the opposition leads a new suit
    • signal: how many cards you have in that suit (count)
  5. when you lead a new suit for the first time
    • signal: a command to lead it straight back to you, or
    • signal: that your holding in this suit is all weak, or
    • signal: that your holding in this suit contains a degree of promise
    • (strength)
  6. when you lead a card that you know your partner will ruff
    • signal: which suit you'd like played straight back to you (preference)
  7. when you are weak and can't even follow suit and have to play a discard from another suit
    • signal: which suit you'd like to be led, whenever your partner gets the chance (discard)
  8. At the very start, when you open the lead without having been allowed to see the dummy
    • signal:all sorts of things (opening lead)

Low and High? It's digital signalling!

When signalling to partner during play, techniques such as kicking either your partner's left or right foot are generally frowned upon. At the bridge club you are likely to be banned. At international events you are likely to be mentioned in dispatches.

There is a legal way: rather like morse code 'dots and dashes', it is common for defenders to put down the less important non-honour spot cards in the 2 to 9 range so as to to codify their signals using two types, Low and High.

Low cards are generally agreed to be 2, 3 or 4, and High cards are generally agreed to be 7, 8 and 9. The 5 and 6 can either be defined as meaningless or more likely used intelligently to signify High or Low, depending on what's left on the dummy table. (Employing only the 2 to 9 range avoids having to waste honours (AKQJ10) for signalling, although of course a heartQ might be taken as very high).

  • 7,8,9=High
  • 5,6 = undefined
  • 2,3,4=Low

Signal languages. Or is it more of an accent?

As you can see from the introduction, there are five types of signals:

  1. attitude
  2. count
  3. strength
  4. lead back preference
  5. discard
  6. ..quite apart from the rather special signals included within the
  7. opening lead

Of these 5 types of signal, we're going to talk now about one of them: 'discards'. But, guess what? There are several different ways of sending signals about your discards, so you will want to agree with your partners which discard 'accent' you are going to use. Otherwise it could be worse than getting a Glaswegian to talk understandably with an Australian from the outback.

The most commonly used versions are these:

  1. HELD
  2. reverse HELD
  3. McKenney
  4. Revolving

Unfortunately, all discard systems are imperfect in some respect. Some systems can be confusing to your personal way of thinking, or can take too much mental effort to process in your head.

1. 'HELD'. 'H'igh = 'E'ncourage, 'L'ow = 'D'iscourage

It's so simple

This is why "HELD" is such a popular system, and well worth considering (in spite of its particular shortcomings).

When you discard a suit, it means you want it played next time if it's 'High' (as defined above), but not if it's 'Low'.

The advantage of HELD is that it's instantly obvious what it means, (and sleepy you is more likely to pay attention if a high card is played apparently unnecessarily), and it's very clear which of the three remaining suits you'd like to be led to you - THIS ONE!

But best not to worry too much about throwing away any winning 'High' cards: you can usually hang on to the cards that are important to you (e.g. by discarding an unimportant high card such as a 7/8/9, or by discouraging another suit with a low card in that other suit).

Another disadvantage of HELD is that you might NOT have a 7/8/9 to throw away, and a 5/6 might be ambiguous. In that case you'll have to discourage one of the other two suits by discarding an unwanted 'Low' card, and hope that your partner can guess which of the other two suits that you actually want.

An ADvantage of HELD is that you might NOT want to express a preference for any suit. When you discard a 'Low' of a suit, you are only eliminating one suit, and if you choose to discard a 5 or a 6, you might be seen to be indifferent.

Another ADvantage of HELD is that you sometimes make it VERY clear indeed by throwing a VERY high card.

The Disadvantages? It's rare, in order to signal your preferred suit, that you'll be required to discard an honour in that preferred suit. And if it's a trick winner, then DON'T. However, this is one of the reasons some people use other systems, such as 'reverse HELD'

In the following deals, declarer is sitting at South, and you are defending sitting at East.

Deal 1

+West
North
spade J 10 4
heart 10 9 6
diamond A J 10 8 5
club K 9
East
spade Q 9 7
heart 3
diamond K 7 2
club A J 8 5 3 2
+South
 WNES
        1heart
  Pass 2diamond Pass 2NT
  Pass 3heart Pass 4heart
  End    
Partner leads the spade6, covered by spade10, spadeQ and spadeA. Declarer leads to the heart10 and plays a second round. What do you discard?
+

<---- Click the "+" for the Answer

Deal 2

+West
North
spade J 10 4
heart 10 9 6
diamond A J 10 8 5
club K 9
East
spade K Q 9
heart 3
diamond K 7 2
club J 10 8 5 3 2
+South
 WNES
        1heart
  Pass 2diamond Pass 2NT
  Pass 3heart Pass 4heart
  End    
  Partner leads the heartA
+

<---- Click the "+" for the Answer



2. 'Low-Like, High-Hate'

Sometimes called reverse HELD

Reverse HELD is another good system, simple and easy-ish to remember, and popular with better players because it doesn't have the problem of sometimes having to throw away a high card in a short suit that you are trying to encourage your partner to lead to you because of its strength.

One extra drawback, however, is that beginners often instinctively discard the lowest card in any suit they are not interested in, which is safe enough using the HELD system, but would be interpreted as a positive encouragement to lead that suit if you had agreed to speak discards in "LowLikeHighHate".

3. McKenney. "I don't want this suit next time, but one of the other two"

With McKenney, as with all discard languages, the first time you discard is to indicate suit preference.

With McKenney, you narrow down for your partner the number of suits that you prefer from three to one. Obviously, you don't like the suit that was led (you don't have any!), which leaves three others, as with all discard languages. and you don't like the suit of the card that you discard. Your suit preference signal tells partner which of the two remaining suits you prefer. A high card for the higher ranking of the remaining suits and a low card for the lower ranking. This is known as Lavinthal in the USA, or McKenney in the UK.

Let's say a diamond is led, and you wish to indicate to your partner that you'd like her to lead a Spade next time for some reason, and you wish to use a club card to make the signal. Since Spades are the higher of the two other suits (Hearts and Spades), you should discard a highish card (of clubs) to request Spades (and obviously a low club to request Hearts).

The good thing about McKenney is that you typically have more choice of how to indicate what you want. And unlike HELD you are less likely to have to throw away a useful card.

A potential disadvantage of McKenney is that you always have to give preference for one suit or other, even if you don't want any switch in particular. This can be overcome at times by signalling for an "impossible" switch, such as a suit in which dummy has a very strong holding e.g. AKQ.

Another problem is that you have to think of all four suits, just to work it out. So a number of people (me too) find that it takes the brain an extra second of time to work out what's meant, at a moment when my mind needs to pay attention to other important subjects. For that reason I find "Rotating" discard signals are better: you have all the advantages of McKenney, yet it's slightly quicker to work out.

Whatever you choose, please discuss and agree beforehand with your (new?) partner.

4. Rotating. "I don't want this suit next time, but one of the other two"

With rotating (or revolving), again, the first time you discard is to indicate suit preference. You don't like the suit that was led, and you don't like the suit that you discard. Your suit preference signal tells partner which of the two remaining suits you prefer. A high card points to the suit that ranks higher than the discard, a low card for the suit that ranks lower than the discard.

Fro example: a diamond is led, and you wish to indicate to your partner that you'd like her to lead a Spade next time for some reason. Since Spades are the higher of the two other suits (Hearts and Spades), you should discard a highish Heart or a lowish Club to request Spades, and obviously a lowish Spade or a highish Club to request Hearts). When you draw the suits in a circle in alphabetical order, it's extremely easy to grasp in my view.

The good thing about Revolving is that you typically have more choice of how to indicate what you want. And unlike HELD you are less likely to have to throw away a useful card.

A potential disadvantage of Revolving is that you always have to give preference for one suit or other, even if you don't want any switch in particular. Again, this can be overcome at times by signalling for an 'impossible' switch, such as a suit in which dummy has a very strong holding e.g. AKQ.

Whatever you choose, please discuss and agree beforehand with your (new?) partner.

 


Now try the quiz

Can you put all this into action ? Try the quiz for this subject by clicking on the link at the top left of the page, just below the main menu.
(You can try quizzes for any other subjects too while you're there. Look out for the thin red line).

spadeheartdiamondclub

 


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