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Bridge Venue

Example Deal

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You can't follow suit, you'll have to discard

Always preserve your winners, though give suit preference if possible, unambiguously.

Why bother?

Discard signals can only happen when one of the defenders can't follow suit. And they'll only be useful if the situation arises at a sufficiently early stage in the play.

So discard signals happen nothing like as often as the signals sent after new suit leads, which will happen 4 times - for sure.

And yet, in spite of their relative rarity, people spend time and energy studying clever discard communication systems (McKenney, Lavinthal, Dodds, Revolving, HELD etc) to tell their partner which suit they'd like led back to them, if the chance ever arises.

The complexity and choice of these system has two consequences for many people:

  1. They get confused about which communication system this particular partner uses
  2. They fail to protect their winners, especially their apparently weak 4-card suits

Our advice is

  1. Only ever send a discard 'suit preference' signal as a second priority
    (a). Make absolutely certain beforehand that your partner is very comfortable with the system you select and agree
    (b). Make sure you are very comfortable with it too
  2. If you have a 4-card suit, hang on to it, unless your cards are the very weakest, the 5,4,3,2. (The 6,4,3,2 suit is a suit to keep...), then you can think about the second priority ...
  3. - 'suit preference' signalling

Let's look in turn at the difficulties of discarding while defending

  1. Keeping the right cards
  2. Why you should hang on to your 4-card suits
  3. Concentrating on all 52 cards in all 4 suits
  4. Multiple discards
  5. Not carelessly giving the game away
  6. Taking your time
  7. Suit preference discarding can be useful, but is not usually the most important signalling system

1* Keeping the right cards

This should be your top priority when you discard. Far more important than sending signals.

Hang on to your cards that might win, and all the 'guards' they need (normally a minimum of one for the King, 2 for the Queen, etc)

2* Why you should hang on to your 4-card suits

After a Spade lead, you have a hand with these cards 10 remaining

Hand 1
H Q J 8
D Q J 8
C 8 4 3 2

..what will you throw away? Usually?

Could it be the 2 of clubs, to say that you want Hearts ('revolving'), or could it be the 8 of clubs, to say that you want Hearts ('McKenney'), or could it be the 2 of clubs to say that you don't want clubs led to you ('HELD'), or was it the 3 of clubs to say you want diamonds ('McKenney')?

And yet, if you know that either dummy or the declarer is likely or certain to have a 4-card club suit, (a not infrequent occurrence) you'll usually be wiser to try to protect that precious 8 of clubs so that when the declarer leads clubs for the 4th time from hand (with the miserable 6), you've still got the killing 8.

(All those 'count' signals that you and partner have been sending to each other in the previous tricks might even have allowed you to work out how many clubs declarer's got in his hand).

In this situation your wisest move is to forget signals, hold on to the clubs, and chuck away any of the red suit cards.

3* Concentrating on all 52 cards in all 4 suits

Apparently some people can remember all 52 cards, even a couple of weeks later.

I have to concentrate hard to remember how many trumps remain in the current deal, and find it depressing difficulty to remember if the outstanding trump is larger or smaller than my last remaining one, the 6 of trumps.

It's best not to try to remember everything. Instead, when the dummy goes down, spend a few moments deciding which 1 or 2 suits you are going to focus on, and maybe create a mental model from the bidding and from dummy and from the opening lead of who's probably got what in this one or maybe two suits.

As the play goes on you can adjust this micro-model as your partner sends you 'count' signals, and as people play various cards.

4* Multiple discards

We've all had the experience as defenders, after trumps are pulled (or in No Trumps), of when Dummy starts running all his established winners in a very long suit in dummy. 3 or 4 discards are going to be needed! Our good cards are going to get squashed and squeezed....

Don't start discarding all your little cards!

Make a plan of which are the important suits and cards you need to retain or protect. If that means for example that you cannot hang on to your 4-card suit, then make a different choice and stick with it. Perhaps you can immediately abandon almost all of this weak 4-card suit!

5* Not carelessly giving the game away

You might think that your 8 6 and 4 of Hearts have no chance against the A J 9 to your right, in dummy. So when you have to find a discard on a Spade lead, this is the suit to choose. So you decide to throw away one of them.


Because in the declarer's hand he had the K 10 5 2, but from the bidding declarer had no idea which way to play the Queen finesse. He's on a 50:50 chance. But your discard has told him that that your partner has the Queen, so he'll lead from hand to the dummy Jack/Ace, and your team now has a 0% chance of winning with the Queen, instead of 50%.

When you discard, try not to give the game away!

6* Taking your time

If your agreed discard system is a bit hard to remember and work out, you won't give anything away by taking your time. After all, the enemy will soon find out for sure that you're void in the suit that's been led.

7* Suit preference discarding is not usually the most important signalling system

The most important ones to learns are signals after a new suit lead. Discarding signals are less common than the others, and often can't be given for other reasons. Get those practised and regular first of all.

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).



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