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Example Deal

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Discards. McKenney, revolving, Dodds, HELD, reverse HELD

OK, you've preserved all your good suits, protected all your good cards, retained all your 4-card suits.

And now you're going to your second discard priority: give your partner a discard signal to tell him which suit you'd like him to lead to you. A suit preference signal.

There are 6 different ways of doing this, so make sure you use the same one as your partner this evening, or you might be discarded.

Two are very simple (a very very good reason for using them, since your brain has a lot to cope with, and they don't happen as often as count or attitude signals). But for advanced players, they lack some precision.

The other three are a little more complicated, but they allow you to say exactly which one of the three other suits you want, and they give you more than one way of saying it.

The two simple ones are effectively the same as the 'Attitude' languages (i.e. ‘HELD’ and ‘LLHH’).

Another problem with each of these simple languages is that you sometimes have to waste the very suit that you actually prefer, assuming you wish to send a precise signal, and in the case of ‘HELD’ you unfortunately have to use up a 'high' one, which could be painful if you don’t have any spare 7/8/9s!

Anyway, here they all are:

  1. HELD
  2. Reverse HELD
  3. McKenney
  4. Revolving discards
  5. Dodds discards
  6. The most superior discard system of all


You just play either

  1. a 'high' card (7,8,9) from the suit you want your partner to lead to you, or
  2. a 'low' card (2,3,4) from a suit you DON'T want your partner to lead to you.

Dead simple.

If you're worried about using a precious high card, of if your only high card is something like a Queen, then send a 'low' DON'T want signal from another suit - and hope your partner will be able to guess which suit you might actually want. (In a suit contract, there's usually only one other suit. But in No Trumps there would be three suits altogether).

2* Reverse HELD

You play

  1. a 'low' card (2,3,4) from a suit you want your partner to lead to you, or
  2. a 'high' card (7,8,9) from the suit you DON'T want your partner to lead to you.

The advantage of reverse HELD is that you never have to play your higher cards from your preferred suit. The disadvantage of reverse HELD is that it seems counter-intuitive.

But whichever you choose, make sure your partner uses the same one as you, or else it's disadvantage all round.

3* McKenney

Here you tell your partner which suit you prefer, by using up a card from a suit that you're not interested in. How sensible! The signal simply points to which of the remaining two suits you want: 'high' for the higher ranking suit, 'low' for the lower ranking one. That means you can

  1. be precise, and
  2. send the signal by using either of the two suits you don't care about.

If, for example, you are discarding to a Spade lead, and you want to request Diamonds, then use either

  1. a low club (2,3,4) or
  2. a (conspicuously) high heart (9,8,7 or preferably higher if you can afford it).

But if you want to request Hearts, then use either

  1. a high club (9,8,7 or higher) or
  2. a high diamond (9,8,7 or higher).

And if you want to request Clubs, then use either

  1. a low heart (2,3,4) or
  2. a low heart (2,3,4)

In addition to giving a preference, you can also tell your partner that you have no preference, by playing a middle card, a 5 of a 6.

Both ‘McKenney’ and ‘Revolving’ have another advantage over HELD.

HELD: you can’t afford to throw away ‘conspicuously high’ cards because they are your trick winners in your preferred suit. So you need to use the middle cards for ‘reader interpretation’. This can lead to misunderstanding if your partner reads it the wrong way.

With both McKenney and Revolving however, you can use these two middle cards to avoid a misunderstanding. With McKenney and Revolving, when the 5 and 6 is discarded, from any suit, it deliberately sends a neutral message.

The problem with McKenney

A problem arises when you want to ask for the highest-ranking suit, Spades. Although you may have a choice of two ways to ask for it, both ways involve discarding a 'high' (spot) card. That could be very annoying.

The solution to the McKenney problem is to use 'Revolving discards', where there is no such thing as a highest ranked suit(!), and you can point to Spades with a low club.

4* Revolving discards

With Revolving discards, there's always a suit available that's higher ranked, even higher ranked than Spades.

                                revolving image

This means you can always use a low card from that higher ranked suit to point down to Spades. You point down from clubs. Why is clubs higher? This is similar to when your RHO has bid Spades in the auction and you can overcall them by bidding clubs.

Again, like McKenney, you send your signal by using a suit that you're NOT interested in, and it has the same advantages as McKenney, plus you can ask for Spades with a low card.

You tell your partner which suit you want like this:

  1. A 'low' card says: “go Down one suit rank, relative to the one I'm using to send the signal”;
  2. A (conspicuously) 'high' card says: “go Up a suit from the one I'm using to send the signal”.

The suit rank order is the same as in the bid ranking.

Examples: If you are discarding after a spade lead, then

  1. a 7,8,9 or J club asks for Diamonds (and so does a 3,4 or 5 heart);
  2. a 3 club asks for a Heart (and so does a 9 diamond).

Another problem-ette

There's another weakness with both McKenney and Revolving: you can't ask for a card from the suit that you’re actually discarding. Because it always points to one of the other two suits. And yet sometimes that might be the only suit you can use to ask for it.

But there's a kind-of way round this problem. Again, use a middle card, 5 or 6. Here’s an example:

Let's say you're using ’Revolving’. You have a long club suit, e.g. K-Q-10-9-6-2, and let's say (after a Spade lead), that using a club discard will be the safest. Perhaps because you don’t have a spare and low enough diamond or a high enough Heart. And with such a powerful club suit, you will of course want to ask for a club.

But with either McKenney or Revolving, there’s no way of asking directly ask for clubs. The only ‘solution’ available: you could discard a ‘neutral 6’ of clubs.

Hopefully partner should remember from the bidding and the dummy that you have a string of clubs. So from your partner's point of view, you ought to have both a low-enough club to ask for a Heart, and a high-enough club to ask for a Diamond. And hopefully, if you don't play such a card, your partner is likely to think that you don't want either of those suits, but that you do want a club.

5* Dodds discards

Here’s another system that has abilities to overcome the McKenney / Revolving limitations.

With Dodds:

  1. any even card encourages the suit played, and
  2. any odd card discourages the suit and at the same time suggests a preference for the other suit of the same colour.

Dodds discards gives you lots of cards that are neutral. For example, if clubs are trumps, all odd spades are ‘neutral’ because they ask for the other black suit, clubs, which you can’t possibly be asking for since they’re trumps.

But again, you might not hold the cards that you need to signal correctly.

6* The most superior discard system of all

Without question, by miles and miles, the best system is the one that you and partner both understand and are happy with, and have pre-agreed.

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).

spade heart diamond club


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