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The most basic and important signal in defensive play is the Attitude Signal where we indicate whether or not we like the suit partner led. Whether the partnership uses standard or upside-down carding, the same logic applies. Attitude signaling is the foundation of good partnership defense. This handout focuses on understanding the logic behind signaling, enabling its more effective and accurate use.
Attitude is our primary signal when partner leads the suit for the first time. However, sometimes the situation in dummy requires a different signal than Attitude:
In a suit contract – use a Suit Preference signal instead, when dummy shows shortness in the suit led or any “hopeless” situation.
In a NT contract – use a Count signal instead when the honors situation in a suit is clear (or when the partnership uses a special “Power lead” like the K).
In example A, the contract is in ♠. Partner led the ♥4 and dummy wins with A\K. A quick analysis of dummy shows ♥’s has no hope for defensive success. Partnership should play a Suit Preference signal and not an Attitude signal.
In example B, the contract is NT. Partner leads the ♦5. Dummy plays the 10\9♦. The honor situation is clear. 3rd hand can’t play high. He doesn’t have an honor. The right signal here is Count, showing his number of diamonds.
These are the few exceptions where signaling attitude doesn’t make any sense. In most other cases, when partner leads a suit the signal we use is attitude!
Logic of the Attitude Signal
You are East, defending a 4♠ contract. Partner leads ♦A. What is the right signal?
Discourage a ♦ continuation! You have two reasons to discourage a ♦ continuation:
You probably has a “natural” trump winner. No need to ruff which may eliminate his trump winner.
With AQ♥ over dummy’s K, you prefer a ♥ switch.
After a discouraging signal, partner should find the right switch by analyzing the dummy and the bidding. Most of the time he should exclude dummy’s side suit (♣’s) and trump (♠’s). Excluding the continuation of the suit led (Partner discouraged), he is left with one option only (♥’s in this example).
You are East, defending a 4♥ contract. Your partner leads the ♠A. Even though you hold the ♠Q, you should discourage. You prefer a different continuation, a ♣. Analyzing dummy, you realize that winning the ♣K is only possible if partner or declarer starts the suit. However, if partner continues with spades, you might lose the only chance to attack the ♣ suit. If you discourage ♠’s, partner will not continue the suit. He will analyze the dummy in the same way as you did: excluding trump and ♦’s (dummy’s side suit). Visualizing you may have the ♣K, he should play a ♣ now. The whole hand might be:
In this layout, EW has a ♦ passive winner and should “wait” for declarer to play the suit. EW also has 3 black winners. However, only if West attacks ♣’s can EW win the ♣K.
When partner leads the A and dummy shows a doubleton in the suit led, the signaler will encourage if he has a doubleton as well as he can overruff dummy. For example:
You are East, defending 4♠. Partner leads the ♣A. Holding this hand you should encourage him to continue. You want him to play the ♣K and another ♣, since you can overruff dummy with your ♠K.
However, holding this hand:
In the same contract with the same lead and dummy, you are East. With this hand you should discourage ♣, even though you hold a doubleton. Partner continuing the suit a 2nd and 3rd round won’t help you. When dummy ruffs, you are unable to overruff.
Against a ♥ contract you are East again, partner led the ♠A. How should you signal? Discourage. You have two reasons:
When dummy has a doubleton, encouraging a continuation usually shows a willing to overruff dummy. In this hand you have no high trump to overruff dummy’s ♥.
You prefer a ♣ switch. Partner should make the right switch after analyzing the dummy and your discouraging signal.
Attitude signaling with an Honor
When the 3rd hand player can afford to do it without risking a loss of a trick, he signals with the top of a sequence. Note: When the 3rd hand player needs to play high, trying to win the trick, the right play is the lowest from touching honors sequence. However, in the case where 3rd hand follows with a low card, not trying to win the trick, but to signal instead, he plays the opposite way. Signal high from a sequence. This signal should make things clear for partner.
South is the declarer in 4♠. West Leads the ♥A. The only way to set this contract is for West to continue a small ♥ to East’s honor. Next, East should switch to ♦ capturing the Declarer’s ♦K.
This defense will be understood by partner more readily if East plays the ♥Q to the first trick, making things clear. East knows the defense holds AKQJ of ♥’s, so playing the Q♥ cannot cost defense a trick. Signaling with the Q♥ here will simplify the defense as it shows the J♥ (or singleton). West can safely return a low ♥ to East’s J♥. East can attack the ♦ suit the right way to maximize tricks for the defense.
After discouraging a continuation: suit preference
If partner continues the suit after we signal him not to, we will usually signal Suit Preference:
You are East, defending against a ♣ contract. Partner leads the ♦A. Obviously you discourage. Partner continues with the ♦K. What card should you play next? After discouraging the first round, the signal now is Suit Preference. You want a ♠ continuation, so you can ruff. Play the ♦8. 2nd round suit preference signaling after discouraging helps the partnership know which suit to continue next.