If any of this is unclear, go back and watch Module 7.3 again.
The first thing to say about signalling by playing particular cards is that it is totally within the rules of the game but you are required to share with your opponents the information about how your signals work. Agreements vary between partnerships. For example, some players do the opposite of what we are suggesting, with high cards encouraging and a low cards discouraging. This is often referred to as ‘standard attitude signals’ and it was more popular in the past than it is now. The system that we are advocating - low=like, high=hate - is called ‘reverse attitude’. It is normal when playing competitive bridge to let your opponents know at the beginning of play which system you use. Playing amongst friends you will all already know this information about each others’ style, but you may be asked if you play against unfamiliar opponents. The answer is that both your signals and discards are reverse attitude.
We saw in the video how you can play encouraging or discouraging cards on partner’s leads if the situation doesn’t demand a high card from you (usually because partner has led a high card or because dummy has played a card that you can’t beat). There are two other very commonly used forms of signalling that we will cover briefly here and with optional questions in the quiz for this module. They are count signals and suit preference signals. We mention them because you might hear them referred to by other players and because you may want to use them when you have more experience. You will be fine without both for now, as there is already a lot of information to process in every hand.
It is obviously helpful in defence to know how the important suits are distributed between the hands and there are some situations in which it is particularly helpful to know how many cards your partner (and by inference, declarer) holds in a given suit. The most common example is where there is a long suit in an otherwise entryless dummy and you need to know when to win your trick in this suit so as to cut declarer off from the dummy. Your partner can help by giving you information about how many cards they hold in a suit when that suit is led from dummy or declarer’s hand. To avoid confusion, you should play count signals only on declarer and dummy’s leads to distinguish them from the attitude signals you give on partner’s leads. As with attitude, partnerships have different agreements and are required to tell their opponents what their signals mean. We suggest that you use what is called ‘standard count signals’ that is you play a high spot card from an even number of cards in the suit and a low card from an odd number. The way to remember this is the word HELO - high=even, low=odd. So when declarer or dummy leads to a trick and you are just following suit with low cards rather than trying to win the trick you can give this kind of signal. Again, it won’t be conclusive - you would play a higher spot card from either a four card holding or a doubleton, for example - but partner may be able to make an informed guess a lot of the time and knowing about how many cards you hold will help them to make some important decisions.
Attitude signals will help partner to know which suits you like and which you don’t but there are situations where there is an immediate choice of two suits. For example, imagine your partner leads an ace (from AK) at trick one and dummy contains a singleton in the suit that your partner has led. Partner is obviously going to switch to a different suit now, because otherwise they will just be giving declarer a ruff in dummy. Ignoring the suit they led and the trump suit, that leaves two other suits to choose from. But how do they make that choice? You can give them the answer. You can have an agreement that whenever this situation arises you no longer give an attitude signal - because partner is going to switch suit anyway - and instead you give a suit preference signal. You play a higher spot card to ask for the higher-ranking of the remaining two suits and your lowest card to ask for the lower ranking.
For example, defending against a 4♠ contract your partner leads A♦. Dummy and your hand are shown below:
|DUMMY||♠ A Q T 8
♥ K J 4 2
♣ K J 7 3
|YOUR HAND||♠ 6 4 2
♥ 9 7 5 3
♦ 8 6 2
♣ A Q 3
Seeing the singleton diamond in dummy, you know partner is going to change tack rather than play another diamond. You are very keen for them play a club, as you have the AQ sitting over dummy’s KJ. Because partner knows that you will give a suit preference signal when dummy has a singleton in the suit they have led, you can tell them which suit to switch to right away. Besides the suit led (diamonds) and the trump suit (spades) there are two other suits - hearts and clubs. A higher card would ask for the higher ranking of these two suits - hearts and a lower card would ask for the lower ranking - clubs. So you play your lowest diamond, the 2, and partner no longer has to guess which suit to switch to - they know to play a club.
The other situation where a suit preference signal is particularly useful is when you are playing a suit that partner is going to ruff. For example:
|DUMMY||♠ A Q T 8
♥ K J
♦ 9 6
♣ K Q T 9 6
|YOUR HAND||♠ 6
♥ 9 7 5 3
♦ A 6 5 4
♣ A 8 4 3
You are defending against 4♠ and your partner leads J♣ at trick 1. You know this isn’t from an honour sequence because you can see the 10 in dummy, and you spot the opportunity to beat the contract if it’s a singleton, because that would mean declarer has three little clubs and your side can get two ruffs. You win A♣ and plan to play another club for partner to ruff. But which one? If your plan to beat the contract by getting two club ruffs is to succeed, you want partner to be able to get the lead back into your hand straight away so that you can play another club before declarer has a chance to draw trumps. You can see that the A♦ is the way for that to work but partner can’t. From where they are sitting, you might just as easily have a winner in hearts. So you use a suit preference signal to tell them. If you would like the higher-ranking of the remaining two suits (discounting the suit partner is ruffing and the trump suit) led back, you play the highest card you can for partner to ruff. If you would like the lower-ranking suit led back, you play the lowest card you can. So in this example, playing the 8 would ask for a heart, and playing the 3 would ask for a diamond, which you want. So you play the 3, partner ruffs and plays a diamond to your ace because there is no longer a guess. Now you are able to play another club for your fourth trick and defeat the contract.