Quick summary

Print cribsheet

Bridge Venue

Example Deal

«  1204  »

Signalling through discards. What to discard?

I can't follow suit

Hey, partner, lead me this suit when you can

This is where your partner can't follow suit, so he chooses the right 'discard' to tell you which suit he'd like you to lead to him, when you get the lead.

With any luck, you're paying attention to the difference between partner's 'low' discards (2,3,4), and his high discards (7,8,9). Otherwise, all that mental effort has gone to waste - along with the opportunities to get the enemy down....

It comes up less often than either Count (the most common) or Attitude, so you (and partner!) can probably learn it last of all.

(There are five types of signals your partner can send to you:

  1. attitude
  2. count
  3. strength
  4. lead back preference
  5. discard
    • ..in addition to the rather special signals of the
  6. opening lead)

Agree with partner beforehand

Over the years, 4 or 5 different ways of using discard signals have emerged, so you will need to agree with your partners which method you are going to use.

The most commonly used versions are these:

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

With with all discard signals, it's only the first time you discard when your indicate suit preference.

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

Yes, it's very 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, play a 'High' card if you want this suit led back to you, or a 'Low' one if you don't.

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). If it is high then it's very clear which of the three remaining suits you'd like to be led to you - THIS ONE!

You don't usually have to worry too much about throwing away any winning 'high' cards: you can usually hang on to the cards that are important to you by discarding an unimportant 'high' card in the 7/8/9 range

The real problem with HELD arises if that you don't have a 7/8/9 to throw away, and a 5/6 might be ambiguous or absent, and you want to be precise about the suit you want played. In that case you'll have to discourage one of the other two suits by discarding a 'low' card from an unwanted suit, and hope that your partner can guess which of the other two suits that you actually do want.

An ADvantage of HELD is that you might not want to express a clear preference for a particular suit

  • when you discard a 'low' of a suit, you are only eliminating one suit;
  • if you choose to discard a 'medium' 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 discarding a very high card.

Other Disadvantages? Sometimes, in order to signal your preferred suit, you might have to discard a nice honour in your preferred suit. And if the card could be a trick winner, then DON'T discard it. This is one of the reasons some people use other systems, such as 'reverse HELD'

Examples of HELD. In the following deal, declarer is South. You're defending, at East.

Deal 1

spade J 10 4
heart 10 9 6
diamond A J 10 8 5
club K 9
spade Q 9 7
heart 3
diamond K 7 2
club A J 8 5 3 2
  Pass 2diamond Pass 2NT
  Pass 3heart Pass 4heart
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

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 drawback though is that beginners often instinctively and unthinkingly discard the lowest card in any suit they're not interested in, which is fine if using the HELD system, but not if you're using Reverse HELD, because it would be interpreted as a positive encouragement to lead that suit.

3. McKenney

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

The great think about McKenney (and Revolving) is that you thow away using cards from a suit that you don't like to point to the suit that you do like. And there are usually two suits you can use as pointers.

Obviously, you don't have the suit that was led (you don't have any!), which leaves three others, as with all discard languages. And you're not interested in the suit 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.

For example: diamonds are trumps and a diamond is led by declarer, but you can't follow suit. You wish to tell your partner you'd like a Spade lead next time, and you wish to use a club card to make the signal. Since Spades are the higher ranking of the two other suits (Hearts and Spades), discard a 'high' card (of clubs) to request Spades (a 'low' club would request Hearts). Note: you could also request a Spade by playing a 'high' heart

The good thing about McKenney is that you typically have more choice of how to indicate what you want - you could discard a Club or a Heart in the example above. 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 way round this slight problem is ALWAYS to treat the 5 and the 6 as neutral cards (partnership agreement needed!)

Compared with HELD it's a bit harder to understand - you have to think about all four suits. Some people (me included) find it takes the brain an extra second or two to work out what's meant, just when my head needs to pay attention to other stuff. That's one of the reasons I prefer "Revolving" discard signals, which also has all the advantages of McKenney.

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

It's known as McKenney in some counties, and Lavinthal in others.

4. Revolving

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

As with McKenney, you're not interested in the suit that you actually discard. The discard is the pointer to one of the other remaining two. A high card (7,8,9) points to the suit that ranks higher than the discard, a low card for the suit that ranks lower than the discard.

For example: diamonds are trumps and a diamond is led by declarer, but you can't follow suit.

You wish to tell your partner you'd like a Spade lead next time.

If you want to discard a Heart as the pointer, then play a 'high' card, because Spades ranks higher than Hearts. (A 'low' Heart would point to the lower ranking suit, namely clubs).

If you're going to use a club as the pointer, then playing a 'high' club points to the suit higher (Hearts), but playing a 'low' club points to Spades. That's because in the infinite revolving wheel of suits (..-C-D-H-S-C-D-H-S-C-D-H-S-C-D-H-..) Spades comes below clubs.

If you draw the suits in a circle in alphabetical order, it's easy to grasp.

As with McKenney, Revolving typically gives you more choice of how to indicate what you want. And unlike HELD you are less likely to have to throw away a useful card.

Whatever you choose, it's essential to agree beforehand with your (new?) partner.

Low and High?

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

But there's a legal way: rather like morse code 'dots and dashes'. Defenders use the less important non-honour 'spot cards' in the 2 to 9 range 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 be defined as meaningless (neutral) or, more commonly, used to signify either 'high' or 'low', depending on what's in dummy. There's usually no need to waste honours (AKQJ10) for signalling, although of course a heartQ will be taken as clearly high, and might imply other things too...

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

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).



About us   Contact us     Terms & conditions of use      Log in      Comment on current page

© Bid and Made. Nothing on this website may be reproduced without written permission from Bid and Made. Just drop us a line, and we'll almost certainly say yes.