Attitude Discards

In another article (Lessons Learnt) I mentioned Attitude Discards and have been asked to explain them in more detail. They are a simple and effective signalling agreement, so there isn’t much to explain. However, here goes!

I’ll start by talking about signalling in general, before tackling Attitude Discards in particular.

When you are following suit, there are several things you can do, depending on what partner and declarer do:

  • Try to win the trick or force out a stopper (highest priority)
  • Signal your attitude to the suit that was led (whether you want the suit to be continued)
  • Signal your count in the suit (whether you have an even or odd number of cards)
  • Say nothing

On the other hand, with normal sorts of agreements, when you are discarding you only have two things you can do:

  • Indicate a suit in which you hold some strength (or a useful card, such as a high honour)
  • Say nothing

Notice how I worded that first choice. You are not commanding partner to lead a particular suit, but are simply giving him some information that may assist him defend the hand better. Bridge is a partnership game and one of the hardest parts of the game is effective defence. Effective defence requires co-operation between the defenders and not one half of the partnership believing it should tell the other what to do.

When you indicate to partner that you have a potentially useful holding in a suit, if he doesn’t have a better plan, that probably means leading the suit you suggest (if he gains the lead).

In the article I referred to earlier, I suggest not playing that your first discard means lead the suit I’m discarding and gave an example of why it is ineffective:


Suppose spades have just been led (perhaps declarer is cashing his spade tricks) and you have to discard.

You would sorely like partner to lead a heart, but if you discard the 2, declarer  can play the Ace and you will only get one trick. On the other hand, if you discard another suit, partner is going to assume you would like it led and doing so may give away trick.

You cannot afford to discard in the suit you would like led, so, what do you do?

Well, you probably stew about it for while and finally discard another suit and hope partner can work out not to lead it. There is another problem here though — if you fidget and spend too long thinking about your discard, your partner may notice it. That puts undue pressure on your partner. If he suspects your discard wasn’t honest because of your mannerisms, and acts on that information, it is breaking the laws of our game. Even worse, if he realizes he is doing it, it is cheating :(

So, what are we going to do instead of what we might call First Discard Encouraging? There are various discarding agreements, but perhaps the simplest is Attitude Discards. Using this method, your first discard indicates your attitude (whether you like or dislike) the suit you are discarding. You choose the card the same way you do when you signal on your partner’s lead of a suit.

Suppose you play Upside-Down Attitude, as many of the players at our local clubs do, then discarding a low spot card is encouraging — it shows something worthwhile in the same suit as the discard. In the same manner, discarding a high spot card would indicate a poor holding in the suit being discarded and suggest partner consider looking elsewhere.

Using the above example where you had to discard on declarer’s lead spade lead, if you were to discard, say, the 9, that would indicate no real interest in diamonds.

The difficulty with all discarding methods, is that sometimes your discards are constrained — you have to discard in a way that doesn’t give away tricks… and partner needs to recognize this is what you are doing (that is the “Say nothing” option). Usually you can choose your first discard to be informative (and signalling on the first discard is the only option under ACBL Regulations if you play coded discards such as Roman Discards), but after that you discard so as to avoid giving away tricks.

There is also another problem with all signalling — declarer has a right to know what your signalling methods are (you are not allowed to have “concealed partnership understandings”). Thus he can interpret your signals in the same way your partner can. Sometimes signalling can help declarer more than partner. In general, though, an honest signal helps the defence more than it hurts — declarer can see dummy and his own hand and knows what all his assets are, whereas the defenders can only see their own hands and dummy and have to deduce (or guess) what their combined assets are.

By the way, if you know that your partner often makes a false signal in an attempt to mislead declarer, then your partnership has an “understanding” — if declarer asks what your signals are, answer the question but also add “but partner often false-cards” (he has a right to know as much about your signals as you do.

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