"What on earth have carding methods got to do with Precision Club bidding?" I hear you ask. Absolutely nothing, of course, but if you are going to reap the benefit of the improvements in your bidding, it also makes sense to try to sharpen up your communication with partner on the 50% of hands on which you end up defending rather than playing the hand as declarer. Indeed over the years one thing that has been rammed home to me is this: Most of the people who currently learn or use it become much more effective bidders, but that does not their ability at cardplay. Very often I see that their defensive play (and cardplay as Declarer) lets them down and that maybe I ought to devote more Teaching sessions to card play techniques rather than bidding!

I have written a number of articles on various aspects of Declarer play and defensive tactics which you may wish to peruse at your leisure, but there are three main areas you might want to consider where Defence is concerned.
  1. Leads
  2. Signals
  3. Discards


There are numerous different agreements you can have about Honour Leads against suits and against No Trumps. Each method has advantages and disadvantages and, at the end of the day, it is far more important that you and your partner have some sort of agreement as to what you are playing than exactly what that agreement is. One area where I struggle to find any sensible alternative is what is known as "Strong Ten Leads" especially against No Trump Contracts:
Strong Tens
The idea of this is that the lead of a 10 is always a strong lead. The lead of the ten is always from a singleton or doubleton, or from an interior sequence in which case it always guarantees possession of the 9 or Jack as well, and possession of a non-touching honour higher than the Jack. The lead of the Jack denies possession of any higher honour: So the lead of the 10 is always strong. If the Jack is held, then so is the Ace or King, but otherwise it guarantees possession of the Ace King or Queen as well. The advantage of this method is that if partner has an honour it is always pretty clear what action they should take when they have an honour card in the suit themselves. For example: Opps have bid 1NT-3NT, partner leads the ♠10 and Dummy goes down with xx. You hold Kxx in the suit and know you must rise with the King, knowing partner has either AJ10..., Q109... or A109.... If Dummy holds Jxx, however, it's clear to duck at trick 1.

You might also want to have a look at Coded 9's and 10's. The idea of this is very similar to the above, but slightly more complex. I have always preferred the simpler "Strong 10's", but your mileage may differ.
Spot Card Leads
I tend to play 4th best or "top of nothing" against No Trump Contracts these days. Jason and I experimented with a number of styles but ended up playing "attitude" leads when it came to spot card leads against No Trump contracts, so the lower the spot card led, the more keen we were to have the suit returned. Top of nothing is a fairly similar (but simpler) version of that. I've tried 3rd & 5th leads, but never saw enough of an advantage to be had from them.

Against suit contracts, you essentially have two choices: "Lowest from 3 small" or MUD (Middle Up Down). You will find various adherents arguing for each of these and I make no claims. In my view the thing to avoid is playing "top of nothing" against suits, because now your inevitable peter on the second round of the suit will always give Partner the impression you have a doubleton. If you're playing MUD, the important thing is to remember that you must play a higher card on the 2nd round of the suit so that Partner knows you have 3+ cards in the suit. The disadvantage of MUD is that your lead of a middle card may give partner the immediate impression (at trick 1) that you might have a doubleton, and they continue the suit rather than switching, potentially losing a tempo. Swings and roundabouts...


There are numerous methods of signalling Attitude and Count: Natural and UDCA (ie: Upside Down signals) seem to be the most prevalent. This has always mystified me, because Odd/Even (Roman) signals are by far the most efficient for my money. I am rarely, if ever, stuck for the means to show my like or dislike of the suit led and, if it's a matter of dislike, my preference for some other suit. Most times I can also show count at the same time. Using Natural or UDCA you can encourage in the suit led if you have the right cards, but if you want to discourage in the suit this still gives partner no clue as to which suit you do want led, and you can never reliably show count as well as attitude.
The only thing to be said against Odd/Even signals, in my view, is that the ACBL don't allow them. Personally I never play in ACBL-sponsored events so that's a non-issue for me (US Masterpoints would be useless to me and I gave up chasing Master Points 25 years ago in any case).
Odd/Even (aka Roman) Signals
The idea of Roman signals is as follows: If you do not have an odd card with which to encourage, then the trick is to make a suit preference signal with an even card that you cannot possibly want. Suppose you have ♠Q982 and partner leads the Jack against a contract of 4 Hearts. Dummy goes down with ♠K10x and declarer plays small from dummy. Here you would encourage with the 9, an odd card. If you wanted to discourage a Spade continuation you would play the 8 or the 2. The 8 would ask for a Diamond Switch, and the 2 for a Club Switch. If however, you held the ♠Q10862 and you wanted to encourage a Spade continuation, you would try to ask for an unlikely switch. Perhaps Declarer has bid one of the Minors, for example, in which case you would "ask" for that suit. If partner is awake, they will usually work out that (a) there are a lot of even cards missing and you may not have an odd card with which to encourage, and (b) it's probable that you want a Spade continuation because it's unlikely you'd want the suit you've asked for if you're sitting under the player that bid the suit.


Roman (Odd/Even) Discards
The beauty of playing Roman/Odd-Even signals is that this method works even better for Discards, epsecially the very first discard you make. Indeed some pairs stipulate Roman Discards only for the first discard (and in ACBL-land that's all you're allowed). If it is rare that I cannot make a sensible signal using Roman signals, I have absolutely never been stuck for the right discard using Roman Discards. Just as with signals, an odd card encourages in the suit you are discarding in, and an even card discourages in the suit you are discarding in and is a suit preference signal for one of the other two suits. For example if Hearts are being led and you cannot follow suit, then an odd Diamond asks for a Diamond, a low even Diamond asks for a Club, and a high even Diamond Asks for a Spade.

Thus you can potentially discard in any of the three other suits and show a preference for any of the three other suits. Once again, if you desperately want a Club switch, but have no low even cards in the other suits and have no odd Clubs, then ask for a switch to a suit you cannot possibly want with as low a card as you can manage and let partner work it out. So in the example above, if you want a Club switch but have no odd Clubs and no low even Diamonds or Spades, but the bidding, play thus far or declarer/Dummy's probable holding make either a Spade or a Diamond switch very unlikely, then use a low odd Diamond to ask for a Diamond switch or a low odd Spade to ask for a Spade switch (whichever is the unlikely suit), and hope that partner can work it out.
Other Methods
Lavinthal/McKinney Discards and Revolving discards are two other popular methods and at least give you some alternative ways of asking for a particular suit, but doesn't come close to giving you the potential choice that Roman Discards give you. Natural discards suffer from the grave disadvantage that often you cannot afford to discard a high card in a suit you want led, and unless you are able to make at least 2 discards, you cannot give partner the right information in one go by discarding low in the other suits. UDCA Discards are even worse, in my view, because if you do not possess a low card in the suit you want led, there is absolutely no way for you to ask for it.


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