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By Ralph Welton

Skillful discarding passes useful information to Partner, preserves your good cards for future tricks, and avoids helping Declarer. Learn a few bridge guidelines that illustrate these plays.

Attitude discards are signals for partner

Discard a low card to tell Partner you have no interest in the suit discarded. Usually this means you have no high honors in the suit. Sometimes you may have a high honor, but you'd prefer that Partner play a different suit.

Discard a high card to say you do have a high honor, or that you'd like Partner to play the suit.

For example, holding AQ962 – discard the 9 if you want Partner to lead spades, or the 2 if you want Partner to play something else.

example 1

8 6 4
T 7 5 2
A Q T 3
7 2

Partner leads a small spade against your opponents' no-trump contract. When you are unable to beat Dummy's T, Partner learns that you have no help in spades (no honors in spades).

Declarer then plays three rounds of clubs, giving you the chance to tell Partner something with a discard.

Which discard says you don't have much to contribute in hearts?

Discard the 2, a low spot card, to show "no help" in hearts.

Which discard says you have something good in diamonds?

Discarding the T, a high card, shows "something good" in diamonds.

Which discard is better?

Usually the negative attitude card (low card = "no help") is better. On this hand, you want to preserve both your high cards and your four-card length in diamonds (hoping for a future diamond skater). That gives you the best chance of taking extra diamond tricks.

For example, if this is the layout of the diamond suit...

example 2

8 5 2
9 7 4
K J 6
A Q T 3

Two diamond leads from Partner will enable you to finesse twice and take four diamond tricks – three high cards and one skater.

But if you discard the T as a signal, Declarer would have a diamond stopper, the 9. You would have only two high card winners, with no skater. That would reduce you to only two diamond tricks. Oops... wrong discard.

Is the negative attitude discard always better? No! High card discards are a stronger message to Partner than low card discards.

So if you can set the contract with only two diamond tricks (more likely at a trump contract than at notrump), the T may be the better discard.

Attitude Discards...

  • low card = "no help"
  • high card = "something good in this suit"
  • be careful not to discard any card needed for taking a future trick

example 3

K J 8 2
Q 9 4 3
8 3 2
7 2

What would these discards mean?

Discarding a high spade shows "something good" in spades.
Discarding a low heart shows "no help" in hearts.

Actually, the Q may be some help in hearts. You are allowed to play this way if you think "no help" is the right message for Partner.
Discarding a high diamond is a lie. You don't actually have "something good" in diamonds.

Remember, a high card discard is a stronger message than a low card discard. Making this bad discard means you'll have some explaining to do after the game is over.

Partners don't like it when you lie to them. You may even have to start looking for a new partner.
A low discard = "no help" in this suit.

Protect your honors

Keep enough spot cards to follow suit when higher honors are played.

Q8743 – You will need two spot cards to follow suit when the A and K are played. Your Q may then be a third round winner. So you can discard only two clubs safely.

K5 – You have no extra spot cards to discard. You will need your 5 to follow suit when the A takes a trick. Your K can then take the second heart trick.

AQ42 – The Q is a third round winner, so you will need to keep one spot card to play when the K is played. Only one discard is safe, unless you can see the K in the dummy on your right. In that case, you are guaranteed a winning finesse and you can discard two small spades.

example 4

K 9 4
A K 7 2
Q 9 4 3
Q 2

How many cards can you discard in each suit and still keep your honors protected?

Spades – one discard, saving a spot card to play on Declarer's A.

Hearts – two discards. Your AK are masters which don't need protecting.

Diamonds – one discard, saving two spot cards for Declarer's AK.

Clubs – none. In fact you already have fewer spot cards than you'd like. It's possible that your Q may fall under Declarer's AK, if he holds both of them.

What about this suit: T642? There are four diamonds higher than your T, and you have only a four card suit. It might seem useless to save your diamond spot cards in a case like this.

But consider what happens if one of the outstanding honors is captured by a higher honor. They both get played on the same trick and your T becomes the fourth round master – provided you don't discard any of your diamonds.

This is a very important bridge concept to learn. In fact, it can be surprising how small a card can be and still need protection by holding spot cards. For example...

example 5

J T 9
K 8
A Q 6 4
7 5 3 2

If you discard a heart, you will lose four future heart tricks. The fourth round will be a skater in the dummy.

You can hold Declarer to three heart tricks if you keep all your hearts. Your 7 outranks Dummy's 6 and prevents the skater.

There is a phrase to help bridge beginners learn this concept...

"Keep Parity with Dummy."

If your biggest spot card can beat Dummy's biggest spot card, save as many cards as Dummy holds.

example 6

K 8
7 5 3 2

This example has the same card layout as the previous example, but the hand on your right has become Declarer, so you won't see it in actual play.

You will have to visualize the possibility of Declarer holding four hearts and realize the importance of holding all your heart spot cards.

This leads us to another bridge guideline, though more difficult to follow in practice because Declarer's hand is closed.

"Keep Parity with Declarer."

The bidding will be your best clue as to the lengths of Declarer's suits. A second clue is that Declarer usually attacks his longest suits early in the hand, leaving his shorter suits until later. Defensive count signals can uncover the lengths of Declarer's suits, though I recommend that bridge beginners learn other aspects of the game before trying to use count signals.

example 7



A J 6 2
K Q 8
8 4
Q 6 5 2
Q 8 5 3
A J 9 6
A 9 2
7 4

How many spades can you safely discard?

Don't discard any of your spades. You would like to keep parity with Dummy.

You need one spot card to play on Declarer's (imagined) K, and one for his A. You can then play your Q on Dummy's J, and your 8 on Dummy's 6.

If you discard a spade, Dummy's 6 might become a skater.

How many hearts can you safely discard?

You can safely discard just one heart.

You will play your A on one of Dummy's honors, and you will need a spot card to play on the other one.

Then your J can be a third round winner.

If this were a notrump contract, and you could get Partner to lead hearts twice, you would have hopes of winning a heart skater as well as your heart honors. In that case, you wouldn't want to discard any hearts at all.

How many diamonds can you safely discard?

You can safely discard two diamonds, though you would prefer to have a spot card to play "second hand low" if Dummy leads diamonds.

How many clubs can you safely discard?

You can safely discard both of your clubs because you have no honors to protect.

But if you show out of clubs on the first club lead, Declarer might be alerted to the best way to play the suit. So it might be better to keep one club spot card.

Making Choices

Unfortunately, you can rarely keep all of the spot cards you would like to keep. So you may not be able to protect against all possible developments in the play of the hand.

But there are clues that can help you figure out which discards are the best for any given deal.

Let's take another look at example hand 7 and consider various plays that imply different discards. I'll repeat the diagram for convenience...

example 7 repeated



A J 6 2
K Q 8
8 4
Q 6 5 2
Q 8 5 3
A J 9 6
A 9 2
7 4
West Partner East You
P P 1 P
1N P P P

What have we learned about Declarer's distribution?

We've learned that Declarer probably has a balanced hand without a four card major.

What have we learned about the missing high card points?

Declarer promises 6-10 hcp so Partner holds 7-11. That means we can expect Partner to win a couple of tricks during the play.

Partner's opening lead is the 5. You win with your A, and return the 9.

Suppose Partner has only four diamonds – all winners. What will you discard on the fourth round?

Discard the 9. This is a strong message for Partner to lead hearts.

To defeat the contract, Partner will have to win another trick and lead hearts a second time. You will allow Dummy's honor to win the first lead. But the second heart lead will trap Dummy's other honor in your A – J finesse.

Now let's look again at the original position, and consider your eventual discard if Declarer wins the second trick when you return the 9.

He then leads to Dummy's Q. You like this switch to hearts. One more heart lead and you can take three heart tricks. Without hesitating, you duck, allowing the Q to win. Too bad Partner doesn't know you like what's going on in hearts.

Next, Declarer leads Dummy's Q and takes a finesse, losing to Partner's K. Good! Partner has the lead. Now, if we can just get him to lead hearts...

Partner cashes two more diamonds. What discard will you make on the last diamond?

Throw a discouraging spade, the 3.

You could throw the 9 to scream for a heart lead, but that would throw away the setting trick. This time you need all of your hearts to take tricks.

It's true you wanted to keep all your spades to keep parity with Dummy, but guiding Partner to defeat the contract is more important.

Let's try another bridge hand where your discard helps Partner learn what to lead.

example 8

K 7 5 4
6 2
K 5 4
K Q J 3
A K J 5 3
A 9 6
A T 8
T 8 2
Q T 8 7 4
J 8
6 5 2
J 9 6 3
Q T 7 3 2
9 7 4

Partner leads the K against a 4 contract.

Declarer wins with the A, pulls two rounds of trump, and exits with a club.

Partner takes her club winners and has to decide which king to lead away from. If she guesses wrong, Declarer makes the contract.

But it's NOT a guess. How can you help Partner make the right decision?

When Declarer pulls trump, discard your lowest spade. You have no help in spades, but you do have help in diamonds.

Do not discard a high diamond. Your Q isn't so good that you want to send a strong suggestion that Partner lead diamonds.

Partner will trust your carding and lead a small diamond, hoping for the best. The diamond lead works well, and the defense wins two clubs, a diamond, and a spade to set the contract.

Don't help declarer

example 9

A J 7 6 4 3
K 9 8
5 2

Declarer doesn't want to lose a trick to the Q. He cashes the K and leads from the Dummy.

If you have the queen, he should finesse. And if Partner has the queen, he should play the A and the queen will drop. He has a 50-50 guess.

Now suppose you've discarded one of your seemingly worthless clubs. You would then show out on the second round of clubs, and Declarer will make the 100% play of going up with Dummy's A, dropping Partner's Q.

Avoid discards that would tell Declarer how an important suit divides.

example 10

Q 9 6
K J 4
A T 5 3
8 7 2

Declarer can finesse in either direction for the missing Q.

If he guesses who holds the Q, he will make four heart tricks.

Now suppose you've discarded a small heart. Declarer knows you wouldn't unguard the Q, so your discard tells him that you don't have it. He'll finesse Partner for it.

Avoid discards that would tell Declarer the location of a missing honor.

The problem with defense...

plush toy bear

Little Bear says, "I don't know when to follow one guideline, and when to follow a different one."

Yes, Little Bear, many of our guidelines for discards seem to contradict one another. For example, is it OK to discard from a small doubleton because you have no honors to protect, or do you have to hold those cards to avoid helping Declarer? Can you discard to tell Partner you have no interest in a suit, or must you save that suit to keep parity?

Such decisions about which is more important on the hand you are holding can only be made when you understand each of the questions you are wondering about. I can't tell you what will be most important on the next deal you see, but I hope our discussions have helped you to think about the right issues.

No player gets these decisions right every time, but with experience you'll get them right more and more often.

One final word... Be aware that things change during the play. For example, you might decide you have to keep parity with Dummy, but after a few tricks have been played you realize something else is more important, so you discard that suit. The faster you make these reevaluations, the better your defense will become.

plush toy bearThis is the last article in the Bridge Defense folder. If you haven't already read the previous articles in this folder, I recommend doing so now. Otherwise you can move on to Declarer Play or Bidding or the most basic folder, How To Win Tricks.

Ralph Welton with BuffyBridge Bears is run by a retired teacher and ACBL life master who has 35 years teaching experience and who's been playing bridge for over 50 years. I don't claim to be one of the top players, but I do understand how slowly beginners need to go when they are trying to learn how to play bridge.