The contract is 3 NT, and the bidding has been a straightforward, 1NT, pass, 3NT, all pass.

West leads the king of diamonds from AKTxx. The defenders have agreed that this means three honors, counting the K (if West had AKxxx without the T, he'd lead A, then K or low, depending on how others play). But West could have AKQxx or KQJxx, etc.

Dummy (North) has two little ones, E has J72, and South has Qxx. South is going to win a trick with the Q if all the diamond leads come from West.

East has an ace in spades, hearts, or clubs. Given this, and the defenders' diamond honors, there aren't enough points left for other entries.

If East gets a lead to his ace, he can return a diamond to the AT tenace, trapping South's queen for five diamond tricks plus the side trick (down two).

In this sequence, can East play the J, 7, or 2, depending on the location of his side suit ace as a suit preference signal? Put another way, is it possible to have a suit preference signal in three suits in no trump (rather than two in a trump contract)? Or if the defenders agreed to play this way, and lead as described above, would they be giving up too many options (e.g. attitude and count signals) on other hands where the layout was slightly different?

2 Answers 2


The basic idea is reasonable but unpopular, perhaps justifiably so.

The main problem with using SP here is that declarer may hold no stopper in the suit. East needs a way to encourage with Qxx.

Some top pairs never the less agree to use SP extensively on the opening lead. I have not used this method, but having three suits in play seems impractical. East's card will often be difficult to read, and usually dummy will furnish enough of a clue to rule out one of the side suits.

If you do use attitude here, as I do, I suggest following the suggestion of the late Helge Vinje from his New Ideas in Defensive Play in Bridge. He used upside down attitude and would discourage with the J from Jxx. Now when East plays a high card lower than the J West may be well placed to continue with a low card at trick two.

  • One of my preconditions for the suit preference signal was that West had three honors, meaning that he plans to "steamroll." If E has Q72 and South Jxx, playing the queen for a spade lead still works. East takes the ace of spades and South's jack is trapped. My convention "sort of" encourages E to discard his Q, unless dummy has Jxx. But in that case, South would see that also, and (probably) know what to do.
    – Tom Au
    Nov 19, 2014 at 14:48
  • Vinje has a similar precondition. His K lead promises AKJ or KQT. The problem with using the Q as SP is that E might have no outside ace, or no side entry at all. It seems silly for the defenders not to be able to set the hand after they have led declarer's unstopped suit. Your proposed method will have gains and losses compared to attitude signals. Try it and keep track! Nov 21, 2014 at 4:35
  • Of course if the lead is from AK9xx and dummy has 10x your partner will need to keep the Jack to lead next round. Oh well, I guess you're stumped.
    – CashCow
    Nov 24, 2014 at 14:06
  • @CashCow: If West leads K from AK9xx, its obvious that he leads the K next to drop the T. Then forces out the queen with the third round. (And leading K from AK9xx, treating the 9 as an honor, is "bending the rules).
    – Tom Au
    Nov 24, 2014 at 14:28
  • So from AK9xx I lead the ace? Or a low one as finding partner with Jxx, declarer Qxx and dummy 10x is too remote to make it the right thing? Although partner could also have 4 small
    – CashCow
    Nov 24, 2014 at 14:49

The whole situation described only seems to work when partner has 3 cards and will lead through on the 2nd round. The honour lead also works of course when declarer has Qx and you can run 5 tricks on top.

I think most of the time, if East has a side-suit ace, declarer probably won't have 9 tricks to run anyway, so attitude will probably be better most of the time, as partner can now encourage with Qxx but how do you then distinguish between that and 4 small ones when you want partner to lead the other honour?

So maybe you're better off playing a pure count signal in which case if partner has 2 you just bash out the other honour and a 3rd one and hope for the best. If partner shows 3 we guess he won't have the queen most of the time but might have the jack so switch and hope for the best again. Odds favour declarer having the queen, I guess.

  • In the actual example, West led "fourth best" from AKTxx, declarer took the Q of diamonds, cashed five club tricks, then AK of hearts, and finally A of spades (East had the k), making nine tricks. The whole point is that you don't want South making the Q, so West should lead a high honor, then let East come to him with a finesse. E doesn't want a spade lead to South's AQ, so he (probably) plays a 7, asking for a heart lead. If he comes in with the K of spades, he leads a diamond through South for the finesse. If E has 4 diamonds, and S 3, and N 2, West only has AKTx and the finesse is vital.
    – Tom Au
    Nov 24, 2014 at 17:37
  • Indeed the lead did not work out this time. Low works when partner has Qx so it doesn't block the suit, when declarer has a certain stopper eg Qxx opposite Jx in dummy or some holdings where declarer has 4 cards with your partner and dummy both having 2, and partner will get in eventually to stop 9 tricks on top.
    – CashCow
    Nov 24, 2014 at 18:00
  • And this is why you play UDCA: you can discard the J to discourage (thus implying you'll lead back when you get in) and discard low from Qxx; and discard middle if you don't really care. (Of course if you have Q98 it may be hard to tell, but that's why humans are better than computers!)
    – Joe
    Jan 29, 2015 at 22:54

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