This is a link to the whole hand from a Frank Stewart column:

E-W vulnerable, S bid 1 spade, raised to 2 spades by N. All pass.

West opened with the king of hearts. Dummy, East and South played low with the 3,5, and 8 respectively. At this point, West knows that the outstanding cards are QJT.

West failed to continue hearts (and let the contract make) because he was discouraged by the 5. But I would have read it as a singleton and continued hearts on the theory that if East had a Q, J, or T, he would have played that card as encouragement.

Should one not be discouraged by the 5 in this situation?

Would East discourage with exactly JT5 and play the 5? And even so, shouldn't West then continue with the A to drop South's Q?

  • Form of scoring is very important here. Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 18:57
  • @AlexanderWoo: I think it's rubber, because the article didn't say anything about matchpoints or IMPs. You can double check the link, which is why I provided it.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 19:01
  • Even if 5 is a discouraging signal, you should not take it as "Thou shall not continue Hearts". Treat signals as suggestions, not instructions. In this scenario, since any other lead may lead to a bigger disaster, a Heart continuation seems reasonable, especially when this "discouraging" signal can be an involuntary one (e.g. singleton).
    – petqwe
    Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 5:48

3 Answers 3


East doesn't know West has 5 hearts. If west had only AKxx and east had JTx, then continuing hearts would set up the third round for declarer. So discouraging from JTx, Jxx, or even JTxx (if opening leader could have AKx) is correct.

On this hand West should definitely continue hearts. It is safe, and given West's holdings in the minors, it's very unlikely that it's crucial to start an attack on another suit.

In general, saving your honors when they could be crucial for taking tricks is much more important than giving the right signal. Sometimes you have to trust partner to work it out without a signal. So don't signal with the Q from Qxx.

A couple more advanced notes:

This is indeed easier if you lead A from AK, since if the lead was from KQx or KQxx, you want to be able to encourage holding the jack.

Contrary to the previous answer, the situation when the lead is from AK and small cards are in dummy is actually one when standard carding does better than upside down, since with JTx you want to discourage but may not be able to afford an honor. This is a well-known position.

  • It's also easier if you lead K from AK and Q from KQ ... Commented Sep 21, 2016 at 21:36

The standard agreement is that the Q from East would show either QJ(x)(x) (or a singleton), so East would play the 5 from Q5.

Given West, dummy, and the bidding, it's quite possible that East has something like JTxx (or KT9x) in trump, which means a ruff might just use up a natural trump trick, so East may very well discourage with any doubleton.

Even if East has a singleton, leading hearts might just set up declarer's Q while using up (one of) East's natural trump trick(s) on a ruff, so it's not clearly a good play.

PS1 - this hand is an advertisement both for leading A from AK and for upside-down signals, but of course there are other hands that would advertise the opposite.

PS2 - no reopening double from West?

  • No reopening double from West per the article. The way I play, that would have advertised a 5-3-3-2 distribution (there weren't two or three suits with 4+ cards), and no reopening bid with a six card suit. I would lead K only from AK, and A from AKx (or longer) to show a sequence.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 16:40

The key here is that while a Heart continuation may turn out poorly (namely when poor partner was dealt specifically Qx), it will far more often be either safe or best.

Further, a switch to either Spades or a minor suit is neither suggested by the appearance of Dummy, nor the slightest bit appetizing. It was a clear error for West to make switch at trick two, as Stewart makes amply clear in the original column. West's declined an almost guaranteed safe-or-better continuation of Hearts, to a safe-at-best-and-probably-worse switch.

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