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Playing Count as the primary signal on Partner's leads

A while back several hands came up where the opening lead was a top honor from AKxxxx in a bid but unsupported suit. Dummy came down with a doubleton. Partner encouraged with Qxx. A ruff-sluff was the result on the third trick. Of course this shouldn't have happened. The partner of the leader should have discouraged. Still playing attitude on partner's leads has it's problems. There seems to be a lot of ambiguity involved in the attitude signal, at both trump and notrump contracts. A positive attitude signal is often based on high cards, but sometimes it is based on shortness vs suits or length vs Notrump. Plus we have learned to occasionally encourage partner's lead for no other reason than we cannot stand any shift. On the other side of the coin we might like partner's lead, but still discourage it because there is a shift we want even more. It seems like a lot of work, and not really foolproof. It got me wondering if there could be merit in playing count as the primary signal on partner's leads. That box can be checked on the ACBL Convention Card so it must be a thing. There seems to be less ambiguity with a count signal at least. An even number can be 2 or 4 and odd can be 3 or 5, but usually one can distinguish. Several months ago I started asking my partners to participate in an experiment and check the count box on the Convention card as our primary signal on Partner's leads. I explained I meant all leads not just the opening ones.  Many were nice enough to cooperate. As a result I have a number of anecdotes to relate on how it worked out. On most hands it hasn't made any difference. I  mean to discuss here the few hands where it might have. I have gotten the impression that attitude on partner's leads is rarely indispensable. One thing I noticed in analyzing these hands is how much work my defense needs. I hope that might add some comedy to the discussion. 

West
J8
654
KQ8
A10843
North
AK75
QJ2
J643
QJ
East
42
AK98
A1072
K65
South
Q10963
1073
95
972
W
N
E
S
1
P
2NT
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT West
NS: 0 EW: 0

As you will see my defense on this hand was hopeless and it is amusing how I snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. But it is an interesting example of the merits or lack thereof of playing count only on Partner's leads. Against 3NT I led the SK and Partner played the S3. She had forgotten our agreement and just impulsively gave upside down attitude. I took her for upside down count and judging Declarer might have Qxx I shifted. He guessed the hand well and made 10 tricks. Of course partner can't have much on the bidding, and I should have continued spades anyway. For one thing she could have been signalling correctly and have Qxxx of spades. For the purpose of the experiment it looks like attitude is needed here, but is it really? If she shows an odd number by playing the 10 I can read her for five. (Declarer should not have four spades on the bidding). Then I can confidently run 5 spade tricks even if partner doesn't have the Queen. So in spite of my error I think it is fair to rate this hand at least a wash in the count vs attitude debate.

By the way this might be a good time to break the narrative and ask you BridgeWinners to help me understand a question I frequently get from my partners. Both those agreeing to the count experiment and those preferring attitude will often ask me about the leads of the Ace vs leads of the King at Notrump. I gather from the question they want one of them to ask for count and the other to ask for attitude. And they want to clarify which is which. Also mentioned is that one of them is a "Power Lead" and the other one I suppose isn't. I try to hide it, but truly I have no idea of what the heck they are talking about. Here is the way I have always played, taught thousands of students, and assumed was standard: I lead the Ace at Notrump from a long suit headed by AKJ10 or AKQ10. I do want partner to throw an honor or failing that to give count. I suppose I might also have to lead the Ace from Ax in partner's bid suit or a suit I hope he has. I might lead the King from many holdings including AKxx, as on the previous hand. I might lead King from length or shortness in suits headed by AK, AKQ, AKJ, AK10, KQ, KQ10, KQJ. Very unclear compared to the Ace lead. The only common factor is that for some reason I have judged (or hoped or prayed) from the circumstances that the King lead will work better than the 4th best. Is this approach what these partners are talking about or is there some new way to handle these leads I haven't read about? 

West
10965
AJ94
QJ63
3
North
J
85
AK104
987542
East
K42
7632
872
AJ6
South
AQ873
KQ10
95
KQ10
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT North
NS: 0 EW: 0

I was East and led the H7 to dummy's King. Partner played the 4, upside down count, as per our agreement. I looks like attitude would have been better, but figuring she likely had 4 hearts and declarer 2 it looked right for me to continue when I came in with the CA. She didn't deny having good hearts, she was just non-committal on that score. Declarer didn't have the entries to lead clubs toward the KQ twice and also get back to the good clubs in hand. So he played them from dummy twice hoping for the split. They wound up losing 2 clubs and 3 hearts. I suppose attitude would have been better, but it didn't cost us. 

West
QJ73
10864
K98
K6
North
1086
AK952
7542
9
East
A5
QJ7
AJ6
AJ1053
South
K942
3
Q103
Q8742
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT East
NS: 0 EW: 0

This was a difficult hand for defenders and declarer. We ended up beating 3NT, but errors were made by all. Partner led the S2 to the Q,6, and 5. Declarer led the CK and then a club to his J and Partner's Queen. The only point I have relative to my topic is that partner can read declarer for A5 alone in spades as my right side up count signal was my lowest card. Actually I expect many primary attitude pairs would play this as a count situation anyway, as attitude is obvious. Had she read me for 3 spades it might have been a good play for her to just throw out a low spade at trick 4 and set up her King. She didn't do that though, as I had made a poor discard on the second club: the H5. I would have done better to discard the D2. (With all my partners discards are attitude). I didn't really want a heart, but I certainly didn't want a diamond. Anyway I won her heart shift and declarer unblocked. He is a very strong player, but he had lost a spot card and thought he could afford it. Here I made a weak return of a spade. I should have realized partner could have a diamond holding needing two leads from me. QJx or the actual Q10x. I then ducked the second heart and, having lost track of the 9, declarer set himself by leading the third heart. I got 3 hearts and partner got the club and the SK. This hand is making my head spin. I think he can find a way home by not unblocking the hearts provided I fail to attack his diamond entries. But because partner has so much stuff to protect the third round of hearts might do her in even if declarer doesn't establish 2 heart tricks. I'm not sure, but my main point is it might be a win for the count on partner's lead approach as she can safely establish her Spade trick at trick 4. I realize this is an odd looking play and I doubt it would even occur to me. But still.  

West
J7
9643
A82
K984
North
A95
KJ10752
K106
3
East
Q1082
8
J975
QJ76
South
K643
AQ
Q43
A1052
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 North
NS: 0 EW: 0

I think we got lucky on this hand. Partner gave the wrong count on my opening lead and we may have profited from it. I led Club Q to dummy's Ace. Partner played the 4 feeling he couldn't afford the 9. That made me think declarer had two small clubs (with the King he likely would win in hand). Declarer cashed 2 rounds of hearts staying in dummy, and I sluffed a diamond. Then he played a spade to the 9 and my 10. I think I should have returned a low club, but I returned a low spade instead to 4, J and A. I was thinking he was likely 3-6-2-2. When he led two more trumps I sluffed a club and a second diamond. A poor play I think, but my excuse was thinking he only had 2 diamonds. Then he played a diamond to the Q and partner's A. Partner returned the diamond and put him on the spot. I had pitched the diamonds so painlessly he decided his best chance was putting in the 10. He didn't give it his best but, I also don't like winning because I miscounted the hand. Nobody was happy. I didn't really need to get into this shaggy dog tale. My main point is that attitude is not needed on the first trick because the CA play exposes that declarer doesn't have the King. Even confirmed attitude players might make an exception and play this as a count situation. I'd be curious if you guys think so.

West
Q9863
J832
A87
2
North
J54
AQ4
952
AQ76
East
1072
65
KQJ10
10843
South
AK
K1097
643
KJ95
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT North
NS: 0 EW: 0

The primary count method was definitely not best here, but we survived it. Partner had a problem on my DK lead since he couldn't encourage. He was afraid if he just gave count I might have a lesser holding and shift. He found a good solution of taking the Ace and returning the 8. It could have backfired had I held KQxx or KQx, but he couldn't risk my having KQ10x(x) and shifting. Still not the best hand for the experiment. 

West
A1094
96
AK1062
J9
North
852
542
Q753
Q62
East
KQJ7
AQJ
J984
87
South
63
K10873
AK10543
W
N
E
S
P
1
2
X
P
2
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 East
NS: 0 EW: 0

I am not sure why my partner South didn't bid Unusual NT. This was the auction though. I discouraged the CK lead as we were playing attitude on leads this session. You will recognize this club suit as the one that got me interested in this project in the first place. But perhaps I should have encouraged because it might lead to a 2 trick set! Partner might guess I have the CQ (instead of a doubleton), underlead with the club 3 (suit preference), I should probably find the diamond shift, then partner ruffs and exits with her last trump. Then we wait to score a diamond and a heart later. Realistically I don't think that was going to happen and I really would prefer to be able to give count here. Suppose I play my C2 showing an odd number. Partner cashes the Ace in case I have a singleton. That wins and partner pauses to do some counting. Declarer appears to have 4 spades and 2 clubs, same as dummy. So both declarer and dummy have 7 red cards. The significance is partner need not get busy with the unfortunate heart shift which actually occurred. She was fearful of hearts later being sluffed on diamonds. The same thing happened at other tables, for the same reason. But with both East and West holding 7 red cards a useful sluff isn't possible. The more diamond sluffs they have the more hearts they will need to sluff! The passive trump shift beats the hand.

West
J6532
Q10
32
Q1075
North
Q74
65
KQJ7
A632
East
A98
AKJ972
854
4
South
K10
843
A1096
KJ98
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
2
P
3
3
P
P
P
D
3 East
NS: 0 EW: 0

As North I was craven not to double. East was a very strong player and we had a good game going. As I made my final Pass I said "Respect" to East. His reply was "Buc buc buc". Partner led the DA and I dropped the K showing an even number. Since I might have bid on with six diamonds, Partner took me for four and found the good trump shift. In the end we got our 3 diamonds, 2 spades and 1 club. I admit partner would probably still find the trump shift were we playing attitude here instead of count. But it might have taken more mental energy which we need to carefully conserve. Plus when count can be given with a high honor then bonus information is conveyed. I not only showed four diamonds, but exactly what they looked like. Playing attitude instead, the King would still be played perhaps, but would offer no information about the number of diamonds held. I think it is fair to call this hand a small win for the count signal approach.

I hesitate to post this because none of these hands seem to point very strongly toward either approach. And on the other hands in these sessions it made even less of a difference. I am encouraged enough that I would like to continue trying Primary Count on Partner's leads with Partners who are willing. I know I should come up with some agreed exceptions. For this experiment I have been playing it very rigidly. Certainly there are commonly agreed exceptions to Primary attitude where the attitude is obvious from the circumstances. Stiff in dummy comes to mind. Also when the agreed top card from an AK combination is led, and dummy has the Queen with length. It seems like there would be fewer exceptions if playing count as the primary signal. I suppose the count is sometimes obvious from the bidding, and wouldn't need to be shown. For instance, after I open a disciplined weak 2 in first seat. If partner leads my suit, and I am am able to signal on the first trick, showing an even number would be lame. In that case I like an idea I read about in one of Kantar's books: A middle card is encouraging, while an unusually high or low card would be suit preference. Probably some other logical exceptions will turn up as we continue experimenting with it. If you guys can think of any I'd be interested to hear.

I wish there were a statistical way to test and resolve this question and also the validity of many other bits of conventional wisdom in Bridge. The nature of the game makes it very difficult. We play billions of hands among us, but for the most part we don't record them trick by trick except at the highest levels. I remember way back at the dawn of bridge a famous Scientist vs Traditionalist match with top players. (I remember reading about it I mean). I'm not even sure who won, I think the Scientists. But was it due to better system or better players? Thanks for reading this far. I am interested your comments.  

West
KJ74
K1042
A95
73
North
AQ
AJ65
J63
AQ86
East
9852
9
KQ10872
92
South
1063
Q873
4
KJ1054
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
P
P
D
1NT North
NS: 0 EW: 0

I just don't know when to stop. This hand from 3/30/2019 is actually the best example I have seen lately on the value of playing attitude rather than count on Partner's leads. I led the DK. I usually wait for KQ109 to lead the Queen. With six of them I think I was wrong on that. But anyway partner got so excited he forgot our agreement and gave me attitude with the D9. I jumped to the conclusion he had 9x and shifted. Some stuff happened and we wound up with just 2 tricks. Partner was quite upset and insisted we change our signalling agreement mid-game. I can't blame him either, as I think I should have found the continuation even with the bad information. He showed an even number. He could have had 4 as well as 2. He is marked with at least 8 highs on the bidding. For evaluating the experiment though, let's say he plays the 5. Attitude would be vastly better, but I still might find the continuation. It is a guess, but he doesn't deny an honor. I think it is odds on he has one of them. Turns out I pitched less than half a board as the heavy 1NT kept them out of the heart game bid and made at numerous tables. 

West
J75
A7
QJ43
10864
North
96432
QJ52
9
Q73
East
A8
K109843
AK5
92
South
KQ10
6
108762
AKJ5
D

This hand played in a heart partial at 8 out of 11 tables in our strong Friday morning game. Six of the eight Easts made 10 tricks in hearts! I am sure you can see how that probably happened. Top club lead encouraged by North. Two more clubs, East trumping the third one. Careful play in the trump suit gets the children off the street with one loser, and then the spade goes on the 4th diamond. This might be the best example I have of the merits of count on Partner's leads. Knowing only two clubs are cashing South might  find the SK or diamond shift at trick two or the spade shift at trick 3. Granted both of those shifts look questionable. Signaling wasn't an issue at our table. After 1H-Double they pushed us to the "unmakeable" 4H by competing to 3S. Then they took the "phantom" save in 4S. We failed to find the best defense and they got out for down 1. It really pays to push at None vul doesn't it. We got a 15% board. I decide to give up this stupid game every day, but I never follow through.

 

    

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