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Carding Question at Trick 1

This is extracted from Phillip Martin's excellent series, "The Gargoyle Chronicles," which was serialized in part on BW in 2011-12.  The following hand is from Match 3 Board 8; if you want to see how it turns out, search for that phrase.


I don't see any need for partner to be on play at trick two. On the other hand, it might easily be necessary for me to switch to a diamond at trick two. So I lead the ♥K.


Dummy wins with the ace, and partner plays the ♥8. As I play, a high heart suggests that the obvious shift (diamonds) is a bad idea. I know some would play this card as suit-preference, but that's a serious error in my book. Longtime readers of this blog might want to skip the next three paragraphs, since you've heard it all before. (Unless somehow I still haven't unconvinced you. In which case, please read on.)

Let's call my method of signaling Method A: Discouraging in hearts suggests the obvious shift (in this case, diamonds). Encouraging ostensibly suggests I want hearts continued. But partner must be alert to the fact I have no way to ask for the less obvious shift (in this case, clubs). So he is free to use his judgment and shift to clubs if that seems likelier to be productive than continuing hearts. The more common method of signaling is Method B: If a heart continuation is logical, my card is attitude. Encouraging suggests hearts; discouraging suggests the obvious shift. If a heart continuation is illogical, my card is suit preference.

Note that if a heart continuation is clearly logical or clearly illogical, it makes no difference which method I play. Either method will work. But if one of us thinks a heart shift is logical and the other thinks it isn't, (A) is clearly superior. Playing (A), if I want a diamond shift, I am going to get one, since a low card always suggests diamonds. Playing (B), if there is any confusion, I am guaranteed to get the wrong shift whichever shift I want.

There will always be some hands where it is unclear whether a heart continuation is logical or not, and I don't think you can devise sensible rules to eliminate these ambiguities. Even a rule like "a heart continuation is illogical if dummy has a singleton heart" (which many people play) is demonstrably wrong. Sometimes you want to continue hearts because you want to defend passively. Sometimes you want to continue hearts to tap dummy's trumps, promoting a trump trick for the defense. Yes, there is a point somewhere along the continuum where a heart continuation becomes illogical. But how do you define where that point is? Or, more importantly, why bother to define where that point is? What do you gain by switching from attitude to suit preference? How can it possibly be right to play "high" for diamonds in some cases and "low" for diamonds in other cases based on some subjective criterion about which you and your partner might disagree? Sometimes one must make tradeoffs in choosing one method over another, and different people may evaluate the tradeoffs differently. But here I see no tradeoff. I don't see that (B) offers any advantage over (A).

Martin is right, and I play this way with at least one partner.
Martin is right, but since playing the other way is so common I go with the flow.
Martin is wrong. I use Kit Woolsey's carding methods here, so a middle spot encourages, and I have the best of both worlds.
Martin is wrong. I use SP and can ask for a continuation simply by using SP for an obviously silly shift.
I have no opinion.

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