A suit-preference signal is used when either leading a suit or following suit. A high card suggests a shift to the higher side suit, while a low card suggests a shift to the lower side suit.

Of the three types of defensive signals, suit-preference signals have the lowest priority:

  1. Attitude
  2. Count
  3. Suit-preference

This means that a signal should be plausibly interpreted as attitude or count first. A signal should be treated as suit-preference only if attitude or count don't make sense.


Example: Following Suit

The following is an example of using a suit-preference signal while following suit. After your side bids and raises hearts, South ends up declaring 4. Partner leads the K (king from ace-king):

North
AT852
T4
KJTYou
Q8464
852
AQ2
J7652


West
1
3
Pass
North
Pass
4

You
2
Pass

South
2S
Pass


You play the 2 (discouraging) at trick one, since you can't be sure whether partner is leading from the ace-king or king-queen. However, at trick two partner continues with the A. Which card do you follow suit with?

This is a situation in which an attitude signal doesn't make sense because dummy can ruff a third round of hearts. Neither is it a count situation, since you're already marked with at least three hearts on the auction. Thus it becomes a suit-preference situation. With two remaining hearts, your higher card would ask for a switch to the higher side suit (diamonds), whereas your lower card would ask for a switch to the lower side suit (clubs).

Since you're interested in a diamond shift, you should play the 8, the higher of your two remaining hearts. The full deal:

Dummy
AT852
T4
PartnerKJTYou
3Q8464
AKJ963852
954DeclarerAQ2
KT9SKQJ97J7652
HQ7
D8763
CA3


If you play the 5 instead, partner might decide you hold the A, and shift to a club. This costs a trick for the defense, allowing declarer to only go down one instead of down two.


Example: Leading a Suit

Suit-preference signals are sometimes also employed when leading a suit. This is most commonly done when giving partner a ruff. In the following deal, your side is defending 2. Partner's lead is the T.

North
K52
Q43
9863You
KQ8QT
AK975
A72
764


West
Pass
Pass
Pass
North
Pass
2

You
1
Pass

South
1S
Pass


You win the K and cash the A, partner following suit with the 6. It looks like he started life with a heart doubleton and can now get a ruff. Which heart do you return?

This is a suit-preference situation. From the bidding, partner knows you have three hearts at your disposal. The highest card, namely the 9, would ask partner to return the highest remaining side suit, i.e. diamonds. The lowest card, the 5,would ask for the lowest suit returned, i.e. clubs. And the middle card? Playing the 7 would mean that you don't have a preference, and that partner should make his best return based on his own judgment.

In the actual hand, you want a diamond return, so you lead the 9. Declarer follows suit, partner ruffs with the 4, and duly returns the J. Now you can take your ace and lead a fourth round of hearts to create a trump promotion.

The full deal:

Dummy
K52
Q43
Partner9863You
J74KQ8QT
T6AK975
JT5DeclarerA72
JT953SA9863764
HJ82
DKQ4
CA2


Partner can ruff the fourth round of hearts with the J, forcing declarer to overruff with the K. This promotes your QT holding into another defensive trick. Declarer makes his contract on the nose, without an overtrick.

Left to his own devices, partner could have easily returned the J at trick 4 instead. The suit-preference signal took the guesswork out of his decision.

See also

  • Attitude Signals
    Signals used to encourage or discourage the lead of a suit.

  • Count Signals
    Signals used to show the number of cards held in a given suit.

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