Signal Terminology: What You Need to Know

Signal Terminology: What You Need to Know

For those who have been playing and studying a game for many years now – whether that game happens to be chess, backgammon, poker, canasta or, of course, bridge – it is all too easy to forget quite how overwhelming and, at times, daunting it can be to first attempt to learn a game.

Instructions that, to the seasoned player, come across as more or less second nature when they are sitting at the playing table do, for a time, come across as a complex and enigmatic foreign language to beginners. The small nuances and seemingly left-field rules require considerable time (not to mention patience) to get a grip on, let alone master.

And, considering the fact that that’s only half the story – that the player also has to adapt their vernacular to fit within the microcosm of the gaming table, and find their own playing style that goes beyond merely adhering to the rules – it’s no wonder why teaching and training (the two sides of the same coin) can, and do, prove so frustrating.

Bridge is, of course, no exception to this rule. For many hundreds of years, it has continually proven its ability to confound before it inspires – to perplex, baffle and even frustrate new learners before it eventually draws them in, and turns them into hardened players.

Still, we have to walk before we can run so, at the very least, familiarizing yourself with bridge’s most common terms and phrases before jumping in is a must. The ‘dictionary’ of bridge terms is, of course, incredibly long, so in this article we will focus on the terminology surrounding signals in contract bridge. Read more below.

Gaming Slang: Theorising Versus Practice

Many traditional, globally-renowned games and game genres enjoy their own complex vernacular. From poker to chequers to the Vegas casinos, the world of tabletop gaming is brimming with colourful and historic lingos which have been passed down to players over the decades and centuries.

And, just as the best way to understand casino slang is to absorb as much as possible before jumping into the heart of the action and, in essence, ‘learning by doing’, so too will bridge learners find that there is only so much theorising one can do. Eventually, theory has to be replaced by practice, and, after that, practice can be replaced by keen and consistent progress.

What is a Signal in Bridge?

Also known as carding, signalling in bridge refers to a number of methods defencing partners utilise in order to ‘communicate’ with one another. The extent to which players adopt, utilise and contextualise signals within their play is, of course, highly dependent on the players themselves, their skill level, and the strength of their partnership.

Full disclosure must be given to opponents, but this can be used to the defending players’ advantage, as they can practice giving red herrings to the opponent players.

Attitude Signal

An attitude signal is arguably the most common form of signalling in contract bridge games, utilised as a means of discouraging or encouraging any given suit – depending on the situation. Attitude signalling is pretty easy to learn – the defending player simply attributes meaning to their spot card, wherein a high value translates to ‘keep going’ and a low value translates to ‘change suit’, for their partner to interpret and follow.

Attitude is, in and of itself, a part of the bridge vernacular – simply referring to a player’s interest (or lack thereof) in continuing a particular suit.

Count Signal

Unlike an attitude signal, a count signal merely represents a way for partners to communicate their own counts of a suit (whether even or odd), in order for their partner to establish the suit’s overall distribution. Typically, playing ones cards from high to low is used to convey an even number, and vice versa for an odd number of cards in any given suit.

Suit Preference Signal

As the name would suggest, this signal is used as a means for conveying a defending player’s suit preference to their partner. While it may seem unlikely to beginners, it is entirely possible for a player to signify an interest in a suit they are not, at that moment, playing.

It is, however, a far more complex form of signalling, and tends to be utilised only in a handful of situations. Proper use of this signal takes plenty of time and patience to learn – but, on top of that, a sensitivity toward when it should be used, and those times when it is unnecessary.

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