Cincinnati Leads

Most of the information contained here is from the book Count Coded Leads, first published in the year 2001 by Mr. Gerald Fink, (aka Jerry), of Cincinnati, Ohio, United States, and Mr. Joseph (Joe) Lutz of the Cincinnati Bridge Association. The origin of the designation Cincinnati Leads is most likely the result of the concept being born in the city of Cincinnati. Although the designation is colloquial, the preferable designation is Count Coded Leads. Some references also designate this carding method as American Leads Convention Cincinnati Style.

Note: The publication Count Coded Leads Defensive Carding in The 21st Century; With QD, T/S & Upside Down Carding, 2001, co-author Gerald Fink (aka Jerry), Publisher: London Press, Cincinnati, Ohio, United States, contains 96 pages. ASIN: B005QBKOA4.

Note: Mr. Phillip Alder reviewed their publication in the magazine The Bridge World in the issue of April 22, 2004.

Normal or standard attitude signals, in general, inform the opening leader whether a continuation of the led suit is desired or whether a switch is strongly suggested and necessary in order to defeat the contract or to lose the least amount of tricks. However, in normal and standard carding methods the signal does not inform the opening leader which suit is truly desired. The development of Cincinnati Leads permits the partner of the opening leader to indicate the suit, in which a switch is desired, but only if the first lead card wins the trick.

The carding method, known either as Cincinnati Leads, or Count Coded Leads, is considered to be a combination of both the Upside-Down Signals, which show attitude, and the Odd-Even Signals, which show the desired suit.


Opening Leads other than Trump vs. Suit Contracts

Opening Leads Without a Sequence

Low: two, or an honor, but not honor 4th
2nd Low: shows a 4-card suit.
High: Shows 3 or 6 with no honor.
Middle: Shows 5 without an honor.
  Top of partner's suit with an honor sequence or doubleton honor, but low from Qx.
  Middle of partner's suit from Jyx, 10yx, or 9yx lead "y".

Opening Leads With a Sequence

Ace: AK even or Ace empty
King: AK odd; KQJ; or Kx
Queen: AQJ; AQT9; KQT; or QJ doubleton
Jack: QJ9; QJx; J109; J10x; Jxx; Jx.
  Exception: against a doubled contract Jack shows the Queen or a doubleton.
8,9,10: ZERO or TWO higher; including Ten from QJ10
  Except: Top of sequence in partner's suit or by Preemptor in a side suit.

Note: Second lead in a suit after an honor-sequence lead normally shows count.

Leads Against a Slam

Honor leads against a slam show 1 higher honor or two lower touching honors.

Opening Leads vs. No Trump Contracts

Sequence leads are the SAME as vs. suit contracts.
Length leads express attitude by the size of the spot card led. Lowest promises two honors, while second lowest promises only one honor.

FOSTER Returns

1. When returning partner's suit, the lead of a card lower than the Jack promises one higher or two lower cards in that suit.
2. If a partner needs to unblock at first trick, it is done in a FOSTER manner.
3. Without the makings of a FOSTER return, it MAY be right to switch suits.
4. FOSTER returns are also used by the player behind the dummy when leading a new suit in which dummy is worthless:
  1. leading the Jack should deny a near card
  2. cards lower than the Jack show one higher or two lower
5. Since the 9 is correct from J9x or 109x or 9yx; then x is correct from 9x; and z is correct from 9zyx.
6. When opening leader started with 2nd low from a 4-card suit, his play of the lowest card on the return promises a significant honor.
7. When dummy has King or Ace in suit led, give attitude signal.
8. When dummy has ducked, and you have attempted to win the opening trick but failed; On declarer's first lead where it is appropriate for you to signal, Low means you Liked the opening lead, High means you Hated the opening lead: L = low, H = high; L = Liked, H = hated.

Trump Leads

How to lead to avoid crashing of honors.

1. Lead High from 2 (including Ax, Kx, Qx, Jx, 10x, 9x.
2. Also lead High from 109x, or 98x.
3. Lead Middle from 3 Without an honor, except as detailed above: lead y from 10yx, or 9yx, or zyx.
4. Lead Low from an honor third - Axx, Kxx, Qxx, Jxx - or from 4 small.

Leading to give COUNT and indicate possession, or lack of it, of one honor.

For example: partner has signaled for a suit, and you LEAD that suit.

1. High, including the honor, shows an Odd number in the suit, current count.
2. Low shows an Even number in the suit WITH the honor.
3. Second high shows an Even number WITHOUT the honor.

Note that finessing considerations may require you to break these guidelines.

Cincinnati Carding

When the opening lead is an honor card, and when a bridge player employs standard carding methods, the third hand normally follows suit with a high card to indicate that the suit is liked and encourages the continuation of that suit, whereas a low card strongly implies that the continuation be discouraged and that a shift is necessary and more advantageous. However, the play of a low card generally does not indicate the rank of the suit desired.

The method of Cincinnati carding provides the partnership with a method of signaling that generally allows the partner of the opening leader both to discourage continuation and to indicate which shift is desired.

Attitude and Suit Preference on Opening Lead

The Cincinnati method uses Upside-Down Signals to show attitude on opening lead. Therefore, the play of the third hand of a low card encourages continuation of the suit. In addition, on the theory that more often than not third hand will have both a high odd card and a high even card with which to signal, this method uses odd-even discards to give suit preference signals.

Employing Cincinnati signals, therefore, when third hand wants a shift to a higher ranking suit, third hand plays a high, odd-numbered card if third hand wants a shift to the higher ranking suit. When the third hand wants a shift to the lower ranking suit, third hand plays a high even-numbered card.

Three-Stage Count Signals in a Surrogate Suit

A second element of the Cincinnati carding allows one defender to give count signals that may assist the partner in counting the hand as a whole. In the case that the declarer is playing a suit and the defender has no need to signal his count or attitude, and a suit to which the defender has no need to provide a suit preference signal, and if the defender is following with cards that are essentially equals, the defender may make his first three plays in an order, which provides the partner count in another suit.

Excluding the suit being played by the declarer, named the surrogate suit, there are three suits as to which the defender or signaler may communicate count. The signaling defender's first play identifies the suit in which the next two plays will give count, which is named the target suit.

The defender plays the highest of his three cards first to communicate that the ensuing count signal will focus on the highest of the other suits. The play of the middle card first communicates the information that the target suit is the middle suit. The play of the lowest of the three cards communicates the information that the target suit is the lowest suit. The partner of the signaler may possibly not be certain until the second or third round of the surrogate suit, which suit is the target of the count signals.

After first playing the card that corresponds to the target suit, the signaler immediately provides an upside-down count signal. The defender plays the next two cards in high-low order to show an odd number of cards in the target suit. The defender plays in low-high order to show an even number of cards in the target suit.

An example follows which shows the surrogate suit is Hearts. The defender or signaler may indicate how many cards held in Spades, Diamonds, or Clubs. If the defender holds 9-8-6 in Hearts, the signals will have the following meanings:

Order of Play Target Suit Count
9 - 8 - 6 Spades Odd
8 - 9 - 6 Diamonds Odd
6 - 9 - 8 Clubs Odd
9 - 6 - 8 Spades Even
8 - 6 - 9 Diamonds Even
6 - 8 - 9 Clubs Even

As soon as the partner of the signaler knows the count of the signaler in the surrogate suit and one other suit, the partner will generally be a position to be able to deduce and/or infer needed information regarding the complete distribution of the declarer.

Single-Stage Surrogate Signaling

On many occasions the defenders will not receive the opportunity to play three rounds of a suit in order to identify and give a count signal in a side suit, such as when the declarer ruffs on the second round. On a hand where both defenders can recognize that there is a Key Suit to be counted, as where the dummy has a suit headed by the King and Queen and has no side entry, a defender may be able to start a count signal in the surrogate suit immediately.

In order for an immediate signal to be given in the surrogate suit, it must be clear and apparent to both defenders that no count and no attitude signal is necessary regarding the surrogate suit, and that the suit need not be used to give a suit preference signal. It must also be clear and apparent that the defender has no other need to play the cards in any particular order, for example to force a high card from the hand of the declarer of the dummy. Ordinarily the trump suit makes an appropriate surrogate suit, based on the assumption that no trump echo is necessary.



If you wish to include this feature, or any other feature, of the game of bridge in your partnership agreement, then please make certain that the concept is understood by both partners. Be aware whether or not the feature is alertable or not and whether an announcement should or must be made. Check with the governing body and/or the bridge district and/or the bridge unit prior to the game to establish the guidelines applied. Please include the particular feature on your convention card in order that your opponents are also aware of this feature during the bidding process, since this information must be made known to them according to the Laws of Duplicate Contract Bridge. We do not always include the procedure regarding Alerts and/or Announcements, since these regulations are changed and revised during time by the governing body. It is our intention only to present the information as concisely and as accurately as possible.