The surprise attack in action

March 02, 1959

Ever since the first Neanderthal man caught a glimpse of the first Neanderthal woman (or maybe it was vice versa), the surprise attack has enjoyed great favor. Besides its primary fields of application, love and war, this concept has a definite place in contract bridge.

The opening lead is the particular phase of bridge to which I refer. There is some reason to fear that textbooks (including my own) have oversold the idea that certain card combinations provide ideal leads—for example, the king from king-queen-jack or ace-king; the queen from queen-jack-10; etc. These, of course, are sound leads under normal circumstances, and they must be set down as preferred leads for the beginner and not-too-experienced player, but when the player reaches the stage where he can think for himself—when he can analyze and draw shrewd deductions from all the bidding he has heard—he should not hesitate to jettison the conventional lead in favor of a boldly imaginative lead.

The following hand points up what I mean:

NORTH

[Ace of Spades]
[King of Spades]
[Queen of Spades]
[10 of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[Queen of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[9 of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[9 of Clubs]
[Ace of Diamonds]

WEST

[6 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[Ace of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]
[King of Diamonds]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[10 of Diamonds]
[7 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

[Jack of Spades]
[9 of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[King of Hearts]
[Jack of Hearts]
[8 of Hearts]
[10 of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]

EAST

[7 of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[2 of Hearts]
[King of Clubs]
[Queen of Clubs]
[Jack of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]
[9 of Diamonds]
[8 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]

NORTH

1 [Spade]
6 [Heart]

EAST

PASS
PASS

SOUTH

2 [Heart]
PASS

WEST

3 [Diamond]
PASS

The bidding is given as it actually occurred at one of New York's leading bridge clubs. Some modern experts might frown on this bidding as not very scientific, but no serious fault can be found with the final contract of six hearts even though six spades is ironclad. North felt that since his partner's heart response was a two-over-one take-out, there was a strong probability that South had the top cards in the suit, in which case he could pull trumps and run the long spade suit, ruffing one round of spades if necessary. Even if South had made his bid on five hearts to the ace-jack, with some club strength as compensation, he might make the slam with a little luck in respect to the missing heart king.

The truly interesting feature of this hand, however, is the opening lead problem that faced West.

The normal and conventional lead from West's holding was the king of diamonds, in the hope of setting up a diamond winner while West retained the club ace for entry and the setting trick. But West did not like that lead. He was sure that dummy would turn up with the diamond ace, because North certainly would not have bid a slam with immediate losers in both minor suits.

So West decided that the only hope of beating the slam depended on putting his partner on lead in a hurry so that he could return a spade for West to ruff. This could be done if East had the club king, or if dummy had the king, East the queen, and declarer, holding the club jack, misguessed the situation and played low from dummy on a low club lead by West.

So West made that lead: the club 6.

East was merely going through the motions of following suit when he put in the club jack, but when, to his astonishment, he found himself in possession of the trick, he quickly snapped to attention. There could be only one reason for West to have underled an ace against a slam contract: he wanted a certain return, and it wasn't very hard for East to figure out what that return should be. He led a spade, and West's ruff defeated the slam contract.

EXTRA TRICK
In the final analysis a player in West's position has to have full knowledge of his opponents' bidding proclivities in order to choose the best lead against a slam contract. It was because West knew that North, particularly, was a sound and even conservative bidder that he could properly make such a daring lead. Against different opponents, and specifically the sort who are more or less slam-happy, the "normal" lead of the diamond king could readily be the preferred lead.

PHOTO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)