A refresher on opening leads

May 17, 1959

This exercise is designed, so to speak, for the high-handicap player and is not apt to be troublesome to those who have mastered the art of putting backspin on their pitches to the green. So much stress on the subject of the opening lead may appear extravagant until it is pointed out that in my original treatise on the play of the cards, over 15,000 words were devoted to the subject of the opening lead alone.

Since it is difficult to offer a complete codification in anything smaller than a rather thick book, I shall attempt to reduce my advice to capsule form, setting forth a few of the pitfalls one is apt to encounter in this phase of the game.

A great many contracts hinge upon the proper choice of the opening salvo. The opening lead is not always a privilege; indeed, it can prove to be a burden, for example, when one leads away from an honor which is not part of a sequence. The old bromide "never lead away from a king" (more honored in the breach than the observance) applies with equal force to the queen or the jack. In other words the best lead is apt to be the top of a complete sequence.

Generally speaking, one should not waste a shot in the development of a hopeless hand. Suppose on lead against a no-trump contract you have the doubtful pleasure of holding:

[9 of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[10 of Hearts]
[9 of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
[6 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]
[8 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]

You may as well regard your hand as dead and, abandoning the spade suit, turn your thoughts toward contributing to partner's campaign. The best you can do is to provide some sort of launching pad for him by leading the 10 of hearts in the hope that this will give him a start in the race for tricks. The heart suit is selected because the 10 and 9 may prove useful whereas the diamond holding has less to offer.

LEADING PARTNER'S SUIT

A large segment of the bridge-playing public labors under the delusion that one must always lead the highest of partner's suit. This is not always sound advice. If you have two cards of the suit, lead the higher. From three worthless cards the practice is to lead the highest (although there is a school of players that leads low even from three worthless cards). My own recommendation is to lead the top of three worthless cards. Where you have a sequence you lead the top, but where you have four of your partner's suit the lowest is the proper opening.

Now take this situation:

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

Your partner has bid hearts, and the opponents reach a final contract in spades. The proper lead is the queen of diamonds. You have too many hearts to expect to derive any defensive tricks from that suit, and diamonds offer a better prospect.

One should be wary of leading a suit which he has forced his partner to bid by doubling. For example:

[Queen of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[9 of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[Queen of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]
[8 of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]

You have doubled an opening bid of one club, and partner has responded with one heart. Against the opponent's final contract it is not recommended that you lead a heart; the likelihood of the king being in the declarer's hand is considerable. The preferred lead is the queen of spades.

THE SINGLETON LEAD

A question frequently propounded to this department is "What do you think of a singleton lead?" The answer depends upon circumstances. The singleton lead has the disadvantage of revealing the distribution of the suit to the declarer, but sometimes circumstances make such a lead mandatory.

The condition for a singleton lead is ideal when the opener has a sure trump trick, to prevent declarer from running off with the hand. Then he should have some surplus trumps. And the prospect is improved when partner has bid so that there is a reasonable expectancy of putting him back into the lead to obtain the ruff.

The lead of a singleton should be avoided when you are strong in trumps. We follow the rule not to lead a singleton when we have four or more trumps. We concentrate on forcing the declarer to use his trumps.

The lead of a singleton king comes high on the list of our personal anathemas. The singleton king has much better than an even chance of winning a trick if you play possum.

This department does not favor the indiscriminate lead of aces. The theory we hold is that aces were meant to capture kings and queens. When led they are apt to absorb nothing more than a deuce or a trey.

THE TRUMP LEAD
The trump is frequently led when all other choices are embarrassing. On the other hand, it may be led as a strictly offensive move when it is suspected that the dummy will have a singleton or a void in a side suit. This diagnosis may be reached in cases where declarer has tried to play the hand in no trump, but the dummy has returned to declarer's suit.

LEADS AGAINST DOUBLED CONTRACTS

When the contract is no trump, doubled by partner, you are obliged to lead the suit you or your partner has bid, regardless of how unattractive this lead may appear from your own hand. But if your side has made no bid, a double calls for the lead of the first suit bid by dummy.

When partner has doubled a slam it is a conventional command to lead the dummy's suit rather than partner's or your own.

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GOREN'S ANSWERS

1 Queen of hearts. When partner passed your takeout double he announced that he expected to beat the contract of one heart and that his trumps were as good or better than those held by the adversaries. In a sense, you have become the declarers in a heart contract, and you should start drawing the enemy trumps. In this way you will prevent them from using small hearts to ruff your good tricks. When partner has passed your takeout double, a trump lead is almost an invariable rule.

2 The 2 of diamonds. The lead of partner's suit is mandatory when he has doubled a final contract in no trump. In the absence of the double you would lead the king of spades, but when partner has doubled he insists that you make the expected lead which, as he views it, is a diamond.

3 Jack of spades. Extreme caution should be exercised in the lead of a suit which one has forced partner to bid. The chance that declarer holds the king of hearts is not at all remote; it is more than likely that partner has been forced to bid hearts with a holding containing no high honor.

4A The 4 of spades. It would be poor tactics to lead the king. It is better to give up a trick to the opponents in the hope that your partner will still retain a spade to return if he gets in, enabling you to run the remainder of the suit if it is favorably distributed for your side.

4B King of spades. The solidity of the spade suit makes it the preferred choice over the longer diamond suit.

4C The 5 of spades. While the queen of diamonds offers the safest lead, the lead of a spade is more apt to bring about the defeat of the contract. Here again, we cheerfully offer one trick to the opponents in the sense of an investment. It is hoped that partner will win a trick and return a spade.

4D The recommended lead is the 8 of clubs. We try, as far as is practical, to avoid leading from four-card suits headed by the major tenace (A-Q). Generally, the three-card suit is preferred to the doubleton when making a so-called innocuous lead against no trump.

A BASIC TABLE FOR OPENING LEADS

HOLDING IN SUIT

AGAINST NO TRUMP

AGAINST TRUMP BIDS

AKQXXX

A

K

AKQXX

K

K

AKJX

K

K

AKJXX

X

K

AKJXXXX

A

K

AKXXXX

X

K

AKXXX

X

K

AQJXX

Q

A

KQ 10XX

K

K

KQ742

4

K

J108XX

J

J

AQ8742

7

A

AJ1082

J

A

A10972

10

A

KJ1072

J

J

K10972

10

10

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)