Opening Leads In No Trumps
From Better Bridge (9/3/14)

Playing no-trumps, declarer will usually tackle the best suit, the partnership's longest suit What is good for declarer holds true for the defenders. It is usually best to lead the partnership's longest combined suit.

Blind Leads

Where the bidding has been uninformative, such as INT : 3NT, you have only your own cards as evidence of the partnership's longest suit. Here you lead 'fourth-highest of your longest and strongest' except when your long suit has some sequence holding from which you lead top-of-sequence.

A 5-card or 6-card suit is an attractive lead, but a 4-card suit with only one honour is not appealing. Avoid, if possible, leads from suits such as J-x-x-x, Q-x-x-x or K-x-x-x. A second honour in these suits would make them more attractive but A-Q-x-x or K-J-x-x is also a risky start. Where the 4-card suit has two touching honours, such as Q-J-x-x or J-10-x-x, the lead has more promise and less risk. A 4-card suit including a 3-card sequence is highly attractive. A solid holding like K-Q-J-x or Q-J-10-x is even more attractive than a weak 5-card holding like J-x-x-x-x.

With equally long suits, prefer the suit with more honours. Prefer to lead from Q-J-x-x-x than from K-x-x-x-x. Prefer a solid sequence to a near sequence.

♠ A 9 7 4 2
♥ K 8 6 3 2
♦5 3
♣ 6

With two long suits, one headed by the ace and one headed by a lower honour, prefer to lead the suit, which does not have the ace. Here lead the ♥3 rather than the ♠ 4. The reason is that if you manage to set up the hearts, the ♠A is your entry to the heart winners. If you lead a spade and set up the spade suit, the ♥K may not be an entry.

Informed Leads

The bidding can be most revealing and is almost always relevant when choosing your opening lead.

(1) Lead Partner's Suit

If partner has shown length in a suit, prefer to lead partner's suit. As partner has bid, that is evidence for that suit being the partnership's longest suit. The card to lead in partner's suit is standard: see Short and Long suit leads. Partner's bid encourages you to choose that suit. It does not affect the card to lead.

When should you avoid leading partner's suit?

(a) When partner's suit bid was artificial or semi-artificial, lead your own 5-card or longer suit. In many systems, the 1♣ opening may be a shortish suit with no lead-directing suggestion even as regards length. In Precision and other big club systems, the 1♦ opening does not promise length in diamonds.

However, if you have no good suit of your own, stick to leading partner's suit. The fact that partner has opened a dubious club does not mean that partner does not have club length.

(b) Prefer to lead your own long suit if the suit is an attractive one and you have entries in the outside suits. Particularly if you hold a singleton in partner's suit, prefer your own suit if you possess entries. However, if your suit is not exciting, lead partner's. If you do not have any entries, lead partner's suit. There is no point setting up your suit if you have no entry to cash the winners later. Be like declarer. Declarer would not set up a suit if there were no entries to reach the established winners. Neither should you.

The fact that you have a singleton in partner's suit is not enough reason to avoid it. The fact that they have bid no-trumps over partner's bid is not enough reason to avoid it. You must have a strong alternative: a decent suit plus entries.

Some players avoid partner's suit just because declarer has bid no-trumps over partner. This is not logical. The fact that declarer bid no-trumps over partner's suit means only that declarer has one or two stoppers in that suit. Your job is to eliminate those stoppers and set up partner's length. If you do not lead the suit, declarer will still have the stoppers later. For example:

8 6 4
3 2 K J 10 7 5
A Q 9

South bid no-trumps over East's suit bid. South has two winners and two stoppers in East's suit South will always have those winners whether West leads this suit or another. As long as East has length in the suit, West should normally lead it If the suit is not led, East will not come to the tricks after the first two which Lady Luck has given South.

(2) Avoid Their Suits

If an opponent has shown length in your long suit, do not lead this suit. The evidence is overwhelming that this is not your partnership's longest combined suit. A convenient club or a doubtful diamond need not dissuade you from that suit, but if they are known to hold four or more cards in a suit, try some other suit

Which Suit Do You Try If Your Long Suit Is Out?

(a) Prefer an unbid major to an unbid minor. With length in a major, the opponents usually bid the suit to try for a major suit contract. Their failure to bid a major suggests that they do not have it. It follows that partner may have length in that suit. However, opponents have no qualms about ignoring a minor and therefore they may have length in an unbid minor.

(b) Prefer a 3-card suit to a doubleton. If your lead does connect with partner's suit, the more cards you have in the suit, the better your chances of setting up partner's long cards in the suit.

(c) Prefer the stronger of equal length suits. From Q-x-x and x-x-x, prefer to lead bottom from the Q-x-x. If you do hit partner's long suit, such as K-J-x-x-x, your Q-x-x will be far more helpful than x-x-x. (However, at duplicate pairs Q-x-x is much riskier and may give declarer an overtrick At teams or rubber bridge where your aim is to defeat their contract, Q-x-x gives you a better chance. At pairs, defeating the contract is not always the primary consideration and holding declarer to the minimum number of (over)tricks is vital. At pairs, avoid risky starts such as three or four cards with just one honour.)

When Can You Lead Their Suit?

With a 4-card sequence such as K-Q-J-10-x or Q-J-lO-9-x, your suit is stronger than their suit. With such strength, it is sensible to lead a suit they have bid.

If you decide to lead their suit when you have only a 3-card sequence such as Q-J-10-x-x or J-lO-9-x-x, choose fourth-highest and not top of your sequence. For the lead to work, partner will need to hold a useful card and leading top may block the suit.

5 2
Q J 10 6 3K 4
A 9 8 7

If West leads the 6, East plays the long and four tricks are set up for West. If West leads the queen, then if East plays the king to unblock, South scores a second trick and if East plays low, declarer can block the suit by taking the ace on the first round or by ducking twice.

K 4
Q J 10 6 3 9 2
A 8 7 5

If West leads the 6, declarer can only score two tricks and the suit will not be blocked for the defence. If West leads the queen, declarer can take the king and the defence will be stymied on the next round: if the 9 is led or West leads low to the 9, declarer can duck and the defence cannot continue the suit; if West leads the jack later, this crashes East's 9 and enables declarer to win the ace and score a third trick.

K 7 2
J 10 9 4 3 Q
A 8 6 5

If West leads the 4, declarer scores only two tricks. If West leads the jack, declarer can play low in dummy and when East plays the queen, South takes the ace and knows the position South can set up a third trick by leading towards dummy. If West plays low, South can finesse the 7 and if West plays an honour, the king takes and South's pips are worth an extra trick.

If leading their suit with a 3-card sequence, it does not matter whether the suit was bid on your left or on your right. Fourth-highest works best most of the time.

A 10 8 7
K Q J 4 29 5
6 3

If West leads the king first, declarer can score two tricks. If declarer ducks the first round and West plays low next, declarer will put in dummy's ten However, if West leads the 4 at trick 1, almost every declarer would play low from dummy. East then scores the 9 and returns the suit, setting up West's length.

If fourth-highest is so successful here, why lead top of sequence? Because it is only when an opponent is known to have length in the suit that top from a 3-card sequence is not best. Top of sequence usually is best and prevents declarer winning a trick cheaply.

7 5 2
K Q J 6 39 8 4
A 10

If West leads an honour, South makes only one trick If West leads fourth-highest, South scores two tricks and thus has a second stopper.

7 5 2
Q J 10 8 46 3
A K 9

If West leads top of sequence, South makes only two tricks. If West leads low, South scores the 9, too.

(3) Lead-Directing Doubles

(a) A double of an artificial bid asks you to lead that suit.

WESTNORTHEASTSOUTH
1NTpass2♣Double

2♣ was Stayman, an artificial bid. South's double asks for a club lead. Similarly, if East replied 2♦, 2♥ or 2♠, a transfer bid, double would ask for the lead of the suit bid.

WESTNORTHEASTSOUTH
........
4NTpass5♥Double

Given that 5♥, the answer to Blackwood, is artificial and is not their trump suit, South's double asks for a heart lead.

WESTNORTHEASTSOUTH
1♥1♠ 2♣pass
2♦pass2♠ Double

2♠ is an artificial bid, usually asking for a stopper in spades for no-trumps. South's double asks for a spade lead. It will often be based on a holding such as A-x, K-x or Q-x in partner's suit (not enough to raise but keen to have that lead).

(b) A double of 3NT asks for a specific lead.

  1. If you have bid a suit, lead your suit.
  2. If partner has bid a suit, lead partner's suit.
  3. If both you and partner have bid a suit, lead your own suit. Without the double, it is assumed you would have led partner's suit (the normal courteous move).
  4. If neither you nor partner has bid, lead dummy's first bid suit
WESTNORTHEASTSOUTH
1♣pass2NTpass
3NTDoublepassall pass

North's double calls for a club lead. (Dummy's 1st Bid Suit)

WESTNORTHEASTSOUTH
1♣pass1♠ pass
1NTpass3NTDouble

South's double calls for a spade lead. (Dummy's 1st Bid Suit)

  1. If no suit has been bid (e.g. INT:3NT), some pairs play that a double asks for a specific suit, e.g. spades. The double of 3NT in such an auction is so rare that it costs nothing to use the double for this purpose. A holding such as ♠K-Q-J-x-x plus an ace is suitable. However, make sure this has been discussed before springing it on your partner.

(4)Leads After Pre-Empts

After auctions like 3♣: 3 NT or 3♦:3NT,dummy's long suit usually provides enough tricks for declarer to succeed. Unless your tricks come quickly, they are not coming at all. In these cases, it often pays you to start a short strong suit rather than a longer weaker suit. Unless you have dummy's pre-empt suit well held, choose to lead holdings like A-K-x or K-Q-x rather than poor suits like J-x-x-x-x or Q-x-x-x-x

(5) Leads Against No-Trump Slams

Against 3NT or no-trump partscores, it is normal to lead your long suit. You need your length tricks for the five or more tricks to defeat their contract. Against 6 NT, you need only two tricks and against 7NT only one trick is required. Your long suit is not necessarily the most appealing. Your priorities against 6 NT or 7 NT are in this order:

  1. Lead a 3-card or longer sequence.
  2. Avoid leading any suit which has an honour card. Prefer a passive lead from a suit of rag cards.

If they are in 7 NT and you hold 4-5 points, partner probably has nothing. If they are in 6NT and you hold 7 or more points, partner is likely to have nothing. If you lead from a suit with an honour card, it may well cost you a trick. Choose a valueless suit and wait for the tricks to come to you.

(6) Returning Partner's Lead

If you win partner's opening lead or win a trick later, it is normal to return partner's suit, unless it is clearly futile or you have a superior choice. When you are returning partner's suit, the card to return is specified:

  1. 1 card left : No choice.
  2. 2 cards left: Lead top of the remaining doubleton.
  3. 3 cards left : Return bottom card, your original fourth-highest, unless there is a risk of blocking the suit. With Q-J-x, J-10-x or 10-9-x left, return the top of touching cards in order not to block the suit.
6 4
K 9 8 5 2A J 10 3
Q 7

West leads the 5 to the ace. If East returns the 3, the defence can take only four tricks. On the jack return, the defence can come to five tricks.

7 5
A 8 6 4 2K 10 9 3
Q J

Remaining holdings like 9-8-x, 10-8-x or J-9-x may also block the suit. Even though it may be ambiguous for partner, return the top from these holdings if the danger of a blockage exists.

10 5
Q 7 6 4 2K 9 8 3
A J

West leads the 4 to the king and ace. If East gains the lead, return the 9, not the 3. The 3 holds the defence to three tricks in the suit On the 9 return, the defence can take four tricks.

8 6
K 7 5 3 2A J 9 4
Q 10

West leads the 3 to the ace. If East returns the 4, four tricks is the limit. On the jack return, the defence can take five tricks.

K 5
A 7 6 4 2 Q 10 8 3
J 9

West leads the 4 and South misguesses, playing low from dummy, and East wins with the queen. If East returns the 3, the defence can take only four tricks. If East unblocks by returning the 10, the first five tricks go to the defence.

These unblocking moves are not required if partner has only four cards in the suit, but if partner may have five or more, be ready to unblock when necessary.

  1. 4 or more cards left : Return the card that was originally fourth highest (or top of touching honours).
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