Opening Leads In Suit Contracts
From Better Bridge (9/3/14)

Prefer A Suit Bid By Partner

If partner has shown values in a suit, it is normal to lead that suit. It enables you to cash the tricks available in that suit or at least avoid giving away tricks in another suit. You may choose a suit other than partner's if:

(a) You hold a suit headed by A-K or K-Q-J.

(b) You and partner have ten cards between you in partner's suit so that there is at most one trick available in that suit

(c) You have a singleton to lead plus control of trumps (such as A-x, A-x-x or K-x-x). You plan to lead the singleton, gain the lead in trumps and then lead partner's suit as the entry for partner to give you the ruff

(a) You hold A-Q-x or A-Q-x-x in partner's suit and it is not certain that partner holds the king. If partner has overcalled and you hold the A-Q in partner's suit, it is a virtual certainty that partner has the king. However, an opening bid or a response to an opening bid does not promise a strong suit The situation could be:

AQ54 J 10 972


A Q 7 10 85432

In either case, If West leads the suit, South receives an undeserved trick. You should be almost as reluctant to lead from an A-Q holding in partner's suit as from an unbid suit headed by the A-Q.

Avoid Suits Bid By The Opposition

It is very risky to lead a side suit bid by declarer. It is rarely attractive to lead a suit bid by dummy. If the opponents have bid all the suits genuinely, it may be best to lead a trump. If this is out of the question, prefer a suit bid by dummy to a suit bid by declarer. If dummy has bid two suits, prefer the second suit.

You may lead a suit bid by the opposition if —

(a) It is a singleton and the other conditions for a singleton lead are right. Where dummy has shown a long suit, the lead of that suit generally indicates a singleton.

(b) You have a powerful holding in their suit, such as A-K-Q or K-Q-J-10 or Q-J-10-9. Weaker or lower holdings are not appealing.

It is not attractive to lead a doubleton in dummy's long suit. Firstly, it takes three rounds before you can ruff and by then your trumps have usually been drawn. Secondly, it often traps an honour held by partner.

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

If West leads the suit, declarer has no loser.

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

If West leads the suit, declarer can score five tricks in the suit without any risk.

NOTE: The 'lead-through-strength' principle does not apply to the opening lead and does not apply to a long suit in dummy.

(c) Partner is likely to be short in their suit and you are able to give partner a ruff. A mere suspicion or hope that partner has a shortage is not enough to justify leading their suit. There must be strong evidence that partner is the one that is short, not declarer.

If the opponents have bid and raised a suit, they will normally hold at least eight cards between them. If you hold four cards in that suit, partner figures to have a singleton. If you have five cards in that suit, partner is probably void. As long as you can give partner the ruff before trumps are drawn (e.g. you have A-x-x-x in the suit where partner is short or you hold the ace of trumps so that partner's trumps cannot be drawn), leading this suit is a good move.

1♥ Pass2♣
pass 3♣ pass4♥
All pass

North-South probably have at least eight clubs. If East has four or more clubs, West will be short.

It Is Normal To Lead An Unbid Suit If Partner Has Not Bid

Where dummy has shown a 5-card or longer suit and you are not particularly strong in that suit, it is usually vital to lead an unbid suit. Do not lead the long suit in dummy and do not lead trumps. For example:

1♠ 2♥
3♠ 4♥

South will have five or more hearts.Lead a club or a diamond.

1♦ 1♥
2♦ 3♥
4♥ pass

North has at least five diamonds and, on this sequence, probably six. Lead a club or a spade.

Declarer's usual strategy when dummy has a long suit is to draw trumps and use the long suit in dummy to discard losers in the other suits. If you lead trumps, you are helping declarer's task. If you lead dummy's long suit, you are helping declarer. Choose an unbid suit. It is usually essential that you come to your tricks in the unbid suits before declarer can discard the losers there.

Frequently you may have to choose between unbid suits.

Great Suits To Lead

(1) A 3-card or longer sequence: Suits headed by K-Q-J, Q-J-10, J-10-9 or 10-9-8 make excellent leads because they establish tricks for your side without the risk of losing a trick with the lead.

(2) A suit headed by the A-K : The advantage of a suit like A-K-x-x-x is that you will (almost always) win the first trick. You can study dummy, note partner's signal and then decide whether to continue with that suit or switch. If you decide to switch, your lead has not yet set up winners for declarer in that suit. That is the difference between leading an A-K suit (great) and leading an ace-high suit without the king (poor). When you lead an ace, you also see dummy and partner's signal, but you have given up control of the suit and often set up winners for declarer instead of for your side.

(3) Lead a singleton: A singleton lead is often best. It is particularly attractive when you hold a very weak hand and worthless trumps. The aim of a singleton lead is, of course, to score runs. For that, partner needs entries to return the suit for you to ruff. If it is clear from the bidding and your own HCP that partner can scarcely hold an ace or a king, you are wasting your time with a singleton lead. For example, if they bid 1♠ 3♠ 4♠ and you hold 13 points, forget a singleton lead. How will partner ever obtain the lead?

Likewise, if your trumps are strong, a singleton lead is not usefuL. With Q-J-10-9 in trumps, you have two trump tricks by strength. You do not need to ruff in order to score those tricks.

Singleton leads from weak hands are very appealing if your trump holding is A-x, A-x-x or K-x-x. With these holdings, your trumps cannot be drawn quickly. With two or three worthless trumps, you may find that declarer wins your singleton and draws trumps. Result: You have probably wasted your lead (and may have helped declarer avoid a loser in the suit led).

A singleton in dummy's suit or declarer's side suit has a secondary danger. It may alert declarer to the bad break and cause declarer to draw trumps at once. On the other hand if you lead some other suit, declarer may not suspect a bad break. Declarer may then lead dummy's suit, hoping for a quick discard and hey presto, you score your ruff. Chances are you are more likely to score your ruff by not leading a singleton in dummy's suit or declarer's side suit.

Where you have a choice of great leads:

However, a singleton ace is usually a very fine lead as long as partner is likely to have an entry. You lead the ace and judge from dummy, the bidding, your cards ... where partner's entry lies. If partner can read the ace lead as a singleton, partner may be able to signal the suit in which the entry lies.

Avoid The Abysmal Leads If You Have No Great Lead

When you have an obviously good lead your first problem is over. Most of the time you will not have a great lead available. With other holdings, try to eliminate those with a very high risk factor. The riskiest leads are an ace-high suit (no king), leading a doubleton honour or a singleton trump or leading a 3-card or 4-card suit with only one honour.

Any of these leads might be best on any given hand. That is what makes the opening lead so tough. However, they should be avoided because in the long run they are more likely to cost your side tricks than gain tricks for you. The worst leads, in order of horror, are:

1. Do Not Lead An Ace-High Suit

Ace plus king : Yes — Ace and no king : No

However, if you must lead a suit headed by the ace, lead the ace, not a low card. For example :

AJ642 Q1095
K7 3

If West does not lead this suit, declarer can never score a trick with the king. If West must lead the suit, take your ace. Then West scores one trick and declarer makes one trick with the king. However, if West leads low, disobeying the rule 'Never lead away from an ace in a trump contract', South scores one trick with the king but West never makes a trick.

Rule 1: Do not lead from an ace-high suit in a trump contract.

Rule 2 : If you break Rule 1, lead the ace.

These two rules apply only at trick 1. Later in the defence it may be vital to switch to an ace-high suit and even to lead a low card when you hold the ace.

The usual calamity of leading aces is that you set up winners for declarer. If the declarer side is the stronger, declarer or dummy is much more likely to hold the king or queen than partner is. Leading the ace will often set up winners for declarer.

A8 5 3 QJ106

If West leads the ace, West wins a trick and South makes the king. If West leaves the suit alone, South can never score the king.

A 10 5 3 K J 6

If West leads the ace, South can score a trick with the queen. If West avoids this suit, South cannot make a trick here.

A 9 2 J 10 8 3

With king plus queen, declarer is bound to win one trick. If West leads the ace, declarer has two winners. If West stays off the suit, declarer can make only the one trick available.

The best value for an ace is to capture a high card. When you lead the ace, it is not likely that you will capture any useful high card.

Leading an ace may be reasonable against a slam or where declarer started with a pre-emptive opening. As a pre-emptor is unlikely to hold the king in the suit led, the ace lead is less likely to cost. An ace is also a good start if partner figures to be short in that suit.

Where you hold four or five trumps, a sound strategy is to force declarer to ruff and reduce declarer's trump length. Your best chance is to lead your long suit and if this suit is headed by the ace, go ahead and lead the ace. (see 'The forcing defence').

Do Not Lead K-X, Q-X Or J-X In An Unbid Suit. Even 10-X Is Risky.

A doubleton honour in partner's suit is a great start, but in an unbid suit it can often be fatal.

K4 9862
A 10 5 3

If declarer plays this suit, declarer loses a trick. If West leads the king, declarer has no loser.

Q5 A962

If declarer tackles this suit, declarer will usually lose two tricks, finessing the jack first and losing to the queen. If West leads the queen, the queen will not score a trick and declarer loses only one trick.

Q 10 9
J7 K654

If declarer has to play this suit, declarer must lose one trick. If West leads the jack, the queen covers and declarer loses no tricks.

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

Left alone, declarer can make only one trick with the king and queen. However, If West leads the 10, South can make two tricks: cover the 10 with the queen, taken by the ace, and later finesse the 9. The lead of the 10 has set up for declarer a finessing position which declarer could not have managed without help.

For similar reasons, it is very risky to lead a singleton king. You may make a trick with it if you do not lead it If you lead it and the opponents have the ace, you have lost any chance of scoring a trick with it A singleton queen lead is moderately risky. A singleton jack also has some risk but if the other conditions for a singleton lead are right, you should chance it.

Do Not Lead A Singleton Trump

Where you have a singleton trump, partner often has three or four trumps. Your singleton trump lead will often destroy partner's trump trick(s).

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

With nine trumps, declarer will usually play ace and king and East then scores the queen. If West leads the trump, the defence scores no tricks.

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

If declarer starts this suit, playing ace then king or king then ace, East makes one trick. If West leads the trump, it goes low from dummy — 10 — king. Now, a trump to the ace reveals the position and East's J-5 can be finessed

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

Declarer would normally lead the ace and then is bound to lose a trick. If West leads the trump, it goes low from dummy, jack or queen from East and South wins. Suspecting that West would not lead from J-x or Q-x in trumps, South may well cross to dummy and lead a trump, finessing the 10. East's probable trump winner has been eliminated by West's inferior lead.

Nevertheless, when the circumstances are right, a singleton trump lead may be obligatory or highly desirable.

(a) If partner passes your takeout double at the 1-level, lead a trump. This trump lead is mandatory, even with a singleton.

(b) If partner passes your takeout double at the 2-level, lead a singleton trump if you have no great lead.

(c) Lead a singleton trump if they are sacrificing and you have no great alternative lead.

(d) Lead a singleton trump if the opposition have bid to a high level with about 20 HCP or less. How can they hope to win so many tricks with so little in high card strength? Only by ruffing. How can you reduce their ruffing potential? By leading trumps early and often, even starting with a singleton trump.

However, these situations are exceptions to the rule and the principle remains that it is usually best to avoid leading a singleton trump.

Do Not Lead From A Suit Which Has Only One Honour

Suits such as J-x-x, J-x-x-x, Q-x-x, Q-x-x-x, K-x-x or K-x-x-x are often poor beginnings.

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

Declarer has two tricks and cannot score a third trick if tackling this suit. However, if either defender leads the suit, declarer can score three tricks. If West leads the 2, it goes — 3 — queen — ace, and declarer can finesse the 10 later. If East starts with the 4, it goes 7 — jack — king and the A—9 ten —ace allows declarer to finesse against East's queen later.

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

If West leads the suit, South wins two tricks. If West avoids this suit, declarer can score only the ace, with the queen finesse losing.

If you have to lead from suits with only one honour:

It is safer to lead from a king than a queen — It is safer to lead from a queen than a jack.

♠K  Pass Pass Pass 1♠
♥J 7 6 2 Pass 3♠ Pass 4♠
♦Q 8 4 3 Pass PassPass
♣K 7 5 2 What should West Lead?

On the above auction, the king of spades would be the worst lead. No choice is attractive but following the above priorities (lead from a king rather than a queen, lead from a queen rather than a jack), West's best choice is the 2 of clubs.

In-Between Leads — Not Great, Not Abysmal

If you have no great lead and you have eliminated any abysmal lead and you are still left with a choice of leads in unbid suits, these guidelines could help:

Trump Leads

When dummy has not indicated a long suit which is likely to give declarer discards and dummy has shown trump support, a trump lead may be best if your trump holding is safe to lead. Reasonably safe are x-x, x-x-x, A-x (lead the ace), A-x-x (lead low) or K-x-x. Four or five rags are also fine if you hold no long suit with which you are likely to force declarer to ruff. Dangerous trump leads are from K-x, Q-x, J-x, 10-x, Q-x-x, J-x-x, 10-x-x, K-Q-x or A-J-x.

Lead A Trump If

(a) Declarer has shown a two-suiter and dummy has shown a preference (such as 1♠: 1 NT, 2♥: Pass) and you are strong in declarer's other suit. Similarly, if the unusual 2 NT has been used and declarer has chosen one of the minors, lead a trump if you are strong in the other minor. Declarer often has only two or three trumps in this situation and will plan to ruff out the other minor if you do not reduce or eliminate the ruffs.

(b) Declarer or dummy is known to hold a 4-4-4-1 pattern so that their value lies in ruffing and there is no long suit which threatens to give declarer discards.

(c) Each opponent bid a suit and they have ended in their third suit. This usually indicates a crossruff since dummy is probably short in declarer's first suit and declarer is likely to be short in dummy's first suit. The best way to counter a crossruff is to lead trumps at every opportunity.

(d) Your side has clearly more points than their side. If they expect to make more tricks than their high card values indicate, they must be bidding on good shape and expect to come to extra tricks by ruffing frequently. By leading trumps you cut down their trumping power.

(e) No other lead is attractive and dummy has not shown a useful long suit. It is usually safer to lead from rag trumps than to break open other dangerous holdings like doubleton honours or one-honour suits.

Do Not Lead A Trump If

(a) Dummy has not shown any support for declarer. For example, after 1♠: 2♦, 4♠... there is no basis for a trump lead. If you do lead a trump in this case, dummy may have a singleton or a void in trumps and your lead could neatly trap partner's potential winner.

(b) Dummy has shown a useful long suit. Lead one of the unbid suits before declarer can discard losers in these suits on dummy's long suit

(c) Your trump is a singleton. See page 21.

(d) You have four or more strong trumps. Prefer to lead your long suit and try to force declarer to ruff thus causing declarer to lose control of the trump suit.

(e) You have a dangerous trump holding and to lead a trump is very likely to cost you a trick or destroy a possible winner in partner's hand.

Which Trump Do You Lead?

The standard approach is to lead top from two touching honours doubleton (J-10,10-9 are fine but avoid K-Q or Q-J doubleton), top from a 3-card sequence (K-Q-J, Q-J-10), bottom from an even number of trumps and middle-down-up with three or five trumps. From J-10-x, the bottom card is led:

J 10 3 Q
K 8 7 6 4

If West leads low, the defence takes the trick to which it is entitled. If West leads the jack, declarer can play low from dummy. After capturing the jack and queen, declarer can finesse against West's 10-3 and the defence takes no tricks.

Bottom card is led from a two or four trumps to inform partner of the number of trumps held and to retain the higher trump in case a possibility to overruff arises. Playing high-low in trumps (middle-down) shows another trump, again enabling partner to count the trump suit and to let partner know you have another trump with which to ruff, if that is relevant.

Opening Leads Against Suit Slams

(a) Against A Grand Slam: Lead a solid sequence. If that is not possible, lead a trump (but still avoid a singleton trump — partner could have Q-x-x, J-x-x-x or J-10-x-x). Against a grand slam, you should lead as safely as possible and the trump suit is the area least likely for your side to have a trick. If a trump lead is out, avoid leading from any suit with just one honour or broken honours. Prefer a long rag suit to a short rag suit.

(b) Against A Small Slam

1 Choose a sequence or an A-K suit if available. From an A-K suit lead the ace even if you normally lead the king from A-K suits.

2 Lead a singleton if partner might hold that ace or the ace of trumps. If you have an ace or they are known to hold all four aces, a singleton lead will almost never work and may well cost.

3 Avoid a trump lead unless you have broken honour holdings in the other suits.

4 Prefer an unbid suit, especially if headed by K-Q or Q-J.

5 With a likely winner in trumps or in a long suit held by the opposition, aim to set up a second trick by leading from a K-high or Q-high suit, or cash an ace.

6 Cashing an ace against a small slam is quite often right, far more often than at lower levels. Cash an ace if you have a sure or probable trump winner or you are confident you can give partner a ruff in that suit or partner might hold the king in that suit Refrain from leading an ace in a suit bid by the opponents unless partner is marked with a void or singleton in that suit

Lead-Directing Doubles

The double of an artificial bid asks partner to lead that suit.

2. The double of a slam by a player not on lead is called a Lightner Double and asks for a specific lead:
a. Do not lead a suit bid by your side.

b. Do not lead an unbid suit

c. Do not lead a trump.

d. Do lead dummy's first bid suit

The Lightner Double (named after Theodore Lightner) asks for an unusual lead. A suit bid by your side, an unbid suit or a trump is not unusual. A suit bid by the opposition is an unusual lead. With a choice of such suits, lead the first suit bid by dummy. The Lightner Double is often based on avoid in the suit requested. Where dummy has not bid a suit, the Lightner Double asks you to find partner's void (usually opposite your longest suit).

None of the above applies if their slam is a sacrifice. The double of a slam sacrifice is for penalties, not Lightner, not lead-directing. Make your normal lead.

The corollary of Lightner Double principles is that you should not double a slam if that asks for a specific lead and you do not want that lead. If you need partner's normal lead to defeat the slam, do not double.

Other Systems Of Leads

There are systems of leads just as there are systems of bidding. You may come across these popular but non-standard methods.

Rusinow Leads Or Underleading

Underleading honours is a method which requires you to lead second card from sequence holdings:

The king from A-K-x-x holdings in suit contracts or from A-K-Q or A-K-J suits.

The queen from K-Q-x-x holdings in suit contracts or K-Q-J or K-Q-10 suits. The jack from Q-J sequence combinations. The 10 from J-10 sequence combinations. The 9 from 10-9 sequence combinations.

The correct Rusinow card to lead is underlined: K-J-10-5     Q-J-9-6     J-10-7     Q-10-9-8

This solves the problem of the ace from A-K or king from A-K suits. The ace lead denies the king (except for ace-then-king which shows A-K doubleton). It eliminates the king from A-K-x-x or king from K-Q-x-x ambiguity. The king lead denies the queen.

A fringe benefit of the method is that it can reveal K-Q doubleton. From K-Q-x and longer suits (where standard leaders start with the king), the Rusinow lead is the queen. From K-Q doubleton, standard leaders still start with the king. The Rusinow lead is the king followed by the queen This departure from the normal queen-first indicates that the holding is precisely K-Q doubleton (like A-then-K from A-K doubleton).

However, the 9 lead in Rusinow is ambiguous. In standard methods, the 9 lead is a singleton or a doubleton (or K-J-9). The 9 lead cannot be a legitimate fourth-highest because when it is fourth-highest, there are three higher honours. With three honours, lead top of the touching honours, using standard leads.

The Rusinow 9 lead may be a singleton or doubleton or from a 10-9 sequence (10-9-8-x) or from an interior sequence (K-10-9-7-3).

With two touching honours doubleton, the higher honour is led (Q-J, J-10,10-9). This can also lead to an ambiguity. The queen lead might be from K-Q-x or longer or from Q-J doubleton. The jack lead might be from Q-J sequences or from J-10 doubleton and the 10 lead might be from J-10 sequences or 10-9 doubleton. Nevertheless, Rusinow leads are a very efficient way of treating honour card leads.

When leading partner's bid suit, the Rusinow lead is abandoned (except for king from A-K-x and longer). Lead top of touching honours in partner"s suit.

Thirds And Fifths

Playing thirds and fifths, the third-highest card is led from 3-card and 4-card suits and the fifth-highest card from 5-card and longer suits. This is in contrast to the standard fourth-highest from long suits.

The method is popular with those experts who believe that the benefit (knowing thenumber of cards held by the leader) outweighs the loss (being unable to distinguish between a lead from rags or a lead from an honour — the 2 is led from 6-5-2 and from K-5-2 — the 4 is led from 8-6-4-2 and from K-10-4-2).

If playing thirds and fifths, the card to lead is underlined: 8-7-6    J-9-3     10-8-2    J-8-6-2    9-7-3-2     10-8-5-2     K-8-6-3-2     Q-9-7-5-4     8-7-6-4-2

If playing against a pair using thirds and fifths, the Rule of 10 applies to a fifth-highest lead and the Rule of 12 applies to third-highest leads. These rules operate like the Rule of 11.

Thirds and fifths is a recommended method for a regular, serious partnership. Greater ambiguity exists with standard fourth-highest and M.U.D.

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