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Grappling with the challenge of opening leads

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It’s good to read of some further successes by players in the larger online games and well done to Stephanie Kyme, Diana Diel, Judy Bussell and Jean Johnson who reported their results this week. Theses results will, going forward, simply be included in the results section along with the local results.

Figure 1

Today I want to talk about a topic that vexes many players – opening leads – probably one of the most difficult aspects of the game and one which no one gets totally right. Leading once the hand has got going is not difficult, but the opening lead comes from a mixture of listening to the bidding, digging back to recover a similar situation, looking for divine guidance and then choosing a lead that will, at best, get the defence off on the right foot and at worst not give declarer something they are not entitled to.

Figure 2

Leads against no-trump are pretty standard – unless the bidding suggests that you should not, such as when declarer on your right has bid your longest suit, the general approach is to lead the fourth best card of your longest and strongest suit. The fourth-best is important as it allows partner to work out your holding – for instance if you lead the 2 of a suit (or if you lead the 3 and the 2 is in dummy or partner’s hand) partner knows you started with a four-card suit and can plan accordingly. If your long suit has no honour, such as 97654 I would choose one of the 7 or 6 to start warning partner that your suit lacks an honour.

Leading against trump contracts is trickier, unless you have an obvious lead such as the AK in a suit or QJ10 or, if partner has bid a suit where the rule is that you lead it unless you know (not ‘think’) something else is better.

Leading partner’s bid suits is beneficial in the long run – it is usually the right lead, it leads to fewer arguments, and over time partner learns not to bid on rubbish suits as it is likely that you will lead it and that can be costly.

I like trump leads, especially when I have xxx, when no other lead makes appeal – it is a lead that is unlikely to give anything to declarer that they did not already have, and quite often starts the process of cutting down on ruffs that declarer may need. I am not suggesting that you lead trump on every hand and your leads must be based on the bidding, though I once watched a match between the English and the French in New Orleans in 1978 and Christian Mari for the French was on lead six of the eight hands, led trump each time and they won the match easily!

Also, on opening leads against suit contracts, agree with partner that you will never lead away from an Ace in a non -trump suit – leading away from an Ace may be right once in a blue moon but it is better avoided and makes defending the hand a lot easier- as in this example (see Figure 1):

Figure 3

West gets off to the unfortunate lead of a low spade and declarer plays low from dummy – if East plays the King, declarer now has three spade tricks, but knowing that declarer has the Ace, East plays low and declarer still has a spade trick to lose.

I also like to stay away from ‘danger’ leads such as leading from Jxx or 10xx as these can often be costly – take a look at these two holdings (see Figure 2):

In both cases you leading that suit lets declarer avoid a loser that would be unavoidable if they had to play the suit themselves.

Entire books have been written on opening leads, so be kind to partner if they get it ‘wrong’ – it really is a tough part of the game, even in the hands of experts.

Opening leads come in all forms and this was an unusual, almost hilarious, one that cropped up in a CAC match some 25 years ago where Bermuda sat North South against either Bahamas or Barbados, I think (see Figure 3).

South opened 2 clubs, West jumped to 3 diamonds, North doubled to show values and South closed the bidding with a leap to 6 spades, all very reasonable.

West was on lead and was certain on the bidding that declarer had at most one diamond, and that the only way to beat the contract was to find partner with the diamond 9 and get a club ruff, so at trick one he bravely led the 3 of diamonds!

The Bermudian declarer, who is no longer with us, automatically played low from dummy and East realised with shock that this 8 had won the trick! Once he recovered it didn’t take him long to figure out what was happening and he returned a club for partner to ruff – down one!

Would you have played the diamond 9 from dummy at trick one? Hmmmmmmm…….


Monday, April 5

1. Stephanie Kyme - Charles Hall

2. Greta Marshall - Louise Rodger

3. Lynanne Bolton - Peter Donnellan

Tuesday, April 6

1. Carol Eastham - Veronica Boyce

2. Sarah Bowers - Stuart Clare

3. Malcolm Moseley - Mark Stevens

Wednesday, April 7

1. Gertie Barker - Jane Smith

2. Ed Betteto - Charles Hall

3= Linda Pollett - Bill Pollett

3= Wendy Gray - Richard Gray

Thursday, April 8

Open Teams winners

Bill Pollett, George Correia, Rachel Gosling, Stephan Juliusburger

299 Limit Teams winners

Sharon Shanahan, Claude Guay, Betsy Baillie, Sarah Lorimer Turner

Friday, April 9

1. Charles Hall - Misha Novakovic

2. Gertie Barker - Martha Ferguson

3. Wendy Gray - Richard Gray

Non-Bridge Club Online Results for Bridge Club Members

March 23 - Stephanie Kyme and Judy Bussell - 4th out of 324 Pairs

March 27 - Stephanie Kyme and Diana Diel - 3rd out of 290 Pairs

April 4 - Jean Johnson and David Ezekiel - 1st out of 330 Pairs

April 7 Jean Johnson and David Ezekiel - 1st out of 200 pairs

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Published April 10, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated April 09, 2021 at 7:19 pm)

Grappling with the challenge of opening leads

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