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Fourth best lead a trusted way to defend against no trumps

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I play quite a lot of online bridge on BBO and often see some pretty awful defence, most of which comes from players not sticking to some basic rules and clearly having no agreement with partner on their defensive signals and play.

Figure 1

It would take me too many column weeks to write about all of them, but this week I will just talk briefly about leads against no trump contracts, and then discuss specifically leads from a suit headed by the King-Queen.

Figure 2

Most pairs play fourth best leads against no trumps, and that makes sense as it is tried and trusted as a good way to defend — it doesn’t work all the time, but very little does at bridge, and what you are trying to do is find a system that gets you the best chance of success and fourth best is as good as any.

Figure 3

Fourth best leads are often quite revealing both to partner and declarer — if a player leads the two of a suit you know they must have started with exactly four cards in that suit and that applies if they lead the three and you can see the two, or if they lead the four and you can see the three and the two, etc.

That will often determine how you play the hand if there are alternative lines of play.

By the way – I rarely lead fourth best against a no trump slam – when opponents are playing in a no trump slam they usually have 32 plus hcp and leading away from a King or Queen too often gives declarer a vital trick that helps the slam make. Generally, I will find a safe lead and let declarer earn her own tricks!

Where I see the most confusion against INT, 2NT or 3NT contracts is when the person on lead holds a suit headed by the King–Queen, and in order to fully discuss this one must understand the “Bath Coup” which I have written about before.

Take a look at this suit combination. See Figure 1.

You lead the King of the suit and you are allowed to hold the trick as declarer employs the Bath Coup – do you continue? Well, not if you and your partner have discussed this before and agreed that if partner has the jack they have to throw it under your King, and if they have the Ace they must overtake your king and lead one back.

In order for this to work, though, your minimum suit strength when leading the King must be KQ10, otherwise this can happen. See Figure 2.

If you lead the King here and partner plays the jack now all of a sudden declarer is safe from a continuation and is, effectively, back in a Bath Coup situation.

So, in summary. If you have a suit headed by the KQ and don’t have the Jack or 10 you must lead fourth best and take your chances. Once you lead the King, partner knows you have a suit headed by KQJ or KQ10 and can defend accordingly.

All of this brings me to one of my favourite declarer play hands which I have covered before – it annoys me that I have forgotten the name of the declarer, and all I remember was that he was a flamboyant American and that the hand came up in a super high stakes game in the Bahamas – If any reader can help I would be grateful! See Figure 3.

Declarer was in 3NT in a good standard game after he opened 2NT (20-22 hcp) and North had an easy raise to game.

West led the heart King and declarer had a problem — if he won it and the club finesse lost the hand would almost certainly go down as East would play a heart back. If, however, he employed the Bath Coup and ducked the first trick West would almost certainly switch to a spade looking at dummy, and that would be worse – a tough problem!

Tough problems sometimes call for desperate measures and declarer smoothly played the Jack of hearts at trick one, under the King. West gleefully continued the suit “knowing” that declarer had started with AJ doubleton in hearts, and that was the end of the defence – declarer won and took the losing club finesse and East had no hearts left to lead. And if he did it would mean that West only started with four hearts and the contract was safe anyway.

How brilliant from declarer! When I first read about this hand I remember spending the rest of the week daydreaming that I had made that play.

Would this work against one of the top pairs like Meckstroth-Rodwell or Belladonna-Garozzo? No, I don’t think so, because at trick one West would see that partner played the heart seven, starting a high-low signal to show a doubleton.

If declarer actually did start with AJ doubleton of hearts then East would have started with 764 and would have played the four, playing up the line to show an odd number of cards in the suit. So with that knowledge West would have seen through declarer’s subterfuge and switched to a spade, the contract would go down two, and I would have no story to tell.

You just have to love this game!


Tuesday, April 26


1. Barbara Elkin – Neil Gilbertson

2. Jane Downing – Jamie Sapsford


1. Nikki Boyce – Carol Eastham

2. Malcolm Moseley – Mark Stevens

Friday, April 29

1. Judy Bussell – John Rayner

2. Greta Marshall – Richard Gray

3. Marge Way – Charles Hall

Monday, May 2

1. Lorna Anderson – Heather Woolf

2. Charles Hall – Tony Saunders

3. Marge Way – Peter Donnellan

Tuesday, May 3


1. Sally Irvine – Ineke Hetzel

2. Sarah Bowers – Stuart Clare


1. Malcolm Moseley – Mark Stevens

2. Keri McKittrick – Tim McKittrick

Wednesday, May 4

1. Wendy Gray – Richard Gray

2. Marge Way – Charles Hall

3. Diana Diel – Pat Siddle

Thursday, May 5

1. Jane Smith – Peter Donnellan

2. Rachael Gosling – Bill Pollett

3. Stephanie Kyme – Charles Hall

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Published May 07, 2022 at 7:58 am (Updated May 07, 2022 at 7:51 am)

Fourth best lead a trusted way to defend against no trumps

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