Opening Leads – Suit Contracts
Leading from Ace-King
Even though the Leads section of the ACBL convention card still says “AKx”, leading King from AK has fallen out of fashion, nowadays most players lead the Ace. And if your agreement is “Ace from AK”, and you happen to lead the King followed by the Ace? That signifies a doubleton.
Top of a Sequence
Against No Trump contracts, it’s quite common to underlead holdings such as AK874 or QJ76, as we attempt to set up the suit. If we beef these up to AKQ74 and QJ96 it would be normal to lead the top of the sequence.
But, against suit contracts, where Declarer’s trumps will look after the later rounds of the suit, it would be most dangerous to underlead a sequence (especially AKxxx!), so the general rule is to lead the top of a sequence in all the cases above (also from KQxx).
This is a broken sequence where the gap is always immediately below the highest card, and is followed by two consecutive lower honors (T9 counts, too). Some examples are:
AT93 KJT9 QT93
The standard lead from interior sequences is the higher card in the sequence, so, in the three holdings above, the “standard” leads are Ten, Jack and Ten respectively. System Note: Some pairs prefer to lead the second highest in the sequence, which in the above case would be Nine, Ten, Nine. This method is called “Coded Nines and Tens”.
The following are not interior sequences:
AKT9 (no gap immediately below top card)
AQT4 (no touching honors in this holding)
We’ve already established that we don’t underlead sequences against suit contracts, but we might well underlead individual or non-touching honor sequences. Try the following:
A753 Underleading Aces against suit contracts is generally a bad idea.
K753 Underleading a King is aggressive but not taboo.
QT53 Here the underlead is somewhat safer, we just need Partner to show up with an honor
to avoid blowing a trick.
If we are going to underlead an honor, which card do we lead? Fourth best (as against No Trump contracts) is quite playable against suit contracts, but there is an alternative which is in common use by tournament players, namely Third & Fifth.
Third & Fifth Leads
Against No Trump there’s a strong tendency to lead long suits and the “4th best” style works well, allowing Partner (usually) to work out our holding in the led suit. But against a suit contract it’s far from uncommon to lead a 3-card suit, and if we are going to lead the same two-spot from both Q432 and Q32 Partner will have no way of knowing whether we have led from a 3- or 4-card suit.
Enter 3rd and 5th, where we lead our 3rd best from 3- and 4-card suits, and our 5th best from longer holdings. So, from Q32 and Q5432 we lead the Two, and from Q432 we lead the Three. Now, for example, if we lead from Q432, our lead of the Three and our later play of the Two should be enough to make things clear.
It takes some work (but not much) to switch between lead conventions depending upon whether you are defending No Trump and suit contracts, but it’s worth the effort and before long it will be second nature.
Leading from Three Small
You can lead the lowest (which is consistent with 3rd and 5th) or “top-of-nothing”, there’s something to be said for both. The 3rd best lead will help Partner get a count on the suit, but he’ll be unsure as to whether or not you have an honor. The top-of-nothing lead with clarify the honor situation but the count of the suit will remain a mystery.
Alarm Clock Leads
Once or twice a year you’ll get the opportunity to make a lead whose main purpose is to rouse Partner from his normal state of somnolence. To illustrate this we have put you on the receiving end, you are the one whom Partner seeks to awaken.
♣ J732 You
Declarer has opened 1♠, your Partner preempted 3♥, you raised to 4♥ and the opponents bid on to 4♠. Partner’s opening lead is the Two of Hearts. What’s that? Not a 5th best lead as Partner would not preempt with a 5-card suit (would he?). Clearly, Partner has made an abnormal lead, and the obvious reason is that he wants a ruff in one of the minors. Which one? Probably Clubs, as Declarer might well have 4 Clubs but is less likely to have 6 Diamonds. So, you win the A♥, cash the A♣ (Partner showing out as expected), now which Club do you return? This is a suit preference situation, a chance to tell Partner which of the red suits contains the entry to get him his second ruff. As you don’t have another entry, lead a middling Club. Better make it the Five, as the Eight is dangerously high. You don’t want Partner to get brilliant and underlead his K♥ to your hoped-for Queen which, alas, is actually held by Declarer.
This deal comes from the Wednesday Game of 13th December, 2006 (Board 29). For a few more “alarm clock” examples, please visit the Bridgeopedia section.
You’ve no doubt noticed that opening leads (especially Partner’s) are a hit-or-miss affair so, to help him find the right one, it behooves us to do all we can during the auction to help him out.
When we overcall we are generally competing for the final contract, but often we have no expectations of buying the contract, we’d merely like to tell Partner where our values are. Suppose that Partner passes, RHO opens 1♦ and you hold: ♠ 7, ♥ J6542, ♦ Q654, ♣ AQ3. You could overcall 1♥, but why bother? The hand belongs to the opponents, Partner will probably be on lead against a Spade contract, there’s no need to talk him into a horrible lead. Now change the hand to: ♠ 7, ♥ AKJ7, ♦ 7654, ♣ 6532. It’s still their hand, but bidding 1♥ here serves a useful purpose, the fact that we have only a 4-card suit is a minor detail.
Doubles of Artificial Bids
When opponents bid 2♣ (Stayman), 2♦ (Transfer), and the like, a Double is lead-directing. Be sure that there is some length to go with the high cards otherwise you might find yourself in uncharted territory, such as -1560 (your score when they make 2♣ redoubled, vulnerable, with two overtricks).
When RHO makes a splinter bid (showing shortness) it’s not very helpful to double for a lead in the splinter suit. So some pairs play that this double asks for the lead of the side-suit below the splinter suit. For example, if they agree Spades and splinter in Diamonds, Double asks for a Club lead … and if the splinter had been in Clubs then the suit below would be Hearts.
When first invented, this Double (of a slam) demanded the lead of Dummy’s first bid suit, usually to get a ruff. Nowadays, things are more flexible and an out-of-the-blue slam double merely tells Partner that we have a lead we especially want, he has to figure out what that lead is.
No Trump Doubles
Generally speaking, an unexpected Double of 3NT asks Partner to lead Dummy’s suit. But it’s not a hard-and-fast rule, and listening to the auction may provide other clues.
This one is more obscure. Suppose that you bid a suit, Partner raises, and the opponents cue-bid your suit at the 3-level, perhaps in an attempt to reach a 3NT contract. In this situation, you are already expecting Partner to lead your suit, and so (by partnership agreement) a Double can be used to say “Don’t lead that suit, there’s another suit I prefer”.
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