Here we discuss carding agreements in both suit and No Trump contracts, for opening leads, and later in the play.
Related Play Problems Play Problem 65
Related Extracts from Past Wednesday Games
North will lead the Spade Ten, won by Declarer’s Jack. Next, the K♦ and a low Diamond, and things start to look up when the Q♦ appears on the second trick. Declarer uses the first Diamond entry to lead a Heart, and the Jack is covered by the Queen and King. North cannot continue Spades, that would give Declarer his 9th trick, so she is obliged to exit a Club, which Declarer must win. As luck would have it, when North gets in with the T♥ she has no more Clubs to get out with, so 3NT will make 9 tricks.
Nowadays, it's almost standard, when on opening lead against No Trump, to play that the lead of the Queen asks Partner to play the Jack if she has it. The most common situation is when opening leader has KQT9(x) ... by leading the Queen, when Partner does not drop the Jack, we'll know where it is and can avoid the mistake of letting Declarer score his Jack. The same logic applies with North's holding on this board, and we would lead the Queen here, too (not the Ten, as per the earlier analysis). Leading the Queen has added benefits on the actual hand, we might catch Dummy with the singleton or doubleton Jack!
Suppose that you find the winning Club lead … do you lead the Ace or the King? There are various possibilities, but the most common style is this:
Lead of the Ace: Asks Partner to unblock an honor, and, failing that, to give count.
Lead of the King: Asks Partner to give attitude.
On the hand above, we would lead the King, and Partner can afford to play the Queen, making it clear that the Club suit is running (or else we are tragically in the process of setting up Declarer’s T76432 suit!).
All roads lead to 3NT played by North, and East will no doubt lead the J♥, won by Declarer’s Ace. How would you play the hand? If West holds the A♠, you are cold for 11 tricks, and might even score 12 tricks if West can be persuaded to continue Hearts when he gets in. With this in mind, we would suggest, at Trick Two, playing a Diamond to the board, and advancing the T♠. Put yourself in West’s shoes … he may think that you are “up to something”, especially if you have a reputation for trickiness (if you don’t, start cultivating one!) … placing you with ♠ KQJx, ♥ Ax, ♦ AQx, ♣ Qxxx, he might rise majestically with the Ace, and shoot back a Heart, allowing you to claim 12 tricks.
Defensive Carding Note 1: Those E-W partnerships who play Coded Nines & Tens (aka “9 or 10 shows 0 or 2 higher”) will not be fooled by this ruse … the opening lead of Jack will deny a higher honor. In that case, West can afford to duck a Spade (or two), and should be able to find the Club shift when he finally takes his A♠.
Defensive Carding Note 2: If you don’t play that Coded Nines & Tens thing, but you do play Smith Echo, then East can help Partner out at Trick Two. North wins the opening lead, and leads a Diamond, now East can express his opinion of his opening lead … if he plays high he says “I like my opening lead” … if he plays low he says “I don’t like my opening lead”. Looking at Dummy, East will see all sorts of tricks for Declarer, and will surely play a low Diamond, suggesting a shift, hoping to grab that A♣ while the grabbing is still good.
East’s 2♣ was an Inverted Raise, forcing for one round, showing at least invitational values and denying a 4-card major.
North will probably lead a Spade and that gives Declarer his 8th trick. Everything will depend on South here. Declarer will play on Hearts right away, the earlier the better, before the defense gets a chance to do much signaling. South must win the first round of Hearts and shift to the Q♦ (the Ten would work equally well), picking up Declarer’s King and collecting 5 tricks for the defense. Will it be obvious to South to do this? Maybe not, but we have to say that this hand is a good commercial for the Smith Echo. Whether Declarer plays a Heart from his hand at Trick Two, or whether he crosses to the board on a Club and leads a Heart, South will get the benefit of seeing one card from Partner before the critical play. Playing the Smith Echo:
- if North plays a low Heart she’ll be saying “I don’t like my opening lead”
- if North plays a high Heart she’ll be saying “I do like my opening lead”
On the actual hand, North does not like her opening lead one little bit and will play a low card at Trick Two. That should be enough to wake up South and persuade her to do the right thing. Even so, it takes an alert South to make that play, well done to those that found it!
Against No Trump, when leading from 4 small cards, some partnerships have the agreement that they lead the second highest, all the better for Partner to figure out what’s going on. With that agreement, here’s what you might lead from modest 4-card holdings:
- 9543 (as above), or T543, lead the Five
- J543, lead the Three (likewise if the honor is higher, of course)
- T943 or 9843, lead the top card (the sequence is powerful enough)
- 8743, lead the Seven (sequence unlikely to build tricks, so better to warn of weakness)
- T843 or 9743, lead the second highest … and also second highest from all lesser holdings.
Defending 3♠, N-S have their 4 Aces and the only chance for a 5th trick is via a Heart ruff. North will no doubt lead her Partner’s Club suit, and the Ace will take Dummy’s King. South lays down the A♥ (denying the King), Declarer plays the Jack, and North must find a helpful signal. Her first priority is to warn Partner against trying to give her a Club ruff, and that means not playing the Four … this discouraging card will persuade Partner that a Club ruff is indeed required. So, North must encourage Hearts, say with the Seven, even though she has no interest in the suit. South shifts to a Diamond, but not a low one … that would imply a high honor (in this case the Queen), and might persuade North to continue the suit … so she shifts to the 7♦, and now surely North will win the Ace and give Partner the Heart ruff. In fact, even if South did have the Q♦, she would lie about it, just to make sure that a Heart comes back.
The above defense may not seem terribly difficult, and indeed it is not, provided that the defense has sound carding agreements:
- Even if, on opening lead against suits, our agreement is to lead Ace from AK, from Trick Two onwards we lead the King from AK.
- When our opening lead will be read by Partner as a singleton or doubleton, and when Partner then lays down a high card in another suit, a discouraging card says “Give me my ruff!”. A high card doesn’t mean “I like this suit”, it means “There is no ruff”.
- When shifting to a side-suit where we hold nothing but low cards it’s usually right to play one of the higher ones (second highest, for example) to clarify the situation for Partner.
3♠ will be held to 9 tricks with accurate defense, but there is the chance that a defensive error might allow a 10th trick. To start with, let’s suppose that N-S are playing “3rd and 5th” opening leads against suit contracts. North leads the Diamond Three, and that is clearly from a 3-card suit. Declarer has at least 6 Spades and 4 Hearts, and apparently 2 Diamonds, so what could be simpler for South than to cash a second Diamond, then the A♣, and to exit with a trump. Now the defense waits for whatever Heart tricks are coming their way, and that will be just 9 tricks for Declarer.
That was pretty easy for the defense, wouldn’t you say? Sure it was, but next let us suppose that N-S play 4th best leads against suits. North still feels the need to lead a Diamond, and again she starts out with the Three. This could be a 4th best lead. Or it could be a 3rd best lead, using the irrefutable logic that you simply cannot lead 4th best from a three-card suit. Now, poor South has a chance to go wrong. She would hate to play a second high Diamond at Trick Two, have it ruffed, see Declarer draw trumps, and get to the board with a Club, eventually scoring 10 tricks one way or the other.
If your partnership plays 4th best leads against suit contracts and has ever wondered whether it should switch to 3rd and 5th best leads then study this hand carefully! And allow us to respectfully suggest that you consider changing.
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