~A Question of Leads

Selecting the proper opening lead is a bridge skill of great difficulty and which has a profound impact on bridge success. Choosing the best opening lead requires that we ask ourselves a few questions: does your situation call for a passive or an aggressive lead? Which suit should you lead? Which card in the chosen suit?

Some auctions will indicate a passive lead, a lead that is unlikely to cost your partnership a trick. Those leads are usually from the top of a run, something like KQJ, QJT, QJT, etc. On other deals, an aggressive lead—one that might cost the partnership a trick if partner has no help in the suit led—may take priority. Aggressive leads are usually from suits with unprotected honors, something like Kxxx or from a doubleton, something like leading the K from Kx in an unbid suit.

When to be aggressive

A good clue is when the opponents’ auction identifies a side suit that might provide a source of discards for their losers. It may be important to “get your tricks before they get away.” For instance, the auction may have gone
North           South
1H                 1S
3S                 4S

If the E-W partnership doesn’t grab their available tricks early—or establish tricks that can be taken before trumps are pulled and the spade suit established—those tricks may disappear.

Your West holding might be
S A53
H 64
D KJ643
C Q83
The best lead rates to be the diamond 4. If you are fortunate to find partner with the diamond Q, you can establish a diamond trick or two before spades can be established for discards.

You will at times be unlucky to find declarer with all the missing honors and give away a trick in the suit led that would otherwise have been unavailable to declarer. However, it is possible that the diamond Q would otherwise have been sloughed on a spade later in the play—you may have given away nothing at all. An aggressive lead may also be right when the opponents have bid to a small slam. Your second trick may well disappear if you settle for a passive lead.

Passive leads

In situations different from those described above, you may choose to make a safe or passive lead. Your strategy is to not present a gift to declarer but to require that declarer find all the missing high cards by his own efforts and to make guesses without the benefit of information provided by the opening lead. The safest leads are AK, KQJ, QJT—combinations that cannot give away a trick. Close behind leads from high runs are

~“The top of nothing”: something like 986543, when you do not expect partner to hold anything in the suit. You should have at least two touching cards at the top of your suit.
~A lead through strength in dummy, although care should be taken to not help declarer set up a known side suit. The lead should promise at least a 2-card sequence.
~A trump in some cases:
~the opponents have bid aggressively to a suit game, but the bidding indicates that each opponent has a good side suit. A crossruff situation may exist, and leading a trump will reduce declarer’s ruffing opportunities.
~the bidding indicates that dummy may be short in both trumps and a side suit. A trump lead may prevent a ruff in dummy.
~The bidding indicates that the opponents hold four trumps each with potential ruffing values if shortness exists in either hand.
~The danger of costing partner a trump trick. If you have only two trumps and think partner could hold three trumps, partner may be able to survive your trump lead.
~The last lead option should be the lead from three small cards in a suit unbid by partner.

Holding long trumps

If you can force declarer to ruff, you may be able to shorten his club length to the point that you can take control of the hand. Against a 4H contract holding
S T97
H Q987
D 8
C AQ932
The lead of the club A stands out. You may be able to force declare to ruff twice; you may then be able to take control of trumps and later run all your remaining diamonds. Add a 5th heart and this strategy becomes iron clad. Avoid the lead of your singleton diamond; ruffing with a sure or likely trump trick will only help declarer.

Attacking notrump contracts

Very often, when playing or defending a notrump contract there is a race to see which side can set up tricks or long suits first. It is standard to lead from your longest suit. However, there is a clear advantage to leading from a 5-card suit, particularly when the 4-card suit holds only a single honor. Unless that weak 4-card suit is the only unbid suit, such a lead is very likely to cost the defense a trick. You may be leading from Kxxx into declarer’s AQxx. The Q of the suit now takes a trick that would not be available with a different lead. Choices of leads from long suits vary:
~From KJ654, you would likely lead the fourth high, the 5
~From KQT76, the K is the lead of choice.
~From KQ654, the king is less likely to be the right lead. You need to find a high card in partner’s hand to help establish the suit.

There are some standard leads that request (direct) partner to play certain cards, if possible:
~The lead of an A against a non-slam notrump contract asks partner to unblock or play a high honor–to “get out of the way” and not block the suit later. Opener may hold the AQJT9 of a suit and wants you to play the K (if you have it) under the ace so that the other winners in the suit can be taken.
~The lead on the Q against a notrump contract asks partner to play the J of the suit, if possible, again to unblock the suit so that the next lead can be made with safety. The leader might hold something like KQT98; if the J is played on the first round, the leader can continue the suit to knock out the A and establish the suit.

The right lead might be from a doubleton in a major suit when there is no indication that the opponents hold length in that suit. Especially when you have little or no chance of getting back into the lead, it can be best to try to set up a suit for partner. If the bidding has gone 1NT-3NT by the opponents, it is likely that responder does not hold a 4-card major. Holding
S J7
H J87
D 97653
C Q73
The spade J may help set up that suit in partner’s hand. Although the 9 or 5 of diamonds lead might establish a couple of diamonds in your hand, it is unlikely that you have an entry to your hand.

Duplicate scoring: IMPS vice match points

In a team game where an overtrick is of little importance and making your bid is vital, aggressive leads are king. If there is a lead that has a realistic chance of setting the contract, cater to that possibility. In a match point game, your goal is to ”first, do no harm.” Unless the particular game situation dictates otherwise, make a passive or safe lead and let declarer search for the missing threat cards. However, if the opponents have bid aggressively to game, there is more incentive to take a risk and lead from an honor in an attempt to create winners quickly.

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