Opening Leads Competition

by Chris Jagger

Last newsletter you were given seven auctions for seven hands, and asked to select a lead. My marking scheme and comments follow. A maximum of seven points were awarded for the choice of lead, and three for justification.

1. Q10843 Q2 752 Q93. Teams, game all. 1c-1h-1NT-P-3NT.

Marks: hQ 7, s 6, h2 3.

This problem is to me a straight choice between a heart and a spade, and I think it is a close call. Opponents are expecting a heart lead, whilst on the other hand they need not necessarily have a double stopper. Personally I think it is more culpable to lead your partner's suit blindly than not to lead it. Having said that, I don't know what the long term winner would be here. Giles Woodruff says `hQ. Opponents don't always have a double stop...I think it's close to a spade lead, but partner will often have a good suit on this auction (as he's vulnerable and not loaded with high cards).' A good summary, though I suspect AJx A109xx xxx xx would be a routine overcall in most people's books.

2. QJ94 Q6 54 J10762. Teams, love all. 1s-P-2c-P, 2s-P-3NT.

Marks: d5 7, c6 6, h 3.

As John Young says, `This is a choice between the minors, but I'd go for a diamond, even though this is less safe than many will think. A heart is too aggressive when we have both their suits sewn up.'

3. QJ32 K852 973 A4. Pairs, Oppo vul. 3h-3s-P-4s. (3s showed takeout with spades).

Marks: cA 7, h 5.

It looks instinctive to lead a heart, for a potentially forcing game, but I think Paul Hankin is right - `c A - hoping to make the ace of clubs, partner's Ah, a natural trump trick and a club ruff.'

4. KJ96 A954 76 K102. Pairs, Oppo vul. 1NT-P-2c-P, 2s-P-3NT (Sequence likely to have hearts but not guaranteed.)

Marks: d7 7, s6 6, h4 4, c2 2.

I actually think there is a lot to be said for a spade here, the fact that declarer has four of them not changing the odds that much. Alternatively the popular choice of a diamond has a lot going for it, though doubleton leads are not as safe as many would like to believe. A heart is quite likely to cost and not that likely to set up tricks.

5. KJ5 Q108 K3 AJ1087. Pairs, Vul. 1NT-P-d-P, 2h. (Normal transfer.)

Marks: s5 7, cA 4, h 3.

As my esteemed coeditor says, `a spade looks normal.' I suspect we'd have everybody leading a spade with KJxx, so why so reluctant with KJx? A heart here has so much potential for blowing tricks I had to demote it in spite of it receiving some support. (As a tip for the future, if you want to score marks with me, don't lead a trump!)

6. KJ862 10643 K J52. Pairs, Game all. 1s-P-2h-P, 3c-P-3NT.

Marks: c 7, s 5, dK 3.

As Fiske Warren says `c2. No other suit is attractive. It might be right to lead the cJ to pin the singleton 9 or 10 in declarer's hand but I shall not try to win the brilliancy prize.' I thought this was merely a choice of which club to lead, the jack having the downside that declarer might have singleton queen or king. Those who don't like Jxx leads have my sympathy but in my view are missing the point, whilst those trying to set up spade tricks are a little optimistic.

7. 4 J94 KJ7642 K54 Teams, oppo vul. 2d-3d-5d-5h, P-6h.

Marks: d6 7, c4 6, s4 3, h4 -2.

A spade lead hoping for a ruff is a possibility but optimistic. A club is the majority choice of those who don't know the hand, and a diamond the majority of those that do, hence the 7 marks! Against two-suited hands where dummy cannot have two losers in the bid suit, conventional wisdom suggests you should lead the other, to cash these before they go away. It can of course be very wrong! Here, the normal principle of finding an attacking lead against a slam, is not so likely to be correct because opponents have been preempted and so may well have misjudged the hand, hence there is something to be said for a safer diamond lead.

A good set of solutions received from all entrants, the winner being Fiske Warren, who receives a free pat on the back, a signed newsletter, and the offer to publish an article should he submit it.


While on the subject of leads, suppose you hold KQ7 9853 984 983 and have to lead against one of the auctions 1NT-3NT, or 2NT-3NT. I suspect against the first there would be a high proportion of people leading a top spade, whilst against the second a heart would find more favour. What do you think?

In fact a spade is clearly best against both auctions (and even if partner has had a chance to open a weak two and rejected it). Instincts tell us to be more passive against the second auction, but here a quick think should convince you that the spade is the most likely way to defeat the contract - and if it does not then a friend of mine informs me that a computer simulation is very decisive on the issue. (Much closer would be KQ2 K953 982 432, when any lead would be reasonable, a diamond coming out just on top.)


Finally, a cautionary tale from Shrewsbury:

4h by S
S Q1074
H 842
D AQ73
C K6
c led
S KJ93
H Q3
D J54
C J742
W         E
S 652
H 107
D K1092
C AQ95
S A8
H AKJ965
D 86
C 1083

How do you play 4h by South on a club lead?

It is a tired adage, but true nonetheless, that declarer is often careless at trick 1. Of course we don't think cA has been underled, but surely we may as well put the king up?

But look what happened: The king lost to the ace, and East realised that declarer would not have played the king with the jack in hand. So she returned a low club to her partner's jack. He switched to a low diamond, ensuring taking the contract one off.

In fact declarer should have played low on the opening club lead. West cannot get in, and declarer at some point plays ace and another spade, to set up a diamond discard. Note that if at trick two East switches to a spade, declarer must rise as otherwise West fires a diamond through before declarer can unblock the spades.

Of course, every now and again some joker will have underled cA. Don't worry - you'll get back on other hands what you lost on this one!