OPENING LEADS - Which Suit, Which card?

Chapter 2: Which Suit, Which card?
The problems we saw earlier were not that difficult when you thought about them, were they? You had a clear indication of which suit to lead, and, hopefully the logical rules of ‘fourth highest’ or ‘ace when you have AK in your suit’ were good enough to get you off to the best start. There is a good reason why it is important to have a specific system and understanding of what each card led on the opening lead is trying to say, because partner needs to know that. So, let’s now take a look at what all the cards, from the ace down to the humble deuce, should generally mean to any partnership. Then, when the basic understandings are there, we can look at even more sophisticated ways we can use all of the thirteen cards we are dealt, be they aces and kings or little pip cards.

The ACE. This is of course the most important card in your hand, so you should make the most of it. Far better for you to take a trick which comprises your ace and a king, queen and jack, than a trick which comprises your ace and a two, three, and four. If you LEAD the ace, three low cards are likely to follow. If you also have the KING, that will probably not matter much because you still have the top card in the suit you have led. Look at the ace as your hundred dollar bill: use it wisely and not on the first wasteful purchase. If you have the king, your ‘fifty dollar bill’, that makes any early investment of the ace much more sensible.

The KING. The king should normally be accompanied by the queen. The king will then, even it it loses to an opponent’s ace, give strength to the queen and make her a potential, almost sure, trick. If accompanied by the jack as well, almost certainly two tricks.

The QUEEN. Now we are getting less likely to be able to create tricks for lower cards, but the queen should always be accompanied by the jack, often with the ten as well, or the NINE, which gives the combined holding with partner a better chance of creating tricks.

The JACK. As is the case with the queen, the jack should always be accompanied by the next card down, the ten, and preferably the nine, and if not, the eight. In all these cases, we lead the TOP card of a sequence of at least two, preferably three, cards. Such opening leads will need any help in the suit that partner can offer, and that is why we need to be able to SIGNAL. Partner can tell you whether you have help from partner, or have been able to strike where you might have help for, or from, partner.

Pretty well all the cards you lead, from the ace down to the ten, should have the next lower card to protect it, which now brings us to the middle and low cards. The middle cards, say the nine down to the six, when led will generally tell partner that you do not have any higher cards in the suit, so your purpose in leading such a suit will be different to when you lead your honour cards. The lead of middle cards generally suggests that you have little of potential in that suit, but there is still hope! If you are defending a TRUMP contract, the lead of a middle size card will often suggest to your partner that you have a LOWER card and by leading the higher of your doubleton, you are hoping that partner is the one with high cards in the suit and can give you a ruff on the third round if you still have trumps to ruff with. A singleton lead of course is ideal, but less likely the higher your pip card is. The lower the pip card you lead, the greater the chance that it is a singleton, OR... and this is where you also must have a full understanding about opening leads, it is your lowest card from three or four to an honour, an honour that will not be supported by touching lower cards. In other words, you will also lead your fourth highest card from a broken sequence. Such understandings, and knowledge and use of the ‘rule of 11” which we will discuss later, are all vitally important if you are to develop good habits when you are defending.

Now, let’s take another look at some more opening lead ‘problems’. You are, once more, WEST


(a) North has opened 1C and South has bid 3NT. Your lead?

(b) North has opened 1C, South has bid 1S, North has raised to 2S and everyone has passed. Your lead?

Have a think about these two problems before reading the next chapter.