Opening Leads Chapter 9

Here is my take on the opening lead problems from Chapter 8, supported by a number of answers from a group of improvers as well as some views from the more experienced. I stress that there is never a perfect opening lead, but some have a better chance of success, and it is these that, if you can arrive at them with some good and logical thinking, will get you the better outcomes. All the opening lead problems come from actual play. In all cases, there is an opening lead that a) would have obtained the best result and b) could have been arrived at through a process of logical thinking and attention to the bidding. That is what we should all be trying to cultivate and which is the purpose of this exercise.

a) Dealer South, EW Vul
The bidding has been:


Your hand:

This is a low level part score, so your main objective should be to limit declarer to as low a score as possible. Our American expert friend quoted earlier would suggest leading the ace of diamonds: “God did not deal you AK in the same suit for you to lead any other suit”, but this is a time to ignore that advice. Why? Because the chances of a diamond ruff for the defence are practically zero and the chances of allowing declarer to set up the diamonds in dummy will be increased hugely.

You should look to attack in the most promising suit that the defence could have, and that is almost certainly hearts. Lead the queen of hearts and take it from there. Partner will signal to either encourage you or discourage, and you will have plenty of time to come to the best outcome possible. A club is unlikely to produce more than one trick for the defence, so look for something more attractive. A trump lead is unlikely to succeed in doing anything other than help declarer draw what trumps are necessary, so unless you think a cross ruff for declarer will ensue, just do the ‘obvious’ and open with the queen of hearts. Careful defence after that would have kept declarer to the contract, when many others were making at least one overtrick! Just one extra trick in a match point game can make a big difference, and if you can get the most out of your defence, will add up to maybe 8% on top of what your brilliant declarer play will score in just one session.

b) Dealer East, All Vul
The bidding has been:


Your hand:

Time to try and read declarer’s mind! South has doubled your partner’s 1NT. Cowering in fear, you have run for your life and bid 2H. North has doubled, which you guess will not just have heart cards but enough by way of points, say about 8 at a guess. Expecting the worst, you see South emerge with 3NT. Phew! You’re off the hook now. But still in the hot seat because you now have to make the opening lead. Can you emerge as a ‘hero from zero’ or do you simply wait for the inevitable?

If you ask yourself what has motivated South to double 1NT and then ignore partner’s double of 2H, you should come to the conclusion that South is not expecting to get more than 500 in 2H doubled, and will be confident or making 3NT. What, then, is South likely to have? Not a balanced 18+ , but more likely a hand with a long and solid diamond suit that would have led to down at least one in 1NT doubled. South will also either have a heart hold or trust partner to have that, so a heart lead is unlikely to succeed. What about a club? That would seem to have some hope, especially if partner has opened 1NT with a five card club suit. But surely that is long odds, and what if partner has something like Kxx in clubs, or even, unlikely as this may sound, declarer has a long club suit headed by the AKQ10. What else is wrong with a heart lead? Some Wests led a low heart and dummy went down with Qxx and East had AJx. Yes, you guessed it. When declarer called for a low heart from dummy, East of course slotted the jack and declarer made the singleton king and then rattled off his long diamond suit plus two club tricks.

Yes, you have now also guessed that the only lead to defeat 3NT was a spade, but... it had to be the JACK. This is a good example of, when you only have one chance, make the most of it by telling partner about your only useful card by leading it. How would the JS have fared? Well, the answer is that declarer had a doubleton TEN and dummy Q653 and East AK87! Miracles do happen when you give them a chance!