Opening Leads Chapter 10: Thinking and Communicating

I would now like to revisit Chapter 9 and take another look at problem b) because another look will open our eyes to the need to THINK as well as not jump to conclusions, and that goes both for the defenders and declarer.

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


Your hand:

Your lead?

Let me repeat the first part of my commentary:
“Time to try and read declarer’s mind! 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 of 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.”

Then, I went on to say: “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!”

Can you see the flaw in this last statement? The answer is this: the jack of spades lead defeats 3NT only if declarer automatically covers the jack with dummy’s queen and East then plays his spades from the top. If declarer THINKS before the “automatic” play, declarer will duck the jack of spades and thus create a stopper in the suit. But even the automatic play of covering might succeed if East does not bother to think and automatically assumes that West has the TEN to support the lead, and returns a low spade in that expectation. But if East actually thinks, he will be able to work out that he must continue with the second top spade, just in case West has made the only possible lead to defeat (or try to defeat) the contract. West clearly has only three spades (with four it would leave declarer with a small singleton, and who would leap into 3NT then?

Now let me briefly mention communication, which is what is needed for best defence. Let’s say West makes the excellent lead of the jack of spades and dummy comes down with:


West leads the jack of spades against 3NT bid as described earlier. Declarer DUCKS. East follows with the eight. Next, West continues with the NINE. East’s spades were AK87. When declarer plays low from dummy, what should East do? West’s second card should tell East that West does not have the ten. That is because normal ‘carding’ requires any continuation after the first play to be of the higher card of two remaining cards. The nine clearly pinpoints both West’s and declarer’s spade cards. East should therefore win the king at trick two and reluctantly take the ace and then the ace of hearts and submit, since it should now be a foregone conclusion that declarer will make 3NT, with an overtrick unless East takes his two aces. As it happened when the deal was recently played, there was no way to defeat 3NT with any defence, but only a few pairs chose to ‘punt’ 3NT, preferring the unmakeable 5D instead, so all that I have written is purely academic! Few 3NTs were bid, but no spade leads at all, and 3NT in each case made with at least one overtrick.