Opening Leads Chapter 16

Now for the amazing ‘repeat’ of history. It is said that one learns from history but it seems that few of our readers who have had this almost identical situation have done so. Let me then relate the latest repeat of history.

This chapter, and it will take another one (Ch17) to fully cover both topics, is about COMMUNICATION and DECEPTION. You need to be able to communicate fully with partner on defence, which is why the opening lead and signalling are so important. You also need to be able to deceive the defenders, when necessary, when you are declarer and see that the defenders are on the right track. Legitimate communication between defenders is vital, and misleading the defence by declarer is also necessary some of the time, so try and learn how to be dishonest (well, let’s just say ‘sneaky’) when declarer, and to see through declarer’s lies when you are defending. If you are a good pair of defenders, nothing declarer can do will steer you away from the best defence. But if you are declarer, you can use some tricks of play to lead them astray. Legitimate dishonesty is, after all, part of the art of bridge play. Let’s see how all this might work in practice, using this very interesting deal from just a few days ago.

Dealer East EW Vul



Not all the bidding would have been the same, but this was the most common auction. Some Easts would jump to 4H the moment West responds. That would make the opening lead even easier, but even so, not every South would lead the spade. I guess that is the difference between the aggressive and the safe leaders. I can certainly see some merit in the queen of diamonds lead, but my theory on how to become a top defender is: “The best form of defence is attack”. If you have that understanding with partner, it will be very much easier to recognise attacking leads, especially singletons, as in this case.

But even knowing that the spade lead is a singleton does not seem to be enough, with so few NS pairs taking as many tricks as they can, which is only three, but as it was, one more than most others. Let’s see how, and why, so many NS pairs fell from grace and allowed declarer to make an overtrick in 4H.

Firstly, let’s examine the opening lead of the S7. It is totally obvious to North that the lead is a singleton. Why? Because if South had started with K7 or Q7 the proper lead is the king or queen, the higher of a doubleton. What is a ‘normal’ play by declarer? To let the opening lead run to the king in hand and then play on trumps by leading the top card, the king. North will then win the ace and lead a spade for South to ruff. Sounds easy but many Norths were fixated on their AK of diamonds and tried to cash them instead, declarer ruffing the second. Unlucky? No, very ignorant to ignore partner’s wishes.

What North could have done before the spade ruff, was to take just the KING of diamonds. The accepted play from AK during the play is the king, so that partner knows you have the ace when the king holds. That should also be the case third in hand when partner has led a low one. Why is it so important to take the DK before a spade ruff? Two reasons: firstly, you tell partner that you have the ace if partner wants to lead back to you after the ruff; and secondly, to get a signal from partner, which will tell you whether you should continue with a diamond or try to give partner a spade ruff. I say ‘try’ because South could have started with an unlikely singleton trump as well as singleton spade, and does not want you to return to spades, but to cash the second diamond. South’s diamond cards are such that a signal can be easily understood, the four if playing standard signals, or the queen to discourage as strongly as possible if playing ‘reverse attitude’.

There can, then, be no excuse for NS to allow declarer to make the overtrick, or can there? This is where a good declarer could try to lead the defenders astray. Of course declarer can see all the hands, so may not suspect a spade ruff, but even so, declarer should always, as a matter of principle, practice to deceive. Declarer should rise with dummy’s ace at trick one, and drop the queen from hand. Yes, I know of a number of Souths who would lead the S7 from K7, which is neither the norm nor wise, because it misleads partner more than declarer. But North could be forgiven for thinking that declarer has a singleton queen. What does going up with the ace in dummy achieve? It also allows declarer to lead a trump from dummy, and most defenders will not be smart enough to step up with the ace, ‘second hand low’ and all that. If that happens, goodbye to the spade ruff. But I suspect that none of the declarers needed the subterfuge because the Norths were too fixated on their own tricks rather than what the Souths wanted, something that should have been obvious. We’ll see in the next chapter that it should still be possible for the defenders to take three tricks after the QD lead, but then the defence is much more difficult, because singleton leads should be easy to diagnose, whereas leads like the queen or jack will make diagnosis of a singleton outside the suit led virtually impossible.