Ross Taylor

Just shuffle your cards and pick an opening lead

Playing a KO final match, I picked up A98xxxx  x  x  AJ8x. No one vul, my RHO opened 1 diamond in first chair. I said 1 spade. My LHO said 2 diamonds, and Keith chirped two hearts. He would have at most two spades for this action, the way we play.

RHO no longer wanted to share the auction with us, leaping to five diamonds.

All I can say is the combination of it being only 9.30 AM in the morning, the second board of the match, and wanting to make my call in tempo, I placed the double card on the table.

It was an ethical masterpiece, but otherwise the height of foolishness.

Normally in this sort of auction, one would have a pretty good idea what to lead, but I don’t think it’s so obvious here. Which card would you choose for your opening salvo?

I chose the spade ace, which was without question the absolute worse selection in my hand. See what happened:




West East
A98xxxx Qx
x QJ10xxx
x Qx
AJ8x K9x


Not only was the spade ace ruffed at trick one, but this lead also enabled three spade tricks (!) for declarer, since partner’s queen fell on dummy’s king shortly after. Two doubled overticks thank you very much, and minus 750 was scratched bleakly onto my score card.

A heroic low club lead is not necessary, although it does work brilliantly. A mundane heart lead will eventually lead to down 1, as will a trump lead.

A low spade lead is plain weird, but will most likely be effective, assuming declarer reasonably plays the jack from dummy at trick one.

Bottom line is I should have passed five diamonds, and not pulled the trigger. Then I should have shuffled up my cards and let the caddy pick one as the opening lead. As long as she avoided one of my two black aces, the contract would go down. That’s an 84% chance of a random selection being successful!


Wayne TimmsApril 8th, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Well I am sure bridge has long ago left me behind (for which I am grateful), but assuming I “knew” my partner had at the most 2 spades I would gladly double 5 diamonds. They are in game, so I am not doubling them into game. I have a singleton in partner’s suit, which is good news defensively, and with my club holding we have the side suits tied up. You will wait a century to find a hand where they could make an overtrick as long as you don’t lead an ace, and simply lead a heart and defy them to make the bid. Your chances for 500 are a hell of a lot better then theirs for 550. Frankly I would welcome the same hand 13 times if it was a 13 board session: Regards Wayne

Daniel KorbelApril 8th, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Hi Ross,

I don’t mind your double, you have some nice defense in the form of two aces, and partner called voluntarily — on average you rate to set this contract, often more than one. Your lead was unlucky but normal.

There is a compelling case for a heart lead on the theory that it is unlikely to give away a settable contract, and may just be the best lead. Declarer seems to have a lot of shape for them to be in 5D voluntarily when you have this hand, so a spade void, while an unpleasant surprise, does not come as a total shock. However, it is pretty unlikely for declarer to have more than 1 spade so I believe a heart lead is better than a spade in the long run.

Chuck ArthurApril 8th, 2010 at 4:56 pm

I do not mind your double; certainly I don’t think that you should beat yourself up for making that call. Neither do I think that I would have made it. I am not much of a person for underleading aces, so that is out. I might as well go with my staple: lead a trump.

How did the rest of the match go?

Steve GoldinApril 8th, 2010 at 8:15 pm

Leading is, arguably, the toughest aspect of the game: It’s always done blind, though not deaf. Sometimes the “obvious” lead works and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the choice of leads should be left to one of the kibitzers. But…, and you don’t need me to remind you, your record speaks for itself. You get it “right” more often than not. That’s all any player worth their “bridge salt” is entitled to.

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