Lesson 15.  Review of Opening Leads

Again, we have discussed opening leads at each occasion throughout these sets of lessons mentioning which was the best on occasions, or at least the better of various options. The opening lead is a very important part of bridge, and should provide useful information to the partner of the opening leader. But often, especially with a very poor hand, nothing seems to be of much use.

Leads differ depending on whether you are playing in a suit contract or in No Trump.

There are a few suggestions that are useful for both situations.

If you partner has bid in a suit, you should play that suit.  If you have an honour in his suit, you should play your lowest card, but if you have poor cards, you should lead your top card. If you have a doubleton, you should play the top card of the doubleton.

If you have a sequence of honour cards, you should lead the top of the sequence. For instance,  with K,Q,J,4 you should lead the King, not the 4, although the 4 in your fourth highest, something we will talk about in a moment.  If you have Q,J,10,9,5 you should lead the Queen. Sometimes you will not have a 3 card sequence, but only a 2 card one. In No Trump, this does not make a very good lead, but it often does against a trump contract. So if you had K,Q,9,5,4 and you were in No Trump you would lead the 5 (your 4th highest) but if you were in a suit, you would lead the King. The difference is that in No Trump you will probably be able with a bit of luck to establish that suit and make several of those cards as winners. While against a suit contract, chances are the opposition will be trumping within a trick or two, and to start low is not going to help your hand.

The third and most talked about option for leading in No Trump, is the 4th highest of your longest suit. This lead is meant to help you establish your suit so you can get winners from it eventually. You expect to lose a few in the suit early on, so leading a small card is realistic. The leading of the 4th highest rather than the smallest is a convention which makes it possible for your partner to figure out how many higher cards than the one you played are out in the unseen hand. It is called THE RULE OF 11. You take the digit of the led card and subtract it from 11, and the answer tells you how many cards there are higher than that card still out. You can see how many are in the dummy, and how many are in your own hand, so that leaves the remainder to be in the unseen hand. Of course, it doesn't tell you which exactly are the cards that are missing. Here is an example:

The contract is 3 No Trump

Opening lead  (West) decides to play his 4th highest card in his longest suit

Spades   A,J,8.6.4 - which is the 6. His partner subtracts 6 from 11, and gets 5. So s/he knows that there are 5 higher cards out.

The dummy (North)  has this holding in Spades - 9,5,2 which of course is now revealed.

Your hand (East)  has the 7 and 3 of Spades.

You know therefore that of the 5 higher Spades out, one is in dummy and one is in your hand, leaving 3 in the Declarer's hand.

Of course declarer, if he suspects the lead is the 4th highest can do the same exact calculation. He can see one higher card in dummy, and knows he has 3 higher cards, which leaves only 1 higher card in East's hand.

Sometimes this information is useful, and sometimes it isn't.


As I said earlier, all the above leading suggestions (Partner's Suit, Top of Sequence, and 4th Highest of Longest Suit)  could be used for either being in No Trump or in a suit. However the leads that I am going to mention now are better done when you have a trump.

Leading through strength.  This means leading the suit of the dummy - especially their second suit if they bid twice and that did not end up being the trump. You know that there will be good cards in that suit exposed in a minute when the dummy is revealed, but there is often a gap in those good cards, and by leading that suit, you might be initiating a  finesse and your partner will win a quick trick.

Leading a singleton.  This is valuable when you have a trump, because it means that the next time that suit is played, you will be able to trump it. Of course, a good declarer will take your trumps away from you before that suit is played again.

Leading the top of a doubleton. This is a less valuable lead, because you have to lose twice before you can trump. Sometimes however, you might be lucky and have hit upon your partner's good suit in which he has the Ace and King, and when he plays the suit a 3rd time, you will trump before the declarer has time to take the trumps out.

I already mentioned leading the top of a high sequence of 2 as being quite a good lead against a suit.

Sometimes you lead from an internal sequence. This is when you have an Ace or King and then a gap, and a sequence below. For instance K,J,10,9,5. Here you might lead the Jack - the top of the internal sequence. You hope to drive out the Ace, and then your King will win, and maybe even your 10 will get a trick if you are lucky.

Sometimes you lead trump. You usually don't do that if you have 4 of them, or 3 with one of them being quite high. But if you have 3 useless trumps, you won't hurt your hand to lead them, and you might force the opposition to play 2 of their trumps on the one trick when they had hoped to make them separately by cross trumping.

If a suit has not been bid by anybody, sometimes you lead that, hoping that your partner might have something in it.

Another lead which doesn't really help your side much, but gets things going without promising much either is called the top of nothing. So if your partner hadn't bid, and you don't have a good suit of your own, and you don't have a singleton or doubleton, if you lead a card like an 8 or 7, your partner will probably interpret this as the top of nothing - and will not bother to play the suit back to you. Of course there is always the chance it could have been a singleton, top of a doubleton or even your 4th highest of your longest suit. There is always the possibility of confusion in this sort of lead.

57.  Against a No Trump bid, with the following hand, which is your best lead? We will assume your partner did not bid, but the person about to become dummy has bid Spades.

Spades         K,7,4
Hearts          J,10,8,4,5
Diamonds     Q,J,10
Clubs           10,2

a. 10 Clubs (top of doubleton)
b. 4 of Hearts (4th highest of longest suit)
c. 4 of Spades (through strength)