Polling You #70, Leads Against Suit Contracts, Day 1

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While many leads against Notrump follow a limited number of guidelines, leading against opponents’ suit contracts offers a far greater range of options.   Playing against a Notrump contract we typically seek to “win the race” by first promoting our long suit the declarer.   While a sequence lead might be safe, now we must pay special attention to ruffs, cross-ruffs, side-suit promotion after declarer pulls trump, as well as other factors.

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Typical Declarer Play Strategies:

  1. Pull trumps, avoid opponent ruffing
  2. Pull trumps, promote side suit, pitch losers
  3. Finesse, repeated finesses, pitch quick losers
  4. Use dummy shortness, ruff declarer losers
  5. Cross-ruff between hands, imbalanced hands

Defender Classic Suit Leads

  1. Ace from Ace-King
  2. Top of honor sequence
  3. Partner’s bid suit (High-Low, etc.)
  4. Fourth best leads (not away from an Ace)
  5. Top of nothing (passive lead)

Lead Differences:

Notrump Suits
AKxxx AKxxx
A109x A109x
Axxx Axxx
AQxxx Avoid leading suit
KQxxx KQxxx

Suit Contracts:

Honor Considerations

  1. Honor sequence suits as: KQ10x (better), KJ10x (okay)
  2. Split honors as: KQxx (especially opposite game)
  3. Multiple split honor suit as: KJxxJ10[…]
  4. Priority:  Kxxx (often best),  Qxxx (xxx better),  Jxxx (xxxx better)
  5. Top of nothing: xxxx

Polling You 70, Hand 1

Board 3
South Deals
E-W Vul
♠ J 3
K J 7
K J 7 2
♣ 9 7 6 3
♠ K Q 10 2
A 4 3 2
♣ K J 10 2
♠ 9 8 7 6
10 9 8 6 3
♣ 8 5 4
♠ A 5 4
10 9 8 6 5
A Q 4
♣ A Q

West North East South
Pass 2 Pass 3
Pass 4 All pass

Trick West North East South
1. W ♠ K ♠ 3 ♠ 7 ♠ A
2. S 2 J Q 5
3. E ♣ K ♣ 3 ♣ 4 ♣ Q
4. W ♠ Q ♠ J ♠ 6 ♠ 4
5. W A 7 ♠ 8 6
6. W 3 K 3 8
7. N 5 2 8 A
8. S 4 ♣ 6 ♠ 9 10
9. S ♣ 2 ♣ 7 ♣ 5 ♣ A
10. S ♠ 2 7 6 Q
11. S ♣ 10 J 9 4
12. N ♠ 10 K 10 ♠ 5
13. N ♣ J ♣ 9 ♣ 8 9

Despite poor suit values, South opens 1 Heart with 16 High Card Points (some might open 1 Notrump with a balanced hand to show points, perhaps missing the 5-3 Heart fit on these hands).  With a singleton Diamond (ergo no Takeout Double) and lacking a 5 card suit, even with 12 HCP West cannot manufacture a bid.  North holds 9 HCP, 3 Hearts and working red suit honors, easily bidding 2 Hearts.  South counts 6 losers (2 Clubs, 3 Hearts, 1 Diamond), making a game try in Hearts which North easily accepts bidding 4 Hearts.

On lead North leads the Spade King, the better of touching honor suits.  Should West mistakenly lead the broken Club inner sequence or a trump, the declarer will easily make game.  Assuming the correct Spade King lead, South wins the Spade Ace and plays a low trump to North’s Jack, attempting a repeated finesse (actually returning a Spade to ensure a ruff seems a better play).  On South’s Heart lead East is surprised to win with the singleton Heart Queen making it clear partner holds the Ace.  Yet East’s who count points already knew partner West has an opening hand based on the auction and East’s near-bust 2 HCP hand,  Unless the declarer plays “double-dummy” going against the odds and rises with the King, South will soon be set assuming West makes the correct lead (should South go for the unusual 4-1 split to East’s highly unlikely singleton Queen, the East player might wonder if they are exposing their cards to the declarer!)   Noting the dummy’s remaining singleton Spade and poor Club values, after winning the Heart Queen East switches to a Club and South tries the Queen to West’s King.  Despite the singleton dummy Spade, West wins Queen followed by cashing the Heart Ace and another Heart to dummy’s remaining King.  While South has the remaining tricks, the defenders earned 4 tricks to set the declarer by 1 trick.

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Happy Bridge Trails and Tales,



  1. Charles says:

    In this Polling You #70 I see that a majority (49%) have chosen to lead the jack of clubs. While this is certainly a safe lead and one I considered, I chose a trump lead instead (20%). My reasoning for leading a trump is that our side has around 17 points, leaving the opponents with only about 23 points. Yet the opponents are playing in a game contract. To me that means declarer may need to ruff losers in the dummy to make his contract and leading trumps as often as possible may defeat the contract. I would not lead the heart ace (24%) even though my partner bid the suit, since declarer could easily hold the king of hearts. Partner’s hearts could be QJ9xx and the heart lead may need to come from the North hand.

    I would love to hear some comments on why you would choose a different opening lead.

    • BridgeHands says:
      Hello BridgeHands Pollsters,
      On Poll #70 we have a competitive auction in the major suits and ponder the best lead. Here’s a recap along with your votes:
      1H – (1S) – 2H – (3H);
      P – (4S) – AP
      Holding S:.1098…H:.A105…D:.1054…C:.J1095
      what is the best lead?
      21 percent – Spade (trump)
      24 percent – Heart Ace
      6 percent – Heart 5
      1 percent – Diamond
      48 percent – Club Jack
      In Charles comment above, he shares his thoughts on why a trump lead may be superior to a “safe” top-of-sequence Club Jack lead.
      Indeed, in this competitive auction the balance of High Card Points seems be be closely balanced with the opponents bidding game based on distribution points (less than 25 HCP). Thus, the declarer probably anticipates either ruffing losers in the dummy or promoting a side suit. Either way, most of the time the defenders should be able to soon regain the lead and either make a suit switch or continue leading trumps to minimize ruffing potential in the dummy.
      That said, on a bad day it is possible the declarer has a Heart loser that might soon be pitched on a winner in the dummy. Perhaps the declarer has the Spade AKQxx and the dummy holds:
      Assuming partner holds the Club Ace and King, you certainly would want to quickly cash your winners in Hearts and Clubs before the declarer had an opportunity to pitch those losers on the dummy’s Diamond suit. In this scenario, lead a Spade to declarer’s Ace would allow a quick return of a potential singleton Diamond to dummy and the defender’s would say goodbye to two winners in their Heart/Club suits as the declarer quickly pitched two losers on the dummy Diamond King and Queen.
      Bottom line, defense is a thinking game combined with a modicum of good fortune (luck). In an auction like the one above, most of the time the overcalling opponents will be looking for multiple ruffs to make the contract with side suit pitches falling into a distant second position. In our future episodes, we will explore more situations where reducing the declarers ruffing power provides a potent defense strategy.
      Happy Bridge Trails, Michael
  2. n74tg says:

    In hand #1 during the bidding phase, you state “south has 6 losers (2 clubs, 3 hearts, 1 diamond) making a game try in hearts.”

    South’s hand is S A54 H T9865 D AQ4 C AQ, which I count as 2 spade losers, 3 heart, 1 diamond, 1 club, total of 7 losers, and with north’s presumed 9 losers from his simple raise, this should remove south’s desire to make a help suit game try.

    Is my above reasoning correct?


    • BridgeHands says:
      Hello n74tg,
      Once we’ve found a fit, here’s our losers:
      S A54 = 2
      H T9865 = 3
      D AQ4 = 1
      C AQ = 0
      Total = 6 LTC, perfect for a Help Suit Game Try
      So unlike the AQx in Diamonds that does indeed have a loser for the third card (beneath the value of Queen), in Clubs we do not count a loser for the
      “tight” Ace-Queen doubleton.
      Happy Bridging,

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