Polling You #71, Active Leads Against Suit Contracts, Day 2

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In our last episode we explored the basics of opening leads against suit contracts.   Recall the sequence leads, basic “fourth best” (from an honor) and “top of nothing” leads work often work well against both Notrump and suit contracts – provided we are not underleading an Ace. 

In this lesson, we examine situations when making an aggressive “active” lead may help us generate extra tricks.  Recall as defenders we must pay special attention to prevent the declarer from finding extra tricks through ruffs, cross-ruffs, and side-suit promotions after the declarer pulls trump.

Click here to view Part 1 of the video commentary

Free Membership – Click here to view Part 2, hands #3-4 of our video commentary

Premium/ULTRA Members – Click here to view Part 3, Hands 5-7 of our video commentary

Active Defense Situations:

  1. Opponent may setup a long side suit
  2. Opponent may setup ruffs/cross-ruffs, etc.
  3. Opponents are in a high-level contract (5+ level)
  4. Partnership tenaces (finesses) are in jeopardy
  5. Desperate times call for desperate measures!

While active leads have their place, here are some situations to consider when making an aggressive lead may not be wise:

  1. Partner give clear lead direction
    1. Partner opened, overcalled a major suit (thus 5+ card suit), doubled an artificial bid by the opponents
  2. Trump lead reduced opponents ruffing ability
  3. Safe sequence lead is best (as Ace from Ace-King)
  4. Opponents have minimal strength (part score contract)
  5. Partner cannot hold helpful honor
  6. Right Hand Opponent (declarer) bid strongly, but not in a slam contract
    1. Open 1 Notrump (15-17), rebid 2 Notrump (18-19), open 2 Notrump (20-21)
    2. Opener reverses as: 1C – 1H; 2D … (17+ points)
    3. Opener makes a strong jump shift as: 1D – 1H; 3C… (19+ points)

Of course, as thoughtful defenders both the opening leader and partner should be attentively listening to the auction, including mannerisms, gestures and the like made by the opponents.   At the top of our short list, leading against suit contracts includes:

  1. count, Count, COUNT and Think 
  2. Count points
  3. Count Distribution
  4. Count Tricks (auction level)
  5. Integrate auction inferences into partnership plan

Polling You #71, Hand 1

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

K Q 5 4
♣ Q 5 3

West North East South
1 ♠
Pass 2 Pass 2 ♠
Pass 3 ♠ Pass 4 ♠
All pass

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

South opens 1 Spade with 14 High Card Points plus 2 distribution points for a great 6 card long suit.  North responds 2 Hearts with 15 HCP, also with an excellent Heart suit (although the worthless 3-3 in the minors is a negative).  South rebids 2 Spades which may or may not show a 6 card suit depending on partnership agreements.  With an Ace-doubleton, North rebids 3 Spades and South signs off in 4 Spades with no interest in slam (Heart misfit).

With 8 HCP, West figures declarer may get pitches on dummy’s 5+ card Heart suit and partner East could hold a useful minor suit honor. Leading the Club 2, luck is with the defenders when East produces the Ace.  East returns the Club 7 (top of doubleton remaining count), ducked by South to West’s Jack.  Just in case South held a Club doubleton, West first wins the Diamond Ace before cashing the Club King to set declarer one trick before declarer could pitch losers on dummy’s Hearts.

Polling You #71, Hand 2

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

West North East South
3 ♣
Pass 3 Pass 4 ♣
Pass 5 ♣ All pass

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

South preemptively open 3 Clubs with a solid 7 card suit and a questionable stiff Heart King.  Sure enough, North responds 3 Hearts a forcing bid with hopes partner South has a three card suit (or honor doubleton) – nothing like a double fit in Hearts and Clubs.  With a problematic Heart singleton, South rebids 4 Clubs wondering if 4 Hearts might be best with a great honor albeit a singleton.  Not wanting to miss game with Club support and 3 useful controls (2 major suit Aces and a singleton Diamond, North presses on to 5 Clubs.

On lead and hearing of North’s Heart suit, West lads the Spade 2 through North’s strength, won with the Ace and East encouraging with the Spade 8.  Declarer plays a low Heart to South’s singleton King and decides to ruff losers by returning a Diamond to East’s King.  East returns the Spade 4 to West’s King and plays a third Spade that is ruffed by South.  Next declarer plays a low Club, ducked by West (in case East holds a singleton King) to the dummy’s 8.  On the second Club, East pitches a Diamond and West win’s the Club Ace to set the South by one trick before the declarer could pitch a loser on the dummy’s Heart Ace.

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Happy Bridge Trails and Tales,



  1. Jeff Holst says:

    I think that West misdefended after winning his club Ace. If he now leads his last club, declarer can not discard one diamond on his heart Ace, but he still has to lose one. On the actual heart retern, declarer gets to discard one on his heart Ace and the ruff the other. This contract should be down 2, not 1.

    • BridgeHands says:
      Hello Jeff,
      Regarding hand #2, trick #7, the remaining cards are:
      At this point, declarer South has 4 tricks. After winning the Club Ace, even if West should return the C7, dummy North wins the C9, cashes the HA with South pitching a Diamond and wins thre more Clubs in the South hand. Making five of the last six tricks plus the prior 4 tricks (only losing one Diamond), declarer South makes 9 tricks either way. If you have further feedback and believe we’re missing something feel free to provide additional information.
      Warm Regards, Michael
  2. gbear999 says:

    Interesting problem on the Polling You #71. Of the 5 choices given, only the lead of a low spade will defeat the contract with the cards as shown in Hand #2.. The most popular lead of the Diamond Jack (42%) allows declarer to make the contract. Even the lead of the Club Ace, unless the opening leader then switches to a low spade, allows the contract to make.

  3. BridgeHands says:
    Hello BridgeHands Pollsters,
    On Poll #71, we present the following bidding scenario:
    Opponents bid: (3C) – (3H); (4C) – (5C)
    What do you lead from: S:.K1052..H:.43…D:.J1097…C:.A72
    The initial results of our polls was:
    24 percent – Spade 2
    16 percent – Heart 4
    43 percent – Diamond Jack
    15 percent – Club Ace and another Club
    3 percent – Club 2
    So while this focus of this lesson was on active leads, most of our responders opted to go with the safe “top of sequence” lead of the Diamond Jack rather than the more active/aggressive lead of the Spade 2. True, leading away from a Spade honor may not guarantee success yet we should not expect South to hold the Spade Ace when opening 3 Clubs. And if the opponents are allowed to quickly pitch Spade losers on the dummy’s Hearts, it is possible that our potential Spade winners might go away. Of course, no lead strategy is guaranteed to work every time. But if our leads are well reasoned and work most of the time, we will have earned our keep (and hopefully judged to be a “keeper” by our partner)!
    Lead away Bridge Friends, Michael
    • Rags says:

      I would lead my doubleton

      • BridgeHands says:
        Hi Rags,
        While leading a side suit doubleton might work when your partner may hold the Ace and another quick winner, the odds are low when:
        1. We hold 8 HCP and North seems to hold a good hand (based on forcing bids)
        2. The doubleton (Heart) suit was bid by an opponent at the 3 level – making it even less likely to be the correct bid.
        Please see hand #2 above for an explanation of the best bid – at least on the illustrative cards given to each player in our prepared hand.
        Warm Regards,

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