Polling You #72, Passive Leads Against Suit Contracts, Day 3

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In our prior episode we progressed from the basics of opening leads against suit contracts to active and more aggressive leads in situations where we need to capture our tricks before the declarer magically makes them disappear!   In this lesson, we explore situations where we may be rewarded for making a more passive lead avoid giving away tricks deserved by our side.

Click here to view Part 1 of the video commentary

Passive Defense Situations when declarer is in a suit contract:

  1. Partner gives us clear lead direction
    1. Partner opened/overcalled a major suit (5+)
    2. Partner doubled the opponent’s artificial bid (Stayman, Transfer, cuebid)
  2. Trump lead reduces opponents ruffing ability
  3. Safe sequence lead is best (Ace from Ace-King, top of sequence, etc.)
  4. Opponents have minimal strength (partscore)
  5. Partner not likely to hold a helpful honor (bust)
  6. Declarer (Right Hand Opponent) bid strongly but not in a slam suit contract
    1. Opens 1 Notrump (15-17), rebids 2 Notrump (18-19), opens 2 NT (20-21)
    2. Opener reverses as:  1C – 1H; 2D… (17+ points)
    3. Opener strong jump shift as:  1D – 1H; 3C… (19-21 points)

As always, thoughtful defenders should attentively listen to the auction.  Even aside from the bidding, shrewd defenders monitor the opponents’ mannerisms, gestures and the like.   And when it comes to assessing the bidding and play of the hand against a suit contract, here is our short list of extras to consider when making leads:

  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 72, Hand 1

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


West North East South
      2 ♣
Pass 2 Pass 2
Pass 3 Pass 4 ♣
Pass 4 ♠ Pass 5
All pass


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

South holds a strong 19 High Card Point hand plus at least 2 points for the two extra Hearts.  Feeling a bit frisky and figuring the Club Ace-Jack-10 compensates for the Spade Queen-doubleton, South opens a strong 2 Clubs.  North responds 2 Diamonds waiting and South starts with a 2 Heart rebid.  Despite North’s questionable three Jacks, with one in South’s trump suit and another supported by the Spade Ace, North rebids 3 Hearts “slow shows extras” instead of 4 Hearts (fast denies extras).  With North’s encouragement, South cuebids 4 Clubs showing a Club control “up the line” by suit rank.  North wants to cooperate and must bid 4 Spades to show the sole control so South elects to signoff in 5 Hearts.  Without any hidden secret honors left to show, North agrees and passes 5 Hearts.

On lead 14 High Card Points, no way will West make an active lead, opting for the Heart 5 figuring standard middle from three trump cannot hurt. After winning the Heart 8, South switches finessing West’s Spade King – low to dummy’s Jack.  Next declarer goes for a Club finesse, lowing to West who falsecards the King since playing the correct bottom of sequence Queen cannot benefit partner East who must be bust.   Passively returning a second Heart to the King, South plays a third Heart to dummy’s Jack to pull the last of the 3-1 trump split.  Now switching to a Diamond finesse through declarer’s King, a second finesse also fails.  West cashes out the Diamond Queen to set South, down 1 trick.   In retrospect, not only did declarer have poor luck with West holding an opening hand and all finesses failing but North’s 3 Heart bid was a bit aggressive with a flat 4-3-3-3 shape.

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Happy Bridge Trails and Tales, 







  1. Charles says:

    South was pretty aggressive with the 2C opening. I would never consider a 2C opener with the South hand. For me, I believe a 2C opener should promise no more than 4 losers AND at least 4 quick tricks. The South hand is light on both counts. I don’t believe that the CAJ10 makes up for a doubleton SQx either.

    North compounded the problem by bypassing 4H to cuebid 4S. North should be content to just bid the game unless South can make another move towards slam. North had already shown some extras by bidding 3H, but had nothing else of value to cooperate in a slam try.

    • Charles says:

      The other thing to keep in mind is that honors in short suits are not worth as much as honors in combination with other honors. Having two doubleton honors, SQx and DKx lessens the value of the hand also.

  2. Usha Shah says:

    I agree with Charles.

  3. BridgeHands says:
    Hello Charles and Usha,
    Yes indeed, both players overbid! Perhaps South’s 2C was a bit bold since with the side-suit Kx and Qx – too bad they were not in the same suit as KQxx. However after the auction began:
    2C – 2D;
    2H – …
    North’s 3H was a far greater overbid with a flat 4333 shape and no more than Jxx in trump, despite the Spade AJx. And if that wan’t enough, after South showed slam interest by cuebidding 4C, now North really overextended by bidding 4S!
    However, please don’t be too harsh on North-South – it was more the “doings” of BridgeHands to concoct a bidding scenario that required the correct lead to set the overly ambitious contract. Hopefully our readers will focus on the primary objectives of this lesson, considering when to make an active or passive lead based on the bidding, attributes, and other factors.
    Thanks again for pointing out the overbidding – good catch.
    Warm Regards, Michael
  4. BridgeHands says:
    Hello BridgeHands Pollsters,
    On Poll #72, we pondered when it’s best to make a passive lead defending against a suit contract. We ask our posters what to lead based on the following bidding:
    (2C) – (2D);
    (2H) – (3H);
    (4C) – (4S);
    (5H) – AP
    As opening leader we hold:
    S: K653
    H: 754
    D: AQ7
    Here’s a snapshot of your responses:
    12 percent – Spade 3
    32 percent – Heart
    12 percent – Diamond Ace
    43 percent – Club King
    2 percent – Something else
    Leading the pack, beginning with the Club King won out over leading a Heart. Interestingly, if the auction ended in 4 Hearts or 6 Hearts, splitting the Club King-Queen honors would probably be an overwhelming favorite. However making an active lead against a strong declarer might cost a critical trick against a 5 level contract. Listening to the auction, when opener rebid 4 Clubs, we judge this to be cuebidding the Club Ace. Thus, leading the King is likely to be swallowed up by South’s Ace. Yet even more troublesome is the fact that we are holding only 3 Clubs. So if an opponent holds Jack-fourth, leading the Club suit may help the declarer make the ambitious contract. Certainly holding 14 HCP, we are surprised the opponents bid beyond 4 Hearts – unless the opponents have lots of distributional points, then should not be bidding beyond game with only 26 points. True, on a “good day” your partner might hold the Club Jack with length in the suit and all is well with the Club King lead, yet as we discuss in this lesson making a passive lead is often best against a strong declarer to our right.
    Bottom line, leads are often challenging. And while we can seldom guarantee a “pat lead” will generate the setting trick, if our cogent leads generate fruitful results more often than the next player, the player sitting opposite us will be proud to bestow us the title “partner!”
    Happy Leads, Bridge Detectives,
  5. doriander says:

    in part 3 hand 4 you mention the jordan convention which to my knowledge was invented by truscott
    but it requires limit raise or better with 4 trumps
    with 3 trumps you usually xx and support latter
    thanks for the nice presentation


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