Polling You #73, Trump Leads, Day 4

Trump Leads in Bridge

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Finally it’s time to delve into trump leads.   Candidly, isn’t it true that deep down inside we love to make a trump lead?  For some reason there’s a thrill associated with beginning play in the opponent’s trump suit as if, “Okay, you want that suit to be trump… here you go, just try to trump this!”   Yet hopefully our more logical left brain cautions us against unilaterally following the urge. 

 In Mike Lawrence’s book “Opening Leads” he aptly pointed out, “…it’s right 20 percent of the time, it won’t matter 30 percent of the time, and leading trump will be wrong about 50 percent of the time.”  So when in doubt, we are certainly far better off NOT leading a trump.  Yet following some basic guidelines we can certainly do far better than always going one way or the other.

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Certainly the most obvious reason we might want to lead trump is to cut down on the declarer’s ruffing opportunity.   Here are some of the top scenarios where leading a trump might generate extra tricks for the defenders:

  1. You have a longer trump suit than the declarer, particularly in a minor suit.
  2. The declarer has side suit loser length and the dummy hand is short in the suit, allowing the declarer to ruff losers in an auction as:
    1H – 3H; 4H – AP
  3. The opponents have no more than 4-4 (perhaps 4-3) in the trump suit and you hold 4 or more trumps.  It is quite common when a suit splits 4-4-4-1 that several hands will have a similar 4-4-4-1 shape or some other variation of shortness in the opponents’ hands.  Especially when your partner does not have many winners to give you ruffs, your persistent trump leads reduces the declarer’s ruffing power, making the hand appear to play in a Notrump contract.
    1H – 1S; 2D – AP
    1S – 1N; 2C – AP
    1S – 1N; 2H – 2S; AP
    1C – 1H; 1S – 2C; AP
    1C – 1D; 1S – 3S; 4S – AP
  4. Both the declarer and the dummy have shortness in different side suits, allowing cross-ruffs between the hands.  The auction might be where opener has a 14-17 points (a 6 Losing Trick Count hand), making a side suit game try and responder accepts based on shortness in the side suit:
    1S – 2S; 3D – 4S; AP
  5. Making an active/aggressive lead may finesse you or your partner, especially when the declarer has shown a strong hand in the bidding phase.
  6. Based on the bidding and deducing your hand has the remaining honors (partner likely to be bust).  Leading away from an unguarded King or Queen will probably finesse your precious honors.
  7. You hold “tight” top trump honors not useful for ruffing, as King-Queen-Jack, Queen-Jack-10, etc.  However leading a trump Ace-King doubleton will certainly not gather any honors from the opponents – let them lead the suit and knock out two of honors. Ditto with a “stiff” singleton Ace.
  8. Leading another suit seems awful, such as having to otherwise lead away from unprotected Aces, suits headed by Jacks, etc.
  9. Variations of the above include situations where opponents stole the auction with weakness, your partner passed your takeout double converting it to a penalty pass with a very long trump suit.  Typical prerequisites for a penalty pass:
    a. Little chance for game
    b. Honor strength (winning tricks) over opponent’s side suit
    c. Lacking a partnership fit
    d. Suit length in RHO’s suit.  Also, “slow tricks” are often advantageous over raw primary honor strength where your side could make a Notrump game or slam.
    e. Consideration to favorable or at least neutral vulnerability, negating the opponents’ scoring advantages should a game be possible by your side.
  10. The opponents are playing in a grandslam suit contract.

Polling You #73, Hand 1

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

South opens 1 Club with 13 High Card Points, North responding 1 Heart with a shapely 7 HCP holding that piques East with 5 Hearts in hand.  South also has a shapely 4-4-4-1 shape and rebids 1 Spade.  Sensing a poor fit, North makes a preference 2 Club signoff rebid to end the auction.  North should not rebid 2 Heart with no more than an average 5 card suit, particularly with so-so honors – rebids require a 6 card suit or a very strong 5 carder.

Without hearing the auction, West disliked the lead alternatives.  However hearing North take a Club preference and judging their apparent misfit, West wisely leads a low Club to cut down on the opponents ruffing opportunity.  South wins the Club Queen and tries finessing West for the Heart Ace with the dummy King failing to East’s Ace.  With no better play after looking at the dummy, East returns a low Spade that is won cheaply with partner West’s Jack.  Note – West should not go up with the Ace for two reasons:
1.  Partner East played a low Spade promising an honor,
2. Generally, early in the play of the hand the defenders should not “go up” playing a cover card (primary honor over RHOs honor) .
Now it’s up to West to find the correct trump lead.  Taking a moment, West should realize the trump split is 4-4-4-1 (partner played a stiff Jack).  Thus, with the King-10-8 and declarer playing the Queen, West must lead a Club honor.  Otherwise, leading the Club 8 will lose to South’s 9 spot that gives up the setting trick – spots sometimes matter.  Now South wins with the Club Ace and ruffs a Spade in dummy. Returning to the Diamond Ace in hand, South leads another Spade again ruffed with dummy’s final trump.  With two remaining trump and another two outstanding including the Club King, declarer leads a low Heart from dummy and ruffs in hand.  With West owning the last four tricks, South goes down one trick attributable to West tenaciously tapping declarer’s trump to avoid cross ruffs coupled with playing the Spade Jack instead of blindly playing the Ace, third hand high.

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Happy Bridge Trails and Tales,





  1. BridgeHands says:
    Hello BridgeHands Pollsters,
    On Poll #73, we inquired about when it’s desirable to lead trump and received the following feedback:
    In what situation/s is it desirable to make a trump lead? Choose the best answer
    18 percent – The opponents have a poor trump fit (4-3) and apparent misfits in other suits
    23 percent – The dummy holds a short side suit
    7 percent – You have solid trumps as: K-Q-J or Q-J-10-x
    1 percent – Spades are trump and you hold: xxx…Axxx…Jxx…AJx
    50 percent – All of the above
    Most of our pollsters liked the notion of leading trump in all four of the scenarios while those in second place would prefer to do so only when the dummy has trump and a short side suit, clearly making a proactive effort to avoid dummy ruffs. Slightly behind in third pace were those who liked the idea of leading a trump when the opponents didn’t seem to have a strong fit, potentially cross-ruffing their side-suit misfits. While under 10 percent, some preferred only to lead trump from an honor-bound sequence in trump itself. Finally, a minority only liked the idea of leading trump when leading other suits were completely undesirable (leading away from an Ace or Jack-third).
    While each of these trump lead situations are generally desirable, we certainly relate to those that might feel one of situations stands out above the others. The main notion is to: listen carefully to the auction, evaluate our assets (length, strength, safe/risky leads), and evaluate inferences based the auction (assets held by opponents and partner). And while trump leads are not normally our preferred choice, knowing when and why to lead a trump will definitely give you an edge. After all, most of the time maximizing our defender tricks rests solely on finding the best lead.
    Good luck to our “leading” pollsters,

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