Main   Analyses 7V72 by Richard Pavlicek  

Leading for the Gold

There must be something wrong with my TV set. I can’t find any more bobsleds, or even Bob Costas! Oh, well. All good things come to an end. The Salt Lake Olympics are history. Fortunately, I was able to hire one of the French judges to score my contest this month. So, if you thought you had no chance to win, don’t worry! Now you can be sure of it.

Problem 123456Final Notes

During the month of February 2002, these six opening-lead problems were published on the Internet as a contest. All bridge players were invited to submit their answers. As West on each problem, all you had to is choose your opening lead from the choices offered.

Kieran Dyke Wins!

This contest had 754 participants from 102 locations, and the average score was 42.75. Congratulations to Kieran Dyke (New South Wales, Australia) who was the first of two to post the winning score of 58. Second place, the other 58, went to Bob Simkins (Dothan, Alabama US). Close behind in third place was Radu Mihai (Bucharest, Romania) with 57. Radu also became the new overall leader, edging out Walter Lee. Fourth place went to Barbara Reichman (California US) with 56, and fifth place went to… um… someone in the kitchen fixing my dinner… yes, Mabel Pavlicek — an excellent player who taught me well. (That should be worth at least four great dinners.)

Unless otherwise noted, the bidding is standard, and you use standard leads. For a reference on these agreements, see my summary of Standard American Bridge. It is also assumed that the opponents are experts.

Enter the Murky Waters

The subject of opening leads is far more subjective than other play and defense problems. Without dummy in view, it is difficult to determine the theoretically correct solution because of the myriad of possible layouts. Nonetheless, I made a serious attempt to broach the murky waters by doing a computer simulation on each problem — except Problem 6, which wasn’t a good candidate. I think you will find the results interesting. I certainly did.

Each problem offered six plausible opening leads. The merit of each is scored on a 1-to-10 scale based on the simulation, my judgment and the voting consensus. I tried to keep a fair balance of these factors. A perfect score is 60, but don’t worry about that — nobody got one, and certainly not this writer.

I decided to make all the problems at IMPs, or “real bridge” as most experts would agree, rather than try to justify leads that might be right only at matchpoints. Indeed, some would argue that “right at matchpoints” is an oxymoron — in fact, it may rank right there with “Olympic Bridge” if you catch my snow drift.

TopMain

Problem 1

IMPs
 
N-S Vul West

Pass
All Pass
NORTH
Pass
2 NT
East
Pass
Pass
South
1 NT
3 NT
S 10 8 4 2
H A 10 9 3
D 9 8
C Q J 4
Table
3 NT South

Your lead?Sets/1000AwardVotesPercent
S 24721014820
S 845898611
D 94318304
C Q3977223
H 3355626135
H 10354520727

I chose this problem to try to prove or disprove the theory that at IMPs it is “always right” to lead your best suit at notrump. The auction makes it clear the opponents have bid a close game, probably without a long suit. Therefore, I would lead a spade because it is safer than a heart, while it still has some attacking advantage. Clearly, the majority (62 percent) did not agree, preferring the traditional heart.

Simulation 1

To try to find the truth, I created 1000 random layouts (well, my computer did) to fit the conditions. I gave South a maximum-range 1 NT opening (16-17 HCP) and North 8-9 HCP with no four-card or longer major (except any 4-3-3-3 shape was allowed), at most nine cards in the minors, and no six-card or longer minor — the last is not assured, of course, but it would be quite unusual for dummy to have a six-bagger on the given auction. Then I set my solving program to work. Even with my 2 GHz machine, I had it running overnight a lot; but the CPU is like the old Timex watch, “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” The right-most column in the above table shows the number of times each lead defeated 3 NT with double-dummy play.

The results are quite convincing against the heart lead, but the obvious question is how a double-dummy analysis would relate to actual play. I would assume that all the numbers would be slightly higher in practice because double-dummy play favors declarer (he gets to make the first move after the forced lead). Would double-dummy play favor one lead over another? It’s hard to say, but I think a heart lead might fare even worse in practice. For example, consider this deal (#180 in the simulation):

IMPs
N-S Vul
S A J 6
H Q 8 7 6
D Q 7 3
C 10 8 3
Trick
1 W
2 S
3 E
4 S
5 S
6 S
7 N
8 S
Lead
D 9
S 3
C 9
C A?
S Q?
S 7?
D 7?
C 2
2nd
3
2
K
J
4
8
10
Q
3rd
5
J
4
8
6
A
A
10
4th
J
K
3
5
5
9
8
6
S 10 8 4 2
H A 10 9 3
D 9 8
C Q J 4
Table S K 9 5
H J 5
D K 10 5 4 2
C 9 6 5



3 NT South
S Q 7 3
H K 4 2
D A J 6
C A K 7 2

This was analyzed as a failure for every lead since declarer can always make 3 NT, but after a non-heart lead declarer must do some fancy footwork — essentially, not lead hearts (or once toward the queen only) and endplay West with the third club after cashing two diamonds to force a heart lead. Would you find that play? I don’t think so, and neither would I. Hence, in practice this deal would really be a success for any lead except a heart.

Many will dislike my scoring of this problem, but because of the simulation, I will stand by my convictions and give the top award to the S 2. Leading the S 8 is a close second, but as the simulation revealed, it will cost a trick in some layouts by leaving you naked in the spade suit. One might argue that the information it conveys to partner would compensate for the loss, but I don’t buy that.

The only outcome that surprised me in this simulation is that the H 3 beat the H 10. In common cases, the H 3 gains when declarer has four cards and the spot cards become an issue; while the 10 gains when dummy has J-x-x and partner Q-x-x, or by unblocking the suit when partner has five cards. I would have guessed the latter cases are more likely — and I’m still not convinced otherwise (one case out of 1000 is almost meaningless). Nonetheless, since the consensus preferred the H 3, the PavCo Network will follow in the “Florida Goes to Gore” footsteps and give it the edge. Also note that I was generous in the scoring because of the large vote for heart leads.

Comments for the S 2

Kieran Dyke: Feels fairly safe and passive, with some chance of establishing some tricks.

Bob Simkins: Lead something that is fairly safe when they creep up there. Second place goes to the D 9.

Chris Willenken: I hate leading from four card suits headed by the ace, especially against an auction which suggests passivity.

Gareth Birdsall: Leading from a doubleton is often less passive than it appears, so I lead a spade.

Robert Katz: Dummy probably has 9 HCP (possibly a good 8 with a source of tricks); thus partner has 7-9 HCP. Generally, on such auctions it is essential not to give away a trick on the opening lead. Anything could be successful. …

Thomas Peters: Safer than a heart but with potential to establish a trick. I might lead a heart against 1 NT 3 NT, but this bidding suggests the contract may fail on its own if I am patient and don’t give up any freebies. Since only South is likely to have majors, my 4-4 holding is a good sign for us.

Dirk Enthoven: With two potential entries I take my chances. No major bid by responder; nothing else is attractive. …

Kevin Costello: The hearts seem to be a lovely suit to lead — if partner does the leading.

Lance Marrou: The auction begs for a major-suit lead, and I choose the one most likely to develop an extra trick and not give anything away.

Herbert Wilton: Partner knows I’m making a conservative lead on this bidding, so no need to risk the lead of the S 8. Of course, a heart could work (and on this sequence the 10 would be best), but it may also give away the ninth trick.

Stephen Turner: [With the] opponents limited, I must find passive lead. … A spade least likely to give away a trick.

Venkatesh Ramaratnam: One of the prime considerations in a limited auction is not to concede a free trick. The D 9 is a strong candidate, but I prefer a spade because it gives a better blend between offense and defense. …

Christopher Miller: I prefer to lead the suit where I don’t have an ace, other things being equal.

Micki Kaufman: No transfer or Stayman bid, so a major is the best lead. I would like to get a look at dummy before leading hearts.

Sergey Kustarov: A passive attacking lead.

Jelmer Hasper: Aggressive or passive? That is the question. The opponents seem to have two balanced hands, so I’ll go for the passive spade lead. Until now I have spent my whole life giving away contracts like this by leading a heart. No doubt, partner will now have five hearts, and declarer will have nine tricks from the top. Story of my life.

David Davies: Looks right to lead a major. If playing on spades is correct, it is more likely that they have to be led now. We can probably switch to hearts later, and maybe they will be better played from partner.

Jon Bjornsson: … It is risky to lead from the H A, so I pick a spade.

Michael Scanlon: A heart lead feels too aggressive against this auction; a minor-suit lead feels wrong.

William Slepin: Partner likely has 7 points. If he has a spade honor and a heart honor, we may get one club, two hearts and two spades; but I need to keep my two entries for the second spade trick.

Dave Maeer: I don’t really want to count this as a weak suit. If partner has as little as J-x-x, I probably need him to hammer away at spades to get the fifth trick. The last thing I want on this auction is hopeful switches to diamonds. …

Daniel Korbel: Seems like a good mix between passive and aggressive. On an auction like this it’s less likely that declarer has an easy nine tricks unless we find the killing attack.

Eric Leong: The auction reveals that the opponent’s don’t have a clear idea where their tricks are coming from. Since dummy has more cards in the minors than the majors, I lead a major. I choose a spade lead instead of a heart because it seems least likely to kick a trick, it will preserve my heart entry, and may ultimately lead to the setting trick.

Bogdan Vulcan: I think that if we can [run] hearts, this will happen anyway, no matter what I lead, since I hold a club stopper. A spade lead may set up unexpected tricks in that major.

Eric Taylor: Since the opponents are in a thin game, I suspect a passive lead is best.

Peter Gill: The more passive major because they crept into 3 NT. I would lead the H 10 versus 1 NT 3 NT.

Walter Lee: I want to lead a major, and I want to be passive. The S 8 is too valuable to lead, and misleading partner doesn’t look like a big deal.

Peter Schwartz: A major-suit lead is clear-cut. I choose a spade rather than a heart because their contract is probably shaky, and I do not want to sacrifice a trick.

Bruce Scott: I try to lead a major against this auction. It seems better to leave the heart suit alone and hope it serves as an entry. … The C Q should get the booby prize; if I were setting up the problem, you could be sure that dummy is tracking with C K-10-x-x-x opposite A-x.

Bill Haughie: [The auction] doesn’t call for an attacking lead [since] the opponents have no extra values. The important thing is not to give away an extra trick on the lead. [I am] aiming for a deep spade trick. …

Craig Satersmoen: Using the heart and club entries to set up the long spade.

Jack Lacy: Combination of aggressive and passive. The bidding indicates it is a close game.

Comments for the S 8

Douglas Dunn: Leading a high spade should help partner decide about a heart switch.

Mark LaForge: Partner has some stuff, and I see no reason to lose a trick [with a heart lead].

Giles Woodruff: Seems clear to lead a major. The S 8 might be better than the S 2 in case dummy has, say, Q-9-x and declarer A-J. (Yes, partner could play low with K-x-x-x anyway, but it takes the pressure off.) Also, I don’t really want a spade return most of the time.

Joe Steel: [I prefer this] by a whisker over the S 2, hoping partner will focus on the heart switch when in, rather than expect a mighty spade holding.

Dima Nikolenkov: Leading fourth best from the ace has seldom worked for me.

Alan Kravetz: For a slightly pushy game, let’s not give declarer something he could not get otherwise: an unearned heart trick.

Kent Feiler: At IMPs, when opponents tiptoe into game rather than blasting into game, I tend to make passive leads. If they’d jumped to 3 NT, I might try a heart.

Michael Clark: The non-use of Stayman indicates a major suit, and the limited bidding indicates a need to be passive. A heart lead could cost the ninth trick, so I’ll go with a spade. I lead the eight because I don’t want partner to think I have much.

Leigh Gold: I prefer passive leads when the opponents are in doubt over their contract (they look like they barely have the points for it).

Hmm. Leigh Gold?… Leading for the Gold? Close enough. You win!

Thijs Veugen: A heart lead could give them their ninth trick, since they have just enough HCP for 3 NT. The S 2 would encourage a spade continuation from partner maybe too much.

Comments for the D 9

Leo Zelevinsky: I don’t know what to lead; I guess I’ll hope that they just don’t have the tricks to make it and be passive.

Alex Perlin: Sorry, I don’t give gifts at trick one.

Ed Freeman: The opponents pushed for a borderline game, and the missing points are split between you and partner. This is no time to be aggressive. The D 9 is the least likely to give anything away.

Paul Hankin: Trying for a passive lead. Any of the other three suits could give declarer his ninth trick immediately, on what is likely a hand where declarer has no great source of tricks.

Manuel Paulo: South will play without extra values; so I choose the card that is least likely to cost a trick.

Michael Day: Since the opponents have stretched to bid game, and I don’t have a decent five-card suit, a passive lead may work best. Thus, I’ll try the D 9 (though I suspect that a heart may prove to be the more popular choice).

Vali Enache: Let declarer do his own work; I will lay low on this tentative auction. If it went 1 NT 3 NT, that’s a different story.

Mark Rishavy: I [often] get hyperaggressive on opening leads and give away the contract, so I’ll try the safest lead here. The opponents don’t have extra strength, so an aggressive lead may not be needed. …

TopMain

Problem 2

IMPs
 
E-W Vul West

1 S
All Pass
North

3 C1
East

Pass
SOUTH
1 C
3 NT
S K J 10 6 5
H J 10 8 4
D A K 3
C 4
Table
3 NT South

1. limit raise

Your lead?Sets/1000AwardVotesPercent
D K5841022530
H J409821028
H 43787669
S J304614319
S 62855537
S K2612578

Even though the D K got the most single votes, the preferred suit was a heart (37 percent) followed next by a spade (34 percent). I was also a heart leader — the key word being “was” because the simulation certainly changed my outlook. Hats off to the diamond leaders who had the vision to foresee this.

A heart lead seemed right to me because dummy has denied four hearts (no negative double) and it rated to be a good attack, while not costing a trick, as a spade surely would. I thought a diamond lead was too likely to help declarer, often hitting dummy’s side suit. So much for that belief!

Simulation 2

For this inquest I gave North five or six clubs and 11-12 dummy points without four hearts, and I eliminated freakish shapes that would be unlikely to pass 3 NT. I gave South a balanced hand with 14 HCP (i.e., more than a bare minimum but not strong enough to open 1 NT) — obviously, South could have more if his hand were too strong for 1 NT, but that seems unlikely and probably inconsequential in the analysis. I also gave South at least one spade honor to justify the 3 NT bid.

Wow! As the table shows, it almost makes you wonder why you didn’t double before leading the D K. It is easy to see how a diamond lead could strike gold (e.g., D Q-x-x-x-x in partner’s hand), but the numbers are hard to believe. Indeed, a closer look reveals the bias: After a diamond lead, West retains the lead, hence he can always make the best lead at trick two — in real life, the correct shift (or continuation) might not be obvious. In other words, the double-dummy advantage switches to the defense because West gets the first move. Therefore, the successes for the D K would drop in practice, while others would go up slightly.

Another significant factor is that declarer may have a diamond guess. He could never go wrong at double-dummy, so telegraphing the D A-K has little to lose when he knows you have it anyway; but in actual play, not revealing the D A-K will sometimes gain. It’s hard to say how much the bias would affect the numbers, but surely it would be impossible to overcome the 175-deal margin. Hence, there is no doubt that the D K deserves the top award.

The traditional spade lead fared worst, predictably I think, but it was interesting to see the differences in the choice of card. The standard lead of the jack fared the best, which seems logical to me — at least I couldn’t bear the agony of leading the S 6 and seeing declarer win the nine, with partner unable to gain the lead.

Would you like to be a hero? Then the S K is the choice. Yes, you might make the local newspaper, but in real life the dummy never has a singleton queen. In fact, the last time I saw someone try this, his partner had the ace. Imagine this deal (#181 in the simulation):

IMPs
E-W Vul
S 9 7 2
H A
D 10 7 6 2
C K Q 10 9 6
Trick
1 W
2 E
Lead
S K?
S 8
2nd
2
Q
3rd
A
5
4th
3
7
S K J 10 6 5
H J 10 8 4
D A K 3
C 4
Table S A 8
H 7 6 5 3
D J 8 5
C 8 7 3 2



3 NT South
S Q 4 3
H K Q 9 2
D Q 9 4
C A J 5

Then imagine having to explain to your teammates how you led the only card to let 3 NT make. Well, it’s not the only card; the D 3 isn’t so cool either. Stop chasing rainbows! People who make these plays are usually fodder for the opposition. Hmm… Is that why a “hero” is also a submarine sandwich? Note that any sensible lead (including a heart) defeats the contract.

This deal also illustrates the main advantage of a diamond lead. Essentially it combines chances by keeping all three suits in the picture; the real decision is postponed until trick two. On this deal, even if West guesses wrong and shifts to a heart, declarer cannot succeed.

Comments for the D K

Kieran Dyke: Get an attitude signal, and maybe reconsider at trick two. If I needed to set up my spades before the diamond cards were knocked out, unlucky.

Bob Simkins: The right balance between aggressiveness and safety.

Chris Willenken: A diamond preserves the possibility of beating the contract in any of three suits, but I believe that D Q-x-x-x-x is my best chance.

Gareth Birdsall: Declarer seems certain to win the race if I lead a spade and he has both A-Q. So I lead a diamond, which requires just a pointed-suit queen from partner.

Douglas Dunn: [I’ll] have a look at dummy, then [decide]. If dummy has strong diamonds, partner can give suit preference [between hearts and spades].

Grant Peacock: If a spade or heart is really the killing lead, which doesn’t seem too likely, then there’s a good chance it will still work at trick two. If South opened 1 C instead of 1 NT because he has shortness, the odds are that shortness is in diamonds.

Len Vishnevsky: I have time to shift to spades if partner has an honor, and partner might have D Q-x-x-x-x.

Kevin Costello: Partner is marked with next-to-nothing, and declarer with likely eight tricks (one spade, two hearts and five clubs). If declarer has S A-Q, a spade lead gives a ninth trick. If partner has the S Q, declarer can’t develop any new tricks by losing the lead only once, so I needn’t lead spades. The [choice] comes down to hearts and diamonds, and I prefer the diamond. If partner encourages… lovely; if not, I still have time to hope he has the S Q.

Herbert Wilton: Not many points for partner to hold. The main chance is that diamonds will run (and that we have the defensive signals to exploit that). Failing that, there probably is still time to make the right switch.

Leo Zelevinsky: I don’t think I would ever have figured out to lead the D K at the table, but here in review it looks reasonable — maybe partner signals violently and we take the first five diamond tricks. …

Alex Perlin: Queen-fifth of spades in partner’s hand won’t beat this contract, but queen-fifth of diamonds would.

Venkatesh Ramaratnam: The opponents rate to have at most one stopper in one of the three suits. The D K gives me more time and information to find that suit.

Michael Kanigsberg: All partner needs is D Q-x-x-x-x and a 3-2 break. That’s as much as I can play him for.

Christopher Miller: Partner probably has no more than 3 HCP, so declarer may well have nine running tricks (almost certainly does if partner has the S Q). Hope for D Q-x-x-x-x in partner’s hand.

Patricia Christie: Let’s have a look. Maybe there’ll be a chance for two diamond tricks and a diamond ruff.

Make that a very slim chance. Obviously, Pat misread the auction, but I had to share this.

Jon Bjornsson: I want to see the board. South [probably] has S A-Q, so if he also has the H A and six club tricks, the contract is there if I lead a spade. Partner may have five or six diamonds to the queen (or the jack if the queen drops).

Horia Garbea: My second lead may be spade or a heart, after I see dummy’s cards and partner’s signal.

Ed Freeman: Given the bidding of clubs by both, I know they have no more than four diamonds in either hand, and probably three or fewer in each. What I don’t know is whether to go after hearts, spades or diamonds; so I can afford to buy a look with the D K.

Michael Scanlon: I’ll take a look at dummy first; especially since this is a play contest, so I won’t have to worry about what to lead at trick two.

Neil Morgenstern: Partner might just have D Q-x-x-x-x. … [and this] gives me a chance to switch. Of course, it may lose a tempo; but declarer is likely to have nine to run. …

Gerald Cohen: Don’t like my chances if declarer has two spade stoppers. Who knows, I might even know what to lead at trick two, and it might not be too late. …

Stu Goodgold: The clubs are running and partner has few values. The best hope is to find him with length in diamonds and the D Q.

Eric Leong: Declarer may have nine top tricks but for our side cashing five top diamonds. If a diamond continuation doesn’t look right, I can always go back to spades.

Bogdan Vulcan: Leading spades seems very risky, giving up a vital trick when declarer holds A-Q (he might have five clubs, two hearts and two spades). Declarer doesn’t seem to have both hearts and diamonds, but it’s not clear. …

Peter Gill: [This] can cash our five (six?) diamond tricks, or [I can] switch to the right suit.

Alex Dov: The Polish rule: If the opponents have an agreed minor and bid notrump, the other minor is yours.

Cynthia Powell: … This tells partner my spade suit is broken, which was the reason I didn’t lead it originally.

Walter Lee: When in doubt, cash out.

Gerry Wildenberg: The hardest problem in the set. … The interesting part is that I’ll be squeezed on the run of the clubs, so I’ve convinced myself that the best chance is run diamonds. …

Rick Bibby: They have shown a long suit to run, and I like the “let’s get our tricks now” approach.

Manuel Paulo: I begin to unblock, take a look at the dummy, interpret partner’s signal, and prepare to discard on clubs.

Bill Jacobs: For this not to work, it has to blow a tempo (where declarer needs a diamond trick), and I can guess which major, and which card, to lead. The guessing will be a bit easier at trick two. Meanwhile, what’s to stop us taking five diamond tricks on the go?

Kent Feiler: I changed my mind three times: I started with a heart and then couldn’t figure out what I’d pitch on five rounds of clubs; it seemed as though declarer would easily be able to endplay me if he had the S A-Q. So then I decided that, since I was going to be endplayed anyway, to hope partner had a spade honor and lead a small spade. But if partner has a spade honor, I don’t need two diamond entries, so I may as well begin with the D K and give us the extra chance of running five diamonds off the top.

Robert Johnson: Declarer may be trying to steal a game, banking on a spade lead while wide open in diamonds.

Michael Clark: I can’t really see any hope in leading spades. Declarer will win, and I’ll no doubt have to throw a lot of them on the clubs. Let’s see if partner has a diamond honor or two. I can always go back to spades if I see the stiff queen in dummy!

Manoj Kumar Nair: I hate these “look at dummy” leads, but this one looks clear-cut. They may have five clubs, three hearts and a spade to hit the tape [from the] start. If partner has a spade honor and no interest in diamonds, he will surely signal for a shift. Against standard bidding, the “other minor” theory usually pays.

Harold Simon: Partner is broke, so is D Q-x-x-x-x (or J-x-x-x-x with the doubleton queen falling) too much to ask? This could easily lose a tempo, but it looks like South has 9-10 tricks with any other lead.

Rob Stevens: … This is clear technically and psychologically. It’s very damaging to morale to lead a spade, give declarer his ninth trick, and find instead that you could have run six diamonds. So, if I have to let them make it on the wrong lead, I’d prefer a wrong D K than a wrong spade. …

Thomas Hanford: A spade lead is out; it could give away the ninth trick. They are going to run five or six club tricks at us, so I need a quick strike. The heart suit is too ragged; diamonds may be the Achilles heel.

Michael Day: Partner is practically broke. To set 3 NT, it seems he must hold either (1) D Q-x-x-x-x or better, (2) the S Q, (3) S 9-x-x or better with the stiff queen in dummy or (4) the H K with the H Q in dummy. Leading the D K [caters to each of] these unlikely chances.

Shyam Sashital: … [I see] no point in trying to guess which major is better before having a look at dummy. After all, South will be busy setting up clubs, so a diamond lead is unlikely to help his cause.

Sandy Barnes: Lets take a look at dummy, and see what partner thinks about diamonds. It’s not likely I am losing a tempo with this lead.

Comments for the H J

Robert Katz: … Declarer can take one spade, five or six clubs, and no diamonds. Hopefully, we can develop hearts to beat the contract. If partner has a runnable diamond suit, there should be time for a shift later.

Lance Marrou: It’s too dangerous to lead a spade; I’ll let partner do that. If I had no eight-spot in hearts, I would lead the D K to take a look at dummy.

Stephen Turner: A spade lead is almost certain to give away a trick. Partner is marked with some hearts, and clubs are breaking badly, so go passive.

Giles Woodruff: They are prepared for a spade lead, so [I’ll] try somewhere else. [It] could be right to lead a diamond in case they have one spade, three hearts and five clubs, but that’s a bit of a long shot. It seems more likely that a heart might build some tricks.

Carlos Dabezies: Partner is likely to have only one entry. I hope to make five tricks in the red suits, or maybe four plus a spade. …

Daniel Korbel: A spade lead is out, since I can almost count nine tricks for declarer (assuming he has the S A-Q). A diamond lead could strike gold, but unless the opponents have the H A-K-Q or six running clubs, I’ll get another chance.

Paul Hankin: Playing partner for a heart honor, four or five hearts and a well placed H 9. I lead the jack (rather than the four) because I am going to have to find discards on the clubs, so I should leave partner with a heart honor.

Stephen McDevitt: It seems as though partner will have to get in once to set the contract, and he rates to have one entry at most from the bidding. … It’s safer then to start with the H J and hope for a spade shift by partner…

Arend Bayer: With five tricks in clubs and one in spades, declarer looks short of tricks (unless he has H A-K-Q), so leading a spade into the probable A-Q looks inadvisable.

James Geist: The ninth trick may be hard to come by, and I don’t want to give declarer an undeserved S Q. Partner is odds-on to hold at least three hearts.

Jojo Sarkar: North’s absence of a negative double denies four hearts, so this should be a good shot (South probably has the S A-Q). If I didn’t have the H 8, I’d lead the H 4.

Jonathan Siegel: I am a little worried that declarer has eight tricks and will run away with the contract if I lead a spade.

Rik ter Veen: [If partner has nothing], it looks like declarer has [nine tricks:] five clubs, three hearts and the S A. The most reasonable hope is for partner to have something good in clubs or hearts. If in clubs, he can lead spades when he gets in, while a spade lead would have given away the ninth trick. If in hearts, we may be setting up hearts fast and have five tricks before declarer has nine.

Ron Zucker: Patience is a virtue.

Alex Kemeny: Give declarer some credit for the 3 NT bid. If partner has the S A or S Q, I’ll look silly, but I have to presume declarer has both.

Richard Stein: I overcalled 1 S with this suit to remind myself not to lead one. There’s no guarantee that declarer will need a diamond trick to make this contract… so attacking spades is more likely to help him than us.

TopMain

Problem 3

IMPs
 
Both Vul West

Pass
Pass
North

2 H
4 H
East

Pass
All Pass
SOUTH
1 H
3 H
S J 3
H K 7 2
D A J 8 6 4
C 8 6 4
Table
4 H South

Your lead?Sets/1000AwardVotesPercent
S J4521033044
C 440587510
H 2323626135
D A3845405
D 63082385
S 34461101

Should you attack with a spade? Or go passive with a club? Or perhaps a trump? When I created this problem, my choice was to lead a club. I thought the aggressive S J would lose on balance, i.e., the times it succeeded (establishing a trick or gaining a ruff) would not compensate for the times it lost a trick outright. I was wrong, and the consensus was right on the money. Well done!

Simulation 3

For this 1000-deal simulation I gave South five or six hearts and game-invitational strength, and North three or four hearts with a maximum single raise. I also limited North to a maximum of five spades, and I eliminated freakish deals, as then it is likely South would have gambled on game (or East might have competed). The simulation certainly changed my perspective, so from now on I’m a spade leader, too.

As usual, the numbers are suspect in correlation with actual play. In this case I see a definite bias that overrates the lead of the D A. With any other lead, declarer has the advantage of the first double-dummy decision; but after an ace lead, West gets this decision (assuming the ace is not ruffed). Hence, the number of sets from the D A would go down in practice, while others would go up slightly.

I also believe the heart lead would fare better in practice. For one reason, if trumps are 3-2 and declarer has a finesse, he would not know it is offside. Due to this bias and the large vote for a trump lead, I moved it up in the standings (ahead of the overrated D A).

Another bias is evident in the S 3 lead. This is surely overrated because, in practice, partner would sometimes misdefend since he couldn’t read it. You might wonder why I even included it, but I’ve seen written in several bridge articles that leading low from jack-doubleton (and queen-doubleton) is better than leading the honor. So much for that belief! It would never occur to me either, so I’m happy to see it only got a few votes. Bridge is tough enough without pulling tricks like that on partner.

Obviously, any example deal I showed this month would offer little in the way of valid evidence. I could make any lead the winner, and just to illustrate, here’s a cute one. What is the only lead to defeat 4 H?

IMPs
Both Vul
S K 9 7 6
H Q J 10
D
C J 9 7 5 3 2
Trick
1 W
Lead
H K!
2nd
10
3rd
8
4th
A
S J 3
H K 7 2
D A J 8 6 4
C 8 6 4
Table S Q 10 8 5
H 9 8
D 10 9 7
C A K Q 10



4 H South
S A 4 2
H A 6 5 4 3
D K Q 5 3 2
C

That’s right; only the H K lead will defeat 4 H. Of course, if you found it at the table, you’d be headed for jail.

Enough silliness. Here’s what our respondents had to say.

Comments for the S J

Kieran Dyke: The H 2 is wrong since, if we should be leading trumps, it will preclude a second round. The D A is way too speculative.

Bob Simkins: I hate this lead, but my partner is getting annoyed at my habit of leading from three small.

Gareth Birdsall: Any diamond is surely likely to cost tricks. The S J looks good since it may set up tricks or lead to a ruff.

Douglas Dunn: Fair chance of a ruff if partner has S A-x-x-x-x or K-10-x-x-x.

Robert Katz: Heart and diamond leads are out. A spade or a club could give up a trick, but the spade has the opportunity to set up a ruff.

Dirk Enthoven: This may be a winner as it gives up little and might hit pay dirt with partner.

Lance Marrou: … I hope to get a ruff with a small heart, and I hope my H K is behind declarer’s H A-Q.

Geoffrey Toon: Doubletons are often a dangerous lead, but with trump control and a spare trump for a spade ruff, it’s worth the risk.

Michael Kanigsberg: Attack!

Carlos Dabezies: It looks like the opponents have just enough to bid game. Partner is likely to have 5-7 points, so it’s worth trying for a spade ruff.

George Klemic: A club does nothing; a diamond looks dangerous not knowing the position; and a heart potentially gives up timing. I like spades because the opponents are least likely to have strength there, and it has the added advantage that we might engineer a ruff.

Neil Morgenstern: Obvious. I am likely to have a trump trick, and I can set up a ruff if partner has the S A (he should duck the first round). That will be four tricks to the good guys.

Leonard Helfgott: [I probably have a] trump entry for a potential [spade] ruff. [This is] not the time to underlead an ace, and both a club and a trump are too passive.

Gerald Cohen: Surely, partner having the S A and defending correctly is best chance.

Dave Maeer: … Clubs are too passive; diamonds are too dangerous; and I prefer not to lead trumps unless it’s very obvious.

Stu Goodgold: I need at least one trick from partner, and that is about all he rates to have. If it is the S A and he ducks the first round, I might get my ruff.

Paul Hankin: Playing for partner to have the S A and for South to have the H A; if not, we still might set it…

Stephen McDevitt: The best hope seems to be to play for the D A, H K, a spade and a spade ruff. …

Marsha Rayton: Hoping partner may have something in spades, so I can get in with H K and maybe get a ruff. …

Gabriel Ip: I hope to get a ruff if partner has S A and holds up once. When the heart finesse loses to my king, the S 3 to partner will set the contract. …

Michael Kaplan: Hoping for a ruff to go along with D A, H K, and one more.

Jojo Sarkar: Brutal problem! Clubs are out because partner must be solid in the suit for it not to cost. The D A could hand declarer the contract if it sets up an unsupported D K. The S J and H 2 were my choices, and it is just counterintuitive to lead away from the H K.

Jan Nathan: Maybe I can get a ruff, as well as the H K.

Rik ter Veen: This is a typical auction where I would ask some questions. What other game tries did opener have available? Assuming that there is relatively little distribution around the table, I might as well try to get a spade ruff.

Thomas Hanford: Trying for a spade ruff or to set up a spade trick. … The D A is out (aces are meant to take kings), and a club lead could give that suit away.

Michael Day: Partner should have 6-7 HCP, and I have control in trumps and an outside trick. So I’ll try leading the doubleton spade. On a really good day, I’ll get a ruff. On a decent day, I’ll at least avoid giving a trick. On a bad day, I should have led clubs.

Ron Zucker: Partner has some values on this auction. With the H K, I hope to get a ruff to go with partner’s spade honor, the H K and the D A. I also like the C 4, but don’t want it returned.

Alex Kemeny: Doubletons are risky, but nothing else appeals. My trump holding means that I have a realistic chance of a spade ruff. …

David Stern: The alternative is a low trump, but it doesn’t look like there’s too much distribution around.

Thijs Veugen: I might get a spade ruff. Diamonds looks too aggressive, and clubs too passive.

Comments for the C 4

Chris Willenken: A spade is possible, but I won’t get aggressive against a likely thin game with the hearts poorly placed for declarer.

Grant Peacock: I’d like to draw trump, but my partner needs to lead the first round. So I’ll just wait.

Thomas Peters: Not a good lead, but the alternatives are worse.

Robin Zigmond: The opponents have barely staggered into game. I’ll let declarer find 10 tricks for himself, thank you.

Stephen Turner: I must find the most passive lead since the opposition has nothing to spare.

Leo Zelevinsky: Once again, the opponents had a very slow auction, and I’ll see if they can make it if left to their own devices.

David Davies: The opponents are limited, so partner will have something. It looks best to play safe, although I am vaguely tempted with the D A (too aggressive, though).

Giles Woodruff: A heart lead is bad because if partner has a singleton (likely) we can’t continue them. A pointed-suit lead is speculative. I’ll go passive and hope for the best. This may be a game which just needs the heart finesse right, and it probably isn’t.

Michael Scanlon: The auction calls for a passive lead.

Daniel Korbel: With the opponents possibly stretching for game, I’ll try my hardest not to blow a trick and lead a wimpy C 4.

Bogdan Vulcan: Both opponents have shown balanced hands, so a passive lead is a must. A club is the answer, since leading trumps is risky; leading the D A is pointless; and leading a small diamond or a spade is too offensive.

Eric Taylor: The opponents are in another thin game. More flexibility seems to be called for.

Michael Clark: This is the card nearest my thumb.

Bill Powell: Passive is often best when they have stretched to game.

TopMain

Problem 4

IMPs
 
None Vul West

Pass
Pass
North

2 C
4 H
EAST
Pass
Pass
All Pass
South
1 NT
2 H
S K J 10 4
H 5
D Q 9 8 2
C J 10 4 3
Table
4 H South

Your lead?Sets/1000AwardVotesPercent
H 54831010814
C J456921929
C 344888611
D 94486355
D 2445517123
S J290113518

Is a singleton trump the worst lead in bridge? Some people think so, but I wouldn’t hesitate to lead one if the auction suggested it or if the alternatives were unattractive. In this case I would rule out a spade lead completely (hopefully everyone will after seeing its results), and a diamond lead seems more likely to help declarer. My first reaction made it a close choice between a trump and a club (and also which club), so it seemed like a good problem to use.

Simulation 4

Once again, I tried to find the true answer from 1000 random layouts. In order to have good chances of defeating the contract, I gave both opponents minimum values for their bidding — South 15 HCP, and North 10-11 dummy points. I also eliminated 3=4=3=3 shape for North, since most experts would not use Stayman then. South was allowed to hold five hearts on occasion, but North could have five only if his hand contained exactly four spades; otherwise, it was the usual 4-4 trump fit.

The only thing clearly convincing about the simulation is that a spade lead loses — big time. Among the other choices, there’s not a great deal of difference, but the trump lead was the winner.

There is surely some bias in the numbers: A diamond lead is overrated because it is more likely to remove a guess for declarer than a club lead. The trump lead is overrated slightly for a similar reason (i.e., it might pick off partner’s trump holding) but I doubt this could swing 27 deals; in fact I don’t think it would swing even 10. Damaging partner’s trump holding against a 4-4 fit gets more bad raps than it deserves. For example, consider this deal (#296 in the simulation):

IMPs
None Vul
S A 3 2
H Q 10 6 3
D J 7
C K 9 7 2
Trick
1 W
2 E
3 N
4 S
5 S
6 N
Lead
H 5
S 9
C 2
C Q
H 8
C K
2nd
3
5
5
4
S 10
8
3rd
A
4
A
7
Q
S 6
4th
7
A
3
6
2
10
S K J 10 4
H 5
D Q 9 8 2
C J 10 4 3
Table S 9 8 7
H A J 4 2
D K 10 4
C 8 6 5



4 H South
S Q 6 5
H K 9 8 7
D A 6 5 3
C A Q

On the surface it looks like a trump lead will help declarer, removing the guess for the H J, but that’s an illusion. Obviously, a spade lead sucks as usual; but after a “safe” minor-suit lead, declarer can make 4 H with a carefully timed crossruff. After the “helpful” trump lead, declarer cannot succeed. Further, the winning defense should be obvious; East should win the H A and shift to a spade.

I was surprised that the C J beat the C 3, and I suspect this may represent another bias in the analysis. As food for thought, consider that declarer always knows you hold J-10 at double-dummy or if you lead the jack; but not in actual play if you lead low. Nonetheless, I don’t feel like studying 1000 deals to build a case. Since the consensus also preferred the jack, it gets second place.

Comments for the H 5

Kieran Dyke: Anything could be right. With secondary junk in all three side suits, it’s likely that a trump lead will suit us well.

Douglas Dunn: Anything else could cost a trick. So could a trump for that matter, but I have to lead something.

Grant Peacock: If they could make 4 NT, they wouldn’t be playing 4 H; so declarer doesn’t want trumps to be drawn.

Lance Marrou: This is a dangerous holding, so I will lead passively.

Herbert Wilton: This may not be popular, but with no side suit running I’ll play to stop extra ruffing tricks.

Venkatesh Ramaratnam: With good intermediates in all the [side] suits, it is best to lead trumps at every opportunity (borrow one next time!) to cut down the ruffs.

Patricia Christie: … There isn’t much of a clue as to the opponents’ suit holdings, other than they didn’t have a long suit to run in notrump. Therefore, let’s get rid of trumps.

Joe Steel: I hate to lead a singleton trump, but this seems the least of the evils. The S J is sure to give a trick, and the D 9 may or may not work.

Neil Morgenstern: When in doubt, lead trumps. Seriously, although I may be spoiling partner’s holding, it’s probably a good idea to lead passively, and it may help prevent opponents ruffing.

Daniel Korbel: Leading a stiff trump is often wrong, but here I like none of my options. A spade lead is too dangerous; as is a diamond. A club lead could also easily blow a trick if the opponents own the nine.

Stu Goodgold: With my slow values and good spots, declarer is going to have problems — unless he can establish a crossruff.

Paul Hankin: This might pick up partner’s trump holding, but the upside of taking out dummy’s trumps is bigger.

Nese Erkel: Reduce ruffing values.

Michael Kaplan: Partner has four trumps (possibly three)… Especially with all side suits posing a danger, it might be best to reduce their trump. …

Neelotpal Sahai: Did somebody say that singleton trump leads are no-no? …

Comments for the C J

Bob Simkins: Another vote for passivity.

Chris Willenken: With hearts breaking badly, I’ll make the lead least likely to blow a trick.

Len Vishnevsky: Least dangerous.

Robin Zigmond: Ugh! At least this choice has less chance of giving away a trick. …

Geoffrey Toon: Passive defense is best 70 percent of the time. With partner’s suspected four trumps to make life hard for declarer, I don’t want to give him any presents.

Leo Zelevinsky: I almost led the S J, but at the last moment decided to stay low to the ground. …

Wise move! Otherwise, instead of “low to the ground” your score might be underground.

Giles Woodruff: Close between the minors, and close between a top and bottom club. Again, [leading from] the J-10 is a combination of active and passive. Passive might be good here as partner probably has four trumps.

Carlos Dabezies: I don’t want to help declarer with the trump position. Spades may be lying badly for declarer, and my spot cards mean that there may not be long [minor] to set up. …

Ed Freeman: … [Leading] spades is suicidal; a trump lead may give up the position (with partner probably having four); and a diamonds seems unnecessarily aggressive… So clubs it is; make it the C J to be easy on partner.

Leonard Helfgott: Against a notrump opener it’s better not to lead away from a high honor when a passive defensive might well net four tricks. …

Eric Leong: With trumps splitting 4-1, I don’t want to give declarer any help in finding his 10th trick.

William Schmitt: Hate this one. I don’t want to lead from my spade tenace, and I don’t want to lead trump (partner should have four). That leaves lousy diamonds and lousy clubs. At least I have touching honors (such as they are) in clubs.

Gabriel Ip: A passive lead, as trumps are likely to break badly for declarer. I hope to make the S K-J and D Q, whilst partner may have a trump trick.

Bill Jacobs: … On this bad-breaking hand, I try to find a safe lead. Partner’s failure to double 2 C is not a factor for me.

Robert Johnson: Hearts are not breaking for the opponents, so I make a neutral lead…

Bill Maddock: Every lead on from this hand is wrong!

Michael Clark: I don’t want to touch spades just yet, and a club looks less likely to cost than a diamond. Hopefully, I’ll have a chance to signal for a spade by the time partner wins his trump trick.

Bijoy Anand: The singleton trump does not appeal to me; and given that the strong hand is on my right, I do not wish to lead from the interior spade sequence; same reason for eschewing diamonds. I go with the lead that is least likely to give away anything.

Rik ter Veen: Trying to be safe. I’m not religious about this one.

Mark Rishavy: With all the side suits held, I don’t want to risk too much on the first lead. I’d like to just lead a trump, but partner probably won’t like that when I cost him his trump trick.

Comments for the C 3

Kevin Costello: Looks like partner has a bit of heart length, so I’ll try not to give declarer a free guess in the suit. Clubs seems least likely to give away a trick.

Stephen Turner: … I must get active before declarer finds out the bad news in trumps. A spade is too risky. Which minor? Clubs seems safest; small seems best.

John Reardon: Not at all clear-cut what to lead, so I pick a passive lead. I would lead low around to the 1 NT bid.

Michael Kanigsberg: Least of evils.

Sergey Kustarov: Passive.

Jelmer Hasper: Hmm; I can’t lead anything passive this time, but a club is pretty close, so I guess that’s what I’ll go for.

David Davies: Looking for safety; partner looks to have trumps and I have the rest. A small club may help when dummy has A-9-x-x and declarer K-Q-x.

George Klemic: The lead least likely to give up a trick; the C J is OK as a second choice.

Dave Maeer: I think the C 3 is better than the jack; I hope we can play safely on clubs and wait for our tricks.

James Geist: This looks good for the defense because of the bad trump split. Unless the opponents have extras, I really want to be passive; and no exploration for slam increases the likelihood they are closer to 26 than 31. …

Walter Lee: The word on the streets is that [holdings] separated by two ranks (e.g., K-10-x-x, Q-9-x-x) are bad leads.

Jeff Tang: Maybe this won’t score any points, but this hand looks like a mess for declarer. I want to make the most passive lead so he has to work out everything by himself.

Peter Schwartz: The lead least likely to cost a trick since a passive defense seems right.

Rob Stevens: … Hearts are likely to be 4-1 so there is ample reason to think the contract might be defeated. A spade is very dangerous; a club very safe; and a diamond in the middle. A club seems routine, and because of the very poor spots, and with the notrump bidder on my right, I think that the C 3 is better than the jack. …

Thomas Hanford: No trump lead (partner has four); a spade or diamond is too risky. The club is safest and least likely to cost a trick. When the opponents bid a close game, I try not to give anything away, especially with a bad trump split.

TopMain

Problem 5

IMPs
 
N-S Vul West

Pass
Pass
NORTH
1 NT
2 D
4 S
East
Pass
Pass
All Pass
South
2 C
3 S
S J 7 4
H J 10 2
D Q J 6 3
C A 7 5
Table
4 S South

Your lead?Sets/1000AwardVotesPercent
D Q1451026034
H J144918725
D 310278211
S 4123514019
C A1164405
C 51053456

In standard bidding South implies both majors, or more specifically, five spades and four hearts. In view of the friendly breaks in store for declarer, plus the fact that either player might have extra values, the chances of defeating 4 S are poor.

In my view, this was a close choice between a heart and a diamond, as a race to establish tricks before declarer could use dummy’s likely club suit. Everything being equal, the diamond lead is more promising, but there is a subtle factor that suggests otherwise: If dummy has the D K and partner the ace, there is usually no hurry to lead diamonds (you can do that when you win the C A). Conversely, when a heart lead is necessary, you must usually lead it twice (e.g., when partner has A-9-x and dummy has one or both of the missing honors). Hence, a heart lead has more merit than it might appear, though it’s still not clear which is better.

The choice of which diamond to lead is easier. While I usually prefer to lead low from Q-J-x-x, the presence of the C A suggests this may be a cash-out deal; hence, leading the queen is definitely better. If my clubs were, say, Q-x-x, where we rate to be fighting for slow tricks, I think a low diamond would be better in the long run.

Simulation 5

For this batch of 1000 deals, I deliberately gave both North and South minimal values for the bidding (consistent with the shapes implied); but even this didn’t remove declarer’s big edge. The flat distribution of the West hand — friendly for declarer — pushed the success rate down for any lead.

A photo finish! The results of the simulation are hardly convincing, but the top award will go to the D Q — not so much because of its narrow win but because it was the clear choice of the respondents. It is also easy to award second place to the H J.

Among the other leads, I believe the results are significantly biased. The most obvious case is the C A, which would not compare as well in practice (by the same logic as on Problem 3). I also believe the S 4 is overrated because it removes a potential trump guess (e.g., if dummy has honor-third and partner has A-x) which declarer would usually get wrong in practice. Conversely, the D 3 is underrated. For instance, I noticed a lot of cases like the following deal (#50 in the simulation):

IMPs
N-S Vul
S K 10 2
H K 4 3
D A K 10 8 7
C Q 9
Trick
1 W
Lead
D 3
2nd
?
S J 7 4
H J 10 2
D Q J 6 3
C A 7 5
Table S 8 3
H A Q 8
D 9 5 4
C J 8 6 4 2



4 S South
S A Q 9 6 5
H 9 7 6 5
D 2
C K 10 3

Obviously, the H J defeats the contract, as does the C A (followed by a heart shift). It is also evident that the D Q, a trump, or even a low club would work. In fact, the only lead to give the contract is a low diamond — at double-dummy. But, be honest: Would you finesse the D 10 at trick one? It looks like an inferior play to me, so I’d go down with any lead; hmm… I’m sure my partners will confirm that (ha-ha). Therefore, the D 3 would do much better in practice, so I promoted it to third place in the awards.

Comments for the D Q

Kieran Dyke: Obviously, I want to sort out our minor-suit tricks, and this seems the most likely option. The C A, or even a low club, could work; major-suit leads are out.

Chris Willenken: Suits are breaking for declarer, so I go for broke.

Gareth Birdsall: Trying to set up minor-suit winners before they vanish.

Douglas Dunn: The C 5 is nice idea but may confuse partner. The D Q is better than the D 3, as declarer could have 10-x opposite K-x-x-x.

Grant Peacock: Any lead seems dangerous, so at least I’ll choose one that in some obvious way could build up a trick for our side.

Robert Katz: Spade and heart leads are out; a spade could pickle partner’s Q-x, and declarer has four hearts. …

Kevin Costello: Dummy could have anything up to a near slam try and, unlike the last hand, everything is splitting oh-so-beautifully for declarer; so aggression seems to be called for.

Robin Zigmond: Seems clear-cut to me. Declarer has both majors, and leading from A-x-x doesn’t bear thinking about. Perhaps partner has the D A over dummy’s king, but then I always was optimistic.

Herbert Wilton: We’ll [probably] get whatever major-suit tricks (if any) we’re entitled to, so the idea is not to blow anything in the minors. Let’s play this straight and not get too clever (maybe we can take three diamonds and one club).

Geoffrey Toon: As declarer is 5-4 in spades and hearts, a heart is a bad idea. A trump may find partner with Q-x, and kill our trump trick. A club will likely set up an extra club trick for them, so I’ll try and catch the D K with North and promote a second diamond trick for my D J if partner happens to have the D A. With luck we’ll get one trump, two diamonds and a club.

Stephen Turner: … Everything splits well, so I must get active; I’ll try to set up diamonds before [declarer can discard on dummy’s clubs].

Leo Zelevinsky: The hearts seem to be lying well for declarer, so I’ll try to get my tricks before he can get his.

Venkatesh Ramaratnam: An attacking lead is required because declarer’s red-suit losers rate to go away on dummy’s clubs. [Since] declarer has both majors, a heart trick is [less likely] to vanish; so it is better to lead diamonds. A small diamond is too esoteric, though it could be right if dummy has a robust suit.

John Reardon: If I am lucky, this will hit gold when dummy has S K-9-x H A-x D K-x-x C K-Q-x-x-x and declarer has S A-10-x-x-x H K-Q-9-x D x-x-x C x.*

*John’s subtle example brings up a valid point. Note that declarer can succeed on a heart lead by playing four rounds of hearts immediately. To defeat the contract, it is necessary to take the diamond tricks early (or lead a trump, which foils declarer in a perverted sort of way).

Sergey Kustarov: Setting up diamond tricks before declarer sets up club tricks.

Jelmer Hasper: … Presumably South has five spades and four hearts. I had a bad experience a while back, leading an ace from nothing against a similar auction, so I guess that leaves diamonds.

Ed Freeman: Responder is 5-4 (or more) in the majors; declarer probably has a little shape, maybe 3=2=4=4 or even 3=2=5=3. I want to lead trump, but I’m likely giving up a trick. Instead I will lead a diamond through dummy’s strength; [I choose] the queen since I am hoping for two quick diamonds, the C A and a spade.

George Klemic: Set up diamond tricks (if coming) before the club suit is set up.

Nigel Guthrie: No major surprises [for declarer] so this may be the time to get busy.

Leonard Helfgott: Since South is likely 5-4 in majors, and everything is breaking well, I may as well attack with a natural diamond lead. …

Gerald Cohen: Giving partner the D A seems best. I confess that at matchpoints I might lead the H J.

Daniel Korbel: In Standard American, this auction shows 5+ spades and four hearts. I think the D Q lead is the most likely to beat the contract, finding our side with two fast diamond tricks, a club trick, and a trick in the wash.

Paul Hankin: Time for an active defense, trying for two diamond tricks, the C A and either a trump or a heart trick.

Gerald Murphy: Declarer is marked with nine cards in majors, so I’m hoping partner has a diamond card.

Bogdan Vulcan: South is likely to have distributional strength, so a somewhat risky lead is needed. The D Q is appealing, and it doesn’t consume entries to my hand (mainly the C A).

Stephen McDevitt: The auction is informative but this is so tough! South tends to have five spades and four hearts; North has either 3-3 or 3-2 in the majors; partner has 6-7 HCP at most; trumps are breaking favorably. If North is 3-2 in the majors, South can get a heart ruff for sure. … It seems like playing partner for the S Q and D A offers the [best] chance at knocking the contract down. …

James Geist: I assume declarer is 5-4 [in the majors]. I need partner to have a high diamond, and for declarer to be 3-1 in the minors so we can build two diamonds, and still get the C A and hopefully a natural trump trick.

Gabriel Ip: Looks like declarer is 6-4 or 5-4 in the majors. [My plan is] to capture North’s D K by hoping partner has the ace; hence, two diamond tricks, the C A and the S J when partner has S Q-x.

Kent Feiler: We need an aggressive lead here. Without it, declarer may knock out my C A and pitch diamonds on clubs.

Jeff Tang: The heart situation looks poor for us, so I may need to go after the minors right away, even if the D Q may blow a trick.

Bijoy Anand: My top three choices were: D Q, C 5 and S 4. … Even with a trump lead, I really do not think I can prevent heart ruffs in dummy. If I were feeling frisky, I’d underlead the C A; the timing seems right — strong hand in the dummy, give declarer a guess etc. But, the D Q has the most going for it.

Rik ter Veen: With declarer 5-4 in the majors, the lead of the D Q is likely to be safe. At the same time, one can expect partner to have some help in diamonds.

Rob Stevens: My first thought on seeing this hand was: surely, you can’t be serious! The D Q seems routine… There are no unpleasant surprises for declarer, with spades and hearts both breaking. So declarer is likely to be set only when dummy’s minor-suit honors mesh poorly with his distribution, say, D K-x-x C K-Q-J-x-x opposite 3-1, or D A-K-x-x C Q-x-x opposite 1-3. The odds favor attacking diamonds rather than clubs because you know your side has the D J, whereas the location of the C J is anyone’s guess. The D 3 might be better than the queen, and I think a good theoretical case can be made for it, but I just hate keeping partner off-balance with strange leads…

Neelotpal Sahai: The short trump hand is unlikely to ruff anything; a heart lead [is likely to] benefit declarer (with 5-4 in the majors); and I don’t lead away from an ace.

Bill Haughie: … Quick tricks in the minors might be necessary, though this has the capacity to give away the game (e.g., North with D A-K-10).

Ron Zucker: Declarer won’t need to ruff many hearts, if any. No reason not to make my natural minor-suit lead. At matchpoints it would be tempting to bang down the C A.

Sandy Barnes: Declarer seems to be 5-4 in the majors, so a heart lead is more likely to help him than us. I need to set up our minor suit tricks early.

David Stern: … I want to try and set up a diamond trick while I have the C A.

Mark Rishavy: Since it looks like the majors are going to set up for declarer, I have to lead a minor. I kind of like the club underlead, but the diamond should help more often. I know the diamonds will be A-10-x opposite K-x, but unless one of the small cards is the eight, the queen lead is as bad as a small one.

Comments for the H J

Bob Simkins: I know declarer has hearts, but our minor-suit tricks are unlikely to disappear. I feel as if I’m trying to save 1 IMP, but maybe we can beat ‘em if I don’t give away a trick.

Carlos Dabezies: Diamonds do not look favorable for declarer, and a club lead may help him. Dummy has three trumps, and preventing ruffs is not likely to be a priority. So I play safe, and it may help to establish a heart trick.

Eric Leong: Seems like the least likely lead to kick a trick.

Manuel Paulo: By exclusion, because I don’t like any other lead.

Peter Schwartz: Since I want to use the lead to attack opener’s strength, the H J or D Q seems right. The H J is slightly preferable since it is less likely to cost a trick.

Manoj Kumar Nair: At best, partner figures to have an ace and a queen: If the D A and H Q, declarer has the tempo to [develop clubs for heart pitches]. If the D A and C Q, I may catch declarer on the wrong foot by leading a low club, but it may also hit a singleton… If the H A and C Q, secondary cards come into play, and it may be urgent to lead [hearts] immediately so as not to lose a tempo. …

Alex Kemeny: If a diamond is right, which one? A small diamond risks losing to D 10 at trick one; the D Q risks exposing the position of jack.

Yes, it’s like deciding between long-track and short-track speed skating. If you can’t decide, take up bridge!

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Problem 6

IMPs
 
Both Vul West

Pass
Pass
Pass
All Pass
NORTH
2 H
3 D2
4 S
5 D
East
Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass
South
2 NT1
3 S
4 NT
6 S
S A 7 2
H 4
D K J 9 5 4 3
C 10 9 2
Table
6 S South

1. artificial force
2. feature

Your lead?AwardVotesPercent
C 101011415
D 9812617
D 579813
S 2613718
H 4520027
D K27910

Hmm. Maybe I deserve a medal for choosing a lead problem in which all six choices hit double figures in percent. What are the odds against that? It doesn’t matter. I’m ready to step onto the podium right now, so cue the orchestra! “Oh, say can you see…”

The bidding reveals a lot about the enemy hands. Declarer surely has a spade suit headed by K-Q-J, and six cards seem more likely than five*. Dummy rates to have the D A (his feature) and a six-card heart suit headed by the K-Q or K-J, though it is also possible his feature could be the D Q and his one ace is in hearts.

*Note that 2 NT is the only force in the system structure, so South could not make a forcing spade bid at his first turn.

The biggest vote-getter was the stiff heart, but it was obvious that some of those leaders were misguided and seeking a ruff. Essentially, a heart is a passive lead, in the same category as a club or a trump. The aggressive lead is a diamond; but is it worth the risk? The overall consensus was no, as 60 percent of the respondents decided against it. I agree with being passive, but I strongly disagree with leading a heart or a spade for reasons that follow.

It is tempting to lead a diamond to remove dummy’s side entry so declarer cannot establish and use the heart suit, but holding the S A, this can wait. The only benefit in leading a diamond immediately is to set up a cashable diamond trick or to give partner a second-round ruff. While these chances are certainly possible, they seem like long shots to me. Declarer was apparently confident after hearing about the diamond feature, so a holding of Q-x seems quite likely. I picture a layout like this:

IMPs
Both Vul
S 9 6 3
H K J 10 9 6 3
D A 10 2
C 5
Trick
1 W
2 S
3 W
4 N
5 S
6 S
7 W
Lead
C 10
S K
D 5!
S 6
H A
H 2
D K
2nd
5
A
A
C 6
4
S 7
2
3rd
4
3
6
Q
3
6
8
4th
A
5
7
2
5
7
Q
S A 7 2
H 4
D K J 9 5 4 3
C 10 9 2
Table S 5
H Q 8 7 5
D 8 6
C Q J 8 7 6 4



6 S South
S K Q J 10 8 4
H A 2
D Q 7
C A K 3

If you lead a diamond from the go, declarer has no choice but to let it ride to his queen, easily making 6 S. Note the effect of a club lead: Declarer will win and force out the S A. Now shift to a diamond, and declarer will win the ace and attempt to establish hearts (all he needs is a 3-2 break). Not only will you get your D K but a ruff as well — down two.

The same opportunity would arise after other passive leads (H 4 or S 2), but the inferences available to declarer are different. After a heart lead, declarer is forewarned of the bad heart break, so he is likely to use this knowledge to duck your diamond shift. Similarly, a trump lead* suggests you are harboring high cards elsewhere, and declarer is likely to couple this with the subtle clue that East did not double 5 D and guess right. Why draw attention to yourself? Just lead the unbid suit and look innocent.

*Several respondents mentioned they would lead the S A and another, and wondered why I didn’t include that option. Perhaps I should have. It is conceivable that two rounds of trumps (stopping a club ruff in dummy) could be the killer, but you must admit it’s a long shot.

I decided not to waste time with a simulation on this problem because it is obvious it would be extremely biased. The strategic defense of postponing the diamond lead until declarer has an alternative would be useless logic at double-dummy.

My constructed deal, of course, offers no real evidence as to the best theoretical lead. Certainly, if you replace the D Q with a low diamond and give North or South the H Q, it takes an original diamond lead. I just feel that South would not have been so aggressive in the bidding with a worthless doubleton diamond because a “feature” can sometimes be the queen. Speaking of which, don’t overlook the flip side:

IMPs
Both Vul
S 9 6 3
H A K 10 9 6 3
D Q 10 2
C 5
Trick
1 W
Lead
D 5?
2nd
Q
S A 7 2
H 4
D K J 9 5 4 3
C 10 9 2
Table S 5
H Q 8 7 5
D 8 6
C Q J 8 7 6 4



6 S South
S K Q J 10 8 4
H J 2
D A 7
C A K 3

With any lead except a diamond, declarer has no chance. I suppose you could say that a diamond lead has some sadistic merit, in that declarer will agonize unnecessarily over which card to play. But when he finally plays the queen (surely the right guess), I don’t think you’ll be comforted in knowing he could have won the 10.

Now, back to the scoring. After much deliberation, I felt the implications of leading a heart or a trump (especially a heart) would lose any advantage you have in being passive. That is, it would seem better to attack with a diamond than to telegraph the layout to declarer. Therefore, after the top award for the C 10, a diamond lead deserved next. As to which diamond, I agree with the voting that the D 9 is a prudent falsecard (though unlikely to matter) so I scored it ahead of the normal fourth-best. As for leading the D K, well, save that for the Summer Olympics — maybe the shot put or the hammer throw.

Comments for the C 10

Bob Simkins: There is probably no killing lead, so I’ll try not to be the goat.

Gareth Birdsall: Looks like North is 2=6=3=2 since he bid 4 S rather than 4 C. It’s unlikely we can set up a diamond winner since South would probably try to play in hearts if he had, e.g., D x-x. So the choice is between a heart and a club.

Grant Peacock: A club lead might beat the hand legitimately, but the main reason I lead one is because it’s expected on the auction. A spade or a heart makes no sense, and partner could have doubled 5 D. So if I don’t lead a club, warning bells go off and declarer starts to worry about a bad heart split. If I lead a diamond, even the jack, declarer has no choice but to finesse. If I get in later with my trump and lead a diamond, even the five, declarer [will] not finesse since he thinks the heart suit is running.

Robert Katz: Conventional wisdom is to lead what is closest to developing a trick, in this case a diamond; but with [dummy showing a diamond honor] that is a poor option. This leaves me two choices: a club or a spade. The S A would limit dummy to one ruff, which could be critical if partner has hearts well stopped. The S A is not an option listed, so I choose C 10, which I don’t expect to accomplish much, but it shouldn’t lose anything either. …

Thomas Peters: Passive. Reasons not to lead a diamond (either the brilliant king or low): (1) Declarer must draw trumps before attacking hearts, so if knocking out dummy’s side entry to the hearts is right, I am likely to get another chance. (2) The diamond lead may be a disaster if South has the queen. (3) South almost surely has the D Q, given his strong bidding and partner’s failure to double 5 D (partner should recognize the possible importance of a diamond lead).

Dirk Enthoven: … With partner expected to have a surprising number of hearts… a singleton heart lead might well finesse partner or expose the [layout]. A trump lead [might] also assist declarer… Partner had two opportunities to ask for a diamond lead and didn’t, so the C 10 is least of evils.

Robin Zigmond: If partner has a singleton or void diamond, he should have doubled 5 D, so that suit is out. The passive club lead may well work; the hearts look to be breaking badly, and there probably aren’t enough entries to establish the suit.

Geoffrey Toon: A heart lead may kill my partner’s holding and set up dummy’s suit; a diamond may well sacrifice my diamond trick if dummy has A-x-(x) and declarer Q-x-(x); and a trump might just surrender the tempo and help declarer draw trumps. This leaves only C 10.

Michael Scanlon: With my diamond length and North’s diamond feature, it is unlikely I can set up a diamond trick, so I’ll try clubs.

David Caprera: I can’t remember a set where all I wanted to do on each board was to try not to blow a trick.

Eric Taylor: A diamond lead is unlikely to accomplish much and could give away a lot.

Robert Johnson: Whatever declarer has in mind won’t run away; let him make any guesses.

Michael Kaplan: … I could try to give partner a diamond ruff by leading a diamond… but this may give declarer an extra trick. [I prefer] the passive club lead.

Jeff Tang: Give me my zero; I want to lead the D J [but it’s not listed].

Sorry, you’ll have to settle for 10. At least you could’ve picked the D K and gotten close to zero.

Richard Stein: … The key to which approach to take depends on whether I think partner has enough in hearts to stop them from being set up, and since dummy [probably] has the D A, his heart suit can’t be that strong. … Therefore, I can sit back and wait. The D 9 is a very tempting mode of attack, but South is likely to hold the D Q… and he may figure that if my nine is a true card, then he has no chance. In addition, he knows that 5 D wasn’t doubled.

Comments for the D 9

Kieran Dyke: This might convince declarer to decline the finesse and rely on hearts for pitches, now or later. The D K is an alternative — if you want your name in the papers for a Merrimac. A diamond ruff [by partner] is another chance.

Chris Willenken: Hopefully, declarer will try to pitch his losing diamond on the hearts.

Stephen Turner: If a heart beats the contract, there is no need to lead it. … The contract is most likely to make by drawing trumps and cashing hearts, so I must generate a trick in diamonds. The D K might drop a singleton queen, but why not give declarer an early guess by leading the nine?

Michael Kanigsberg: The lead most likely to panic declarer, if there is one. With the D A in dummy and any doubleton in hand, he may try for a discard on the heart suit.

Jelmer Hasper: … The fear here is that the heart suit will come through for declarer, but considering my bare four, chances are it won’t [if I remove] dummy’s entry. Next question: Which diamond do I lead? The king could be right, but it could also give the contract away; the nine seems right, as declarers always hate to go down at trick one.

Giles Woodruff: With hearts breaking badly, [this is the] perfect time for a deceptive lead, I hope! I will look silly if the feature was Q-10-x.

Carlos Dabezies: This may make it more difficult to set up hearts. Assuming that dummy’s feature is the ace, declarer will not want to duck if there is another play. …

George Klemic: Some diamond must be right. A case can be made for D K, which will eat up dummy’s entry if the heart suit is needed for pitches. But boy, declarer is sure bidding strong, given the high cards in my hand. … I like the D 9 because it is most likely to fool declarer into trying to win two heart tricks. For example, with S 10-x-x H K-Q-J-x-x-x D A-x-x C x opposite S K-Q-J-x-x-x H A D Q-x C A-K-Q-x, declarer will win the D A, H A, C A, ruff a club, then pitch a diamond on the H Q, when you come in with the surprise ruff.

Leonard Helfgott: … Dummy probably has the D A, and the [best] hope I see is to knock it out while holding trump control. If declarer has a stiff diamond or no queen, the issue of which diamond to lead is moot, but if he has Q-x-(x) or dummy has A-Q, I need to convince declarer to rise with ace and try for heart discards, which will fail… Which diamond is most deceptive? I’ll go with the nine.

Gerald Cohen: Declarer doesn’t know hearts [break badly]. Maybe this lead will take away an option or a needed entry.

Eric Leong: How else am I going to get a heart ruff? On a diamond lead declarer will hem and haw, and ultimately reject the diamond finesse and try to cash two rounds of hearts for a discard. …

Stephen McDevitt: Very interesting. Wow. Why aren’t hearts trump if South has the ace? He may have a singleton. Assuming North’s ace is the D A, South has the H A and picked spades; his spade suit must be robust, to say the least. … OK, 10 seconds are up! I lead the D 9 to make it look like East has the king. This pressures declarer to try for an immediate discard… maybe he has S K-Q-J-10-x-x-x H A D Q-x C A-K-J. …

Manuel Paulo: Partner cannot go wrong, as I have the only sure trick. I hope that South goes up with the ace and tries to pitch a diamond on the hearts.

Bill Maddock: Declarer will win D A and try and get his diamond loser away on dummy’s hearts before drawing trumps. He’s going to be disappointed.

Michael Day: Whatever I lead here will probably blow up in my face, but the best chance seems to be either to give partner a diamond ruff or to fool declarer into thinking I have a stiff diamond.

Craig Satersmoen: Trying to get declarer to take an early diamond pitch on the hearts.

Mark Rishavy: I guess dummy is going to have D A, so I’ll try to get declarer to put it up at trick one, or maybe even give partner a second round diamond ruff! …

Final Notes

This month’s contest was unique to my previous play and defense contests due to the greater subjectivity. Therefore, I included comments supporting leads with awards of 8-10 (as opposed to just the winning choice). As usual, you had to score above average for your comments to be included. If you supplied comments that were not used, I thank you for the input (I read them all).

Use of a comment does not necessarily mean I agree with it, but generally they are all worthy. Comments are quoted exactly except for corrections in spelling and grammar. Where I have included only part of a comment, an ellipsis (…) indicates where text was cut. Text in [brackets] was supplied by me to summarize a cut portion or fix an omission. Comments are listed in order of respondents’ rank, which is my only basis for sequencing. I am confident that my lengthy study of these problems, assisted by comments received, has determined the best solutions in theory. Even so, oversights are possible, and feedback is always welcome. E-mail Richard

I hope you enjoyed the change of pace this month. The study of opening leads was fascinating — some surprises, others true to form. I think I did justice to the scoring, but with three hands unknown it was more difficult than usual.

Thanks to all who responded, and especially those who offered kind remarks about my web site. Guess what? It’s time for the Closing Ceremony. I couldn’t afford any big-name rock groups, so you’re stuck with this motley group:

Pete Jackson: If I don’t win a medal in this event, I’m going to call for an investigation of the judges, sue the referee, throw all my cards on the ice, and stomp out of here without waiting for the closing ceremonies!

Bob Simkins: They are called the Olympic Games, not the Olympic Sports, but I agree with you. We don’t want one of our 90-year-old ladies to slip on the ice while attempting a risky lead.

Bill Jacobs: I resent your remarks about knitting not being an Olympic-worthy sport. I am the current silver medalist from the Australian Knit-One-Purl-One Championships (over 40‘s division).

Bill Powell: Don’t you like being an athlete, then? Why should reason apply to a festival where men in body-length condoms slide down hills on trays, and commentators use the word “medal” as a verb?

John Reardon: I could not find Antarctica in your country list so I take it you don’t anticipate awarding the pair of 14K gold figure skates, sterling silver Olympic torch or bronzed Jamaican bobsled that my younger son noticed were amongst the prizes.

What, you doubt my veracity? The prizes were duly awarded to Frank Frostbite, Seymour Penguins and Igotta Coldbutt, all of Ice Station Alpha in eastern Antarctica. Trust me on this.

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© 2002 Richard Pavlicek