Partner Isn't a Mind Reader

Author: Michael Berkowitz
Date of publish: 08/04/2020
Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Telepathy is hard. I remember trying to pass messages to my friends in class telepathically, but never having success.

I told my sister about my efforts, and she was oddly encouraging. “Why don’t I think of a number and you’ll tell me what number I’m thinking of,” she said. I thought a while and said, “Seventy-two”. Her jaw dropped, “How did you do that?!”

After that, I used to get very mad at my friends for not thinking properly during school.

Who’s fault is it when partner can’t read your mind?

While there are some experts who love to be on lead, the vast majority hate it. Larry Cohen says, of the opening lead, "It's not bridge." He wishes the dummy would come down before the opening lead is made. Still, making leads is a part of life. There’s no amount of lead theory that can match the importance of having a partner who knows that you can’t hear them thinking “lead a spade, lead a spade, lead a spade”.

There are two main ways you can help partner with opening leads: make lead directing doubles and overcalls to show what suit you want led. When can you make lead-directing doubles? Well, the higher the level, the less you need. For example on the auction 1NT--Pass--2♠, you should have good clubs and club length to double—something like ♠AQJ109 (We wish it could always be that good); ♠KQ109x is probably more realistic.

You do have to consider what else could happen though. Imagine holding ♠32 ♠872 ♠53 ♠KJ10872. The auction goes 1NT--Pass--2♠. You should absolutely double! Why? Your partner is going to be on lead against something and if they lead away from an honor, it will be a catastrophe. The opponents aren’t likely to play in 2♠ doubled (or redoubled) and if they can make that, then they can almost certainly make a slam.

As your opponents bid higher, you need less in that suit to make a lead-directing bid. On the auction: 

WestNorthEast (YOU)South
 Pass 2NT*  Pass  4NT
Pass 5♠ ?  





*Jacoby 2NT

If you have the ♠KQ3, you should double! You don’t care about what the rest of the deal is. Maybe partner has an ace or maybe not, but you still want partner leading that suit.

Overcalling is another area where you can help your partner out. My father once said, “If you make a bad lead when I didn’t have a chance to overcall on the one-level, then that’s unlucky. If you make a bad lead when I could’ve overcalled on the one-level, that’s my fault.”

Particularly when partner starts the auction by passing, you should look to help partner with a lead-directing call. Nobody vulnerable, give yourself  

♠ 5  
♥ KQ1098  
♦ J63  
♣ 8632
. The auction is Pass--1♠ to you. You should get a 1♠ call in here. Partner’s likely to be on lead against spades and you want to stop partner from doing something silly like leading from ♠Q742.

One last, more advanced idea: when partner preempts and the opponents make a takeout double, you can bid a new suit as a lead-directing call. You should only do this with support for partner’s suit (and with partnership agreement). For instance, you hold: 

♠ J74  
♥ 63  
♦ AK843  
♣ 962
.  Partner opens 2♠ and East doubles. You should bid 3♠ on the way to 3♠ since the opponents are likely to get to 4♠ anyways and this is your chance to show partner what you’d like led.

If you ever check your results at The Common Game, you’ll find lots of interesting statistics. One of them is how well your side does with you on lead and with your partner on lead. If you don’t do well with your partner on lead, it’s not their fault (entirely)—you should help them out.