Opening Leads (Good, Bad, and Ugly)

Author: Larry Cohen
Date of publish: 02/06/2004
Level: Intermediate

Opening Guess

One of my favorite teaching lesson topics is "Opening Leads". It is not my favorite "at-the-table" topic. After you read my exploits from the past month, you might wonder if they have revoked my teaching privileges . When teaching, I love to tell the story of the "Fantoni Lead". When playing, I hope to avoid such leads myself. My odyssey started in mid-July (2007) at the Arlington Heights, IL Regional. I was on lead against 6? holding:

?Q 10 9 4
?Q 10 5 3
?J 7 6 3

RHO had opened 1? and rebid 3NT over my LHO's 1? response. LHO jumped to 6?. What's your guess? I considered a trump, but didn't think that would accomplish much. A jump rebid of 3NT is usually based on a long suit, often with shortness in dummy's suit. I thought dummy might have AK or even AKJ of hearts and declarer could be taking fast discards. Or, declarer might have a singleton heart opposite dummy's king-jack and he might set up a slow discard. I wanted to make an attacking lead. Since I had more in spades, this required less from partner. I led the ?10 and this was the full layout:


Vul: East West
Dlr: South
?K 6 3
?A J 8 6
?10 8 7 5 2
?Q 10 9 4
?Q 10 5 3
?J 7 6 3
  ?8 7 2
?K 9 4 2
?A K 9 8 4
  ?A J 5
?Q 10 5
?A K Q J 6 4
1? Pass 1? Pass
3NT Pass 6? All Pass


Opening Lead: ?10

Brilliant. Declarer won the spade lead with his jack and claimed. Any other suit would have defeated the contract. This is why David refers to me as "golden arm". I had the misfortune of playing this deal against the local Daily Bulletin editor. She thought it a good idea to publish it in the next day's news.

Next, I moved down the road to the Nationals in Nashville, Tennessee, where again my poor lead made news. In the Grand National team finals I was on lead against 7NT doubled. This is how Mark Horton wrote it up in the Daily Bulletin (why must all my failures appear in print?):

The Unreal DealBy Mark Horton

Larry Cohen' s column in the ACBL Bridge Bulletin "The Real Deal" is justifiably popular. This deal from the final of the GNT may appear indue course or maybe not. This was Cohen's hand:

?J 10
?J 10 2
?7 4 3
?J 9 7 6 5


And he heard this auction (both sides were vulnerable):

Larry Cohen      
    3? Double
4? 5? Pass 6?
Pass 7? Pass 7NT
Pass Pass Double All Pass

Having made a very law abiding bid, all you have to do is find the winning lead. Before we reveal the answer, here is how you might approach the problem. In the absence of a double, you would have led a diamond, but now it seems clear partner has an ace in one of the other three suits. If it is in spades, it surely cannot run away, so that narrows the choice down to a heart or a club.

If partner's ace is in hearts, the fact that you have the club suit held must mean that 13 tricks will not be available. However, given that North's bid of 5? suggests length in both majors, there must be some risk that if partner's presumed ace is in clubs, the opponents may be able to take the tricks they need.

Okay, time to make up your mind, the full deal is coming up:

Vul: Both
Dlr: East
?K 9 6 5 4 2
?A K 8 6 5
?J 10
?J 10 2
?7 4 3
?J 9 7 6 5
?Q J 10 9 8 5 2
?A 8 3 2
  ?A Q 8 3
?Q 7 4 3
?A K
?K Q 10


Opening Lead: ??

As you can see, you need to lead a club. Talking to Cohen about this deal, he revealed that he and David Berkowitz play that a double in this situation suggests that partner lead the highest reasonable suit. It was clear that there was no need to lead a spade, and with a diamond already ruled out the choice lay between the other two suits.

Larry was worried that if he led a club and partner's ace was in hearts, that might just be into some holding like ?A K Q 10, giving declarer seven spades, two diamonds and four clubs. There was also the chance that partner might just have good diamonds headed by the K-Q-J, and so leading that suit might produce a more substantial penalty.

Even so, we agreed that you really should lead a club, but at the table Larry led a diamond and declarer claimed plus 2490 and a useful 14 IMPs against the 1460 recorded at the other table.

Oh, by the way, Larry and David overcame this minor setback and went on to win the GNT.

Well, I might have referred to it as more than a "minor" setback.

Am I the only one in our partnership who can't lead? In the same event, my partner, David Berkowitz had to lead against 6? holding:

?8 7 5
?J 10 8 7 3
?J 10 8 7 4


After a fancy Jacoby 2NT auction, declarer had shown 4=5=2=2 distribution. Dummy had shown 4-card heart support and Blackwooded into slam. David guessed to lead a minor. With nothing to go by, he chose his "better" suit, a club. This was the layout:

Vul: Both
Dlr: East
?J 4 2
?K Q 8 7
?A 7
?A K 5 2
?8 7 5
?J 10 8 7 3
?J 10 8 7 4
  ?10 9 3
?A 4 3 2
?K 9 5 4
?9 6
  ?A K Q 6
?J 10 9 6 5
?Q 2
?Q 3
  David   Larry
1? Pass 2NT Pass
3?* Pass 3? Pass
4?* Pass 4NT Pass
5? Pass 6? All Pass

*Declarer showed 4=5=2=2 shape and 1 Keycard

(3? artificially showed any 5-4 shape, 3? asked, and 4? artificially showed South's exact pattern) 

**For more on this special Jacoby 2NT, click here.


Opening Lead: ?J

How sad (for us, anyway). Declarer won the ?Q and knocked out the ?A. He drew trump and later discarded a diamond on the clubs. At the other table, with no good reason, West guessed to lead a diamond, which easily defeated the contract (declarer won the ace and tried 3 rounds of clubs, but East ruffed low). This is why in my lessons (remember those?), I call it the "opening guess".

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