Thursday, July 4, 2013

How to determine your “longest and strongest” suit for an opening lead against no trump




Leading fourth best from your longest and strongest suit is a preferred standard opening lead in defending against a no trump contract. But how do you determine what your “longest and strongest” suit is? Look at the following hand, sitting south:

AQ97
T6432
T6
T2

Here’s the auction:


West
North
East
South



P
P
P
1N
P
2N
P
3N
All Pass

So what is your longest and strongest suit? Your longest is hearts, but it is woefully weak. Your strongest in terms of points is spades, but it is shorter than your heart suit. Which should you lead?

The answer is that you should the heart three. Why? Because if hearts split 3-3-2 and your partner has an honor or two you have the possibility of taking three heart tricks. Here is the four hand layout in this hand that was played in a team game.



                North
                532
                QJ5
                K542
                Q95

West                         East
KJ8                         T64
98                          AK7
J873                        AQ9
KJ63                       A874

                South
                AQ97
                T6432
                T6
                T2


Bidding: As standard as standard can be. East opens 1N with 17 HCP and 4-3-3-3 distribution. West invites with 9 HCP. East at the top of his bid, accepts the invitation and bids 3N, which makes if South leads the spade 7, which is what happened at the other table, because a spade lead gives declarer two spade tricks.

Play: The best chance to beat the contract is to lead the heart 3, and hope that the four higher honors get played in the first two leads of hearts, giving you the ten to pull the last heart. In your favor, dummy did not bid Stayman, so you know she has less than four hearts, so the chances of the positive split for which you are searching are enhanced. In response to your opening lead, partner played the heart jack, taken by declarer’s king. She leads the Club ace and then takes the finesse. Partner wins the club queen and properly returns the heart queen (when returning partner’s opening lead when you started with three cards in the suit, you lead back your higher card remaining, not your lower card; that tells your partner that you only had three to start with and in this case it also unblocks the suit; if you led the low heart, when partner got in you would be forced to overtake his lead of the ten with your queen and his remaining two good hearts would go wasted), which declarer takes with the ace. She takes two clubs and leads the diamond jack, which partner covers with his king, declarer winning the ace in her hand. She takes the two remaining diamonds in her hand (when south’s ten falls, her 9 is the high diamond out) but now needs to get to the board for her ninth trick to make the contract.  Here’s the situation at this point:



 

                North
                53
                5
                5
               

West                         East
KJ8                         T64
                              7
8                           
                            

                South
                A
                T64
               
               



The only way to the board is spades and when she leads the ten south takes his ace, leads the ten of hearts, pulling the last two hearts making the last two hearts in his hand good for down one.

If your opening lead is a spade, you will never be able to set up your hearts. You must start with your first lead or you can forget about hearts.

So the moral here is that when determining your “longest and strongest” suit in defending no trump, 95% of the time your longest suit is your strongest suit regardless of the high cards you might or might not hold in the suit. But in making this determination, you must hold cards in your hand to get the lead to make your small cards in your long suit good. This means you must be able to take at least one trick with a card in another suit. In this hand, it was the ace of spades (and maybe the queen, depending on the location of the king), which you must preserve until after you’ve set up the long suit.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Lead Tip




                                                East
                                                ♠ T86
                                                ♥ K87
                                                ♦ J953
                                                ♣ K32

                        South
                        ♠ 752
                        ♥ QT6
                        ♦ Q84
                        ♣ AJ74


OL 6 Clubs

West                North               East      South
                        P                      P          P
1S                    P                      2S        All Pass

You are sitting south. Dummy ducks the lead and you put in the Jack, which holds. Seeing the King on the board, you want another lead through the King, so you switch to the weakest suit on the right and lead the diamond 4. Partner takes Declarer’s Ten with the Ace and returns the Queen of Clubs. Dummy ducks, as do you. Partner returns the Ten of Clubs, which you take with the Ace and declarer follows. What do you return? Here’s the situation:

                                                East
                                                ♠ T86
                                                ♥ K87
                                                ♦ J95
                                               

                        South
                        ♠ 752
                        ♥ QT6
                        ♦ Q8
                        ♣ 7


You hold the 13th Club. Generally you don’t want to give declarer a ruff-sluff, but here there is a good possibility that partner has a spade honor and it’s either a singleton or doubleton. The only way to score it is to lead the 13th Club and hope that Partner has a spade honor. Anything else and Declarer will get in and pull trump. Here’s the four hand layout:



                        North
                        ♠ J3
                        ♥ AJ52
                        ♦ A762
                        ♣ QT6


West                                        East
♠ AKQ94                                ♠ T86
♥ 943                                       ♥ K87
♦ KT                                        ♦ J953
♣ 985                                      ♣ K32

                        South
                        ♠ 752
                        ♥ QT6
                        ♦ Q84
                        ♣ AJ74


Bidding: North in first seat could open this hand with 12 HCP, but it’s pretty weak despite two aces, so passing is OK, too. The rest of the bidding is standard.

Play: Partner was a good player and didn’t lead either of his aces. Never lead an ace against a suit contract if you don’t have the King or it’s a singleton. And it’s even worse to underlead an ace. The six of clubs was a perfect lead, low from an honor. You, with an honor on the board and a higher honor in your hand, do not take the trick with the ace. In this situation you should hold your ace to cover the king when it’s played. Since partner led low (the 2 and 3 are on the board and you have the 4, so there’s only one card lower than her lead), she should be promising an honor, so there’s a good chance she has the queen, not declarer. Further, even if declarer does have the queen, you set up two good tricks by playing the Ace, declarer’s queen and dummy’s king. Unless you have some reason to think that declarer might hold the queen singleton, you should play the jack. So you play the jack and it holds.  

Your lead of the 13th Club allows partner to score her Jack of Spades. Declarer is placed in the position of either hoping your partner can’t ruff higher than dummy or trumping with an honor, which would give up a trick if North held Jxx. As it was, this was the setting trick as North scored her trump. Defense took 3 clubs, the aces of hearts and diamonds and the jack of spades. This is one instance where giving declarer the opportunity to ruff-sluff is worth the possibility of getting a trump to score when otherwise there is no hope for it. With any other lead, opponents make 2 spades.