Hand of the Week, Vol. 4 No. 1

Your partner deals and passes. Your opponents have a quick auction: 1NT on your right, 3NT on your left, putting you on lead. What do you choose?

S K Q 9
H K 5 4 3
D 9 7 5
C Q 7 4

If you automatically reach for "fourth down from your longest and strongest," declarer will sail home (with an overtrick, as the cards lie.) With a little more thought, you might ask yourself whether a heart lead from Kxxx really makes sense. There is only room for partner to have about 4 HCP; he may have zero. Even if you find partner with Axx or QJx, he will have nothing else, and declarer will just need a club guess to make his contract.

Your best chance to set this is to lead the SK, hoping for a miracle Axxxx, or the more likely jack-high spade suit plus one other key card that will stop declarer from being able to cash nine fast tricks. The SK is also the best lead at matchpoints, where you may opt for a safe lead that won't give away an overtrick rather than going all-out to try to set 3NT.

Dealer South
NS vul
S K Q 9
H K 5 4 3
D 9 7 5
C Q 7 4
S A 5
H A Q 7
D A J T 4
C 9 6 5 2
[table marker] S T 6 3
H J 8 3
D Q 8 3 2
C A K 8
S J 8 7 4 2
H T 9 6
D K 6
C J T 3

Thoughtful defenders were rewarded, when this hand was played at the Great Falls sectional (Board 15, Saturday morning session, 22 February 2014): even if the diamonds come in, declarer needs a second heart trick for his contract. When the heart finesse loses, the defenders cash the spade suit. The recap sheet was covered with 430s and 400s; finding the right lead was worth a near-top.

A computer analysis of 1000 random 1NT-3NT deals confirms that the SK is best. The spade blows a trick on opening lead about 25% of the time, compared to 42% of the time for the heart. The second-best lead, in fact, is not a heart but a passive diamond, costing a trick about 35% of the time.

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This page last updated 25.02.14
©2014 Gordon Bower