Hand of the Week, Vol. 4 No. 6

Playing a strong team in the Sunday Swiss at the Boise Sweetheart Sectional, 09 February 2014, I held the following uninspiring hand. My opponents had an uncontested auction to 3NT, and I had to choose an opening lead.

S 9 8 2
H 9 7 2
D K J 4 3
C Q 6 5


First, what do I expect my opponents to have? Declarer, for her reverse, should be 1-3-4-5 or 1-2-4-6; she might be playing in spades if she had two, she might be afraid to try notrump with a void, and she has to have more clubs than diamonds for her reverse. Dummy will have 5 or 6 spades, and is likely to be balanced, too short to raise a minor. That leaves my partner with the majors, and more diamonds than clubs: let's say 4-5-3-1.

Obviously a club lead away from the Qxx in declarer's best suit is out. A major-suit lead will work well if partner has two honors in the suit, less well if he has only one and I finesse him out of it. A diamond lead will work well if partner has the ace or queen; if he doesn't, we haven't lost our chance for two diamond tricks, though we may lose the timing to set up something else. At the table, I tried a diamond and it turned out very poorly.

Dealer East
None vul
S A J T 6 3
H Q 8 3
D 6 2
C J 7 3
S 9 8 2
H 9 7 2
D K J 4 3
C Q 6 5
[table marker] S K Q 7 4
H A T 6 5
D T 7 5
C T 4
S 5
H K J 4
D A Q 9 8
C A K 9 8 2

A bit of further thought shows that the major-suit leads have a couple extra ways to win. If a diamond is right, partner may shift to a diamond when he wins a spade or heart trick. If a diamond is wrong, it may be too late to set up our side's best major when we get back in. Hearts are more appealing in that partner rates to have longer hearts than spades; on the other hand, a spade lead will be through strength and won't finesse partner.

I posted the hand on the Bridge Base Online forums the week after the tournament. A plurality of the experts who replied opted for the S9 opening lead. At the table, either major gave the defense time to set up 5 tricks, while a diamond lead let declarer win 4 clubs, 2 hearts, 2 diamonds, and a spade.

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©2014 Gordon Bower