Consider whether to lead an honour

Jeremy Flint ( England )

IT is normal in bridge to lead low from a suit of three or more cards headed by an unsupported honour card. There are, however, some basic situations where the lead of the high card may produce better results.

The most common of these occurs when there has been a competitive auction. Suppose that the defender on lead has, say, Kxxx of his partner's suit and scarcely any other assets. It may very well be good play to start with the king in order to retain the lead and find the killing switch through the dummy.

Experienced players will recognize that kind of situation readily enough. Here is a case where a little more thought is required. The bidding has been:


1♣           1♠

2          2♠

2NT        3NT


West has to lead from:


♠ K107



♣ J976


The opponents' bidding suggests that they have little to spare. Furthermore, South has displayed lukewarm enthusiasm for his partner's suit. For that reason it is good play to attack with a spade. No other lead appeals and declarer may well be embarrassed by an early assault on dummy's entry.

Having reached that conclusion, the best card to lead is the king. Declarer may misjudge the lie of the suit or the king may even score a trick by force. In play this was the full deal:



South Dealer

A J 9 8 4 3




N-S Game


 J 3 2





J 7





 10 2









K 10 7



Q 6 5


 Q 10 4


W                         E

 K 7 6 5

 Q 3 2



 K 8 6 4

 J 9 7 6



 5 3














 A 9 8





 A 10 9 5





 A K Q 8 4




Not unnaturally, declarer allowed the king of spades to win. On the next trick he received a nasty shock when the jack of spades lost to the queen. He elected to discard a heart. Now, after a heart switch and continuation, he was limited to six tricks.

At the other tables, after a heart opening lead, South succeeded in scrambling home with two heart tricks, four clubs, two diamond tricks and a spade.

Another situation that frequently confronts a defender is to possess practically all of his side's assets and yet to have no attractive opening lead at his disposal. Here is a typical example:



South Dealer

K 7 4




Game All

 A 10 4





 A 8 7 4 3





 7 2









Q 10 2



8 6 5

 Q 9 5


W                         E


 J 7 3 2

 K J 9 6



 10 5

 A Q 3



 8 6 5 4









A J 9 3






 K 8 6





 Q 2





 K J 10 9



           The bidding has been                
















North's Two Hearts is artificial, fourth-suit forcing. With no attractive alternative, We decides to lead this suit. It is easy for West t appreciate that East can have at most one or two points. Unless East has an honour in hearts it will be immaterial which heart West choose to lead. However, if East happens to have the jack, the queen will be the superior lead for three reasons. Firstly, declarer may we misjudge the lie of the suit. Secondly, the presence of the nine in West's hand means that declarer's options in the play of the suit will be restricted. Finally, if declarer does go wrong the effect will be to create a vital entry in East hand. This last consideration is of prime importance, since in this type of hand West is all too likely to find himself repeatedly on play

In our example, declarer wins the lead of the queen of hearts in his own hand, goes to dummy with the king of spades and leads a club, losing the nine to West's queen. West continues with a heart which East wins. Appreciating that his own hand is dead, East switches to a diamond and now the contract is doomed.

It is clear that if West starts with a low heart instead of the queen, East will never gain the lead and declarer is likely to come home a winner without ever being seriously threatened.


My BOLS bridge tip, therefore, is:

  Instead of stolidly pushing out an unimaginative small card from three or four to an honour,
   you should consider whether to lead the honour.