Barry Rigal (England)


Barry Rigal has lived most of his life in London where he worked as a tax accountant and played bridge on the British tournament scene. In 1994 his company relocated to Aberdeen and he declined the offer to accompany them. Instead he moved to New York where he now lives with Sue Picus, Venice Cup winner of 1991 and 1993. No longer working as an accountant, he earns his living as a professional bridge writer and commentator.


BRIDGE beginners soon learn that the simplest way to win tricks is to keep high cards until they need them. Subsequently the idea of signalling attitude, count or Lavinthal persuades them to play a card other than their smallest on some occasions. In addition they discover tactical plays to gain tricks in a suit in isolation, such as false-carding. These plays would merit an article on their own, but that is not my theme.

There are many other reasons for not following with your smallest card. Here are some examples (on all occasions you are playing fourth highest leads).

1. Avoiding the endplay

South opens 1NT (12-14) and is raised straight to game by his partner. You lead the two of hearts:



South Dealer

Q 9 5


E-W Game

 A J



 A K 4 3



10 7 5 3





A 4 3 



 10 8 3 2


W                        E

9 7



K J 6 4




When dummy plays small, your partner wins his king and returns the five, declarer following with the four and nine. At this point you might automatically play the three of hearts; but you know your partner has four hearts from his return of the five, and would you not prefer your partner to win the fourth round of the suit?

If declarer has for example :-



 K J 2


  K J 7 2

 Q 9 4


 Q 9 4


Q 6 2


 J 6 2

 A Q 8 2


 A Q 8


then he can succeed if you fail to unblock in hearts. He can knock out the ace of spades and then take all his side-suit winners before attempting the losing club finesse. You may take your winning heart, but will still be on lead to concede the ninth trick in clubs.

2 The unblock

  Your partner leads the three of clubs. Declarer plays the eight from dummy and your king

A Q J 6 2



 K 6 4



 K Q 3



 10 8









 K 5 4



 Q 7 5 4



 J  8



K 9 7 4




 2 *




 * transfer to Spades

loses to the ace. Declarer then plays a spade to the jack. Plan the defence. Do not duck that could well be declarer's ninth trick. Having won your king, the normal card to return from your remaining club holding is the four, but this will be fatal if partner has Q6532, as the suit will be inextricably blocked. So you return the nine. But that is not all; what if partner has QJ532? Remember to unblock the seven on the next round and all will be well.

3 Disruption of declarer's timing

My third example is from the 1983 World Championship, everyone reaching a game or slam in hearts on a spade lead.


South Dealer

A K 3




E-W Game

 9 8 6





 A 6 4 3 2





 K 10









 Q 6 5



 J 9 8 7 4

 Q 4 3


W                        E

 K 10

 K 9 5



 Q J 10 8

 J 7 6 4



 5 3









 10 2





 A J 7 5 2










 A Q 9 8 2



As you can see, left to their own devices all our declarers would surely have made twelve tricks. After winning the spade and playing a heart to the ten, jack and queen, they would have later drawn a second trump, and ruffed a club. However, the Easts were not going to make it so easy; they all played the king of hearts on the first round, giving declarer a choice of losing options. If he carried on drawing trumps the defence would play a third round, and declarer would, unless psychic, lose a club. If declarer tried to ruff a club before drawing trumps he would be overruffed and still have a trump loser.

4 Prevention of the avoidance play

Space prevents me from showing full hands for my final two categories, but let us simply look at this suit in isolation:











J 9 6



 Q 10 8 7









 A 4 3 2



Watch what happened to my team-mate sitting West. With an otherwise entryless hand he had led his semi-solid hearts against 3NT. Declarer (who knew from the bidding that East had only one heart) won the first trick and innocently advanced the four of spades. When West played the six, declarer could safely duck and later endplay East with the fourth round of the suit to concede the ninth trick. But if West had played the nine of spades at his first turn declarer could not follow this line, or West would remain on lead for an avalanche of hearts.

The moral: when declarer may want to keep you off lead, for whatever reason, the logical riposte ought be to try and prevent him from doing so by playing whatever high or intermediate cards you feel you can afford.


5 Protecting your partner's entry

Finally, when dummy leads a low card it feels unnatural to play an unsupported honour in second seat. One feels perhaps that it is taking declarer's finesses for him, or that you may crash your partner's high cards. As against that, in general your honour would be finessable anyway; it is particularly relevant to consider rising with an honour when you are trying to establish partner's suit and you think he may be short of entries. Any time that you hold a doubleton (or even tripleton) ace or king it might be right to rise with your honour when the suit is led from dummy.

My BOLS bridge tip is:

Never automatically follow suit with your lowest card;
consider playing an intermediate or an honour card.