Play a pre-emptor who leads his suit for a singleton trump

Andrew Robson ( England )

Born in 1964, ANDY ROBSON is now a professional bridge player, teacher and writer  He is the correspondent of The Times and Country Life . He won the World Junior Teams in 1989 and the European Open Teams in 1991. He plays on professional teams both in England and the USA . In 1996 he played on the first professional team to represent Great Britain in a World event.


SAY you open the bidding with a three-level pre-empt. Soon you find yourself on lead to an enemy trump contract. What do you lead?

Well, of course, you need to know your hand, but generally? 'A priori'?

Perhaps your first thought is that you will lead a side-suit singleton, if you have one. How likely is that going to be? We shall assume a fairly aggressive, though sane, style of pre-empting: that, as well as seven-card suits, you will open a fair number of 6-3-3-1 or 6-4-2-1 hand patterns at the three level, but very few 6-3-2-2 or 6-4-3-0 shapes. In this event your hand will contain a singleton over three-quarters of the time, and, if that singleton is in a side suit, you will generally lead it.

The enemy have an unfortunate habit, however, of playing in their longest trump fit. Thus, sadly, your singleton is more likely to be in trumps than elsewhere. In fact, about half the time you are on lead to a trump contract, having pre-empted, you will hold a singleton trump. Now, what do you tend to lead holding a 7-3-2-1, 6-3-3-1 or 6-4-2-1 shape with a singleton trump? Most of the time you lead your own suit, do you not? What of the other 20-25% of hands, when you don't hold a singleton at all? On a little under half such deals you will hold a void (7-3-3-0, 7-4-2-0, very occasionally 6-4-3-0) and unsurprisingly it will nearly always be in trumps, particularly if partner has doubled! On the rest you will be 7-2-2-2 (or occasionally 6-3-2-2). Again, on all these hands you are likely to lead your own suit. Our final conclusion: if a pre-emptor leads his own suit, he will have a singleton trump about two-thirds of the time; but he will have two or more trumps less than one-fifth of the time, basically the dreaded 7-2-2-2 pattern, though actually nearly four times less frequent than the 7-3-2-1. More simply explained: the large majority of pre-empts contain a singleton; if it's in a side suit it will be led; if it isn't led it's in trumps!

With the above in mind, you can improve on my line of play on this hand from the Cap Gemini 1991:

  K J 10 4 

  6 4

J 8 4 3 

  4 3

Love All Dealer W

♠ A 9 8 3

K Q J 9 5 3



SOUTH       WEST        NORTH       EAST 

Robson      Kreijns    Forrester  Tammens

    3♣          Pass      3NT

4♥           All Pass

West leads the ace of clubs. When dummy hits the table, you realize that you would have done better to pass or double East's 3NT. But West's lead of the ace of clubs gives you a chance.

At the table I ruffed, crossed to the king of spades, took my diamond pitch on the king of clubs and played a heart to the king. I was essentially playing for both majors to break, with the queen of spades doubleton. Unlikely. Virtually impossible after the pre-empt and the 3NT bid. I ended up two down. Let's analyse the clues available. West has found an unattractive ace lead in his pre-empt suit; so where is his singleton? Surely not in diamonds or spades or he would have led it. Thus it is in trumps. And East, no joker, has bid 3NT, thus he has the guarded queen of spades. These clues, none of them certain, but all probable through intelligent inference, lead to the following line:

After crossing to the king of spades and taking your diamond pitch on the king of clubs, run the jack of spades. Assuming it is not covered, play a heart to the nine(!). If the spade is covered, play a top heart from hand to draw West's singleton and subsequently cross to dummy's ten of spades and play a heart to the nine. Neat! Let's hope West's singleton trump is not the ten, as it may well be if East doesn't cover the jack of spades! Note that playing East for Qxx in spades forces us to play West for a singleton trump (or the ace impossible on the bidding); otherwise East can rise with the ace of hearts to give his partner a spade ruff. The full hand is as expected:


West Dealer

 K J 10 4




Love All

 6 4





 J 8 4 3





 K 4 3









 5 2



 Q 7 6



W                          E

 A 10 7 2

 K 6 5



 A Q 7

 A J 10 9 6 5 2



 Q 8 7









A 9 8 3





 K Q J 9 5 3





 10 9 2








My BOLS bridge tip is:  Play a pre-emptor who leads his suit for a singleton trump.