Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Brian Pauls bridge

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What criteria should one use in selecting an opening lead against a suit contract:

1. Attack by leading a high card or from an honour card, in the hope of establishing a trick or tricks in the suit led?

2. Lead from a long suit in an effort to force declarer to use up his trumps?

3. Seek a safe lead?

4. Lead a short suit to try for a ruff?

 

This deal from a recent duplicate tournament demonstrates how much difference that choice can make:

 

NORTH

 

 A K

 

A J 9 7 6 5

 K Q 10 89 2

 

SOUTH

 

Q J 8 6 5 3

6 5

K Q 10

J 7

 

East dealt and opened the bidding with two hearts, promising 5-11 high card points with a six-card heart suit. Both sides were vulnerable. Subsequently, all players entered the bidding, South arriving at a contract of five spades after East-West pushed on to five hearts, hoping to find a cheap sacrifice against four spades, at which spot North-South initially landed.

 

West held:

 

10 7 4

A J 10 4 3

8

 9 6 5 3

At most tables, after a similar auction, West led the ace of hearts (plan 1, above). Declarer ruffed in dummy, played the remaining high trump, entered the South hand in diamonds, drew trumps and made 13 tricks (all losers are discarded on dummy's diamond winners).

At others, West led a club (plan 2 or 3, above). Declarer lost a trick to the ace of clubs, but took the other 12 tricks in comfort.

Finally, at some tables, West tried the singleton diamond. What could declarer do?

A decision to win in hand, ruff a heart and lead a club to the jack would have produced 11 tricks, since declarer loses only the ace of clubs and a diamond ruff unless East ducks the ace whereupon the defenders can obtain a trump promotion later after declarer ruffs his second heart in dummy, defeating the contract one trick via a seeing-eye defence.

But after the diamond lead, declarer at one table was greedier. He won, drew two rounds of trumps, then tried to enter his hand with a diamond to draw the remaining trump. The consequence was that the defenders obtained a diamond ruff, the ace of clubs and two tricks in hearts since dummy's trumps were gone. Down two!

Was West lucky or skilful with the opening lead? My answer: the consequence was wildly fortunate, but the choice made was the correct one.

Note that East-West were correct during the auction also. A contract of five hearts, at which level they ceased bidding. would have been down only two doubled, less than the value of the spade game made at most tables.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 15, 2014 D18

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