Deceptive Opening Leads
Since previous articles in this series have all been written from the defender’s angle, you may have gained the impression that defenders merely sut meekly on the sidelines while declarer performs all kinds of clever tricks at their expense.
This is far from the case — defenders actually have more scope for deception than declarer. In fact, a defender has the opportunity every time he plays a card (unless it is a singleton!)
This is because defenders, unlike declarer, are governed in general by conventional rules. For example, they normally lead the top card of a sequence, the fourth best from a long suit, etc. Amy delibereate departure from these rules by a defender is, in effect a deceptive play.
Thus opportunities for deception are common. The occasion when it is wise for a defender to play deceptively are far less common. After all, it is a far,far better thing to give one’s partner accurate information than to try to mislead declarer. Nevertheless, there are many situations where a defender already knows (or soon will know) what his partner has in a suit, and in such a case it may be possible to mislead the declarer without misleading partner. And what about those situations where one defender knows from his own hand that his partner will play no effective part in the defense? Here again a deceptive effort may be in order.
Deception begins, naturally enough, with the opening lead. Against a notrump contract, the most effective play is to misrepresent one’s suit lengths:
|♠ 9 8 2|
|♥ K 8|
|♦ A J 10 3|
|♠ A K 7 4 3||♣ Q 10 4 2||♠ 10 6|
|♥ A 7 2||♥ 9 6 5 3|
|♦ K 8 6||♦ 7 4 2|
|♣ 9 3||♠ Q J 5||♣ 8 7 6 5|
|♥ Q J 10 4|
|♦ Q 9 5|
|♣ A K J|
Suppose North and South have bid very confidently to 3NT. West doesn’t have to be a genius to see that his partner can have virtually nothing, so he knows East won’t mind being misled. So, instead of leading his fourth-best spade, West leads the three-spot. Thinking West has only four spades, South decides to force out the ♥A. Then West produces one more spade than expected.
At least, that’s what you hope will happen when you employ a deceptive lead. Clearly, if West were to lead a normal fourth-best spade, declarer would allow for the possibility of a five-card suit and might decide to take the diamond finesse instead of establishing his heart suit.
It is necessary at this point to utter a solemn warning. The indiscriminate use of deceptive leads does far more than defeat its object — it destroys the partnership. Use then only when partner will not mind being deceived: when he is marked with no strength and has no part to play.
Another gambit, which is actually more useful than the one described, is the deceptive lead of third-best from a four card suit. The object now is to persuade declarer that you may have a five-card suit:
|♠ Q J 7|
|♥ K 9 3|
|♦ Q 9 8 4|
|♠ A 8 4 2||♣ K 8 5||♠ 10 6 5 3|
|♥ A J 6||♥ 10 7 5 4|
|♦ A 6||♦ 5 3 2|
|♣ J 7 4 3||♠ K 9||♣ 9 6|
|♥ Q 8 2|
|♦ K J 10 7|
|♣ A Q 10 2|
Again the opponents reach a confident 3NT, and again it is clear to West that his partner is due to be a broken reed. At most tables, West will lead the ♠2. In that case South will dislodge the ♦A, win the spade return and, noting that the defenders spades appear to be 4-4, lead a heart. Result: nine tricks.
Now suppose that West, noting that he is fighting a lone battle, decides to lead the ♠4. Declarer forces out the ♦A as before, but this time the ♠2 comes back. Now South’s native hue of resolution is bound to be sicklied o’er with the pale cast of though. If he places West with five spades, he will not look to hearts for his ninth trick, but will try to cash four club tricks. Result: down one.
The lead of third-best from a four-card suit is potentially useful at duplicate because it is a saver of overtricks. Declarer often cashes out earlier than necessary for fear of a five-bagger.
Against a trump contract, the only deceptive opening lead of real value is the underlead of an ace. This counts as deceptive because, of course, it is greatly frowned on in the ordinary way.
When you underlead an ace, you fervently hope that dummy will go down with KJx or with Kxx opposite declarer’s Jx. It is pointless, therefore, to lead low from such holding as AJx or AQx, as the hoped-for conditions cannot exist. There’s no sense in betting against yourself. The ideal time for underleading is when dummy has opened a notrump, the declarer’s hand is known to be weak, and you have no other attractive lead. For example, North opens 1NT, South signs off with 2♠, and you, West, are on lead with:
♠ 7 3
♥A 8 2
♦J 7 4 3
♣K 9 6 2
Spades, diamonds and clubs do not look attractive. A low heart, on the other hand, is both deceptive and safe, against this low-level contract, since if declarer wins with dummy’s king, having a singleton in his own hand, he will have gained nothing, as he will have a loser elsewhere that he could have discarded on the ♥K if you had cashed the ace.
Underleading aces is not all honey, however, and one of the hazards is that, just when you strike the right moment, your partner may display even less awareness as usual:
|You||♣ K J 5||Your Partner|
|♣ A 8 6 2||♣ Q 9 7 3|
|♣ 10 4|
You are West, defending against a trump partial, and this is a side suit. With your customary brilliance you lead a low club and dummy, of course, plays low. If your partner selects this moment to finesse the nine, you must at all costs avoid the sharp intake of breath or involuntary groan. Be cool. Later, South will lead the four-spot, and if you play low once more, the trick will come back. Similarily:
|You||♠ K 8 6 4||Your Partner|
|♠ A 9 7 3||♠ J 10 2|
|♠ Q 5|
The opening lead runs to South’s queen and declarer later leads towards the king. Unless you can count that the king will give declarer the remaining tricks you should duck. Declarer will surely play low from dummy, hoping to establish the king with a third-round ruff.
Repeat of cautionary note: Anyone can make a deceptive lead. But it is essential to use this tempting ploy only on those occasions when there really is a reason for thinking that declarer may be misted and partner will not.