1. What role does the king play in deciding whether to lead an ace?
The king of the suit makes all the difference. I recommend as strongly as possible that if you have a three-card or longer holding headed by the ace, you should not lead this suit unless
you happen to have the ace and the king.
Leading an ace against a suit contract is bad enough. Underleading an ace can be just as bad or worse. Make it your habit to avoid doing either.
3. Are there some examples to illustrate the point?
You bet. Here’s a sample auction to get the discussion started.
You are on lead. Diamonds is the unbid suit, which makes it worth considering for the opening lead. Here are various diamond holdings you might have. Which holdings do you lead from and which card do you lead? Or do you look for some other suit to lead? We’ll go over them one by one.
A–7–3, K–9–3–2, A–J–4–2, K–J–9–3, Q–9–8–4, A–Q–7–6–3, A–K–10–4.
Here are some answers and comments.
♦A 7 3: If this is your diamond holding, look elsewhere. Leading an ace is a terrible habit to develop. Kill this instinct right now. As for leading a low diamond against 2♠, that is equally bad, if not worse.
Use as your rule that if you are on lead against a suit contract and you have a suit headed by the ace without the king, you will not lead the suit.
♦K 9 3 2: Should you lead this diamond suit? I will talk about leading away from kings in another article some day but will happily suggest now that if the auction suggests you lead a certain suit, having the king in that suit is a positive reason to lead it. It does not take much from partner to make the lead a good one.
♦A J 4 2: Back to the theme. A suit headed by the ace should not be led against a suit contract. Do not lead this suit.
♦K J 9 3: Having the king and jack makes this a good choice. If your partner has the queen, you set up two tricks.
♦Q 9 8 4: Not as good to lead from but still, not likely to be a disaster. If your partner bid this suit or if it is an unbid suit, leading from this holding can easily be the winning lead.
♦A Q 7 6 3: It’s back. Do not lead suits that are headed by the ace. Why should you expect your partner to have the king? More likely, declarer has it and he will gain from your plunking down the ace.
♦A K 10 4: Finally, a suit you can lead. Suits headed by the A–K are excellent suits to lead. You can lead the king (or the ace if that is your agreement) and according to what you learn, you can continue the suit or you can switch.
Here is a layout to show you how bad leading an ace-high suit can be.
South opens 1♠ and North makes a limit raise of 3♠. South has extra values, so he goes on to game. If you look at the deal carefully, you will see that South must lose a trick to the ♦A and he must lose a club trick as well. If South is to make 4♠, he must find East with the ♥A.
This means that if West leads anything but a heart, South goes down. If West leads the ♥A, South loses only one heart, and he makes 4♠.
Here comes the crusher. If West leads the ♥4, fourth best, dummy will play the 9 and East will cover with the queen. South wins his king. Again, South has only one heart loser and will make 4♠. Is this the end? No, it is not. South draws trump and leads a heart toward dummy’s jack. West takes his ace and now South can discard his club loser on the ♥J.
As bad as leading the ♥A turned out to be, leading a low heart turned out to be worse.
Here is the bottom line when defending against a suit contract:
Do your partnership a favor and keep those aces in your hand. Keep them for more important jobs than looking at dummy — and don’t underlead them, either. Aces are meant for more important jobs.