Standard (?) Leads


Pat Harrington

Do you remember taking standardized tests in school where the instructions told you to choose he item that does not belong in this group? If you look at the section of the convention card dealing with honor leads versus notrump contracts, you may feel that you are back in school. A couple of standard opening leads don’t seem to belong. They do not fit the guidelines we’ve
discussed for leading an honor: lead top with three or more high cards in sequence and lead top of touching high cards with two high cards in sequence plus a third non-touching high card.

The convention card shows you several holdings and instructs you to circle the card led, if it is not shown in boldface. Your partnership is not obligated to lead as suggested. However, when you have a different agreement, you are obligated to circle the card that you have agreed to lead so that your opponents get the same information from your opening lead that your partner gets. The boldface honor leads on your convention card look something like this:
A K J x    A Q J x
A J 10 9     A 10 9 x
K Q J x    K Q 10 9
Q J 10 x     Q 10 9 x
J 10 9 x     10 9 x x

Which leads don’t seem to belong in the above group? Every holding has at least two cards in a sequence headed by an honor. In addition, most holdings have a third card that is either an honor or part of the sequence. Only the last holding (10-9-x-x) has no face cards. Would you lead the 10 from that holding or would you lead fourth best? There is no correct answer. The card you lead could depend on the level of the contract and the auction. With no specific information, which card do you lead? The 10 is considered standard because partner has some right to expect you to have something better than a 10 when you lead fourth best, but some (including the late great teacher Bill Root) advocate leading fourth best here.

The other two holdings that do not seem to belong are the lead of the king from A-K-J-x and the lead of the queen from K-Q-10-9. We’ve been advocating the lead of the top of touching honors from holdings like these but the standard lead is the lower honor. Is this a plot to confuse you?

Suppose you are lucky enough to be on opening lead versus 3NT holding ♠A K J 10 9. What would you like to know about this suit? First, I would want to know who has the queen. Second, if partner doesn’t have the queen, I would like to know if it is possible that declarer started with a doubleton queen.

The lead of the ace from a holding like this can clarify the situation. On this lead partner is asked not to signal but to drop an honor if he holds one. When partner drops an honor, you
know your suit will run. If partner doesn’t have an honor, he gives count (high-low to show an even number and low-high to show an odd number of cards in your suit). You may be able to figure out whether the queen will fall.

If you do agree to use the ace to ask partner to unblock, your suit had better be ready to run once partner dumps his honor. You can’t necessarily afford to see partner unblock when you have A-K-J-x or even A-K-Q-x. Declarer could have four cards in your suit, and careless use of partner’s honor could set up a trick for declarer.

Leading the ace to ask partner to unblock an honor means you must lead the king from both king-queen and ace-king. If you’ve led from ace-king, the queen is the next card in sequence — an equal honor — and that is the card you want to know about. If you’ve led from K-Q, the jack is the card you’re interested in. Poor partner may not have enoughinformation to know what you are looking for and you could have more signaling accidents.

The experts, who have years of experience signaling and reading cards, can figure this out more often than you can, and even they have the occasional accident. It’s important to recognize that, if you do not mark your convention card, you are expected to be leading the king from A-K-J-x. Discuss this lead with your partner and circle the ace if that is your preference. Your convention card should be marked the way you habitually play, and both you and partner are expected to play the same way. The last lead that “doesn’t belong” is the queen from K-Q-10-9. The
standard opening lead of the queen from this holding is a command to partner to drop the jack on the first trick when he holds it. The missing card that really concerns you with this holding is the jack, not the ace. If partner has the jack, you can afford to continue leading the suit. But we’ve seen that declarer, with the ace and jack, can hold off on winning the first
trick to entice you to lead into the tenace.

Partner could signal encouragement with either the jack or the ace, but it isn’t always possible to send a clear signal. Leading the queen from a holding like this one tells partner that
it’s safe to drop the jack. Again, make sure you can afford to see partner drop the jack. With K-Q-10-x, you might not be able to afford to have partner waste the jack, so the king is
the standard lead. Even with K-Q-10-x-x, if there is a chance for declarer to have a four-card suit, you can’t afford to have partner drop the jack, and you should lead the king. When
you lead the queen from K-Q, your suit should be solid except for the ace and jack — or your suit must be long enough that you aren’t worried about anyone having a four-card suit.

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