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PLAY and DEFENCE for Improving Players


I have often wondered the virtues of the so called “Lightner” double of a slam contract. In theory, we believe that if a slam is going to be beaten (other than if it was bid as a sacrifice) that it could well take an unusual lead to do so. Classically, you overcall a suit and they bid on to slam. They would be mad not to have an adequate hold in your suit. Therefore, we can use this double, by the defender not on lead to indicate that a different from normal lead is required, often dummy’s first bid suit. The defender on lead normally has a large number of cards in the suit in which the lead is required, making the choice simple. The standard holding for such a double is a void in the suit led and an ace in a different suit.

What if you want to double because you think the contract must go down? The answer is “double anyway” but be sure it will still be defeated by the lead partner will make.

I have seen the Lightner backfire in a number of ways. The opponents have headed off to the safety of 6NT where the first round ruff is a little less damaging! I have seen opener on lead fail to find the right suit to lead. (“Well, if I had not doubled, you would never have found the correct lead” muttered their partner as the slam made.) I have even experienced the ultimate frustration of being void in the suit I knew partner wanted led. A recent board in the Canberra Festival of Bridge offered even more evidence of the Lightner’s dubious worth.

Board 18
East Deals
N-S Vul
A K Q J 8 3
8 7 4
A 7 3
10 9 7 6 2
J 10 6
K J 7 4
W   E
J 6 5 3 2
A 9 8 6 5 3 2
5 4
A K Q 10
K Q 9 8 5 4
West North East South
    Pass 1 
Pass 1  2  3 
4  4 NT 6  6 
Pass Pass Dbl Pass
Pass 6  All pass  


(2Diamond-small showed Heart-small and Club-small while 6Diamond-small showed two key cards with Diamond-small as trumps. South was wisely unwilling to go beyond his long suit at the 6 level to confirm holding the Diamond-smallQ).

Are you listening? Did you act?

When I chose to make 6Diamond-small the final contract, East must have thought he had a real textbook Lightner double as I, North, had bid spades first. 6Diamond-smallx was indeed about to be defeated but I corrected the final contract to 6Spade-small. It was time not just to “listen” to the bidding but to act on it. Partner owed me a couple of trumps and did not let me down!

East led a heart won high in dummy giving me the opportunity to take a deep first round trump finesse….running the 5 when East played low though just in case East found the Spade-small6 or Spade-small7 in his back pocket, I played the Spade-small8 from hand before drawing trumps and running the diamonds for an overtrick. Note it does not help West to play any higher spade on the first round of the suit.  

Anyone for diving?

Since West held three diamonds, 6Spade-small was cold on a heart lead even if the exotic first round trump finesse was not taken. Would West have led a spade against 6Diamond-small undoubled? We will never know. Maybe East-West should have cut their losses (it would have been a gain against even game had they done so) by sacrificing in 7Club-small, just two down at the right vulnerability.

For me, it is just another entry in my largish book of slam hands where “the Lightner went wrong”.  

Richard Solomon




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