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Play and Defend Better: for improving players 8


Lead, that is! What else could we be talking about?! When the opposition appear to have the minority of the high card points, one place they will try to score extra tricks is by ruffing, whether cross-ruffing (that is in both hands) or by using dummy’s trumps to create extra tricks.

So, the defence can try to stop this happening by leading trumps from the start. Let’s look at a couple of recent examples where a trump lead was required:

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


Some aggressive bidding all round after three initial passes. With both major suits, it seems right for South to open in fourth seat, despite only holding 11 high card points. East-West bid up to 3Club-small, a contract which will be defeated on patient defence. However, North decided to push on to 3Heart-small, probably expecting the opposition to make their contract even if 3Heart-small was not in itself a make. North-South could then afford to go one or two down for a good score (we are playing Pairs bridge).

East also decided 3Club-small was making and so,with a maximum "passed" hand and an active partner doubled 3Heart-small hoping that their opposition had overextended. West had a choice of bad leads, the worst being the Club-smallA which sets up a club trick for South. Indeed, the initial lead of any other suit except for a trump will help declarer to a greater or lesser degree.

Even if West leads a spade, declarer will have the timing to ruff a club in dummy, which along with five trumps and three spade tricks will give the declarer their contract.

However, on the initial lead of a trump (it is usually best to lead your lowest one), South is not going to be able to ruff anything in dummy. East will sacrifice their Heart-smallK (which was never going to make a trick anyway) in the cause of playing three rounds of trumps. The contract is now destined to be defeated by a trick and in fact went two down when South misplayed the spade suit, losing to the jack on the lead of a second low spade from hand, playing West for SKJxx for their take-out double of 1Heart-small.

Neither minor lead was very attractive though the trump lead was the right one no matter how good the defence’s clubs were, with declarer having three potential losers in that suit.

In this next deal, another lengthy competitive sequence preceded a double of 4Club-small with West anticipating that they would make 3Spade-small and that opposition had overstretched. West was kind of right, though not entirely:

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


Again, it was Pairs. At Teams, West would not risk the double but would happily accept one down. The defence could have, this time, survived the Spade-smallA lead though it is not a good choice. The lead of either red suit does nothing for the defence. It had to be a trump. West led their lowest.

That went to the queen and South’s king. South tried for two red suit finesses. The heart finesse worked but not the diamond finesse. Now, West played Club-smallA and another trump…. and the defence could wait for their spade and second diamond tricks to defeat the contract by one trick.

That did not quite compensate for making 3Spade-small (assuming trumps are played correctly or on an initial club lead from South) but it was a far better score for East-West than seeing 4Club-small x make 10 tricks!

The cards were in fact very favourable for South. Even after the club lead, South could have made 10 tricks by leading a low diamond from hand on the first round of the suit, restricting their diamond losers to just one. Without that initial club lead, no matter how South played the diamond suit, they could successfully ruff a diamond loser in dummy, restricting their losers to just one in each suit except for hearts.

The high card points were split evenly on the above deal though, from the defence’s angle, the same principle applied that the declarer may well need tricks by ruffing to make their contract on a relatively small number of high card points. That an initial trump lead (or Spade-smallA then trump switch) was needed to give the defence any chance of success, making the principle equally as important.

Do not lead trumps without cause. Yet, when you have cause, do not be afraid to do so.

Richard Solomon

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