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Great lead, partner!
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If you are interested in bidding, there is a lot of material for you to sink your teeth into. The same goes for declarer play and defense. Opening leads, on the other hand, are seldom (at least in my view) discussed as thoroughly even though there are still lots of IMPs or MPs to earn there. This spring, there have been a couple of examples of very successful leads in the tournaments I've participated in. First up, the Swedish Trials for a spot on the Open Team to this summer's Nordic Championships. Try your hand at this problem:

West
10864
432
A76
543
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
6
P
P
P

 

This is a classic situation for underleading the A. Declarer has denied a diamond cue and dummy jumped to slam so there is certainly a chance of KJx or Kx/Kxx with North (with South having the J in the second cases). As a bonus we have no other, good, alternative making the diamond lead even more tempting. The full deal was:

West
10864
432
A76
543
North
KQ95
AJ
K5
QJ1098
East
J32
10975
Q10943
7
South
A7
KQ86
J82
AK62
W
N
E
S
 
1N
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

My decision to ask with 3 rather than setting trumps with a straightforward 4 over 3 turned out to be very expensive when Mats Nilsland now displayed his skill by leading a low diamond. With not much to go on I misguessed and went down for a huge swing across the field. Had I bid 4, partner would cue 4 and the opening leader would have had less information. The only other declarer to go down in slam was my sister Ida who, after very similar bidding, also played 6 from South and got a diamond lead from Daniel Eriksson. 6NT is, as well as 6, cold from the North hand and two pairs got to the top contract.

Later in the same competition a similar situation arose:

West
8
A1074
A93
Q9765
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2NT
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

The opponents have made a slam try but stopped in 4 which could mean that desperate measures are called for. With the strong hand with diamonds as dummy there is even more that points towards a diamond lead. BG Olofsson trusted his analysis and led a low diamond. This was the full hand:

West
8
A1074
A93
Q9765
North
A1062
KQJ5
K876
A
East
9
9832
QJ4
J10843
South
KQJ7543
6
1052
K2
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
1
P
2N
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
6
J
2
2
0
1
2
6
A
5
0
0
2
9
K
4
5
1
1
2
11 tricks claimed
N/S +450
3

Despite the instant lead (BG is one of Sweden's top Speedball players), Daniel Gullberg had a pretty good feeling for what was going on. To not go down in the unlikely case of East having AQJ-tight and the A he ducked the first trick. After winning the J, East shifted to a heart to West's ace for another low diamond through. "Who leads from Qxx in dummy's suit?" thought Daniel as he called for the king and made an overtrick (another plus for ducking the opening lead, as playing the king at trick one would result in just making).

Two other Wests led a low diamond against spade contracts. One fell from grace when he, when in with the A, cashed the A. The other was on lead against 5 where any diamond was enough to beat the contract, and collected a huge swing for his efforts as no other declarers were tested.

We fast-forward to the Cavendish and one of the qualification sessions where I had a chance to shine:

West
10
KJ96
986
QJ752
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

A heart lead felt like a standout after the splinter sequence. Mainly as partner was a favorite to have the ace, as a heart cue with either opponent might be enough for a further move. Another thing that pointed in that direction was that I had the QJ, honours that would have been wasted for the offense. The question now was which heart to lead? A low heart would be right if declarer had the Q while the surrounding play of the J would work spectacularly well with Qxx in dummy to declarer's 10xx. I decided to go for the latter as dummy was likely to have more strength in hearts considering that declarer probably held honours in both clubs and diamonds. For once (at least according to my partners) I got it right:

West
10
KJ96
986
QJ752
North
K87632
Q84
AJ2
8
East
4
A75
Q1075
K10963
South
AQJ95
1032
K43
A4
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
J
Q
A
2
2
0
1
7
10
K
4
0
0
2
9
8
5
3
0
0
3
10
2
4
A
3
1
3
4

Declarer could do nothing as we cashed the first three heart tricks and later got the Q for one down. A low heart would not have been a success and that was West's choice at many of the other tables, probably after similar bidding. A more passive lead mostly resulted in one down as declarer finessed diamonds and couldn't help losing three tricks in hearts after this. Double dummy, however, my choice was the only setting one as declarer can endplay East with the Q after eliminating the black suits, forcing the defense to open hearts for him.

A last deal featuring Bulgarian winners Stamatov Danailov:

West
North
KQ1096
53
J42
KQ3
East
43
K1076
AK865
52
South
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
3NT
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
9
2
K
3
2
0
1
1

This defensive problem (or at least a very similar one) came up in another of the qualification sessions. Almost all Easts played partner for a doubleton diamond and cashed AK to give him a ruff. That was not right when the full deal was:

West
872
QJ82
9
J10964
North
KQ1096
53
J42
KQ3
East
43
K1076
AK865
52
South
AJ5
A94
Q1073
A87
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
3NT
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
9
2
K
3
2
0
1
8
7
8
4
0
0
2
Q
3
6
A
3
1
2
9 tricks claimed
N/S -100
3

The choice between 3NT and 4 is a delicate one and a pass of 3NT would have resulted in an ice-cold 600. Most of the time, South got away with choosing the wrong game as he could pitch dummy's losing heart on his fourth diamond. The winners were one of only two pairs that beat the contract when East won the K and returned the 8 at trick two! West could ruff and return the Q for one down.

How could East know to play partner for a stiff diamond? Playing second/fourth leads, even from low cards, East knew that partner either had Q9x or the stiff 9. With 109-tight, West would have led the 10, so it was totally safe for East to win the first trick and lead back a low diamond

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