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Thinking Like A Killing Leader...

Mr. Ron Zucker recently published a lead-problem that I consider one of the most interesting lead-problems I have ever seen. You can find it here:

http://bridgewinners.com/article/view/lead-problem-456/ 

You are on lead against 7 after seeing the bidding:

W
N
E
S
1
3
3
P
3
P
4
P
4NT
P
5
P
6
P
7
P
P
P

What do you lead from the following hand and why?

South
1083
A5
5
KJ87532

Many players would think - how nice, opponents got a mess-up, now I will cash the A and set them quickly. Unfortunately, such thinking would be very wrong.

Maybe it is not so clear what lead is the best, but the A is certainly the worst lead you can pick. Just because opponents had a bidding accident, this doesn't mean West couldn't still have a heart-void. If West doesn't have a heart-void, the singleton heart isn't going anywhere, so you will take your A sooner or later.

As some very good players pointed out, it is hard to envision a board where the A lead gives away the contract. Yes, it is hard, but it is still possible. Just consider:

West
QJ76
A9876
A964
East
AK42
KJ1098
KQJ
10

The 7 contract is doomed on any lead except the heart lead. After a heart lead, declarer could play on trumps 3-2 and pretty easily take 4 spades, 1 heart, 5 diamonds, 1 club and 2 heart ruffs. Since we really don't want to let opponents win when they bid a slam like that one, we simply don't lead the A ever.

Now, let's go back and analyze the bidding, trying to conclude what lead is best in general and why.

The key-bid we should focus to is opener's 6. Why did East bid 6? Essentially there can be only two reasons:

  • East was asking West for a 3rd round control in diamonds (this is what West most certainly was thinking), trying to play a grand, or
  • East was placing the contract, for some strange reason preferring not to play 6.

Since we look at the A, we know East didn't have all controls to try for a grand-slam. Therefore we can safely conclude East bid 6 trying to play a slam in partner's suit. OK, but why did East choose to play 6 instead of 6? Again, there might be only two reasons:

  • East was thinking 6 is making when 6 isn't, or
  • East doesn't really have 4 spades.

East could maybe think 6 isn't making because his spades are weak. But in that case, why did he introduce such suit with 3? Partner isn't a favorite to hold 4 spades anyway, since he didn't double 3. East could just raise diamonds and check which level is the proper one. All in all, East's bidding doesn't make much sense, if he really has 4 spades he promised with the 3 bid.

What about hands with three spades? Could East ever bid 3 as a probe for 3NT, changing gears after hearing for a club cuebid?

Well, with:

East
AK6
KJ1074
KJ74
10

3 maybe isn't the best bid around (although I could see some merit), but is certainly not impossible, especially if East doesn't expect a raise. Even if West held 4 spades, West might think nothing could prevent him of playing in diamonds anyway.

After all, who can tell West's hand isn't something like:

West
J4
64
AQ109763
K4

where any game-contract except 3NT is in danger?

All of this maybe won't be a frequent occurrence, but since it is still possible and a lot of IMPs are at stake, better if we don't ignore it.

So, what should we lead from our hand?

South
1083
A5
5
KJ87532

 

Attempting to find the right answer, we should consider declarer's play with a standard layout as:

West
QJ94
AQ10963
A96
East
AK6
KJ1074
KJ74
10

The best declarer can do is try to ruff two clubs in hand, hoping spades are 3-3, trying to score 4, 6, A and two club ruffs.

Let's say we lead an "automatic" trump. Declarer takes the A, takes the A, ruffs a club low, crosses in diamonds, ruffs another club high, ruffs a heart, cashes QJ and claims 13 tricks.

All of this happened because our lead gave a lot of communications to declarer.

However, what if we lead a diamond instead, trying to mess with declarer's entries? In that case declarer would miss a vital entry to the dummy, but still, he could make the contract using a spade entry this time, in the hope our spade holding is Txx. His line would in that case be: A, A, club ruff with the A, spade to the 9, club ruff with the K, heart ruff, QJ, claim.

However, if the 9 isn't in the hand with long spades - declarer doesn't have any chances after a diamond lead. This is the reason why the diamond lead is the best lead in this spot. Indeed, this is the only lead setting 7 when the layout is:

West
QJ74
AQ10963
A96
East
AK6
KJ1074
KJ74
10

Not only that, the diamond lead (among many others) sets 7 easily when the layout is:

West
Q974
AQ10963
A96
East
AK6
KJ1074
KJ74
10

while the "classic" heart lead is the only one to let the contract through.

Furthermore, the diamond lead is the only lead to set 7 safely even with trumps being 4-4, when opponents' hands look like:

West
KQ42
Q9874
AQ94
East
AJ97
KJ1093
AK6
10

since after the trump lead declarer might decide to play for trumps being 3-2 (overtaking a honor, on his way of ruffing two hearts in dummy) instead of diamonds being 3-2.

 

Setting a grand-slam by leading a singleton, refusing to lead an ace, is a very cute move, maybe even you should try it sometimes. Cool

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