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Opening leads


The opening lead is extremely important; it often determines the fate of the contract. A successful lead is one that creates tricks for the defense. An unsuccessful one gives away tricks to the declarer.

We also make agreements about leads to help partner figure out what we have in the rest of the suit we led from.


Because the defense leads first, you have the “tempo” advantage and get to act first.

Consider a scenario where declarer is playing in NT. They have 12 spades missing the spade ace. The defender on lead has 12 hearts missing the heart Ace. Because the defense is on lead, they can first knock out the ♥A and set up their heart tricks before declarer can knock out the ♠A and cash his spade tricks. Thus, the defense has a tempo advantage. Defenders want to make the best opening lead that capitalizes on their tempo advantage.

Next, we will discuss three great leads to choose from.

1. Top of an honor sequence

By leading an honor, your partner can deduce that you have the honor right under.

Ex: AK3, KQ5, QJ4, JT8

This lead follows the trick-taking principle of promotion.


KQx Jxxx


By leading the K, West promotes the Q and J into tricks.

2. Shortness

This is a trump-contract-specific lead. You lead your shortness (singleton or doubleton) in the hopes that you can ruff in that suit later in the play.

Do not do this if you cannot realistically get a ruff (Ex: you have a singleton in trump) or that you will be giving away a trump trick by ruffing (Ex: QJT in trumps)

This lead follows the trick-taking principle of scoring small trumps.

Note: Always lead high from doubleton (if you choose to lead the suit)

Ex: with 74, lead the 7

Ex: with K8, lead the K (though this is usually a terrible lead)

3. Fourth Best

What this means is leading the 4th highest card from your best suit. Example: A752, K8532.

The advantage of this (mainly vs NT) is that you are leading your strong, and long suit, potentially setting up the suit and creating tricks.

Also, by leading 4th best, your partner might be able to deduce your length. Ex: if you lead the 2, your partner will know that you can not have 5 cards in the suit.

This lead follows the trick-taking principle of setting up long suits.

How Bidding Influences Leading

A good defender always examines the auction for clues on the best lead.

It is usually good to lead partner’s bid suit since it offers a good chance of setting up tricks. This is especially true against NT, because your opponents cannot trump away the winners that you establish.

It is usually good to lead suits that opponents did not bid, because they are less likely to have strength in that suit.

Trump Leads

The main purpose of a trump lead is to reduce the declarer’s ability to ruff from the shorter trump suit. It is sometimes obvious from the bidding that the declarer plans on doing so.

Another reason might be that a trump lead is your only safe lead. If you feel that all other suits might blow a trick (for example, leading away from the King into declarer’s AQ), then you can choose to go passive with a trump lead.

Be careful of leading from risky trump holdings, such as Qxx. If declarer has AJT9-K876 in trumps, you resolve their guess for where the trump Q is.

Bad Leads

There are some leads that are extremely risky, or flat-out wrong.

Underleading an A against a Trump contract

How would you feel if declarer gets to score a stiff K because you underlead an A?



Axxx QJT9x


Note that you can underlead Aces against notrump contracts. You would often want to do so as a 4th best lead.

Leading random unsupported honors

If you choose to lead from K83, lead the 3 and not the K!

Leading an honor should show either the one below it (KQ), a doubleton (Kx), or a singleton (K)


The opponents bid to 3NT (1NT - p - 3NT - ap), and you have:


♥ 82

♦ AT3

♣ 743

Lead the ♠K, setting up 4 tricks in spades. You also have a ♦A as an entry to cash them later.

The opponents bid to 4S (1S - p - 2S - p - 4S - ap), and you have:

♠ 943

♥ 3

♦ QT432

♣ KJ84

Lead the ♥3. If partner has the ♥A, partner can win and give you a heart ruff. If partner does not, partner may be able to get on lead before declarer can draw trumps and give you a heart ruff then.

The opponents bid to 3NT (1NT - p - 3NT - ap), and you have:

♠ KJ8

♥ 82

♦ AT852

♣ 743

Lead the ♦5 (4th best), hoping to set up tricks in diamonds.

Practice Quiz

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