A Complete Bridge Leads Course

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An optimal time to lead trumps is when dummy…

Neil Timm
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Neil Timm

Source: http://www.pitt.edu/~timm/

Standard Leads

(1) Leading a Trump

If you can attack a contract, it is usually best to do so. However, there are times when a trump lead is called for.

Example 1: You have: 64 AJ93 AQ105 KJ6

1 Pass 2 Pass
4 Fin    

Since leading a side suit is unattractive, lead a trump here.

Example 2: The bidding goes:

1 Fin 1NT Pass
2 Pass    

An optimal time to lead trumps is when dummy denies support for a major suit opener. In Example 2, responder obviously has 0, 1, or 2 card support for spades. This is a good time to lead a trump.

(2) Leads in Suits that include the Ace

Never under lead an ace against a suit contract at trick one.

If you do not have the king, lead the ace only when you are defending against a slam (except 6NT) or declarer preempted, or

Your ace is singleton, or

Your ace is the only unbid suit against fi ve clubs or fi ve diamonds, or

Your side promised length and strength in the suit, or

You have a seven- or eight-card suit.

Lead the ace from AK (unless you play Rusinow Leads); after trick one, lead the king from AK

(3) Short-Suit Leads

Singletons are invariably good choices.

Doubletons are overrated, especially with one honor.
The best time to lead a short-suit is with trump control, e.g., A63.

Avoid a short-suit lead when you do not need a ruff; e.g., with trump holdings such as QJ9 and KQ10 or when you have trump length. With four trumps it is usually correct to lead a long suit to make declarer ruff (this is called a forcing game).

(a) Basic Leads

In selecting your lead, you must consider your hand as well as inferences from the bidding.

Desirable Leads

Partner’s suit, especially if he promised fi ve or six cards. The proper card to lead is the same one you would have led in any other suit. Therefore, lead low from Q63 or K852 (this is called BOS “bottom of something”; however, some lead the top of a suit if partner has bid the suit. It is best to discuss your approach with partner). Top of a three-card (or longer) sequence (top of nothing).


It is better to lead top of a sequence than fourth-best (or third and fi fth against a suit contract).

A sequence must contain an honor (10 or higher)

Against a suit contract, a sequence can be as short as two cards. Lead the king from KQ53 and the queen from QJ64. However, against a notrump contract, lead low from both holdings.

Partner has Not Bid and There is no Sequence

Prefer to lead a suit the opponents have not shown. In general, try to lead from length against any contract. A lead from Q1074 is more attractive than from Q107. It is acceptable to lead away from a king against a suit contract.

Leading Dummy’s Suit

Leading through strength is overrated. Lead dummy’s suit only when partner is likely to have length and strength behind him.

(b) Standard Leads Against Suits (3rd and 5th) -Preferred

A K x, 10 9 x, K Q x, K J 10 x, Q J x, K 10 9 x, J 10 9, Q 10 9 x, K Q 10 9

Length Leads with an Honor (X = honor) – lowest-card lead usually indicates an honor:

X x x, X x x x (start of high-low), X x x x x (start of low-high), X x x x x x (start of high-low)

Length leads Without an Honor:

x x, x x x (MUD to indicate no honor), x x x x (start of high-low), x x x x x (start of low-high), x
x x x x x (start of high-low)

Primary signals:

Count is usually first option
Attitude is given if count doesn’t make sense
Suit preference is given if neither count nor attitude makes sense (some always give attitude first).

(c.) Standard Leads Against Suits (4th Best)—Not preferred

A K x, 10 9 x, K Q x, K J 10 x, Q J x, K 10 9 x, J 10 9, Q 10 9 x, K Q 10 9

Length Leads With an Honor (X = honor) – Lowest-card lead usually indicates an honor:
X x x, X x x x, X x x x x, X x x x x x

Length leads Without an Honor:
x x, x x x (MUD to indicate no honor), x x x x (MUD), x x x x x (MUD), x x x x x x (MUD)

Primary signals:

Attitude is first option

Count is given if attitude doesn’t make sense

Suit preference is given if neither attitude nor count makes sense

(4) Standard Leads against Notrump

Length Leads—> 4th best

x x, x x x (MUD), x x x x (MUD if no honor), x x x x x (MUD if no honor), 10 9 x, K Q x, K J 10 x, Q J x, K 10 9 x, J 10 9, Q T 9 x, K Q 10 9

A K x x (x)—only against notrump; K asks for attitude

A K J x (x)—only against notrump; A asks to unblock honor; if no honor, then give count

Primary signals: attitude then count

(5) Journalist Leads—“Ten Promises and Jack Denies” (Non-Standard)

Usually against notrump, though some play it against suit contracts. Purpose is to promise or deny one of the top three honors. Whenever the opening lead is a 10, the leader promises the A, K, or Q and an interior sequence. Whenever a jack is led, the leader denies having the A, K, or Q and shows a sequence headed by the jack. Note a lead of the queen always promises the jack or a singleton, never lead from Qx.

Used when you have:

A high honor with an interior sequence—lead the 10 which indicates having the A, K, or Q.
An “interior sequence” is defi ned as QJ10x, J109x, or 109xx (98xx is not considered a sequence here).
An interior sequence with nothing above it—which denies having the A, K, or Q

Typical hands where a 10 is lead (“Ten Promises”)

AJ109(x), AJ10x(x), KJ109(x), K1098(x), Q109x(x)—lead the 10

but for the sequence QJ109(x) or QJ10x(x)—lead the Q

Typical hands where the J is lead (“Jack Denies”)

J109x(x), J10x(x)—lead the J

Other leads that deny holding an A, K, or Q

1098(x) or 109x(x)—lead the 9 (can’t lead the 10) which promises either the 10 at the head of a sequence with no high honor or a doubleton 9x.

(6) Rusinow Leads (Non-Standard) normally used against suit contracts and only on the opening lead. Primary purpose of these leads is to remove the ambiguity when using the king lead from AK.

The most diffi cult play in bridge is the lead. To become proficient, you must listen to the auction. Rules are only helpful when you have limited information. Let’s look at an example found in Bridge with the Abbot (David Bird), in the September 2009 issue of the “Bridge Bulletin,” page 59.

Oeste Norte Este South
Pass 2 Pass 2
Pass 3 Pass 3
Pass 4 Pass 6
All Pass      

As west, what do you lead? The natural lead is the Q (top of a sequence), but if you listen to the bidding, what have you learned? Clearly, south has a control in spades and north has a control in diamonds. And, a trump lead gains nothing; in general, it is not a good idea to lead a singleton trump. The lead that has a chance of setting the contract is a club lead; lead the club 9. Leading away from the king of diamonds when the opponents are strong in the suit is never a good idea.

Bridge leads Dos and Don’ts

The most diffi cult task in bridge is the opening lead. It often results in a top or a bottom. You cannot be correct 100% of the time, but there are some does and don’ts. I will go out on a “limb” with the following general guidelines.

DONT’s   DO’s
1) Don’t lead away from a King, if you have another option.

2) Don’t lead trump.

3) Don’t lead an Ace in suit contracts.

4) Don’t lead a singleton when you have a better alternative.

5) Don’t lead your partner’s suit if he has not shown a good suit or you have trump control.

6) Don’t lead the unbid suit when the opponents have jumped to game in notrump.

7) Don’t lead fourth best in notrump when your hand is weak or your suit has bad intermediates.

8) Don’t lead doubletons.

9) Don’t lead from broken honor sequences.

    1) Lead fourth best in notrump contracts with good intermediaries when you have bid your suit
and the opponents have bid notrump.
2) Lead partner’s suit, even if you have a good 5-card suit as an alternative, unless you also
have an outside entry.
3) When the opponents are in a major suit contract, lead the other major unless you have an
alternative lead in a minor suit.
4) Lead the unbid suit in notrump or a suit contract if the opponents reached the contract
5) When you have a choice between two suits, lead the one with the strongest secondary cards.
6) When partner has bid two suits, lead his second suit. Or, lead a singleton if you know partner
has values.
7) When the opponents have bid their suit aggressively, it is time to be passive.
8) Lead an ace against preempts if you have one.
9) When you have a weak defensive hand lead an unsupported honor in partner’s suit.
10) Lead a trump when you have fi ve trumps or when partner’s double shows good trumps.
The above are general guidelines, of course there are exceptions. Never say never in the game
of bridge.
  The does and don’ts assume that the auction was uninformative. For example, the bidding may
go 1x—1NT.

(1) Suppose the bidding goes: (South) 1 – Pass -4 – All pass and as west you hold the following hand:

  7 K873 KJ53 K985

You have no information. What do you lead?

Clearly a trump lead is passive and gains nothing for the defense. Do not use the adage “When in doubt lead trump”!

Leading away from your kings in general will give up a trick; do not close your eyes and hope for the best! Observe that by leading a club or a heart will establish at most a single trick.

However, if partner were to hold the queen of diamonds then leading a diamond may set up two tricks.

Hence, you must lead the J or the 3.

(2) The bidding goes (South) 3 – Pass – 4 -double—All pass and as west you are on lead with the following hand.

AQ7 J5 10987 K653 what do you lead?

The immediate raise to four spades suggests that dummy has a solid suit and your partner has doubled. You have no information, lead the trump ace and after seeing dummy you can decide on your switch to reach partner. Do not guess.

As the opponents’ bidding becomes stronger, your opening lead should become easier. The guidelines may help with no information, but there is no substitute for Listening to the Auction!

Leads against 3NT

The bidding has gone 1NT—3NT and you hold the following cards:

(1) Q105 KQ853 K83 82
(2) 953 Q53 762 J842
(3) QJ976 K5 J7632 7
(4) AQ97 AQ54 10987 7
(5) 73 A54 Q1087 Q753
(6) 532 AQ754 QJ103 Q
(7) 973 K4 876543 K7
(8) 972 AJ1094 76 543
(9) Q97 AJ7 KJ2 8763
(10) AQ97 AQ54 10987 7
(11) K9852 7 QJ1064 73
(12) A7 A53 A76 65432

 With each of the above hands, you have no information about, what do you lead?

(1) Clearly your best suit is hearts. Lead 4th best, the 5.

(2) You have a weak hand and should try to fi ne partner’s best suit. Leading an unbid major is usually always better than leading an unbid minor. You have values in hearts, lead the 3.

(3) You have fi ve spades to the Queen and fi ve diamonds to the Jack. It is usually better to lead a strong four card suit instead of a weak fi ve card suit. Lead the Q.

(4) You do not want to lead from your AQ tenaces, hence, lead the 10. Playing coded 9’s and 10’s it conveys zero or two of the top three honors.

(5) You have two nice 5-card suits; lead the fourth best from the stronger suit, the 7.

(6) You have two strong suits, one 5-card and one 4-card. Lead from the stronger 5-card suit. Lead the 5, fourth best.

(7) You have two weak suits, spades and diamonds. You will not develop a trick in diamonds. Lead the 9.

(8) Lead the 10 to show zero or two of the top honors in hearts.

(9) You have a great hand, lead top of nothing or the 8. Partner when he gets in will switch to another suit.

(10) Protect your tenaces and lead the 10.

(11) You have two suits of equal length, lead from the stronger suit. Lead the Q.

(12) You have three entries to your club suit, lead the 6.

How did you do?

SUMMARY when the bidding goes 1NT- 3NT.

Almost always lead a major even if you have a long minor. If you have four cards in one major and a singleton in the other, lead the singleton.

If you have two majors, a 4-card and a 3-card major, lead the shortest.

In our examples we had no information from the bid; however with more information, the easier the lead. Let’s consider an example. Suppose you hold the following hand:

J987 853 J83 A75

And the bidding goes:

Oeste (UD)
Norte Este South
Pass 1 Pass  1
Pass 3 Pass 3NT
All Pass      

Do you have any clues? First, you know that North has a strong diamond suit and that the defense has spades.

Partner did not overcall one heart over the bid of one diamond so that suggests that you should not lead a heart, he does not have first or second round control. However, he might have a club holding and since the opponents stopped at the three level, may have some values in clubs.

You best lead is a low club—not the ace!

The bidding goes:

North South
1    1NT
3    3NT

You as west hold the following cards:  A7 1098 J754 J654 What do you lead?

South has not bid either of the minor suits and did not support the majors bid by his partner.The lead of the 4 of either minor form the Jack is in general not a good lead in notrump, the opponents have the minors. Lead the 10. Or, lead the space ace.

Always listen to the bidding!

Rusinow Leads

Devised by Mr. Sydney Rusinow, and applied at the bridge table with his friends and partners, Mr. Philip Abramsohn and Mr. Simon Rossant, in the 1930s. Although the leads were original and unique, the ACBL, for undisclosed reasons, declared them illegal and barred the use of this principle at ACBL sanctioned tournaments until 1964, whereupon the ban was lifted. The principle behind the concept of the Rusinow Leads apparently did not sit well with the bridge community in the United States, but they were adopted by many European bridge players. They were employed also by Mr. Walter Avarelli and Mr. Giorgio Belladonna and incorporated into the Roman System, which they devised, and became also known as Roman Leads. Since the Rusinow Leads have become common practice with many bridge players, they have been incorporated in several bidding systems.

The principle behind Rusinow Leads is simply the leading of the second-ranking of touching honors. Rusinow Leads are used only on the first trick against a suit contract in a suit, which the partner has not bid during the auction, if at all. It is uncommon to employ the Rusinow Leads also against a No Trump contract since the purpose of the lead against a No Trump contract is entirely different in nature, but it is not illegal.

Since the 1930s represented the era of the transition from Whist to Contract Duplicate, many innovations had to be considered and many traditional playing strategies had to be re-arranged and redefi ned. It was quite normal practice for the defenders to lead the King against a contract, when holding the Ace and King of the same suit. It was also quite standard for the defender to lead the King against a contract, when holding the King and Queen of the same suit. This standard practice sometimes led to unusual situations where the partner of the defender was uncertain as to the better play, since the partner was uncertain as to whether his partner had the Ace or the Queen after leading the King.


Dummy: 654

Defender: K   Defender:  J103

The ambiguity of the lead becomes apparent. If West has the King/Queen, East will wish to play the Jack of Spades and encourage West at the same time. However, if West has the Ace/King, then East will wish to play the 3, so that West will choose to change to another suit. If south, the declarer holds the Queen-9-8-x, a continuation will give south at least one winner in this suit.

In the early days of bridge, defenders were looking for new ways to impart information, and to try new strategies. The attempt at leading the Ace from an Ace/King, promising the King, proved unsatisfactory, since leading a single Ace against a suit contract seemed prudent and in hindsight the only lead that would defeat the suit contract. It was concluded that one problematic situation was exchanged for a second problematic situation, and it was not quite clear, which principle should be more favored, or if a new principle should be created for the defense.

Mr. Sydney Rusinow came up with a solution, which was first endorsed by Mr. Ely Culbertson. However, the solution did not gain very much favor and popularity by the bridge community. The solution was to lead the second highest from touching honors, such as leading the King from Ace/King and Queen from King/Queen and Jack from Queen/Jack. Although this solution of leading in this manner was eventually barred from ACBL tournaments, the Europeans seemed captivated by the concept. They were eventually adopted by the World Bridge Federation and
especially by the advocates of the Roman Club bidding system, the players of which were looking for innovative ideas.

The main principles of the Rusinow Leads are as follows:

1. Ace: this lead denies the King, except when holding the Ace-King as a doubleton.
2. King: this lead is from Ace-King. The third hand should signal with the Queen or a doubleton.
3. Queen: this lead is from King-Queen. The third hand should normally signal with the Ace or Jack, but not with a doubleton if the dummy contains three or four small cards of the same suit. This may be to avoid a Bath Coup, whereby the declarer could possible be holding the Ace-Jack-x, and thereby cash two tricks.
4. Jack: this lead is from Queen-Jack.
       4.1. Ten: this lead is from Jack-Ten.
       4.2. Nine: this lead is from Ten-Nine.

These leads complement the MUD lead convention, in which the original lead is from three small cards. The first is the Middle card, followed by the higher card, followed by the lower card, when holding only three cards in that suit, or Middle, Up, Down.

5. In the case that more than two touching honors are held, and a lead has to be made, the card representing the second-highest honor is led. For example, from King-Queen-Jack, the Queen is led. The second card from this sequence, which is then led, is the Jack. The third hand knows that his partner holds the King of that suit.

Rusinow Leads gave the partner information about the holding, but the Rusinow Leads are used only on the first trick against a suit contract. This fact is very important to remember concerning the communication with the partner. After the first trick, it is important to remember that the highest card should be led from touching honors. This is true whether the lead if from either of the hands of the defenders.

An important side note: the Rusinow Leads were originally devised for use against a suit contract. The experiment was made to use this lead also against a No Trump contract, and the experiment failed miserably, since the purpose of a lead against a No Trump contract is different than against a suit contract. The information needed by the partner is whether the partner has led from his longest suit, and not where his honors are located.

Whether or not Rusinow Leads should be part of the partnership agreement must be considered by the individual partnership. The advantages are obvious and they are presently accepted as a form of defense by the ACBL and most other bridge governing bodies around the world. They must be noted on the Convention Card and must be made known to the opponents.

If you wish to include this feature, or any other feature, of the game of bridge in your partnership agreement, then please make certain that the concept is understood by both partners. Be aware whether or not the feature is alertable or not and whether an announcement should or must be made. Check with the governing body and/or the bridge district and/or the bridge unit prior to the game to establish the guidelines applied. Please include the particular feature on your convention card in order that your opponents are also aware of this feature during the bidding process, since this information must be made known to them according to the Laws of Duplicate Contract Bridge. We do not always include the procedure regarding Alerts and/or Announcements, since these regulations are changed and revised during time by the governing body. It is our intention only to present the information as concisely and as accurately as possible. This discussion is from Simon’s Web page at: members.shaw.ca/conventions/alpha.htm

Coded 9’s and 10’s

When leading against notrump contracts, most people lead fourth best and when leading against suit contract leading third or fi fthe best in preferred. When leading fourth best, the rule of 11 is used by the defense and when leading 3rd or 5th best the rule of 15 and 10 are used.

These rules often help the opponents, a better strategy is to use coded 9 and 10 against both suit and notrump contracts and to combine it with second highest from a worthless hold also called Roman Mud. Here Jack denies and ten or nine shows zero or two higher.

In principle, the lower the card you lead the more you like the suit. For example, if you lead the two it shows either a four or fi ve card suited with an honor (AKQ or J). For example:

From K8752, lead the 2 and from Q872 lead the 7. From 10653 or perhaps 106543 lead the 6. If you hold J982 lead the 8 since the 9 would infer zero or two higher.

Most pairs only play coded 9’s and 10’ against notrump contract, but it can also be used against suit contracts. For example, from 752 you would lead the 5 and on the second round paly the 7 so partners know it is not a doubleton. Some may lead the 2 here, but clearly you do not have an honor; however, from 532 you would lead the 5.

Coded 7’s, 8’s and 9’s

A coding system similar to coded eights and nines is known as coded sevens, eights and nines. For this system, if one leads of the 7 always denotes a singleton. It is used againast suit contracts. For notrump contracts, leading the eight or nine is similar to coded nines and tens showing zero or two honors. The system must be marked on your convention cards as “special carding” since it is not know by many opponents. 

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