Geoffrey L Butler
Geoffrey L Butler

The old maxim: «When in doubt lead trumps'» still finds its adherents, even after fifteen years of Contract, and those who follow it are always foolish, and generally very rich. Rich because obedience to the maxim costs them a vast sum yearly. The proper adage cannot be put so concisely, but it is: «Lead trumps only when it is clear from the bidding that a trump lead is demanded.»

We will examine the various situations in which this demand can be recognised.

These are the main headings:

1. When dummy has ruffing values.

2. When you (or your partner, by inference) have considerable strength in one of declarer’s suits, other than trumps.

3. When your Take-Out Double has been turned into a Business Double by your partner’s pass.

4. When declarer has doubled your side for penalties but dummy has not «stood» it.

5. When opponents have secured the contract after your partner has opened the bidding with No-Trumps.

6. When declarer’s trump suit is presumed to be solid and you, hold tenaces in the side suits.

7. When all other leads look unattractive.

They are not strictly in descending order of urgency, but the last three are less positive cases than the first four and No. 7 is often the alibi for those who do not think very hard.

Examine these cases in turn.

1. When dummy has ruffing values.

The type of bidding which indicates a shortness in dummy is :

Declarer   Dummy

It is quite obvious that dummy has at least eight cards in Spades and Diamonds (probably nine), about three trumps, and not more than two Clubs. If you have to lead from: 9 7 2 J 6 A J 104 QJ92,  your best shot is undoubtedly a
trump, the Jack. At least one of dummy’s probable tricks in the Heart contract is likely to be a ruff, and the trump -lead will cut out one such ruff. If you have any luck you may get another chance of denuding the dummy of Hearts.

2. When your side has strength in one of declarer’s side suits.

Here the clearly indicated lead is shown from the following bidding:

Declarer   Dummy
1      1NT
2   2NT
3   3

You, as leader, have: A 6 5 7 4 2 K  J 9 2 6 5 3

Dummy does not like Spades very much, but he loathes Diamonds. Nevertheless, he has some high cards, for he bid Two
No-Trumps on the second round, instead of dropping the iron curtain with a pass of Two Diamonds or -a preference bid of Two Spades, as he would have done if his One No-Trump had been a minimum.

Dummy’s hand, therefore, builds itself up in your mind as, say, three trumps, perhaps two Diamonds, and the Hearts and
Clubs, say four of each, with about 2 Honour Tricks or 8-9 points in his hand: This expectation is strengthened by dummy’s failure to bid Two Hearts or Two Clubs as the first response, and he is therefore not likely to have a five-card suit. Very well then. Your hope is to make three Diamond tricks, if declarer can be prevented from establishing the suit. To do so he must ruff it in dummy, and you get your jump in first by leading a trump.

The whole set-up is this:


10 8 3
A 10 8 5
5 3
A 10 8 4

A 6 5
7 4 2
K J 9 2
6 5 3


4 2
K J 9 6 3
8 6
Q J 9 7


K Q J 9 7
A Q 10 7 4
K 2

Declarer will probably take the first trick on the table and take a losing Diamond finesse to your hand. Thereupon you lead Ace and a small Spade and dummy is useless, except for his Aces. If declarer now abandons Diamonds and turns to the other suits, East gathers in the harvest instead . Note that declarer cannot outwit you by refusing the Diamond finesse and by playing Ace and a small one. You still ‘regain the lead on the second round and wreck the projected ruffs.
Note also that if you had begun with Hearts or Clubs, the unbid suits, nothing could then have prevented at least one ruff in dummy and that would have been enough for the contract. (1 ruff, 4 Spades, 1 Heart, 2 Diamonds and 2 Clubs, the defence taking only 1 Spade and 2 Diamonds). In this last example you hold strength in one of declarer’s suits.

Suppose now the bidding is :

Declarer   Dummy


They have found a partial fit in Diamonds and you hold a weak doubleton Spade, declarer’s suit. It is dead certain that your partner has Spade strength and in this case a trump lead now will probably protect his Spade holding. Declarer
has got to play out a lot of Spades during the hand, for he has at least five and dummy has not more than two.

3. When Your Take out double has been turned into a Business Pass.

The Pass for penalties by your partner, after you have made an Informatory or Take-Out Double, is almost a conventional request for a trump lead, and it does not need very much elaboration here. If you double One Heart and your partner passes he is presumed to have some such holding as: 2 Q  J 9 4 3 2 J 4 3 2 A 2

If he has only five trumps they are possibly a little better and somewhere outside he should have an extra King, or so. The fact that he passes indicates that he is prepared for you to launch the assault with a trump; your side is, in fact, playing the hand , with Hearts, chosen by your partner, as trumps and you start pulling the adverse trumps first, as you
generally do with the dummy exposed.

4. When dummy has gone back to a Suit after his partner has doubled your side for penalties.

This fourth , case, requiring a certain degree of judgment, arises out of the following type of bidding:

South West  North   East
1 Pass 2 3
Double Pass 3  

Your holding, as West, is: Q x x x;  10 x x, Q J 9 x; A x

Clearly declarer has a number of Clubs and dummy has one’ or none. He cannot have two or more; or he , would have stood the double, and it stands out, plainly that some of declarer’s , small Clubs are expected to be ruffed in dummy.

You lead a trump and the whole set up is:


7 5 3
K 7 5 4
10 8 7 6 2

Q 6 4 2
10 6 2
Q J 9 3
A 7


J 3
5 4
J 10 8 6 5 2


10 9 8
A Q 9 8
K Q 9 3

If you get one Heart out of dummy on the first lead, and another as soon as Clubs are played to your Ace, declarer will find himself having an unhappy time trying for nine tricks.

5. When your partner has opened the bidding with NoTrumps.

In this case the lead of a trump is not obligatory, but it should certainly be considered, the more so if your partner’s No-Trump bids are sound ones and opponents are in a game contract. The reasoning behind the trump lead in this position is that your partner is marked with a number of high cards and opponents have got to kill these trick-winners by ruffs. The sooner some of these trumps are removed from the dummy, the better. If you have three small trumps this lead is indicated; with a doubleton it is contra-indicated.

6. When the trump suit appears to be solidly held and you hold tenaces in the side suits.

7. When other leads look unattractive.

These two cases are discussed together because they have similar features and in both cases the lead is negative rather than positive. Such hands as these suggest that the best defence is not attack, but waiting. No harm is likely to come from a trump lead, whereas a blind lead away from a tenace may easily give declarer the extra trick he needs. If you hold for
example:  K 10 x x 9 x A Q x A 9 x x

and the opponents are playing Hearts, you rule out of account the lead of a Diamond: to lead small from A x x x is not good, and, moreover, the Ace of Clubs may serve a better purpose later (to kill declarer’s King); and a Spade lead may easily cost the rubber. Here the Heart lead is strongly indicated, but it will be noted that there are reasons for it. So many pull out a trump because they cannot decide which of the three other suits would be best. Against a pre-emptive bid a
trump lead is often harmless. There is less danger of trapping an honour held by your partner, but the automatic lead of a trump against a pre-emptive contract merely as an escape from thinking is useless.

It is never, or almost never wise to lead a singleton trump, for that may well lead to the capture of partner’s guarded King or Queen, and if ever you feel the leading a singleton King of trumps you had far better play halma. A singleton King always makes except against swivel-eyed declarers.