BEFORE reading on, select your lead from:

 Q 9 8 7 6 5 4 3  6 5   5 3  K 

On this bidding:

West North East South
4 Double Pass 6
Pass Pass Double All Pass

The twentieth century oracle was Theordore Lightner, born Michigan USA 1893, died 1981, Yale law graduate, stockbroker, regular partner of Culbertson and bridge theoretician.

His most famous pronouncement, which has become standard treatment in bridge, was, “The double of a freely bid slam calls for an unusual lead.” Like most oracular pronouncements, this one is open to interpretation. The key questions to ask, before you double or before you lead, is “What is the usual lead?”

Many a good partnership has foundered upon disagreements as to the correct interpretation, few as quickly as mine with this partner. It lasted barely one hand.

The two most popular glosses on the oracle’s words deem that the doubler expects to be able to ruff something and asks partner to guess what. Commonly it asks for dummy’s first bid suit, even if dummy’s bid was conventional, for a ruff or simply to get a defensive winner set up.

To me it seemed that on the above bidding, a spade lead was called for. It is an unusual lead, given that a penalty double has been made over it, and declarer has announced that he is prepared for it. As well, spades is the only suit dummy has shown, and surely the only suit partner can ruff. The “usual” lead to make on this hand, on this bidding, is a side suit singleton. This will work whenever partner holds the trump ace or the ace in your singleton suit. And indeed, I do lead my singleton, albeit the K, in the absence of the double.

Certainly declarer has shown preparedness for a spade lead, so for a spade lead to be right, the layout must be 8-4-0-1 clockwise around the table. This may be an “unusual” situation, but isn’t this just what the oracle spoke about? And it is the only “sure” way to get the lead you want. You must stop partner from leading a singleton, if you have one ace and a spade void.

Alas, not so. I made my spade lead, declarer claimed twelve tricks and I was jettisoned by my new partner before I could assimilate the whole hand. I did have time to note that partner held the two minor suit aces and that declarer had a singleton spade opposite AK and a minor suit singleton which he would discard in safety after drawing trumps. There is another old saw, “Don’t double a slam with two aces.” It would have worked here. Interestingly enough it has happened to me before. Against my better judgment, I changed my intended lead to dummy’s first bid suit following a slam double. The double was intended purely to “increase the penalty” and one of partner’s two aces went to bed.