Opening Leads: Worksheet

Opening Leads

One of the harder decisions to make in playing or defending a hand is making the opening lead.  The only information you have to make this decision is the auction and the 13 cards in your hand.  Many times after a hand is over I’ve said to my partner “I made the killing lead.  After that the defense was dead.”  This lesson has two main themes.  The first is knowing what the standard lead from a specific suit holding is.  The second is deciding which suit to lead.  Finally, we’ll look at alternative lead systems.

Standard Leads When Your Partner Didn’t Bid

Sequence Leads:  These leads are usually safe.  With touching honors we lead the _____ ___________.  (Think “Leadership comes from the top”.)  Example:  With KQJx we lead the _________.  This does two things for you:

  • It promotes the equal honors in ______ ________ or  ____________ _________.
  • Partner knows that you have the _______ _________ in the sequence.  If they get the lead they know where you have a trick.

Interior Sequence Leads:  These leads are moderately risky.  An example is KJ10.  The J is the top of the “___________ ___________” and is the standard lead from this holding.  This lead really pays off when your partner has the A and declarer the Q.  If declarer has the A and the Q between his two hands, oh well.

Leads from length to an honor: These leads can be risky.  Typically we lead _______ from an honor, usually 4th best from 4 or more, or 3rd best from 3.

  • Caveat:  Don’t lead away from an Ace against a _______ contract!!!

Leads from length with no honor: This is a matter of partnership agreement and style.  People who value ________ information like to agree on leading low from 3, 4th best from 4 or more no matter what’s at the top of the suit.  People who value ___________ information like to agree on leading “top of nothing” or “second highest from nothing”.

Short suit leads:  Lead your _______ card from a doubleton.  Lead your lowest from a singleton.

  • Avoid short suit leads when you have _______ length or _________ trump tricks.  Even if you gain a defensive ruff or two you make declarer’s job easier.  Instead, lead longer suits and try for a forcing defense.

Standard Leads When Your Partner Bids

  • ________ ____________ or _______________ ______________ leads are best.
  • ____________  from three or more to the K,Q, or J.
    • Note:  Occasionally you will lead the ____________ if the rest of your hand is weak and this might be the only time you’re on lead.  This is rare, though.
  • If you ______________ your partner and you have 3 or 4 small, lead top of nothing.  Partner already knows you don’t have a doubleton.
  • If you __________ ____________ your partner, lead low from 3 or 4 small.  Your partner should be able to work out that it can’t be a singleton.

Figuring Out Which Suit To Lead

The primary factors that go into deciding which suit to lead are:

  • Your partner’s ____________.  When your partner bids, you should have a very good reason not to lead her suit, something like KQJx in a second suit.  The strength of partner’s lead suggestion in order:
    • Did your partner make a lead-directing double of an opponent’s ____________ ________?  For example, during the opponent’s Stayman auction, doubling 2C is nigh on a command to lead a club.
      • There’s a negative inference here:  If partner didn’t double the artificial bid then don’t expect them to have much in that suit.  Example:  1N – 2D – 2H – 3N.  With equal diamond and club quality prefer the _____ lead. With a great holding in diamonds partner would have doubled the transfer bid.
    • Did your partner make an ___________ during the auction?  Overcalls are good for directing a lead, even better than opening bids.
      • If she failed to make a cheap overcall at the ____ __________ don’t look for a miracle in that suit.  For example, the opposing auction 1C – 1H – 1N – 3N.  With equal diamond and spade quality prefer the _________ lead.
    • Did your partner open the bidding?  If so, was it in a _________ suit or a _________ suit?  Minor suit openings have less lead directing value than major suit openings.
    • Do you have the unsupported _______ of partner’s bid suit?  If so, you should think twice about leading it in a suit contract.
  • The opposing bidding.
    • Confident or tentative?  If they had an ______________ sequence to a game then you should avoid risky leads like low from an honor (unless your partner bid them.).  You don’t want to give them the game-going trick on the opening lead.  On the other hand, if they bid the hand strongly then you probably need to start __________.
    • Side suit shortness?  If their auction showed shortness in one of the hands (especially the dummy) then a _______ lead is often a good choice.
    • Side suit length?  Does Declarer or Dummy have a second suit?  (Example: 1S-2D-2H-4S).  If you are ________ in that second suit, you should consider a trump lead.  If you are short in that second suit (singleton, doubleton) you should also consider a trump lead.  If you have 3 small in that suit you probably need to ________ another suit.
    • Did they settle in their third suit?  For example:  1C-1H-1S-3S.  There’s a good chance that both of the hands are short in the other’s ______ suit.  Consider leading trumps.
    • Did they settle in Declarer’s second suit?  Example:  1H – 1N – 2C.  Dummy is certainly _______ in the first suit, so a trump lead could be a good idea.
  • Balance of Defensive Strength
    • How are your side’s defensive values ___________?
      • If you have most of them, _________ your hand on the lead.  Sometimes this is a good time for a trump lead.
      • If partner has most of them, try to set up her __________.
      • If they are split, use other guidelines.

Leading Trumps

Trump leads are often good when:

  • You have a good holding in the opponent’s ______ ______; or
  • One or both of their hands has known ___________; or
  • They settle on someone’s ________ ______; or
  • You want to make a passive lead and you have 2 or 3 _______ in trumps; or
  • The opponents are sacrificing at a high level but light in __________ .

Don’t lead trumps on opening lead if:

  • You have a ___________ trump.  (You could be finessing your partner’s holding.)
  • You have ________ or more trumps.  (You’re finessing yourself.)
  • You have _____ _________ in the opponent’s second suit.  (Their suit is setting up just fine, you need to get busy.)

Alternative Lead Systems

Even if you and your partner stick with standard leads, you should be familiar with some common alternatives because your opponents may be using a different lead system when you are the declarer.  Don’t assume you know what the opponents are doing; look at their convention card or ask the opening leader’s partner.  A good basic question is “Please tell me about your leads, carding, and discards.”

“Coded 9s and 10s”

Also known as “Jack Denies, 9 or 10 Implies”, or “Journalist leads”.  A non-trivial number of partnerships in our club do this.  Using this system, the lead of the Jack denies a higher honor, while the lead of a 9 or 10 implies either 0 or 2 higher honors.  For example, with either Q 10 9 x or 9 x x x the lead is the 9.  If between your hand, the dummy, and RHO’s play to trick 1 you may be able to tell which it is.

“Third and Fifth”

A fair number of partnerships in our club lead 3rd and 5th vs length as opposed to 4th best.  If the lead is the 2 then you know opening leader has 3 or 5 in the suit, for example.  If they are doing this then you can’t use the Rule of Eleven; it won’t work.

“Attitude Leads”

A small number of partnerships use attitude leads, typically against your NT contract.  The lead of a low spot card implies an honor, while the lead of a high spot card is usually top or 2nd highest from nothing.  This can help you place missing honors in the suit.


You sometimes may run into this one in a tournament.  Using this system, the lead of an honor implies the honor above it. For example, from KQxx the Rusinow lead is the Q.