♠ 10 9 4 2
♥ J 6
♦ A K
♣ A J 10 5 2
Q: 5 - Despite picking up a good opening hand you soon find yourself on lead to the all too familiar contract of 3NT.
What do you lead?
A: ♣5. Upon reflecting on the likely layouts of the Club suit here it becomes clear that the lead of a small card is superior to that of the Jack.
Knowing that you hold the vast majority of defensive strength it is up to you to set the course for your side's victory. East's primary suit is Diamonds, so it's likely that he'll have to turn to that suit for his game-going tricks. With this in mind it seems that you'll be be on lead twice more during the play, when you're in with both Diamond honors.
Your aim should be to set up three tricks and the Club suit is the prime candidate. Knowing there to be four cards in the dummy you must consider the various positions. Dummy could have both honors, in which case you're unlikely to be able to establish three Club tricks because your two low cards won't serve as tricks without partner coming to your aid with the Nine.
Even if this were the case, you'd need to lead a low card rather than an honor, for after winning the first trick with the King and giving up a Diamond, declarer could play low on the second round of Clubs, destroying communications in the suit because partner won't be able to return one if he started with 9 x.
Declarer could have a singleton honor, then a lead of the Ace or a small card would be best, for the Jack would blow the suit.
An altogether more likely layout is that of East holding H x and dummy H x x x though. In this scenario leading a small card would ensure you exercise the full potential of your holding. No matter how cheaply declarer can win the first trick, when in with a Diamond you'll be able to cash the Ace of Clubs, felling East's honor, and continue with the Jack to promote your ♣10 2.
If this is the position leading the Jack will only serve to either block the suit or gift dummy with a third stopper.
In this way the lead of a small Club is much better than the seemingly normal Jack, for you can pick up almost all the holdings wherein dummy has four cards in the suit and declarer has at most two. The Ace would actually serve better than the Jack, although it would block the suit if partner holds 9 x and dummy K Q x x, for it at least allows you to bring in three tricks when declarer has H x or a singleton honor.
Leading the Jack will block the suit the vast majority of the time, and will be a waste of a crucial asset if declarer has an honor.
When considering whether to lead an honor from a sequence or a low card in the suit, bear in mind these factors:
- the auction (what is the likely layout of the suit?)
- your intermediate cards (or 'pips')
- your outside strength/number of side entries
- what you require from partner for your lead to be successful
- your overall plan to beat the contract
If you ponder on these and weigh up the amount of positions where the lead of a low card wins as opposed to an honor and vice versa, you will find that you are making the winning choice much more often.
Remember to always draw inferences from the hand as a whole though, for the technically correct lead in a suit in isolation could very easily be the wrong lead in the circumstances. Before you send that card careering onto the table because it's the 'textbook' lead, take some time to step back and think.
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