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 Leading from your Long Suit Against No-trumps by Ben Norton

Leading From your Long Suit against No-trumps

When on lead to 3NT, many players just automatically fish out a lead from their longest suit, unaware of the repercussions of their choice. Even though it is a sound general guideline to lead from your long suit, every situation is different, and as such every lead should be well thought-through and have a solid purpose behind it.

As South on the following five deals, see if you can find the lead that's most likely to set these 3NT contracts.

Question 1

  Your Hand
 K Q 7 5 4
 8 7 4
 9 5 2
 8 2
Q: 1 - Your opponents land in 3NT after a short and somewhat unhelpful sequence.

What do you lead?


 Your choice:
A: 5. It’s usually best to lead your own long suit against 3NT, and this situation is no different.

With nothing in any of your side-suits a Spade rates to give the defense the best chance of setting up enough tricks to beat the contract. Despite the lack of an outside entry, you may be allowed an entry in Spades, for declarer may not be able to hold up his Ace twice.

Holding such poor intermediates you’ll need partner to have a Spade honor most of the time for you to beat this, therefore the lead of a small Spade will work just as well as the King, in fact it will work more often, for it could serve to keep the suit unblocked if partner has for example A x.

It’s true that leading a small one could lose when partner has four Spades, but even then you’d need the cards to be split 2-2 in the opponents hands (or for partner to have 10 9 x x), which is likely but not assured, for the lead of the King to prevent declarer from scoring two tricks in the suit.

On frequency grounds the threat of blocking the suit is much more pertinent than the danger of conceding a cheap Spade trick, so it’s best to opt for the 5 lead rather than the King.

Your result so far:
Open Question

Question 2

  Your Hand
 J 7 2
 10 8 6 5 3
 9 6
 J 9 3
Q: 2 - This time West only invites, but East drives on to game anyway.

What are your thoughts?


 Your choice:
A: 2. This time your long suit is very poor and you’re unlikely to establish tricks there, so in an attempt to find partner’s long suit you lead a Spade instead.

With a Heart suit headed by the Ten and no outside entry it’s a better idea to set up tricks for partner rather than yourself. The opponents likely have 24 or 25 points between them, leaving partner with 13 or 14, thus his hand will be the source of tricks for the defense, not yours.

It may seem that partner’s most likely long suit is in Diamonds, however this is not the case. For landing in 3NT the opponents will not have an eight-card fit in either major, thus it’s likely that partner has Spade length. With this in mind you try the 2 lead.

Even if partner does have length in Diamonds, your two small might not be enough to support his cards and establish the suit. This is not the case for your J x x though, for whenever partner has five he only needs two of the top five honors to set up a minimum of three tricks in the suit.

Your result so far:
Open Question

Question 3

  Your Hand
 J 6 3
 K 8 2
 A Q J 4 2
 8 5
Q: 3 - East-West end up in their favourite contract after West makes a jump cue-bid of 3 to show a solid seven-card Club suit and to ask his partner for a Diamond stop. East duly obliged and you find yourself on lead once again…


 Your choice:
A: 8. East has proclaimed that he holds the K, so there’s a big danger that a Diamond lead will present him with a ninth trick. With seven Club tricks and the K, East would merely have to hold one of the major suit Aces to bring home his game.

With this in mind a major suit lead is best, however which one? It’s true that either could be right, but the one that’s more likely to work, because it requires partner to have less for it to be successful, is a Heart.

If you find partner with the A that may be all you need to set the contract. Partner will switch to a Diamond through declarer’s King and if either declarer has K x or partner has the 10 you will have your five tricks.

The same cannot be said for the A, for you’ll have to then bring in the Diamond suit for four tricks, leaving you to hope that partner holds at least three Diamonds with K x on your right or that he picked up the 10 along with at least one more Diamond, but declarer must have three Diamonds for this to work.

Overall a Heart lead rates to be successful more often than a Spade, for you’re playing to find partner’s Ace. If it’s in Spades you’ll either need him to have two more quick tricks or for the Diamonds to be coming in, however if he has the A this promotes your King, meaning you only need three more tricks, not four.

As a small point it’s best to lead your highest Heart pip here, to feign weakness in the suit and make sure partner doesn’t return a Heart when in with his Ace. Of course he should switch to a Diamond even if you lead the Two, but there’s no need to put him to the test.

Your result so far:
Open Question

Question 4

  Your Hand
 Q J 9 3 2
 A 8 4
 7 6 4 2
Q: 4 - Your opponents end up in 3NT yet again, but at least this time partner has provided you with some help with his 1 overcall.

Which lead do you think gives you the best chance of beating the contract?


 Your choice:
A: 3. It’s best to refuse partner’s suggestion here, instead lead your own five-card suit.

East will have at least a double Spade stop for his jump to 3NT, else he would have taken a slower route. Even if this weren’t the case though, a Heart lead would still be more appealing than a Spade, for your suit is very flexible and all you really need from partner to establish it is an honor card.

Looking at a small singleton Spade, you need partner’s Spade suit to be pretty much solid for you to set up enough winners for the defense. Thus while holding an outside entry in the A a Heart lead rates to upend 3NT more often than a Spade lead.

The only question left is which Heart to lead. Well, seeing as you need partner to have an honor card for the lead to work well, you should play for him to hold one. In which case leading the seemingly normal Queen could block the suit when partner has H x, while leading a small one will keep the suit flowing.

In the unlikely case of dummy hitting with the King under partner’s A 10 x it won't necessarily be a disaster. You might beat the contract even on the 3 lead, for declarer might not have nine tricks outside Diamonds.

Your result so far:
Open Question

Question 5

  Your Hand
 J 10 5
 K 6 2
 K Q 7 5
 5 3 2
Q: 5 - East grabs the wheel once again after his partner opens 1 and he responds 1NT.

What do you lead?


 Your choice:
A: J. Since East has denied length in both major suits, a Heart or Spade lead is likely to work out best.

Declarer has at least seven cards in the minors, making a Diamond lead less attractive, for it’s likely to run round into East’s tenace. A major suit lead rates to be better, because partner will probably have length in them. Even if dummy has four along with partner the lead will still be damaging, for you’ll be picking up dummy’s holding most of the time, and as the old adage goes ‘lead through strength around to weakness’.

The question of which major suit to lead is a good one. Holding K x x you could argue that you’re more likely to establish tricks there than in Spades, for you need less in the way of high cards from partner. This is true, but the J has the advantage that it will very rarely give away a trick, and it will pick up dummy’s tenace. A benefit which is even more prudent when you consider that by leading the Jack you could hold the trick to play another one through, or at the very least your Ten will act to impale dummy's holding later on in the play.

Your J 10 x will support partner’s Spade honors and serve to promote them, while a Heart lead may not serve to establish tricks at all, for your K is a harsh value and you may have quick tricks in the suit which can be cashed at any time. On lead to a contract when both opponents have shown limited, balanced hands, the policy should be to establish tricks, rather than cash the ones that are already there, for that could lose you a vital tempo.

When choosing whether or not to lead your longest suit against a No-trump contract, don’t be robotic. Just because it’s usually right to lead your longest suit doesn’t make it so on every hand. Consider the following factors:

- The quality of your suit
- Your outside strength (if you have all the defensive strength and can see that declarer is probably going off if left to his own devices, try to lead passively, whereas if you think declarer has a long suit to cash or that he won’t have many problems making his contract, lead aggressively. If you need partner to have a specific holding in this kind of situation, play for him to have it)
- Your entries (if you have an entry-less hand, it’s probably best to try and find partner’s long suit)
- Declarer’s likely plan along with his source of tricks
- The auction as a whole

Your result so far:
Open Question

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Your results:   out of    Average: 

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