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What makes a good opening lead?

It is perhaps helpful to think of each type of lead as having a base utility (out of 10). Ace from ace-king would be 10, a singleton 9, king from king-queen 7, away from a king 2, away from an ace 0 etc. The bidding alters that utility number.

For example if the opponents bid your singleton suit, its utility goes down from 9 to a 7. It may still be your best lead, but it may not; if you have, say, a queen from queen-jack, a 6 to start with, that 6 would increase to 8 if it was the only unbid suit, so overtaking the singleton.
For starters, let’s assign an initial utility to the following holdings (assume it’s a trump contract, and these holdings are not in trumps):

 

Holding Initial Utility
AK74 10
3 9
KQJ6 8
KQ76 7
QJ104 7
QJ52 6
83 5
852 4
Q952 4
J4 3
K752 2
A1074 0

If the auction is entirely unilluminating (as this deal’s), you would lead according to the above utilities.

South Deals
None Vul
Q 10 3
10 8 4 2
A K Q 7
K 8
A K 7 4
J 6 5
3
J 9 7 4 2
 
N
W   E
S
 
9 8 5 2
10 9 8 6 5
A Q 6 3
 
J 6
A K Q 9 7 3
J 4 2
10 5
East South West North
  1  Pass 4 
All pass      

 

What happened
Misassessing the initial utility of the ace from ace-king lead, relative to the singleton, West led  3. Declarer won  J, drew trumps,and cashed  AKQ. 10 tricks and game made.

What should have happened
Ace from ace-king gives you a free look at dummy and thus keeps all your options open - you can always switch to diamonds. On  A lead, East gives a discouraging signal of  2 (throw low means no). Given dummy’s strength in the suit, West does not switch to diamonds, rather to clubs. East scores  AQ and leads a spade to West’s  K. Down one.

If you remember one thing...
The Initial Utilities of various holdings for the opening lead.

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