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Dangerous Doubleton

The opening lead, indeed all defensive cards, involves a two stage process: (A) Which Suit? (B) Which Card? Without clues from bidding, here is a list of various holdings, and a rough mark out of ten for lead-desirability vs a suit contract:

AK74 10
3 9
KQJ6 8
KQ76 7
QJ104 7
QJ52 6
83 5 (ish)
852 5 (ish)
Q952 4
J4 3
K752 2
A1074 0

It is important to know that ace from ace-king is best, and leading away from an ace is worst. However the distinction between, say, 83 and 852 is blurred, highly dependent on the bidding and the rest of your hand. If you think you need to attack, perhaps because you expect dummy to table a strong suit, or perhaps because your hand looks so unpromising, then leading the doubleton and trying for a ruff is probably best. But if you expect declarer to struggle, then a lead from three small cards rates to give less away, not as likely to coincide with declarer/dummy’s side-suit.

South Deals
E-W Vul
K J 9 8
J 10 5 2
K J 9
7 3
7 5
8 7 3
8 7 2
A J 10 8 4
W   E
Q 6 3 2
Q 6 5 4
Q 9 6 5
A 10 4
K Q 9 6 4
A 10 3
K 2
West North East South
Pass 2  Pass 3 
Pass 4 1 All pass  
  1. Maximum for his 2  raise.


What happened
West’s  7 lead vs 4  did not work well. Declared played dummy’s  J, and East correctly refrained from covering. Declarer led  2 from dummy, East winning  A and switching to  5. Declarer’s  K lost to  A,  J was cashed, then a passive  8 led. Declarer won  Q, crossed to  10, then led  8 to  10. He cashed  A, crossed to  K, and discarded  10 on  K. 10 tricks and game made.

What should have happened
N-S have bid unconvincingly to 4 . West should opt for a passive lead, making  872 slightly preferable to  75. This gives declarer a free finesse, but, after losing to East’s  A and seeing the defence score two club tricks, he still has to guess the location of  Q. Perhaps he’ll guess right, crossing to  K and leading back to  10. But perhaps he’ll guess wrong, cashing  A and running  10. Down one.

If you remember one thing...
A small doubleton lead may be more attacking than three small cards; but it is also more dangerous.

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