Andre Asbury

To Lead the Heart King or Not?

Plays that require underleading an honor or unblocking a high honor in hopes that partner has the missing honor to get him on lead are kind of cool. Today I’m writing about 2 hands, which require the same kind of thinking. This one is from last Saturday afternoon in Minneapolis and you’re looking at my hand on defense.

West North East South
Pass 1 3 Pass
Pass X Pass 3
Pass 3NT All Pass
Dealer: S

Vul: none

West East

My dad led the 8 of diamonds and declarer won with the K. Would you duck in declarer next played a spade to dummy’s K? Partner’s card, whether you play standard or upside down signals will be ambiguous as to whether he has the singleton or not so there isn’t really much of a clue. North may be more likely to be short in spades since he balanced with a double and then corrected to 3NT, which would suggest 4 hearts, solid clubs, and a diamond stopper. That makes a singleton spade more likely.

Anyway, I wasn’t faced with that desicion as the first thing declarer did is run 6 club tricks. So after the run of the clubs, he cashed the ace of hearts and then led a spade. By now it’s clear to win this trick and lead a heart. Which heart? It can be kind of tempting to cash out in this situation, but playing the K would be wrong here. Wherever the Q is, it can’t be right to play the K. The Q isn’t dropping from declarer because we know he has 3 more hearts in his hand and even if it does drop, we’ll have to lead a spade at trick 13. And it matters not whether we let declarer score his Q now or after we cash the K – he’s getting a heart trick and dummy is getting a spade trick at the end. But what if partner has the Q? If it falls under our K, we’ll score our 3 heart tricks but then have to lead a spade at the end. What do we think the diamonds are like here? Partner’s opening lead couldn’t have been 2nd from a bad suit or else declarer would have cashed another diamond or two before letting us in, so partner’s lead was 4th best, meaning his diamonds are all good. That would explain why declarer didn’t try to sneak a spade through earlier – for fear of going down a bunch when east has the spade ace or I have another diamond. So, if we lead a lower heart to partner’s Q, he can take the rest of the tricks.

That was no problem for me. It was a rather obvious play to me. Bridge is an easier game when at the table without distractions like tv and telephone and internet and music and food and beer that is inevitable when playing online. This second hand comes from BBO a couple of days ago. For some reason I was playing at 12:30am after having already played at the bridge club that evening and I’ll show all 4 hands. Sorry all the spots aren’t there. This hand never appeared in the BBO hand records for some reason.

West North East South
Pass Pass Pass


West East
Q8xx Jxx
KQx Jxx
xxx ATx
AQT Jxxx

I led a low spade to the J and K. After partner ducked diamonds twice, declarer led a heart to the 10 and my Q. I returned another spade. Declarer won and led a 3rd round of diamonds. Obviously partner can make things easy for me by playing the J of clubs at the point but led another spade instead. I’m in with the SQ with declarer discarding a club. Now what? Leading a spade is out. Declarer almost certainly has 3 hearts left including the A and 3 clubs left including the K and he could have the J of either or both or neither suit. Is it possible to maximize the defensive tricks regardless of who has the missing jacks or do I at some point have to guess which, if any, partner has? I led the club queen, which turns out to be a very nice play, but it holds the trick. If he takes this trick, there is no need for any sort of fancy play in hearts because I’ll have a 3rd club to lead to partner’s jack and now good small club. So ducking kind of marks partner with the jack of clubs. So now I can lead a heart and help set up his heart suit. Or lead another club, giving him another chance to score that K. Leading another club isn’t right because then I’m at a guess when he plays the heart ace next – if I unblock then and declarer has the J, he will make 2, but if I unblock and partner has the J, he is down 1, and if I play low, he makes 1 because i still have that pesky spade.

Can leading a heart ever cost a trick? Leading a low one certainly can because he can put my right back in with a heart and he’s score the long heart and the king of clubs. Leading the K can’t cost anything. Leading the heart may not cost anything when partner has the J, but even when declarer started with AJTx, we’re okay because that just means he’ll have to lead a club from his hand at trick 12 and make his 1NT. On the actual hand, he probably would duck the heart king as well, and by the same logic, just lead another heart and wait on 2 more club tricks at the end for -1. Now, if only partner had played low at trick 1, we might have been able to beat it 2 tricks. As it happened, I didn’t take time to think through the possbilities after the club queen held and just led another club and let them make 1. This wouldn’t have been such a hard hand at imps because there would actually be less to think about – treating making 1 and making 2 as essentially equal scores, you wouldn’t have to consider the cases where holding them to making only 1 is the best you can do. However, the heart K is the right play after the CQ holds in either form of scoring.


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