Monday, August 14, 2006

What lead with a 5-4 against NT?

Leads are one of the most difficult areas in bridge. You can see only 13 cards, every one of them can cause a disaster, and all you have for deciding which card you’ll play is an auction produced by your opponents which you can't trust. Some people even go so far to claim that the lead is a pure guess. I disagree completely! Imo for about 95% of the hands there's a clear indication what lead may be more successful than others. Sometimes there's a clue that you need an active or passive lead, or your partner showed you what to lead (or what not to lead by passing),...

There is however a figure that is still unsolved. Against NT contracts, especially 3NT, what suit is best to lead when you have a 5-4? Beginners learn to lead their longest suit, but we all know that beginners don't always learn to play the best bridge, they learn general rules. I know several people who really believe that in general, leading the 4 card suit is better, and I'm also one of them. When you have AKQJT-5432 it's obviously ridiculous, but in general with almost equal suits I've noticed that leading the 4 card suit usually gives a nice advantage over leading the 5 card suit. I've tested this already for a while, and got good results with it.

The strange thing is: it seldom loses. Leading a 5 card suit usually reaches partner's doubleton, and such suits usually split 4-2 in opponents' hands. So the length trick doesn't come in, and you give away a trick by playing the suit yourself. With the 4 card suit, you have more chance of reaching partner's 3 card suit, and he'll have lots of communication, even if the suit splits 4-2. Last friday was one of my latest successful experiment: I held Qx-Kxxxx-Kxxx-xx, the auction went (we were silent):
1 - 2
2NT - 3NT
I led a small . Declarer had Jxx opposite AQx in dummy, and s split 3-3. 3NT was just made for a top, since everyone else led a and gave away 1 or 2 tricks.

Today I even did it with a 6-4, again with success! RHO had promised a stopper for my AQ98xx suit, and my 4 card was AJxx. Here I had a clear indication that my long suit wouldn’t be successful since partner also didn't ask for a lead after the cuebid, and we defeated 3NT with ease since partner had Qxx in support and dummy came open with Kx. :-)

I don’t have an archive on this, but I estimate about 3 out of 4 times it's a success when you use some common sense like I mentioned above. Perhaps we can get some proof when I can get someone to do some simulations on this (hint), but all the factors that are in play might make this quite difficult.


Anonymous said...

this seems logical at mp, but at imps i will prefer the 5 cards, even if they are weaker they give a real chance for setting while cards rarly do. 4 cards will in good day give u 3 winners in the suit, and with opponenets having normal game value, you rarly get extra 2 tricks outside the suit you led.


Anonymous said...

Paul Marston did a simulation 15-20 years ago comparing canapé leads to longest suit with 5-4. Condition was that auction went 1NT-3NT. The finding was, if COMPLETELY disregarding suit quality differences and whethe minor or major was longer, that long suit lead beat contract more often and 4-card suit lead collected more tricks.


Anonymous said...

OK, I'll try it!