# When should a bridge defender return the second, rather than fourth highest card in suit?

Against a bidding sequence of 1NT, 3NT, partner, West, opens with what looks like the fourth highest of a suit. Dummy goes down with two small cards in the suit. I have four to the king in the suit, two of them little ones, with this question revolving around my second highest card.

I take the king, which is allowed to hold. If my original holding was something like K642, I was taught to return the 2, my original fourth highest. On the other hand, if my holding were KJ42, with the second card being the J, one is supposed to return the Jack.

With KJ2, I would return the Jack to "unblock." Does a similar reasoning hold here with two small cards?

One thought is that partner (West) and declarer (South) probably have the ace and queen between them. If South has Axx, it doesn't matter what I lead, but if South has Qxx, leading the Jack will "trap" the queen. Is that the reason to lead the Jack?

More to the point, how high does my second card have to be, before I lead it in preference to the 2? That is, would I also do this with KTxx or K9xx?

• From KJ42 you are supposed to lead the Jack? Where did you get that? Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 20:21
• @Aryabhata: From various bridge books. Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 20:21
• Can you provide a reference? If this was stated as a general rule, this sounds strange to me. If you have four cards, and there is no danger of blocking the suit, you lead back the 4th best. (Of course, depending on the hand, that might change, but this is a general rule). The idea of the rule is to help partner determine how many cards you have. Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 20:34
• As I remember,it was Victor Mollo's book, "Defense, Where the Points Are Won." Maybe "blocking" was the issue, and maybe it was a matter of trapping Qxx in South. Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 20:37
• Yes, depending on the hand, things might change. But as a general rule, with nothing to go on, from KJ42, you lead back the 2. (Check Bill Root's How to defend a bridge hand, for instance). Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 20:40

The most common reason you'd lead back your second highest card from four would be to smother a relatively high card in dummy. With KJxx and 10x in dummy, leading the J seems right. This way you pick up the suit if declarer started with eg Q8x, and doesn't hurt on other holdings. But if dummy started with eg 6x (ie something that can't force your partner's high honor if declarer ducks) and your high spot is low enough that you won't block the suit when partner holds 5, it's important to convey the count to your partner by leading low.

• +1, but when dummy has Tx, playing the J can hurt too . For instance, declarer has Q9x opposite Tx. If you play the J, declarer can cover with the Q easily. By playing low, you give declarer a guess as to who has the J. Note: I am not claiming/disputing correctness of any play. Commented Feb 5, 2013 at 20:31

This is an important part of why many experts now use 3rd and lowest leads instead of 4th best, particularly against suit contracts. In this fashion one leads 3rd best from an even number, and lowest from an odd number.

Although it takes a little practice to get used to, and of course must be agreed with partner in advance and marked on your card, this lead system has many advantages over standard leads.

A defender should lead the second highest card in a suit for the same reason s/he would as declarer: into a tenace in partner's hand.

Partner has opened with an honor. If that honor is the queen, then it doesn't make a difference. But suppose partner has the AT9x to start. Then you want to lead the jack into the tenace, so that if the queen doesn't cover, you can lead a second card into the tenace for a finesse of the queen.

This example would be better if there were only one card in the suit in dummy, and partner, you, and declarer all had four. Then it be imperative to lead the jack, keeping the lead (unless the queen covers), so you have a second lead into the tenace, making all four tricks in the suit.

The move wouldn't work with your KT42 against declarer's presumed QJx. But it would work if the J were in the dummy and the K dropped it on the first turn, making your T the third highest card (after the A and Q).