Both vulnerable, at rubber, South dealt and bid 1NT, North 2 clubs, South 2 hearts, North 3NT.

You, West, have (s) 64 (h) AJ7 (d)J8752 (c) Q84.

North clearly has four spades, but not hearts. Any spade strength on your side is with East, behind North. You like the strength you have behind South's hearts. Apparently, the bulk of North-South strength is in the minors.

The actual West led the 5 of diamonds. It was a "friendly" lead from a weak suit that gave North and South all the time in the world. Reasoning from the previous paragraph, I would have lead a small spade (and hoped for a heart return).

This is a bit unconventional but does this make sense? If declarer thought that I had length and strength in spades, could that cause a misplay? (In the example, East actually had five to the king, but of course, I wouldn't know this until later.)

Put another way, how much weaker could the diamond suit be, before it is not worth leading?

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    Form of scoring? Aug 26, 2015 at 22:09
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    @AlexanderWoo: Rubber bridge.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 26, 2015 at 22:25

5 Answers 5


If opponents have only 24-25 points the auction would likely have involved acceptance of a game invitation. Instead there was a jump to game by responder without a slam try, each opponent having 4 cards in a different major; opponents rate to have 29 points +- 3. You have 8 points in hand, giving partner 3 points +- 3. The likelihood of being able to set up and run a suit in partner's hand is extremely remote.

However if partner has QTx in diamonds and an entry you might be able to win a race against Declarer in that suit. Lead your fourth best diamond as was actually done at the table. This also gives partner a clear signal as to what to lead back to you when he gets in the (probably) one only time that happens.

On this particular hand I see no reason for method of scoring to matter, but as a matter of good form it should be specified.

It is important to note also that partner is going to be squeezed in both Majors. Clubs are splitting 3-3 for Declarer. Combined with the fact that opponents jumped to game rather than accepting an invitation, at Matchpoints I am going to be happy to get four defensive tricks for Average plus against all those who make an overly aggressive, and desperate, attempt to find unavailable tricks in partners hand. Even sitting patiently for my third defensive trick will often be a good Matchpoint result on this hand.

In short, to answer your specific question: No, it is pointless to search for major suit tricks on this auction. Partner has neither the suit strength nor the entry to make searching for his suit profitable. The only chance to set this hand is a miracle of clashing honours for opponents, and even then you will have to have set up cashing tricks in your hand to collect on the good fortune.

Revisiting this, the biggest problem with a Spade lead are that these three scenarios are most likely:

  1. Partner wins the Spade lead and returns it, setting up his Spade winners. You now have no more entries to partner's tricks, and have lost two tempos for setting up Diamonds.

  2. Partner wins the Spade lead but sees no future in the suit, and makes a random guess as to which minor to return guessing wrong 50% of the time. Either one or two tempos for setting up diamonds have been lost.

  3. Partner has Qxxx or Jxxx unsupported in Spades and you have just guaranteed Declarer four Spade tricks and the contract.

Potentially settable Notrump contracts are a race between Declarer and Defense, and the loss of even a single tempo nearly always guarantees losing that race. It is imperative for the Defense to chase long-suit tricks in the hand with entries. Here, it is very unlikely that Partner can have enough points both to make Spades worth setting up and have an entry making them cashable.

Form of Scoring:

  • In Rubber (as here) of IMPS one always makes an extreme effort to set the contract, as overtricks are very rarely of import. Lead a diamond.

  • In Matchpoints, one is looking to not get a bottom on the opening lead. Experience has taught me that leading from jack empty fourth is a nearly guaranteed bottom - but leading from jack empty fifth or longer is often a winning play. The decision is now more complex. It is possible that Partner's Spade trick is dead unless you lead the suit now, so that lead might be right. I am personally an aggressive defender, so would usually lead a Diamond, but would accept a Spade lead from partner as reasonable.

  • Actually, at duplicate match points, assuming a strong NT, I worry the diamond lead gives away an overtrick to declarer's AQT(x). I've already given up on setting the contract. Aug 26, 2015 at 22:31
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    Also, Pieter implicitly made an important point, which is that if you had a weaker hand overall, the spade lead becomes more attractive, because partner is likely to have a stronger hand. Aug 26, 2015 at 22:34
  • One point you seem to be making is that North should have bid two spades (invitational) with his ten points instead of jumping to game. Would you jump to game as North with an extra jack (11 points instead of 10? Even as it was, the contract was makeable, but the declarer blew it.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 27, 2015 at 13:30
  • @TomAu: Assuming a 15-17 opener, I will usually jump to 3NT with 10 HCP. As always, the particular hand with all spots should be given before drawing firm conclusions. Vulnerable approaching always; non vulnerable not quite so firm. Aug 27, 2015 at 21:34
  • @TomAu: But to clarify: With a good ten I jump to 3NT on the rebid, with a bad ten I rebid 2NT. There are (almost) no eleven point hands that rate as a bad ten. An exception would be something like J432 J53 AKQ 532 where everything is blocked, no spot cards, 4333 distribution, and no length with the points. Aug 10, 2019 at 15:54

I did a double dummy simulation using the hand and auction you gave. The results were:

  1. The 5 of diamonds lead has an 8.8% chance to defeat the contract (playing double dummy).

  2. The 6 of spades lead has a 6.6% chance to defeat the contract (playing double dummy).

I used 1,000 hands for the simulation, so statistically both of the figures above should be accurate to within about 1%. In particular, the higher chance of setting the contract from a diamond lead is statistically significant.

Here were the parameters for the simulation:

  1. South has a balanced hand (no singletons, at most one doubleton) with 15-17 HCP, three or fewer spades, and four or five hearts.

  2. North has 10-15 HCP, exactly four spades, three or fewer hearts, five or fewer of each minor suit, and no voids.

Of course, real players don't play double dummy, so we should take these results with a grain of salt. In particular, it seems to me that if you lead a spade your partner might not figure out that you have a five-card diamond suit, making him less likely to switch to diamonds on trick two than he would in double dummy. So if anything we would expect the results from real play to lean even more heavily towards the diamond lead.

Decreasing the quality of the diamond suit doesn't help the spade lead much. If we change the J8752 to a 65432, the diamond lead is still the favorite by about the same margin.

  • It would be interesting to know how many times the Spade lead gave away an over trick to declarer compared to the diamond lead. As a beginner and early intermediate I also liked this lead, and learned expensively that not to. As I recall not only did it not set the contract, but it usually gave away an overtrick (very important at Match Points. Sep 5, 2015 at 0:22
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    Also of interest is how many hands are in common between being set by a Spade or a Diamond lead - Those hands where all leads set the contract are not of interest in determining whether attacking a short Major in Opening Leader's hand is sound practice. Sep 5, 2015 at 18:36

Opening leads are difficult! Either a spade or a diamond could be right. Neither is likely to set the contract often, so it can be difficult to develop a good intuitive feel for which is best.

I'd lead a diamond, since diamond strength with partner seems our most likely road to five tricks. It's also the lead least likely to blow a trick.

For an empirical analysis of NT leads using double-dummy software see:


  • My concern is that even if partner has, say the Q or K, we might be missing the T and 9. Change the 8 to a T, so that I'm leading from JT752, and I'd lead a diamond. In the actual example, East had 64 in diamonds.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 27, 2015 at 21:12
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    A diamond could give up a trick, but so could any lead. Much of the time that partner has Q empty we'll find the A and K in the same hand, or dummy with Ax or Kx. Aug 29, 2015 at 3:38
  • @AdamWildavsky: I would add that leading low from Jxxxx is significantly safer than leading low from Jxxx. Sep 15, 2015 at 1:46
  • No argument from me on that score, @PieterGeerkens. That's one reason the standard recommendation is to lead one's longest suit versus NT. Like most bridge "rules" it's more of a guideline, and has a number of exceptions. Sep 16, 2015 at 3:26

Not in the example you gave. Because the disparity in lengths between the spade and diamond suits is too great.

After removing your cards from the deck, "average expectations" for your partner is something like (s) Kxxx (h) Qxx (d) Kxx pr QTx (c) Kxx. Note that s/he will actually have less than that because the bidding has further capped partner's hand to about eight HCP. So let us say that one of the kings is removed from the hypothetical hand.

Partner needs to have only Kxx or QTx of diamonds, plus one side honor, that is adjusted "average expectations," to make your hand good. In order to defeat the contract using spades, opposite your xx, partner would need an ideal holding, something like KQxxxx, or KJTxxx, much more than adjusted "average expectations," plus a side honor. A partner that had such a hand might have overcalled two spades. Absent such an overcall, you have no right to think that a spade lead will defeat the contract.

Your question would have been more topical if you had xxx in spades, and Jxxx in diamonds. The third spade would count for something, and more to the point, the missing fifth diamond counts are a lot.


Jim Belk gave perfect answer!

I mean, may be his analysis was not perfect, may be he should enter another conditions (like 14 balanced with 5332), or 9-13 Hcp opposite instead of 10-15, or make it 100000 hands instead of 1000...

But the way he solves the problem is the only correct way.

Let me clear this: everyone who plays bridge more than 1 year met this position at least 2 times :), so we discuss what could we do, if your choice was unsuccessful. The problem is really common!


careful! here is some esoterics

As in life we sometimes think, that we know something (basing on our experience). But Life in wide meaning (you can say G-d or Buddha or Nature or whatever) knows much more than we.

And one(or ten or even 1000) board means nothing. It's like grain of sand opposite Jupiter (or may be 1000 Jupiters).

esoteric ends here

To be honest, computer modeling gives correct % very soon , after 10000 boards matching your conditions, next 100000 boards will not change %.

Don't forget one thing - computer gives you correct %, but it can not give you the correct answer!
Feel the difference?

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    It's very unclear what you are trying to say here. Less touchy-feely esotericism and more actual bridge would do wonders for this answer, if you in fact have something more to say than a mere comment. Oct 28, 2015 at 22:06
  • I just wanted to say, that there is no absolute correct answer. Any "i paid expensive for this(or another)" don't give even a clue. Nov 3, 2015 at 13:58
  • If there was any validity to what you are saying, then Bridge would be a game of pure luck. Yet, as the preeminent Eric Murray noted in Regina v. Regal Bridge Club: "Bridge is only a game of chance as played by the justices of the Ontario Superior Court, in chambers." Aug 10, 2019 at 16:00

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