# Why is the King of Spades the best opening lead with this hand?

Well, you pick up this hand:

K Q J 10 9

x x x

K x

x x x

The opponents bid 1 NT on your right and 3 NT on your left. What would you lead?

Not that difficult, was it? If you line up a million (1.000.000) bridge players – or even a billion (1.000.000.000) of them – we would all lead the king of spades unless we pulled the wrong card or a card fell out of our hand. If you were number 867.354 in that line of bridge players and you led the king of diamonds, I would say you lost your mind (and some of us in that line would probably be raving lunatics). But if you at the same time hit your partner with AQJxx of diamonds I would say that you are a cheater. This is just not happening. Unless you have some extra information which you are not entitled to.

Source

Why is it so very, very obvious to play the King of Spades first? I have no knowledge about Bridge except for the rules, so I'd appreciate an elementary explanation.

Against No Trump the point is to set up tricks that will be guaranteed. Here the KQJT9 is four safe tricks - so you lead from that hoping to later get in with the diamond King.

When you do get in, either with a spade from partner or a diamond, you have four tricks guaranteed that will set the contract.

By convention, from a run like that you lead the top one (to let Partner know you have the next one or next several).

Beyond that, Kx is a bad lead because it doesn’t set up a trick and if the ace is to your right it gives away a trick. Since right hand opponent has bid 1NT, they probably have around 16 points (A=4 K=3 Q=2 J=1) out of 40 total, while left hand opponent has between 9 and 12 or so points. So odds are RHO has the ace, and so your diamond K will be a trick if you don’t lead from it.

Most of the time in bridge in no trump you either lead a high card when it’s next to another high card or two (so leading it and knocking out the one above it makes the one below it a winner) or you lead a low card in a suit you have a lot of cards in. (In a trump contract you might lead a suit you’re short in, also.) That’s of course when you don’t know what partner has (as is true here). A low card from length (usually your 4th highest, or near that, depending on your agreements) tells your partner what to try and lead back - even a 65432 suit can become a trick or two in no trump if nobody else has more than three of them!

Part of what makes bridge so challenging is that unlike chess, it is a game of incomplete information (another part is that unlike poker, all 52 cards are in play). One of the goals of the bidding and the play is to pass enough information about your hand to partner that they can do the right thing (and hopefully not enough that the opponents can do the right thing).

"Blind" opening leads (where your side have not been in the auction, and where the opponents' auction has not been very specific) are the hardest part of the game - the best players in the world concede a trick (against "I can see all the cards" best) over 20% of the time on this trick alone.

A little bit of bridge information: first there's the auction, then the play. In the auction, both pairs attempt to find the best contract for them (or disrupt the opponents doing the same), by using meanings for bids. But the bid always has to be higher than the last, and if you win the auction, you then have to try to win as many tricks in the play as you contracted for in the auction.

This auction ended at 3NT (why, I won't go into, but there's a bonus for making it that you don't get with any lower bid). That means that the declaring side must win 9 of the 13 tricks in the hand to "make" the contract (and get a positive score); if the defence takes 5 or more, then declarer can't make it any more, and pays penalties for being "set". Making more than 9 (or less than 8) is worth/penalized more, but almost nothing compared to whether they get 9 or not. This is critical for all the explanation below.

Choosing what suit to lead is an art. Choosing what card to lead, once the suit has been decided on, is a matter of agreement, based on standards. So:

1. Having decided to lead a spade, "standard" is the K ("top of sequence"). It tells partner you have the Q and either the J or 10 (usually), and if she can't see the J on the board or in her hand, then either you have it and it's a trick or declarer has it and when she gets in, she can lead through declarer to neutralize it.

2. Why lead a spade instead of anything else? Joe explains that one clearly - to set 3NT, you need 5 tricks (3NT means "I'll take 9 of the 13 tricks"). Four spades (one will be won by the Ace) and the ♦K you hope is an entry are the obvious 5.

There are other possibilities, too: Declarer has 15-17 HCP, and dummy has 9-14. Your 9 means that partner could have as much as 7, and four of them could be the ♠A. Or the ♦A. Or she might still have a spade when she gets in with whatever trick she does have, and you get your 4 spades that way.

3. For the ♦K to be right and the ♠K wrong, partner has to have ♦AQxxx or better - so you're hoping for 6 of the 7-or-fewer points in her hand, instead of 4 (an ace) or 3 (a useful K) or 2 (the ♦Q and they don't have 9 tricks without playing diamonds). Plus there's a very good chance the ♦K will give up a trick, and it might be the ninth.

4. There's little to go on with 1NT-3NT, but there is a strong implication that a major suit (hearts or spades) will work better than a minor suit (clubs or diamonds). Because of the way the scoring system works, finding a major suit fit is a big thing, and LHO hasn't even looked for one - so they don't have one. They could very easily have a diamond fit, though, especially as you only have two.

So, you can see that the spade is so much more likely to work than anything else, especially the ♦K you'd hope is your entry to the spades. But on this hand, the player being discussed led the ♦K, and caught partner with ♦AQJxx. The ♠K would have let the contract make; the ♦K set it before declarer got in.

This is - deliberately - a wildly exaggerated example, one where 999 999/1 000 000 would do one thing, but there is a hand where the other lead is right; when the 1/1 000 000 person leads it and it's right, it's really suspicious. This leads the writer into the meat of the story, with less exaggerated hands, but "when a pair make leads that 99/100 players at this level wouldn't, a lot, and it works, a lot, what's more likely - they're imaginative, they know more than everyone else about math, or they know something about the hand they didn't get legally?" And then proceeds to show a large number of hands where this pair did exactly that.

And the site is called `bridgecheaters.com`...

Now the counterargument to this (which the player in question has of course used) is that the hands are cherrypicked; that the large number of hands where they made the normal lead were ignored, and the ones where the odd lead didn't work didn't get mentioned, because it makes the argument look bad. And that's a very legitimate point; so what is becoming standard is to look at every hand to see if it's "Normal: 90; weird that worked: 2; weird that cost: 4; weird that didn't affect the result: 4" or "Normal: 94; weird that worked 4; weird that cost: 0; weird that didn't affect the result (but could have with a different lie of the other cards): 2."

Now, another thing that came up (later) is that there was an oddity in the way the board was replaced after the auction. Some people came up with an idea that how it was placed was passing suit information. That, too, could have just been a coincidence, but the fact that they insisted on sitting N/S (in control of replacing the board) and that video of a different set of hands was given to a different set of people who were asked "where was the board placed?" and "what suit would you want to show?" without being told the suspected "code". When the results matched...

• Thanks for answer. You lost me somewhere around the 3rd bullet point I'm afraid. I'm guessing DK means the King of Diamonds? If so, how is it possible for a card to be "right" or "wrong"? What does it mean to "fit" or to "set" or "make"? May 18, 2021 at 22:29
• Apologies. I'll see what I can do. Yes, DK is Diamond K. Right means "leading this card sets the contract" (or at least doesn't hurt), wrong means "leading this card gives away the contract". Fit is the length of your best suit - an 8-card fit (each partner having 4, or one 5 and one 3, or...) in a major is usually good enough to play in rather than NT. Make means "took the number of tricks bid for in the auction (here, 9); Set means "defence didn't let declarer make." May 18, 2021 at 22:43
• Thanks for clarification. Couple more questions - why is leading the DK right if partner has AQxxx or better? Also, how would partner know whether to beat the DK with the Ace, or to play under it? May 19, 2021 at 10:38
• 1. remember all 52 cards are in play. If the rest of the diamonds are 3-3, then the K wins, the next diamond is won by the A, then the Q, then there aren't any left, and the other two win for -1. (If it's AQJxx, or AQTxx, then the number of successful ways the rest of the cards can sit goes up). 2. Partner wouldn't overtake the K, they'd wait for the lead of the low card next. How they would know? They wouldn't. Best guess. But in bridge, after the opening lead, declarer's partner puts their hand on the table, so everyone can see. You then work out likely distribution and play best hope. May 19, 2021 at 15:13
• Thanks for clarification. Even more questions: 1) she can lead through declarer to neutralize it what does this mean? 2) Is a club or heart lead not even worth considering? May 24, 2021 at 2:48

To elaborate on one particular point only mentioned in passing in the other answers, specifically, entry management:

• Thanks for this! I know this is supposed to be for a "non-bridge" audience, but a discussion of declarer's holdup play (to ensure RHO doesn't have a spade when she gets in) may be useful to highlight why we need an entry outside of spades. May 24, 2021 at 16:21
• It looks to me like there is also a scenario where opening leader could be thrown in with a spade to lead away from the ♦K. Dec 10, 2021 at 21:32

This particular example doesn't even need specialized bridge knowledge. Any trick taking game would practically demand leading the spade suit. In this scenario, you're fine with your K losing to the A since you have the next immediate cards in sequence. As far as your hand is concerned, you have 5 cards of equal value since they all lose to the A but beat the 8.

Leading the K from Kx is practically giving up a trick. When your K is overtaken by the A, your final card has no real hope of winning, and you've given up a legitimate opportunity to win with the K based on positioning.

(As described in other answers, the bridge convention is to lead from the top of a sequence to give your partner some authorized information)

As Mycroft explained, the opponents have contracted to make 9 tricks with no suit being trumps. If they are bidding like most bridge players in the USA, then your right-hand opponent (RHO, or declarer in this case) has about 16-18 high-card points (counting 4 for an ace, 3 for a king, 2 for a queen and 1 for a jack), and your left hand opponent (LHO, or dummy) has at least 11 HCP and no more than 14. There are 40 HCP in the pack, (10 in each suit). At least 25 are with the opponents and you yourself have 9. Partner has at most 6 HCP, so are highly unlikely to hold the diamond ace.

Nor do you have any indication that partner might hold a long suit of their own. In no trumps, long suits are key. If everybody else has two spades, but you have seven, then, after spades have been played twice, you will have all remaining spades. As there are no trumps, if you can get to lead them, they make tricks, regardless of how small they are. But partner didn't bid, so you have no idea if they have a long suit or what it might be.

But you do have a suit of your own. Spades. You not only have five spades, more than anybody else, but after losing a trick to the ace, you will have four guaranteed winners. The opponents have to make 9 tricks, remember, so your aim is to prevent that by making five tricks of your own. (There being 13 possible tricks in total).

So, you lead spades. Does declarer take his ace on the first round? Probably not, for the following reason. Let us say that your partner has two spades. If declarer takes the ace on the second round, your partner will have no spades left. Assuming declarer needs to lose to a queen in some suit, he can let your partner win it without worrying about a spade return.

This is the final reason not to lead diamonds. Outside spades, the king of diamonds is the only way for you to get back on lead.

In summary: You have solid spades, leading spades will not cost a trick and will establish four winners. You can't lead a diamond, because that would jeopardise your entry. And you can't lead another suit, because you have no idea of partner's holding in the suit; also, it is highly unlikely that partner has a better suit than you do (they may have a longer suit, but can't have better than KQJ in their suit, because they have at most six HCP).