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First, my own example.

With only N-S vulnerable, I was sitting West at matchpoints when South dealt and opened 1NT (15-17). I passed, North bid 2 hearts, and South transferred to two spades, all pass.

Holding ♠ AQ7 ♡ A9863 ♢ T8 ♣ T54, I led the fourth highest heart. South said (after the game), "You shouldn't have done that. What if I had a singleton king?" While this was just barely possible, I doubted that because of his 1NT bid.

Here's what I was thinking:

  1. North had shown great weakness with her bidding sequence, but she had most of her side's trumps, which would be exposed on the board.

  2. Because of 1, above, my partner and I had half the points in the deck, with the need to take only six tricks to defeat the contract. I expected to (and actually found) honors with my partner, who held QJ stiff, and was able to ruff a third heart. Moreover, we had at least equal strength, though not length in spades.

  3. While the contract was technically a suit contract, the strong South hand was actually a no trump hand.

  4. Because of all of the above, I wanted to start a "dog fight," playing this as a quasi no trump game.

The other lead I considered was a low trump. I didn't fancy leading one of my weak minor suit holdings.

Here's an expert example (Frank Stewart). South gets to five spades after he and North bid three suits, and find that they are off the AK of the fourth suit, clubs. So West underled his ace of clubs, East put up the king, returned his last club to West's ace, and they won the setting trick with a club lead from West, ruffed by East.

Surely, the expert West did the right, or at least a reasonable thing. Did I (a non-expert) do so by underleading an ace? If not, how does my situation differ from the Stewart example.

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    I lead the T of diamonds. I hope partner can figure out to duck the ace if they have it, though I can probably find their other entry. Note, assuming the king is with declarer, you might have done even better if your partner is the one to lead the hearts. Commented Feb 11, 2023 at 3:21
  • @AlexanderWoo: Partner's key cards were KJx of spades, and QJ stiff of hearts. Also, a "stranded" Q of diamonds. My second choice lead was a low spade.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Feb 11, 2023 at 3:35

2 Answers 2

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Yes; but not on this hand.

You have missed the key point in Stewart's column, repeated here (with my emphasis):

... North's raise to five spades asked South to go to slam if he had a control in clubs, the unbid suit. South couldn't oblige.
...
North-South's bidding should have been punished. Since the bidding indicated (really, it roared loudly) that they lacked a high club, West's opening lead should have been the deuce of clubs. ....

You received no such friendly signal from opponents, and should disdain making such an aggressive (nay, presumptive) lead in your example.

Your description suggests that South had the heart king - if so, you are probably entitled to six defensive tricks and a one trick set on this hand. Did you find them? Does the heart ace lead assist this in any way? If not, perhaps reconsider your approach to opening leads; and stop putting specific cards in partner's hand without much clearer signals that they might be there.

For reference, here is the suggested play summarized above with defensive winners in bold and [enumerated]:

  1. Diamond 10 lead won by Declarer (in either hand).

  2. Spade lead won by East's jack. [1]

  3. Heart jack lead by East (reversing the usual card order to signal the doubleton). Assume not covered so that [2]

  4. East continues with heart queen, showing the doubleton and thus overtaken by the ace regardless of South's play. [3]

  5. Heart deuce (suit preference for clubs) returned for East to ruff low. [4]

  6. Club spot led by East, won by Declarer wherever.

  7. Spade lead won by your ace to lead another diamond toward Partner's queen. [5]

  8. Diamond 8 lead to partner, possibly establishing a long high diamond in Partner's hand (where were the J and 10?).

Your spade queen is high trump for the sixth defensive trick, and Partner possibly wins the third diamond round for a seventh.

Declarer does better to cover the heart jack, if he can. You then win the Ace and return one to Partner's Queen. In this case win the second spade with the ace to give partner a heart ruff; but the possible diamond trick has now likely been ruined unless Declarer is end-played in the suit.

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Underleading the A here is pretty risky because the points are on your right. I'm assuming the layout was something like

   QJ
xxx  KTx
  A98xx

If you don't give partner a ruff here, you're still getting two heart tricks, so you didn't really win anything.

Dummy could also quite easily have a singleton heart. Only when partner has the stiff K or Kx do you really win here, and then likely only when the hearts are split between your opponents. So it's just not very likely.

I would lead the T of diamonds or a passive club. Yes, your clubs are weak, but passive leads, which are unlikely to give up tricks, are okay especially at matchpoints!

The T of diamonds gives me the opportunity to get a ruff. I've got one or two spade stoppers which may give me time to develop my 7 as a ruff. Yes, it still requires luck, but many diamond holdings from partner will help as opposed to hearts where I specifically needed the K.

I do occasionally underlead aces against suit contracts. The ideal situation is when the points are on my left and I believe neither opponent has a singleton. Or perhaps my right hand opponent has neglected to cue bid in the suit. But beware--even sometimes when it can theoretically work, partner will not play you for the A. Imagine this situation:

   Qxxx
KJT9     xx
   Axx

Here, it's correct for partner to duck, playing you for xxx and declarer for Ax, unless P has strong conviction that you would underlead an A.

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