Blum on Bridge

Back to Basics - Part II



To quickly review, last week we discussed leading the top card of sequences K from KQJ, Q from QJ10 and so forth. This week, we will continue along the same lines, but talk about broken sequences such as KQ104, KQ109, QJ95, etc.

Generally speaking the best lead from a broken sequence just as with a solid sequence is the top card. However, there is one huge exception. From the KQ109 combination, the correct card to play is ... the queen! In order to have you better understand the reasoning behind this unusual play I want you to visualize yourself first as declarer then as the partner of the opening leader.

Assume that as declarer in a 3NT contract your left-hand opponent has made the normal lead of the king, as most would do. You sit with the AJ3 of the suit. If you hold up and do not play the ace on the first trick, lefty has a real problem. This holdup is called a "Bath Coup" and may well cause the opening leader to switch suits because he is not sure of the location of the jack and may be afraid to play the queen. If he does fall into the trap and plays the queen, declarer wins the ace and his jack becomes the highest card in the suit. If the opening leader switches suits and declarer does not happen to hold the jack, the defenders lost their element of timing. Either way declarer wins.

The method by which the opener counters the possibility of declarer employing the "Bath Coup" successfully is to make his opening lead the queen. At his point, I want you to visualize yourself as the partner of the opening leader. Should you hold the jack and see the lead of the queen you immediately realize the queen cannot be the top of a sequence. Thus, it must have come from one of two holdings, Q3 (a horrible lead against a NT contract) or from KQ10 plus a fourth card, preferably the nine. Assuming the latter you now play the jack and the mystery has been solved for the opening leader as only the ace is higher in rank than his honor cards. If the opening leader sees your play of a card other than the jack and does not see it in dummy, he knows that the declarer holds it.

What if you hold the ace and not the jack? Holding A4 or a similar doubleton, get out of partner's way and play the ace. Then return the suit. This is an excellent example of
"unblocking" which simply means that partner can win the trick and continue the suit. Even when you in third seat see the king in dummy it is proper to play the ace from a doubleton and continue the suit. Of course if you see the king you recognize pard's opening lead was from at least QJ105. Holding A43 or a similar tripleton, after pard's lead of the queen, play the higher spot card to encourage continuation of the suit when you see the king in dummy. The play of a spot card to either encourage or discourage suit continuation is called "attitude." If the king is not in dummy it is best to play the ace and return the higher of the two spot cards. This helps partner by giving him "count." You don't care if partner is leading from KQJ4, KQ109 or QJ107. If he holds KQ109 and declarer has the jack and does not play it, pard will play the 10 or 9 on your spot card.

If partner's opening lead is fourth best, say for 10732 and you hold KQJ4 it is critical that in third position you play the lowest card in the sequence. The reasoning becomes obvious as you play the jack and declarer wins the ace. The opening leader is no longer blind for he knows you don't hold KJ or AJ as you would have played the highest card in a non-sequence. Declarer played the ace so it is possible he holds AKQ. If, by chance he does, the opening leader has an accurate point count of the hand.

We'll conclude our discussion about sequences by bringing up that word I use so often, COUNT. Folks, it's so important that you get in the habit of applying it even when it's for practice. In all of the above situations had declarer opened 1 or 2NT he is telling the world he holds no singletons or voids. When dummy hits the table, like the old Ivory Soap ads, it's 99 and 44/100 percent pure that you know declarer's distribution within one card of the led suit. This information becomes more and more valuable as play continues and may eventually provide you with the data you need to set the contract.