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The Intermediate Series

Lesson 6


Defensive Play



I have been writing a column for the Unit 181 for five years or so. All have been on bid

ding, as are my books. Time for a change. Let’s talk about the hardest part of the game – defence.


Defence and Introduction


Defence requires partnerships agreements, cooperation, and learning from experiences.


This is an area that requires constant communication between yourself and partner. As situations that come up where something went wrong on defence, discuss it. Did one partner do something wrong? Give the wrong count? Showed count in an attitude situation? This is how you learn – from your mistakes.


Defence is an art.


You may start off with each 3NT contract looking the same. But as time goes on, you will find each situation is slightly different than another, and may require a different approach.


Better defence from carefully listening to the bidding.


Your defence success rate will improve immensely when you carefully listen to the auction and look at your hand. Some questions to answer:


·       Why did they avoid notrump?

·       How big a fit do they have?

·       Did they get to game by an invitational sequence, which suggests more conservative defence, or by trying for slam?

·       Will one hand or another have shortness, and if so, in what suit?

·       Have the opponents shown a 2nd fit, which may indicate shortness in partner’s hand?

·       Are trumps splitting well for declarer?

·       Are side suits breaking well or are finessable cards onside or offside?

By listening carefully to the bidding, you can make better leads with a certain goal in mind.


Better defence from better declarer play.


Your defence will improve as your declarer play improves. Why? Because you will recognize situations and know what declarer’s strategy will be, or what dummy will have.


1. Leading



This is an area in which no player is ever perfect. You can make the best lead which will work a majority of time, but it will not work 100% of the time. Maybe not 80%. So don’t be discouraged when you make a well-reasoned lead that doesn’t work. Keep using the same logic and over time you will be right more often than not.


At this stage in your bridge development it is important to know the best leads. As you start to master situations, only then can you learn exceptions to the rule.


Leading against Notrump


4th best from longest and strongest. This is still the best advice. Even if it is a weak suit, it can still set up quickly.



You                             Partner

108732                      A654 





One lead from this weak suit sets up your suit.


High or low?


You are taught to lead high form a sequence. So from QJ1093 you lead the Q. That is correct. But sometimes your suit will be weaker which will leave you with a more difficult choice as to whether lead high or low. Here are some examples, with my recommendations:

1. ♠AJ10xxx – lead the J playing standard leads.

2. ♠AJ10xx – still the J.

3. ♠AJ10x – the J.

4. ♠QJ9xxx – the Queen

5. ♠QJ9xx – This one is close. I would lead 4th best. There is too good a chance that partner could have 10x, Kx, or Ax. And leading the Q either blocks the suit or gives the opponents an extra trick.


EX 1:




You                             Partner

QJ932                        K4      




If declarer plays the ace from dummy East will either set up a 2nd stopper if he plays the king, or block the suit if he chooses the 4.


6. KQ10xx     Lead the K.

7. KQ9xx       Most textbooks say lead the K

8. KQ8xx       Lead small*

9. AK10xx      Lead small*

10. AK87       Lead the 7*

11. AK7          Lead the King.

12. KQ32       Lead the 2.

13. QJ82        Lead the 2.

14. QJ92.      Lead the Q

15. Q109       Lead the 10.

16. 9732       Lead the 7. 2nd highest from an honourless suit is standard. In this way partner will usually be able to realize this is not 4th best, by using the rule of 11. In this way if partner gets in, he will know whether to continue your suit, or switch to a different one. (The 2 is also acceptable, but may cause partner to play you for a better suit.)

17. 1092       Lead the 10.

18. 1082       Lead the 2.

19. ?2            Lead the ?, the higher card, always.

20. ?               Use your judgement J


Bridge is not played in a vacuum


All of these leads are suggested on 1NT-3NT auctions. But often the bidding will be different. Since there are other factors that may alter your lead from some of the standard ones listed above.


Defensive Points –


since the opponents will have on an average 26 HCPs to bid game, your side will generally have 13-14. Often these points are split evenly. However when one defensive partner has the majority, then the goal will usually be to set up a suit that he has or may have.

Ex2: You hold ♠J3 ♥10754 ♦107 5 ♣10932


2♦ - 3NT

What do you lead?


Partner has most of the high cards between you. He also has at least 4 spades. Lead a spade. Here is a likely layout:




♠ K 8 7 6
♥ A 5 4 2
♦ K J 3
♣ 8 6 4

♠ J 3
♥ 10 7 5 4
♦ 10 7 5
♣ 10 9 3 2

Bridge deal

♠ Q 10 9 5 2
♥ Q J 8
♦ Q 8
♣ A J 5


♠ A 4
♥ K 9 6
♦ A 9 6 4 2
♣ K Q 7



Partner overcalls.Generally speaking, lead partner’s suit. If you have a doubleton lead the high one, with three or more lead your small one.


Matchpoints versus IMPs.
At IMPs or teams beating contracts is worth the risk of an overtrick or two. The above leads with asterisks are at this form of scoring. At matchpoints giving up overtricks can be catastrophic to your score. So the lead would more focused on taking and setting up tricks, whether it beats the contract or not. So with AK1093 lead the 10 against an IMP 3NT, but the AK playing pairs.


Opponents try for slam.

If the opponents investigate a slam but stop in game, take your tricks at matchpoints. Lead an ace if you have one. At IMPs often a strategy is to try and get a ruff, as it sounds like you can’t beat the game on power alone. So often a good lead is Kx, Ax, or even Qx.


Opponents show a major(s).

If the auction is


2S- 3NT

You know that declarer has four spades and LHO has four hearts. So at IMPs, the card you lead will change. If you hold in either major QJ932, AKQ32, KJ1032, AQ1032, K10932, KQ1032 or KQJ32 lead the 3! You are hoping that the major is distributed 5-4-2-2 around the table and partner will have an honour to either run the suit or setup the suit. In either case you will still have communication with partner has he will still have a card in the suit left.

Even this is good enough, as declarer will misguess on the 3♥lead:



♥J984                                    ♥65





Defensive Signals


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