Quick summary

In all contracts

No Trump options

options against Suit contracts

If leading a trump:

Take your winners early:


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Bridge Venue

Example Deal
spade A Q 7
heart Q 10 8 2
diamond A J 4
club 9 7 3
Example Deal
Dealer: North
Vuln: Nil

Major match, with game values

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Lead choice. Opening lead

download printable table of opening leads

Selecting the suit

Good suits to lead in any contract (NT or suit):

  • a suit partner has bid (or the suit you deduce that he has)
  • a suit not bid by declarer's side
  • if desperate. . ..a suit bid by LHO (your opponents will prefer to play 4th player high, not second player)

Against NT contracts:

  • your aim is to play in the longest combined suit, and establish them
  • therefore leading a suit in which partner does or could have length may be good
  • leading a long suit of your own is often the best, because as soon as you have got rid of opponent's one or two good cards, you can win all the rest in this suit. However, there are various caveats here, not least (1) the need for entries back to your hand to lead them thereafter and (2) avoiding them if the enemy is strong in this suit.

Against a suit contract:

  • as usual, your partner's bid suit, see above and below
  • trumps, quite often, see below
  • your longest and strongest, similar in style to NT
  • a short suit lead may be good, but only when it is likely that partner will be able to obtain the lead and return the suit:
    • also, don't lead a singleton, unless you have some small trumps which you don't think will otherwise win,
    • leading a doubleton is usually poor, unless you are sure that your partner can win the second trick, and has a 3rd to lead back to you which you can win with a small and otherwise useless trump,
    • if you are going to go for a ruff, by leading a short suit, then your trump holding should be xx, xxx, Axx, Kxx, Ax. All these include otherwise un-winnable trumps. Unsuitable trump holdings include AK, Qxx, Qx etc. All these include winnable or potentially winnable trumps.

6 reasons for thinking about leading trumps

  1. To cut down on the number of ruffs in the short hand.
  2. If opponents have overstretched themselves in the bidding (e.g. 1H-2H-3H-4H is tentative bidding to game, so they may be needing a ruff to make up for weakness, and draw trumps later)
  3. Against a Slam. They probably have at least 9, so you're unlikely to give a trick away
  4. Against a sacrifice. They've spoiled your contract, and are probably hoping to limit the damage by cross-ruffing, so try wasting the trumps.
  5. It can be the safest lead, when other leads look risky
  6. When you and partner both bid the same suit. . . see below.

Don't do it if you have either one trump or Qxx (or Jxxx). With one trump, your partner might have length in trumps.

Thinking about trumps, a good lead can be one where you force opponents to ruff in the long hand. That uses one of their trumps that can no longer be used to consume 2 of yours.

OK, you've chosen the suit. Now Selecting the card

No Trumps contracts - best leads from your suit

  1. Longest suit: from a sequence of honours lead the highest (KQJx). (You'll need 3 high cards in NT, but only 2 in suits because opponents might start ruffing).
  2. Longest suit: from an internal sequence lead the top of that sequence, (KJ109). (Avoid in suit contracts)
  3. Longest suit: with two honours, lead the 4th best card, allowing partner to employ the rule of 11 (KJ873).
  4. Longest suit: with one honour, is not a great choice of lead unless partner is also long in this suit: lead 4th highest (K9832).
  5. Longest suit: from an honourless suit, choose 2nd best, especially against suit contracts (97542).
  6. 3 card suit with any honour: lead small (Q83). Perhaps opponents bid your longest suit.

Remember, you're looking for your longest combined suit. If it's your long suit, you will need entries back into your hand. It's no good establishing the lower values in your suit and having no means to lead them ! You're wasting you time.

Note that in case 4, your partner will be able to work out that you could have a 5-card suit, and will be watching out for the "2" to fall, in order to be certain.

Trump contracts - best leads from your suit

  1. AKx(xx). "I've got the A, promising K, hoping you've got Qxx(x), or xx, so you can win or ruff the 3rd round. Play your higher x to encourage if you use HELD signals, or lower x if you use LLHH signals".
  2. KQx(xx)
  3. QJx(xx). "Maybe partner you have the 10, or better still K/A, so we can at least win the 3rd round. Tell me."
  4. J10x(xx)

Leading partner's suit

Almost always a good thing. Why ?

  • You'll probably be leading up to strength, and away from weakness.
  • Since your partner bid, he has length and probably strength. Maybe he'll have entries to any winners you have set up.
  • He may have made a "lead directing" bid
  • Since it is rare for you not to lead his suit, he can draw strong inferences about your hand

If you don't lead partner's suit, he will assume you are either void or have the Ace (you might not lead the Ace, as it might set up declarer's King). He's going to lead back to you later, expecting great things ! The exceptions to the rule include

  • when a trump lead is better, or
  • you might want to show AKx(x), or KQJ(x) in another suit first.
  • If you lead a suit bid by opponents, it almost certainly means a singleton

Another exception is when you "forced" your partner to bid a suit (e.g. takeout double).

What about No Trumps ? Generally again, yes, lead your partner's suit before your nice long suit, unless you have a singleton in your partner's suit.

Which card should you lead in your partner's suit ? Lead high with either touching honours or rubbish. . .

  1. xx
  2. xxx
  3. KQ(xxx)
  4. QJ(xxx). Maybe partner has 10, or better still K/A
  5. J10(xxx)

Lead low with

  1. Kxx
  2. Qxx
  3. Jxx
  4. KJx
  5. Q10x
  6. K10x

Lead 'second' from a long bad suit, 4th best from other long suits. Lead high from doubleton.

No trump and trump differences

  • KQ765. In NT, choose 6, promising 1 or two honours, 4-card suit. Suits, choose K promising Q. In suits, opponents will start ruffing soon, so best to make our high cards soon. Note that your suit with one honour is not an appealing lead.
  • From a sequence of honours lead the highest (KQJx). You'll need 3 high cards in NT, but only 2 in suits because opponents might start ruffing.

Two and three card suits

  • From a doubleton lead the higher card, thus from 82 lead the 8
  • From a three card suit
    • if headed by a sequence (even of two cards) lead the highest. QJ2
    • if headed by an honour (not a sequence) lead the lowest. K73
    • if all cards are low, there are two main schools of thought:
      • MUD "middle-up-down" – lead the middle card, and play the highest card next. 852
      • ON "top of nothing" – lead the top card. It has the advantage of denying an honour, but is ambiguous with a lead from doubleton,

From hands containing both A and K:

  • From AKx or AKxx etc lead the A
  • From AK doubleton lead the K
  • Remember: leading any card in a suit containing an Ace (but no King) is bad, against a suit contract, because if you lead the Ace, then the opponents might now make their King, instead of losing it to your Ace. Worse still, if you lead a small card, and they have a singleton, you will lose your Ace. Lead the Ace as a last resort. Note that it's OK to lead way from an Ace in the latter stages of play.
  • In No Trumps it's all different, because you might be trying to establish your long suit. You can under lead an Ace in a strong suit.


Against a suit contract, many partnerships reserve a special meaning for the lead of a 10 .. it promises a touching card J or 9 and a non-touching higher honour e.g. K J10, K 109, Q 109.


A nine promises a singleton, because MUD denies having the 10. (With 3 cards to an honour, lead lowest).


Slam - leads when defending a Slam

Should I lead an Ace ? After all, all you need is two winners, or just one against a Grand Slam !

It's generally only a good idea to lead an Ace in two situations:

  1. When the opposition might be short in that suit (e.g. you have A76543)
  2. When you or your partner have a trump trick

The problem with leading an Ace is that you lose the chance to beat the King when it's on your right. If you hold AQx, you might we throwing away the chance to beat the contract.

Choosing an aggressive or safe lead is important:

Defeating some contracts calls for aggressive leads, while others call for safe leads. For example, take a look at the following deal:

Deal 1S 9 3 2


S J 8 7
H A Q J 6 5
D 7 3
S             N S  
H    W               E H  
D   D  
C             S C  
    S A 6
S K Q 10 5 3
H 8 3 2
D A 9 8 5

North and South have reached a contract of 4heart, which has some possibilities. At first glance the declarer seems to be losing a spade, a heart, maybe a diamond if the finesse fails and a club or maybe more. However, if the opening lead is the heart2 (a safe lead) Declarer will find it much easier to make the contract because he will have time to set up the diamond suit. The spade4 lead (an aggressive lead) will make his job more difficult.

The best of both worlds is a lead that is both aggressive and safe, for example leading a suit headed by an honour sequence will give little away and may well set up tricks for the defence.

How to get better at it

You should think about the bidding, and try to work out what dummy's hand must look like, and declarer. Not to mention your partner. For example:

  • Which suits were not bid ?
  • Did any NT or Stayman / lack of Stayman bids tell you something about shortage ?
  • Did a double for takeout indicate a shortage by the overcaller ?
  • Did any cuebids tell you about lack of first and second round controls ?
  • In which hand does the strength in a suit lie ?
  • Did the bids tell you exactly how many cards each player has in various suits ?
  • If dummy preferred opener's second suit, he might be short in the first suit. So lead your trumps to minimise the ruffing.
  • If you and partner both bid a suit, and you hold the Ace, can you be sure he has the King ? Leading a trump might be safer.
  • If you and partner both bid a suit, perhaps they only have 4, split 3-1. If the singleton is in dummy, then lead a small trump to limit their ruffing. Also, after you've got rid of their singleton, you can then make your masters.
  • If they have bid to game, and your hand is good, then your partner will be weak. He'll probably never get the lead, so he'll be unable to lead back for you to ruff.

Also, if the opponents have bid high (5 to 7), then you might want to make your winners early.

If opponents are weak, play conservatively. If the opponents are strong, you might have to play actively and take some risks, for example leading away from honours and looking for ruffs.


Ambiguities can arise from this standard method, thus:

  • A defender would lead the 2 from K532 and from K32 . . . does he have a four-card suit or not?
  • Similarly a defender may lead the 2 from 9432 and from KJ92 . . . does he have an honour or not?
  • A defender would lead the K from AK doubleton and from KQx . . . does he have the A or the Q?
  • A defender would lead A from AK2 and possibly from A32 . . . does he have the K or not?

To overcome these problems, various conventions have been devised: Rusinow and Journalist

Rusinow leads - overcomes the ambiguity of a K lead:

Deal 2S 5 4 3

When West leads the spadeK East may be confused as to the nature of his holding. If he is leading from spadeKQ, East will want to encourage, but if leading from spadeAK East will want to discourage.

S AK6           N S J 10 2
H    W               E H  
D   D  
C             S C  
    S Q 9 8 7

Rusinow leads recommend leading the second of touching honours and the above confusion is largely eliminated. Rusinow leads are now considered a standard part of the Roman Club system.

Journalist leads - overcomes the ambiguity of a J lead

The leader might have J1094 or KJ104. The convention proposes that the opening lead be the Jack from the first sequence and the 10 from the second in order to better inform his partner about the nature of his holding.

(1) Basic Bridge, Ron Klinger, Victor Gollancz ISBN 0-575-05690-8

(2) http://www.jazclass.aust.com/bridge/br21.htm