Bridge Basics 1U29   Main

Lesson 12

  by Richard Pavlicek

Defensive Play

About half the time you and your partner will be the defenders. Your objective is to defeat the contract played by the declarer. This requires an understanding of the basic techniques and standard agreements of defensive card play. You and partner must work together as a team.

Opening Leads

The first decision to be made on defense is the opening lead. There is no specific rule that applies to every deal — that’s one of factors that makes bridge exciting. The most important clue in choosing an opening lead is the bidding. Here is some general advice:

If partner has bid a suit, lead that suit. Avoid leading a suit bid by the opponents.

In most cases the above advice will not be conclusive. You will have to decide which of the unbid suits to lead, and this usually depends on whether the contract is in notrump or a suit.

Leads against Notrump

If the contract is notrump, it is a good strategy to lead your longest suit with at least five cards. The objective is to force declarer to win his stoppers (if any) in that suit, after which your remaining cards will be winners if you regain the lead.

If you don’t have a five-card or longer suit, an honor sequence (such as Q-J-10) is an excellent lead regardless of length. Failing that, prefer to lead from a weak suit. Avoid leading a four-card suit that contains the ace or king — you are likely to lose a trick in that suit.

Below is a summary of the opening-lead strategy against notrump (assuming partner has not bid a suit):

ChoiceNotrump Opening Lead
15+ card suit
2Honor sequence
3Weak suit

Leads against Suits

The objectives at a suit contract are different. The best lead is a suit headed by the ace and king because you will win the first trick and get to see the dummy before you decide what to lead next.

A singleton is an excellent lead if your hand contains several trumps, at least one of which is a low card. If partner has the ace in the suit led, or if he can gain the lead early, you will be able to get a ruff.

Otherwise prefer to make a safe lead such as an honor sequence or a weak suit — one that does not contain the ace or king. Below is a summary of the opening-lead strategy against a suit contract:

ChoiceSuit Opening Lead
1Suit headed by A-K
3Honor sequence
4Weak suit

Bridge Basics 1U29   MainTop   Lesson 12

Leading the Proper Card

Once you have chosen the suit to lead, the choice of card is based on standard agreements. Below are the most important rules:

You HoldLeadExample
Ace and kingKingA K J 2
Honor sequenceTopJ 10 9 3
DoubletonTop8 2
4+ cardsFourth bestQ 9 7 6 2

Third Hand Play

Assume your partner makes the opening lead; dummy plays second and you play third to the trick. Generally, you should try to win the trick or force declarer to waste a high card to beat you. That is:

As third hand, play your highest card, except from equals play the lowest.

For example, with Q-10-2 you should play the queen, but with J-10-2 you should play the 10 because the jack and 10 are equivalent in rank. Observe that the play from equals as third hand is opposite to the practice of leading, in which the top card of a sequence is played.

If you are unable to win the trick, or if partner’s lead is already high, it would be senseless to waste your highest card. Then it is your duty to give an attitude signal to tell partner whether you like his lead:

If you like partner’s lead and want him to continue, play the highest card you can spare. Otherwise play your lowest card.

Second Hand Play

The player who plays fourth (last) to any trick has the best advantage; he will see three other plays before deciding his own. Therefore, when declarer or dummy leads a card, the defender who plays second usually should not deprive his partner of this advantage. In other words:

As second hand, play your lowest card.

Bridge Basics 1U29   MainTop   Lesson 12

Quiz 12

Assume you are the opening leader. On each hand decide which card you would lead against each of the two contracts shown. Assume that no suits were bid except for the trump suit if a suit contract.

1. S K 4 2
H A J 8 6 23 NT  
D 10 9 8 44 S
C 8

2. S A K 8
H J 22 NT  
D Q 10 9 24 H
C 10 9 8 3

3. S A Q 10 2
H 10 8 6 21 NT  
D 10 23 D
C Q 7 2

4. S K Q J 2
H 9 42 H
D K 10 72 S
C A 9 8 7

5. S Q J 10 9
H A 7 23 H
D 53 S
C A 9 8 7 4

6. S 8 2
H 10 93 NT  
D J 9 8 7 5 36 NT  
C A K 2


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Now assume you are third hand. Partner leads the spade shown, and dummy plays the underlined card. Which card would you play, first against three notrump and then against four hearts?

7. PartnerDummyYou3 NT4 H
S 39 7 2K J 8

8. PartnerDummyYou3 NT4 H
S KQ 7 6 29 3

9. PartnerDummyYou3 NT4 H
S 4A 7 2Q J 6

10. PartnerDummyYou3 NT4 H
S KQ 210 9 8 3

11. PartnerDummyYou3 NT4 H
S 104 3 2Q 8 5

12. PartnerDummyYou3 NT4 H
S JK 3 2A 7 6


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© 2012 Richard Pavlicek