Good players choose the right opening lead more often, but it is impossible to master the art. Why not? Because the same lead could be great on one deal and lousy on the next. On todays deal declarer would have no chance with a club lead; but West, as most players, did not want to lead from an ace-queen combination.
The first four bids were routine: South showed six spades with his opening and rebid; North, five hearts and four diamonds. Souths next call was unattractive. Rather than bid notrump without a club stopper or raise diamonds with only three cards, he elected to overstate the quality of his spade suit. North raised to game to end the bidding.
West led the spade jack
and then there was life. Declarer won the king, cashed the spade ace (throwing a club from dummy), and quickly cashed two hearts to discard a club. Declarer still was not home. Should he return to his hand and lead a spade, hoping spades are three-three? Or should he play three rounds of diamonds, hoping diamonds are three-three? In the latter case declarer could discard another club on the last diamond, limiting his losers to two trumps and a club.
Obviously, the first plan works and the second fails as the cards lie, but declarer had a third plan that was better than either. Declarer ruffed a heart, led a diamond to the queen, and led another heart. East could not gain by ruffing South would throw a club loser so he discarded and South ruffed. (If East followed to the fourth heart, declarer would still pitch a club and then rely on an even spade break.) Finally, declarer crossed to the diamond king and led the last heart (which was good) to get rid of a club as an opponent ruffed making four hearts.
Anyone for leading the unbid suit? An original club lead will defeat the contract two tricks with perfect defense: West wins the third club trick and leads his last club, which East ruffs with the spade queen. Ouch!
© 1989 Richard Pavlicek