The curse of leading against 3NT

Like me, you’ve probably encountered some funny bridge hands, but the kind of funny that is accompanied more by tears than chuckles. Here is an offering from a past Trumps teams congress:


Your partner, West, passes. North opens 1D. You are not vulnerable against vulnerable opponents, and preempt 3H. South outbids you with 3S, and after your partner passes, North ventures 3NT. This is passed around to your partner, who doubles, concluding the auction. What do you lead?

Double of a freely-bid slam or 3NT contract by the player not on lead is generally played as “Lightner” or lead-directing. Usually it asks for the lead of dummy’s first bid suit but double of 3NT is commonly played as saying “partner, lead your own suit if you bid one”. So what should you lead, a spade or a heart?

If you chose the SA, give yourself 2000 points, because you are able to take the first 11 tricks. I eventually settled on a small heart, with distinctly un-humorous consequences. This was the complete deal:

Board 12, Easter Sunday. Dealer West, NS vul.

WEST                EAST
 KQJ73              A9
 Q98                AT75432
 Q32                6
 62                 T43

Pass  1D     3H    3S
Pass  3NT    Pass  Pass
Double  All pass

Steven Bock was declarer, North. He won the heart lead and cashed the DA. Usually with nine cards in the suit it would be best to play the DK next, hoping for the queen to drop, but East had shown long hearts and was therefore likely to be short in diamonds. Therefore he correctly crossed to the South hand (via clubs) and took the diamond finesse. After getting that decision right, he had 12 tricks, for 1350 points, a swing of 3350 points on the lead.

“Oh well, it’s only a game,” I explained helpfully to partner. “A vulnerable, doubled game,” replied he.

Even that was a bundle of laughs compared to a 3NT I once declared in the last round of a Lindfield Spring Teams, many years before the club moved in to Club Willoughby. As I later explained to my teammates, I did have nine top tricks in my 3NT, but unfortunately the opponents took their 13 tricks first. Needless to say, the teammates failed to see the humour in that comment, although they had such a good set themselves that we won the event anyway.

The bridge table is where pleasure meets pain. As the woman says when she gets home, “you wouldn’t believe what a terrible night I had… down in every contract except the ones we underbid… partner missed all my signals… a disaster,” to which her husband replies, “Dear, why not give yourself a break and stay home next week?” She quickly responds: “What, and deny myself my one night a week of pleasure?”

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