Bending the Rules

Bridge players, like great artists, need to understand the rules but also know when to break them. One such rule is "always return your partner's lead". The rule is a fine one, but a bridge player will tell you it is always wrong to say "always".

Each year we hold a gold point event, the "GNOT", at Trumps (this year will be Fridays 1.20pm or 7pm from 9 October).Playing in a heat of the Grand National Teams some years ago, Christine Vinson produced a big swing when she used simple logic to defeat a game contract.

EW vulnerable, dealer West.

WEST              EAST
 AKQ9             J543
 T3               K64
 QJ               765
 A9543            KQ7

W     N     E     S
1C      Pass      1S       Pass
3S      Pass      4S      All pass

The two doubletons made the West hand unsuitable for a 1NT opening, so West started 1C, then jump raised East's 1S response to 3S, showing a fit and 16-18. This invited East to bid game with anything more than the bare 6 or 7 points, so game was reached.

What should South lead? Avoid a suit bid by the opponents and also (against a suit contract) avoid a suit headed by the ace without the king. That narrowed it down to a diamond, and Lynn Horton sitting South correctly led D3.

North won with the DA. What next? Partner's lead of a low diamond indicates an honour, which can only be the DK. That doesn't prove that a diamond back is the correct lead. The diamond trick can wait, as Christine Vinson, sitting North, deduced. She led HQ, a deadly shift not found at the other table. Now two heart tricks could be taken, and the other diamond trick cashed too, for one light.

The heart shift catered for the actual layout, where East had the HK and South had the ace, in which case the heart lead had to come from North rather than South. If East had had the HA instead of the king, then North's heart switch may not have done any good but it would not have done any harm either.

The key was that North wanted to lead hearts "towards the weakness" in dummy. It is not rare to encounter this sort of situation, where there is a limited future in the suit partner led, whereas another suit in dummy has two or three small cards and thus offers a more appealing target. You don't always have to return partner's lead but do remember, you should lead it back unless you have a clear reason not to.