Thursday, June 3, 2010

If it's good enough to raise, it's good enough to lead

I'm still thinking about a hand that bothered me in the Reno Jacoby Swiss, first described in an earlier blog More discipline.  It was the very first board of the event, playing the John Diamond team, the eventual winners of this prestigious two-day affair.  Let's look at it from my partner's point of view, for whom I will use the pronoun you.  All are vulnerable and your hand is ♠532 T83 Q965 ♣974.  CHO (me) deals and opens 1.  RHO bids 1♠.  Your call?  Pass is the disciplined (and obvious) call, as described in the earlier blog. But instead you decide to raise to 2.  The bidding ends with partner (me) doubling their 4♠.  Now is not the time to panic.  You certainly are under strength for the diamond raise, but partner won't be doubling without a likely four tricks so the fact that you won't be providing any may not matter too much.

So your obvious lead is a low diamond, according to whether we play fourth best or 3rd/5th.  Would you even consider anything else?  Not in this situation, unless it was a trump perhaps.  But my partner decided to lead the 3.  This had a devastating effect on the defense.  From my point of view this looked like a singleton, except that advancer had bid hearts and overcaller had not supported them.  Given that dummy held KJ to five and I had the Axxx, the only possible holding you could have for the lead, given that you went out of your way not to make the obvious lead, had to be Qxxx.  Unfortunately, declarer had the singleton Q and I was only able to take my three other tricks after that.  The resulting 18 imp swing was most of the margin of defeat in that match.  [I dare say there were other clues that should have steered me in the right direction, but the earlier in the hand we have to make a crucial decision, the more we are in the dark and have to rely on figuring out partner's motives].

So what would be the legitimate exceptions to leading a raised suit?
  • A singleton, as always a reasonable lead when partner has entries;
  • a trump when indicated (they are sacrificing or you believe declarer will have losers to ruff and not too many trumps to ruff them with);
  • when holding the A of our suit (it's a well-established fact that partner doesn't always have the K, even when he's bid the suit!);
  • and, occasionally, when partner has most of our assets, we might try leading a doubleton.
There's one other observation I'd like to make about raising partner's suit.  It's always good to raise if you can.  But the principle of useful space applies here too, as it does when considering an overcall of the opponent's opening bid.  The fewer calls you prevent your next opponent from making, the more solid your values should be.  When partner opens  1♣ and the next opponent doubles or bids 1, you should really want to get in there with a 2♣, or even 3♣, call.  But suppose partner opens 1and RHO bids 1♠, a 2 call will deprive LHO of 1NT and 2♣ only, bids that he probably wasn't going to want to make anyway.

So, if it's good enough to raise, it's good enough to lead!

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