Opening Leads against Suits
There's a difference in thinking when you're leading against suit contracts, because you won't have time to develop your long suit the way you hope to in no trumps. In general you need to make more aggressive leads, knowing that your long suit may well be trumped by declarer. The thinking is the same in that you first decide which suit to lead, then which card of the suit is correct. But stick to standard leads, because partner will more likely understand what you're trying to do!
(1) Partner's Suit
If partner has bid during the auction, go for that suit as a priority. Even if things don't work out for your side, you won't be wrong if you've led their suit! Which card to lead? Assuming partner has overcalled with a decent suit, you should try a doubleton in that suit (provided you have two or three trumps), or low from an honour if you have one. These days it's more important to show partner how MANY cards you hold in their suit rather than the old idea of "leading the top of partner's suit".
Imagine you have this holding:
If you lead the ♦7 your side will take three tricks in the suit. But if you lead the ♦K to "show partner it's your top card", you will lose a trick, and declarer's ♦Q will make a trick.
(2) Long Suits
If partner has not bid, generally lead your long suit even against a suit contract. But if you hold a sequence of two honours, lead the top, not a low card. e.g. ♠KQ873 lead the ♠K (whereas in no trumps the correct card would be fourth highest, i.e. ♠7). When defending suit contracts, you won't have time to lead low cards away from honours, because you'll never develop your long suit. It will be trumped!
(3) Short suits?
You can try to ruff (= "trump") one or more of declarer's winners by leading a singleton (or occasionally a doubleton), but you need to pick the right time. It's best if your singleton is in an unbid suit, where there's some chance partner holds the ace or some strength. Also, partner needs to be able to gain the lead to give you the ruff, before declarer can draw trumps. So, holding a trump honour like the king is good, because now you will win the lead before all your trumps are gone.
Don't lead short suits if your singleton is in a suit bid by the opponents. It's unlikely your partner has much strength there, and even if they do, it may help declarer to develop long suit winners in that suit later. Also, it may help declarer realise that the suit is breaking badly if they discover your shortage. Often it's better to let declarer find these things out all by themselves.
Leading a doubleton is even less effective, because partner has to work out whether it's a singleton or a doubleton. They may play the suit again when you have another card in it, thinking you're going to be able to trump. It's very disappointing when you follow to the suit instead. Leading doubleton honours are usually the worst thing you can do, e.g. the ♥K from ♥K6, or the ♥Q from ♥Q8. Your partner may think you have another honour in the suit, and it often gives declarer another trick. For this to work, you need to find partner with the ace or at least a high honour.
If you hold four of declarer's trumps, funnily enough DON'T lead your shortage. Having you trump may make it easier for declarer to draw your trumps later. Instead, start with your long suit, and hope to shorten declarer's trumps by forcing him to trump your long suit. This way you might gain trump control. This is called a "forcing" defence.
(4) Leading a Trump?
There's a saying: “When in doubt, lead a trump.” Don't follow this idea. It should be "When in NO doubt, lead a trump". It’s usually declarer’s job to draw trumps, so don’t help him! Watch declarer's play carefully, and if they are avoiding leading trumps, you SHOULD draw them, because they are probably planning to ruff shortages in dummy. You need to stop this happening.
It's especially good to lead a trump when you have a strong holding in declarer's first bid suit, and they have landed in another suit contract. The only way they will stop losing tricks in the first suit is by trumping them, so cut down their trumping potential. You want to draw two of theirs at a time, rather than letting them use their trumps separately. e.g.
1♦ Pass 1♠ Pass
2♣ Pass Pass Pass
Your strong diamond holding makes you think that declarer will have to trump diamonds. Their partner has preferred clubs to diamonds, so they will be short in the first suit. Consider leading a club, and playing them again when you gain the lead.
Which Card (vs Suit Contracts)
Top card of touching honours, from ♦KQ75 lead ♦K. You need only two honours to lead the top.
Top of a doubleton, from ♦97, lead the ♦9
Lead fourth highest, from ♠Q963 lead ♠3.
Lead low from an honour (not the ace), from ♥Q105, lead ♥5.
What about suits headed by Aces?
It's not the best idea to lead a suit headed by the ace only. It's MUCH better to wait until you hold the ace & king. BUT, if you've decided you must lead a suit with only the ace at the top (e.g. ♥A10753), don't lead AWAY from the ace by leading any of the 10,7,5,or 3. Lead the ace.
NB: It's fine to lead away from your ace in no trumps, but against suits, it's far too dangerous because you may allow declarer to make their singleton king, and you’ll never get to make your ace because they will trump it.
In general, try to lead a card that partner will understand, and stick to standard leads, because you will give little away to declarer. Trying to make unusual ("brilliant") leads usually backfires!
Want more information? This book and cards will help you learn about defence.
Test your knowledge
The quiz below may not work properly on some mobile devices. If you are having trouble using it, please click here to open the quiz in its own window.