Poor Bridge of the Week
Directing Your Own Lead
By Rob Morris and Bill Jacobs

Most players regard Lightner doubles as a vital part of their armoury for defending against slams. Here are a couple of great hands, shown to us by Frances Hinden of Surrey and Bill Jacobs in Australia. The theme is the Lightner double, and the consequences of not knowing whose lead it is.

An Opening Lead Problem

While there is little profit to be had in penalty doubles of slams, a Lightner double — requesting an unusual lead, often indicating a void — has been the downfall of many a slam. It has also been the cause of several disasters (even causing some to express doubt over whether the convention has actually shown a profit over its lifetime). You must be aware of the following factors:

  1. If you want partner to make his usual lead, you cannot double (unless you are confident of beating the slam on any lead)
  2. Opponents will sometimes escape to notrumps or a safer suit
  3. Occasionally you will get your ruff, but no further trick

We at poorbridge.com have one more item to add to this: do take a moment to check who is on lead!

This hand was reported to us by Frances Hinden of Surrey. (Her 'Hand of the week' column for the Surrey County Bridge Association can be found ). The occasion was the Young Chelsea annual knockout of 2004, a prestigous teams event whose winners are invited to enter the Lederer Memorial Trophy. When Jeffrey Allerton's team met Jeremy Dhondy's, the following hand came up.

E/W Vuln
Dealer W
SA Q 10 6 3 2
HJ 5
CA K J 5 2


(1)Precision - 16+, any distribution
(2)8+ bal

S5 4
HK 9 8 6 4 3
DQ 10 7 6 4
HA 2
DK J 9 5
CQ 10 9 8 4 3
SK J 9 7
HQ 10 7
DA 8 3 2
C7 6

After receiving a positive response from partner and finding spade support, Dhondy leapt to slam. Cameron Small, sat West, made a Lightner double, in the hope of a club lead. Unfortunately, he hadn't taken into account of the fact that it was him on lead! Dhondy ventured a redouble with his powerful hand, leaving Small with a difficult, and ultimately expensive, opening lead problem. He could still have covered himself with glory by leading a heart, but his eventual selection of a trump let the slam make. Declarer draws trumps, discards a heart on the DA and finds that the clubs won't ruff out. He still comes to twelve tricks, thanks to the miracle heart position. (If West takes the first heart, the ace is ruffed out, while if East takes HA, declarer can take a ruffing finesse against the king.) Dhondy therefore made the rather unusual score of +1620.

In the other room, Hinden and Allerton did the best they could, staying out of the bad slam:


(2)Leaping Michaels, 5-5 blacks

Richard Hillman, sat East, found a club lead, ruffed by West. A heart return, another club ruff and the HK left Allerton one down. The rather unfortunate case of going off in game while a redoubled slam in the same strain makes at the other table was a costly 17 IMPs in the match.

Position, Position, Position

Here is an article with a similar theme (but a happier ending), sent to us by Bill Jacobs in Australia.

The following deal was from the first night of the VBA GNOT heat. The perpetrators of this auction must remain anonymous (you can discover the names upon the payment of a modest fee).

N/S Vuln
Dealer W
SA K Q 9 2
DK J 10 9 8 6 2


S5 4
HK Q 9 8 5 4
C10 8 6 4 3
S8 6
H10 7 6
DQ 5 4 3
CK Q J 9
SJ 10 7 3
HA J 2
DA 7
CA 7 4 2

The auction was comprehensible through to 6S, which was surely a good shot by North.

Then it entered the Twilight Zone. West, who possibly had one too many Pimms before the game, doubled for a diamond lead, overlooking the tiny drawback that he or she was on lead.

South however was suitably frightened about the ruff, so looked for safe harbour in 6NT. This went round to East who sadistically doubled, giving North-South one last opportunity to bid the cold grand slam from the safe side. But no-one thought to bid further, and West made no mistake on lead, avoiding the fatal spade, and defeating the contract by two tricks for -500 for North-South, when 1460 (and then 1860 or 2210 or 2470) had been available.

West's double must surely be one of the most successful manoeuvres of all time - a psychic, phantom Lightner double targeted at the positionally challenged.