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Five more tips for playing better bridge – Opening Leads

Paul Mendelson

10 June 2021


Paul Mendelson heads up our Saga Bridge Club team and is the author of over a dozen books on bridge. He has coached at all levels, from complete beginners to national team players, and has helped tens of thousands of players to improve their bridge, and most importantly, to enjoy this amazing game even more.

Saga Bridge Club host, Paul Mendelson, gives his 5 top tips for opening in bridge.

Playing online is a little like the old days when I used to play in a famous club, the St. James’s Bridge Club where I learnt a huge amount, playing for high-stakes, with the likes of Jeremy Flint, Tony Priday, Rixi Markus and Zia Mahmood. As well as these world-class players, there was a rum old selection of wonderful bridge characters, who no longer seem to exist anymore.

You would arrive, choose your stake: high, very high, or astronomical, and then cut for partners. You could end up with your dream partner, or a madman (or woman) who would over-bid every hand and cost you a fortune.

It was exciting, vertiginous and addictive. Many a time, I found myself driving home from St. James’s at four in the morning – and what a wonderful drive it would be: empty streets, a nice old car (I have always driven classic cars) and every traffic light green!

Keen bridge player? Join the Saga Bridge Club today to socialise, relax and play online

The downside of cut-in bridge is that you must know all the basics perfectly since there is no time to discuss complicated arrangements with your partner.

This week, let’s look at some universally accepted arrangements for opening leads – all good bridge players would use these (or discuss alternatives). Wherever I play in the world, I assume that these are the agreements.

1) Lead an honour to indicate a sequence of high cards

This is the most important lead of all. When you hold three honours in a row, or the top two and then the next but one, always lead the top honour:

KQJ7   QJ104   J10953   109843   KQ104   QJ93

The last sequence which counts is 1098 or 1097. Anything lower, like 876 or 543, is not a sequence.

2) Lead a low card to indicate interest in the suit

Most people play 4th highest in this situation. The lead of the low card promises an honour or broken honours at the head of the suit.

KJ643   Q972   K85432   J852   AJ753

Notice that, in the final example you have “led away from an ace” – played a low card from a suit headed by an ace. Do NOT do this as an opening lead against a suit contract. This is too dangerous. Lead a different suit instead. It is fine against a NT contract, however.

3) Lead a high card to show lack of interest in the suit

This is called a top-of-rubbish lead, and denies an honour at the head of the suit.

97543   7643   85432   107532

Notice that, in the last example, you do not lead the ten (that would promise the 9). So, top of rubbish, except if you hold the ten, then lead second highest card.

4) Never lead dummy’s long suit

Dummy’s long suit is a huge asset for the declarer. About one time in every 1,000 hands, it will be right to lead dummy’s long suit to try to cut declarer off from the table – but even experts often don’t know when that is. SO, just don’t! Don’t lead dummy’s long suit - at any time!

5) If your opponents have bid only one suit, usually lead trumps

This should be your default lead if you have 2 or 3 trumps. Don’t lead a singleton trump, or if you have four. By leading trumps, you hope to stop the declarer from playing cross-ruff – his most likely plan. This can often devastate a contract.

Want to see if these tips can improve your play? Give the Saga Bridge Club a go. Each week, Paul and his team host two Supervised Play and Gentle Duplicate sessions. It costs just £3 to play. If you have a regular bridge partner, make sure you book the same session so you can play together.

Browse Paul Mendelson's bridge books on Wordery.com

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

Paul Mendelson

10 June 2021


Paul Mendelson heads up our Saga Bridge Club team and is the author of over a dozen books on bridge. He has coached at all levels, from complete beginners to national team players, and has helped tens of thousands of players to improve their bridge, and most importantly, to enjoy this amazing game even more.

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