Source: Gold Coast Congress 2016

The Theory of Opening Lead By Krzysztof Martens 

Krzyztof Martens
Krzyztof Martens

Winning defence does not require exceptional skills or knowledge. Mistakes in this element of bridge, usually very simple, can most often be attributed to laziness – negligence to count up to 40 HCP, thirteen cards or tricks. Another common cause of defensive disasters is failure to draw conclusions from the bidding, or partner’s and declarer’s actions.

Counting and drawing conclusions are basic components of defensive analysis. This analysis is a constant exercise in logic. The longer the practice period, the better our mind will be equipped to work in the required area and the higher will be the level from which we start in each given hand. Compared with bidding or declarer play, the defensive problems are less obvious, good technique less useful and routine sometimes even harmful.

The objective of the following study is to show the paths of such logical thinking. With every analysis conducted by a defender by himself, the number of obvious, effortlessly drawn conclusions should increase. This, in turn, will allow him to broaden the scope of the analysis. At the same time, the rising difficulty level of the considered examples will enable reader to make use of the hitherto gained skills. As far as match or rubber bridge is concerned, and this is our main focus here, all deals fall into two categories:

– slams, games and doubled contracts – we have to devote all our energies to comprehensive, as careful as possible analysis.

– part scores, the question of overtricks, the “cold” games – here the analysis can be more superficial, because ensuing losses, if any, are less costly.

For obvious reasons the vast majority of problems to be found in the book represent the first category.

It is important, however, to draw reader’s attention to one danger. The plays presented below are often spectacular, sometimes even brilliant. It might seem, on the face of it, that successful defence consists for the most part of such plays. In reality, brilliancy for its own sake causes more harm than good. In the examples presented in the book all the attractive, spectacular plays were preceded by strenuous, detailed analysis.

Finally, there are hands where we cannot afford too long an analysis, since it would betray the intentions behind the resulting play. In such cases our mind should work extremely efficiently, so that conclusions and conceptions were ready before it’s our turn to play. By studying the material in this book scrupulously, the reader is expected to attain this ability, too.

Krzyztof Martens
Krzyztof Martens

Our defensive activities in each hand begin with the opening lead – not an easy thing to do, as every player is well aware of. “You’re letting the contract make”, the bridge jokers used to address the opening leader. And they had the point: the number of contracts fulfilled because of a wrong opening lead is estimated at 720 million per year in the world. No matter how high the stakes and what currency, this problem has a significant bearing on the redistribution of national product in many countries. It is thus reasonable to take steps in order to become the beneficiary of this redistribution.

In further defensive play additional information is available: dummy’s cards, partner’s signals, cards played by declarer and his conception of play. Considering the opening lead, by contrast, we have to rely merely on hypotheses constructed basing on bidding and our own hand – its strengths and weaknesses. The whole auction must therefore be carefully and thoroughly analysed. All conclusions are important, including the negative ones, i.e. finding out what the auction denies. To be able to do that, one must get acquainted with opponents’ bidding system and ask a number of additional questions. Partner’s bidding is also useful. Or, for that matter, lack thereof. Surprisingly much can be inferred from partner’s silence.


We learn that South has 12-14 HCP and a balanced hand.

Conclusion 1 opener has fewer than four diamonds.

Conclusion 2 negative – opener hasn’t got four spades (otherwise he would rebid 1), four hearts (he would raise to 2).

Conclusion 3 final – opener has only four clubs, thus a 3-3-3-4 shape, or, less likely, 5-3-3-2 with five clubs.


We are equipped with the following information. South has 5+ diamonds, 4+ clubs and 12-17 HCP. North has 4+ hearts and support in both minors. The conclusion is strikingly clear: opponents are vulnerable in spades since neither of them attempted to play in notrump.


This time we are in a position to draw conclusions from partner’s bidding despite the fact that he had passed throughout. His failure to double the conventional ace-showing 5{ bid suggests – if we, as East, decide to lead a minor – his preference for the club rather than diamond lead. Having gathered all the available data concerning the meaning of the auction we need to focus on two key question, the second of which is a logical consequence of the first. We should:

– Imagine typical hands of declarer and dummy.

– Come up with a hypothesis about how, in general terms, the play will proceed. Such hypothesis may be formulated in the following manner:

– declarer will seek to ruff his second suit in dummy; or

– declarer will intend to draw trumps and establish dummy’s long suit; or

– lacking other options, declarer will be forced to look for honour tricks in all suits; or even

– unfortunately, due to insufficient information we are unable to predict declarer’s plan of play.

– If we are able to at least tentatively determine declarer’s intentions, we will, needless to say, strive to counter them.