Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, and canvassing opinion, about what to lead from AKxxx (or AK10xx) against no trump contracts. Yes, I know, I should be spending my time pondering weightier issues, but it’s surprising how often that particular dilemma crops up.

Holding AKxx, you would clearly kick off with an honour, but with five in the suit, the question of whether to lead high or low is as hotly contested among bridge players as Brexit is among Tory cabinet ministers. In fact, most experts would agree there’s no clear right or wrong; but whichever card you plump for … it’s usually the very one that either beats or lets through the contract.

In the semi-final of the recent European Winter Games in Monaco, the brilliant Phil King, playing on ‘Bertie’ Black’s team, had to choose what to lead on this deal against Team Lavazza:

Dealer East. None Vul

J 8 3
10 8 3
A K 10 9 5
10 6
A Q 10 4
Q 5
Q 8 7
K Q 8 5
K 9 6
J 9 6 4
J 6 3
J 7 3
7 5 2
A K 7 2
4 2
A 9 4 2
West North East South
Pass 1
1NT Dbl Pass Pass
Rdbl Pass Pass Pass

West was Giorgio Duboin. His redouble was SOS, but East (Dennis Bilde) had a 6-count and passed. Phil King elected to start by cashing theA. Unlucky! Still hopeful that his partner held three diamonds, he continued with the10. Duboin won with dummy’sJ and continued with a heart to theQ and a club to the jack and ace. South exited with a spade and Duboin cashed four tricks in the suit followed by theK.

When the10 appeared from North, he exited with a heart to endplay South — two overtricks and +960. When I asked Phil about the hand later, he told me that without the10 he would have led low …and had he done so the defence would have taken seven tricks for a rather different result! But no matter, Team Black went on to beat Lavazza, and only narrowly lost to Team Monaco in a hugely impressive finale.