Summary: Larry Cohen's Lesson on Opening Leads

On March 14, Larry Cohen held a free, open lesson on BBO, featured on Vugraph, discussing the basics of Opening Leads. Larry used voice commentary for the lesson. For those who missed it, here's a quick summary, and a video with the highlights.

Lesson Notes: Opening Lead Basics


  • Top of a 3+ card sequence (KQJ, QJ10, J109, 1098) [A or K from A-K]
    (A 2-card sequence is okay, but not perfect).
  • Partner's suit (lead same card that you would in any other suit). We no longer lead high from K75 (for example).


When leading a spot-card, lead fourth best against notrump. Lead the 2 from K762. Lead the 5 from K7652. Against suits the most popular method is also fourth best (some people use "3rd and 5th"). Lead high from doubletons. Leading from three small is a matter of personal preference.


It is aggressive to lead from a king, but called for when the auction tells you that your side might need to take tricks quickly. Never lead (or underlead) an ace against a suit contract.

Against notrump, usually lead 4th from your longest and strongest (unless you have 4+ cards and a sequence to lead the top card from). So, against notrump, you often will lead from an ace or king.


Prefer majors to minors. Listen to the opponents (did they use Stayman, do they have a long suit, etc.?)


  • Doubletons are overrated leads, especially with one honor.
  • Trump control is a big plus. The best holding is Axx.
  • Avoid short suit leads when your trump holding doesn't need a ruff.
  • Avoid short-suit leads with trump length (or sure trump tricks).


  • Usually this is a passive lead (you don't want to blow a trick).
  • In general, don’t lead a singleton trump
  • Called for when declarer is playing in his second suit.


Top of a 3+ card sequence:

Leading from two-card sequences:

Against a suit contract, lead top of sequence. (On the example below, this would not be a good lead against no-trump.)

Against suit contract:
- Not recommended to lead or underlead Aces.
- Top of sequence when leading against suit

However, from same suit, if leading against no-trump, lead 4th best:

Lead Ace from Ace-King against a suit contract:

However, against no-trump lead 4th best:

Lead partner's suit -- but do not lead your highest unless you have a singleton or doubleton. As Eddie Kantar said, there are only two reasons not to lead your partner's suit: 1. you are void, or 2. you are dead.

Against no-trump, if it's a close decision, it's preferable to choose the major.

When to lead away from a King? It's an aggressive lead, but some auctions call for it. For example, opponents show a solid suit on which they can throw all their losers:

Sometimes several leads are possible and very close decisions. In the board below, both top of sequence in diamonds, and heart doubleton are good choices. Leading from small doubleton can work, but it is not recommended to lead from doubleton honors (Kx, Qx, etc.). On the example below, slight preferences towards leading the doubleton, due to holding the trump Ace:

However, on the hand below it is clear to lead the singleton, and not top of sequence from diamonds. Leading a diamond works against no-trump, but against suit, lead the singleton heart:

About trump leads: There is an auction that "screams" for a trump lead. If your opponents have bid a suit, but end up playing in a different suit -- you need to lead trumps. Like in the example below:


Q1: Can you lead King from KQ10 against 3nt?

LC: If you have KQ10x or KQ10xx yes, definitely lead the King.

With KQ432, lead the 3. With KQ865, lead the 6. But with KQ1065, lead the K.

The general rule is to lead 4th best against no-trump, unless you have a suit headed by three cards in a row, or, like Marty Bergen used to say, by two and a half in a row: from QJ9x --> lead the Queen; from J108x, lead the J. But with JT654, lead the 5.

If you have just KQ10, a 3-card suit, and you are defending 1NT - 3NT, you could maybe lead that but let's say we have:

♠KQ10 ♥J1087 ♦432 ♣432 --> Here you lead ♥J

Or, if you have something like: ♠KQ10 ♥J54 ♦J432 ♣J32 then you could lead either ♦2, or ♠K.

Q2: Do you recommend playing Coded 9's and T's?

LC: That's up to the partnership. When I play with Marty Bergen we play 10 or 9 shows 0 or 2 higher. It helps the defenders, but also it helps the declarer, so we decided to not play this in a strong event, with very good declarers. In a weaker field, coded 9s and tens are fine, otherwise I do not recommend it.

Q3: When do we want to be passive on lead?

LC: Against part scores, when there is no reason to "attack".

Or if you have lots of things you don't want to lead away from. For example:

The bidding goes: 1♥ P 2♥ P 4♥ P P P
And you have: ♠Qxx ♥xxx ♦Jxxx ♣Axx --> lead a trump.

So I am passive when I have nothing attractive to lead. Passive means safe.


For more information, webinars, lots of free bridge tips and content, visit Larry Cohen's website at:

Stay tuned for more free and entertaining bridge lessons and lectures on BBO!

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7 comments on “Summary: Larry Cohen's Lesson on Opening Leads”

  1. Czy ktoś to przeczytał przed opublikowaniem? Przecież to jeden wielki bełkot. Panie Cohen, proszę się nie silić na pisanie po polsku, jeżeli Pan języka polskiego nie zna!

  2. I watched the video live, it was not very smooth - often no sound or sound wasn't clear. To combine the webinar with this summary, it's perfect - I now understood every thing! Many thanks to Larry, and thanks to the BBO organizers!

  3. I enjoyed the lesson thanks Larry, Aurora, and I think Kurly???? I learned something from each hand.

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