Attack with the Jack

Pat Harrington

You are East. South opens 1NT and is raised to 3NT. Partner leads the ♠J. Assume your opening leads are standard. (You should be aware that there are other options – options that
your opponents may choose.) What is your plan for defending?

♠ 8 5
Q 5 4
K Q 10 8 4
♣ K J 10
♠ K 7 3 2
9 7 2
9 7
♣ 8 6 4 2

What is your play to trick one? Believe it or not, you are about to make your poor hand look even worse! On partner’s lead of an honor, third hand sometimes signals to encourage or discourage that lead. We encourage with an equal honor. Is your ♠K an equal to partner’s jack? The jack lead shows the 10 and another high card, which could be the 9 or the ace, but it cannot be the ♠Q because we lead the top of touching honors. The lead of the jack denies the queen. If you follow with the ♠7 to signal encouragement, declarer will win the ♠Q at trick one. Declarer may or may not deserve to win that queen. The full deal:

♠ 8 5
Q 5 4
K Q 10 8 4
♣ K J 10
♠ A J 10 9 ♠ K 7 3 2
A 6 3 9 7 2
6 3 2 9 7
♣ 9 7 3 ♣ 8 6 4 2
♠ Q 6 4
K J 10 8
A J 5
♣ A Q 5

If you play anything but the ♠K, declarer will grab the ♠Q and run eight tricks in the minors to make 3NT. Once you realize that partner cannot have the ♠Q, you step up
with your king, hoping that partner also has the ace. When that holds, return a spade, and the defenders can cash four spade tricks plus the A
to defeat 3NT. Here’s another deal to show why the jack can be a deadly lead.

♠ 8 4
Q 4 3
K 4 3 2
♣ 10 6 3 2
♠ A J 10 6 3 ♠ 7 5 2
10 7 5 9 8 6 2
J 9 8 Q 10 6
♣ 9 7 ♣ A 8 4
♠ K Q 9
A 7 5
♣ K Q J 5

South is declarer in 3NT. This time the ♠J opening lead doesn’t find partner with the king or the queen, but the jack still works better than the fourth-best 6, which would
have been won by declarer’s 9, giving declarer two sure spade stoppers.
Leading the ♠J forces declarer to win with an honor and makes declarer’s holding vulnerable to attack by East. Holding up doesn’t help declarer as long as West persists with another low spade, but that’s a story for another article.
When holding three high cards in the suit you choose to lead, leading the top of a pair of touching high cards often avoids giving declarer an undeserved trick.
How does East play to the first trick? With no card that can possibly win the trick and no card equal to the card led by partner, East sends a warning with a discouraging attitude
signal – the ♠2. If West gains the lead first, it would be unsafe to lead another spade.
Luckily for the defense, East gets in with the ♣A. As long as East doesn’t assume that the ♠J is the highest card in West’s suit, he will return a spade and trap declarer’s remaining honor to defeat 3NT.
The next time your partner attacks with a jack, stop and consider what holding partner could be leading from before you follow to the opening lead.
Sometimes you signal. Sometimes you play third-hand high with two honors going on the same trick. Your play at trick one could make all the difference.

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