The precepts governing choice of opening leads have undergone gradual but definite change since they were first devised for whist, the game that is the great-grandfather of contract bridge. In expert circles "highest of partner's suit" was altered to "fourth best of partner's suit," then to "low from three to an honor." More recently it has been changed to "low from any three." An exception is made when a player has raised; he may then lead the highest of three small cards.
"Low from any three" has yet to gain universal acceptance. Some insist that it is more important to show partner an honor than to give him a count of the suit. However, it is often an advantage to know that the leader cannot have more than two when he leads his highest. Another advantage is that it can provide stage-setting for one of the game's most venerable deceits, as it did in this deal from the 1963 World Championship in St. Vincent.
There was an element of drama about this deal, the fifth one to be played on the opening day of the World Championship. Argentina, supposedly the easiest of our three opponents—Italy and France were the others—had started strong, winning 12 International Match Points in the first four deals, and the American team had yet to win an IMP. The same contract of three no trump had been reached in the other room with Bobby Nail ( U.S.) playing the South hand as declarer. Luis Attaguile, West for Argentina, opened the 8 of hearts—the top of partner's bid suit. East, Marco Santamarina, put in the 10 to force the queen, hoping that West might have a quick reentry and be able to continue hearts. South won with the queen and rattled off six diamond tricks. East had discarding difficulties and unguarded the spades, allowing declarer to make 11 tricks without taking a finesse.
Egisto Rocchi faced a far different problem when Robinson opened the 2 of hearts, and Jordan won with the ace and returned the jack. Was Robinson's opening lead from three to the king? If so, and he, Rocchi, covered with the queen, the defense could run off an entire heart suit. But if South ducked the jack and Robinson had started with the king, the suit would be blocked and the defenders would win only three tricks. Whatever Robinson led after winning the third heart with his presumed king, declarer would be able to run off nine tricks and the game without taking a club finesse.
Jordan's play of the jack was one of the hoariest tricks in bridge, but it still left South with a cruel guess.
In this case, Rocchi guessed wrong. He elected to duck the heart jack. Once the jack held, of course, Jordan laid down the king to drop the queen and cashed his two remaining hearts to defeat the contract. The combined result—a set of 100 points here and a score of 660 for America at the other table—was a 760 point swing. The 13 IMPs it carried put the North American team ahead for the first time. It was a lead they never relinquished.
Modern trends in leading are, in a way, a compliment to the excellence of modern bidding. Presumably the opponents have reached the right contract, and declarer will gain more information from a conventional lead than will partner—or at least the information declarer gleans may be more important. Therefore, modern style is to reveal as little as possible to declarer.