A national bridge championship was lost recently largely because of a wrong guess over one of the game's more disputable plays, one in which normal rules seem both good and bad. Your partner has bid hearts. You have not raised him. It is your opening lead against an opponent's contract and your hearts are 8-4-3. Which heart do you lead? Probably 95% of all players would lead the 8. Probably 90% of all experts would lead the 3. Are the experts right?
If you always lead low from any three, even 4-3-2, then when you lead high your partner—and your opponents—can be sure you have at most a doubleton. Say you, as East, have bid hearts and South is playing four spades. West leads the 7 of hearts and follows the next lead with the 6. Who has the missing 5, West or South? If West has it, a third heart lead will give declarer a ruff in one hand and a sluff in the other. But if South has the 5, a third heart may give West a chance for an overruff. If West always leads low from three and high from a doubleton, the defenders have an advantage. But consider the cards at left. West leads the 5 and follows to the next lead with the 6. If he is leading low from three, East can afford to cash another heart. But if West has both the missing 8 and 7, a shift may be necessary. In this situation the low-from-any-three school is at a disadvantage. However, at right is the crucial deal, played in the Life Master Men's Pair championship in San Francisco, that shows another reason why many experts prefer the low lead.
North and South, Marshall Miles and Edwin Kantar, were in a close battle for the title with their immediate opponents, Alex Tschekaloff and Paul Soloway. South's no-trump overcall was about the equivalent of an opening no-trump bid, and North's two clubs was a Stayman bid checking on the possibility of a 4-4 fit in spades.
Had West led the 8 of hearts, Kantar would have had no difficulty making game with an overtrick. He would have two heart stoppers and time to set up diamonds. But West's lead of the 3 of hearts gave Kantar a problem when East won the trick with the ace and returned the 6.
Had West led from the queen, the jack or the 8? As the cards actually were, Kantar could have played the 9 and won the trick. But the odds were 2 to 1 that West held either the queen or the jack and Kantar had the additional hope that if West was holding the 8 he might still hold the queen or jack with it. In this case if South's 7 lost to the 8, Kantar could duck the third round and be safe. If West's third card were the jack, East could not afford to overtake. If it were the queen, the suit would be blocked. So Kantar correctly played the 7 of hearts and lost all chance for the title. Tschekaloff won with the 8 and continued hearts. East played the jack, knocking out South's king. As soon as South tackled the diamond suit, East grabbed the ace and won the setting tricks with his two good hearts.
Tschekaloff and Soloway went on to win the title. Kantar and Miles, who won the Open Teams later in the week, could finish no better than third.