I sell a great many books that tell students, among other things, which card to select for an opening lead from certain combinations and which of these combinations to prefer over another. The trouble is that there are lots of hands where the opener does not happen to have one of the recommended combinations to lead from, and when that happens, selecting an opening lead becomes more of an art than a science.
In addition, as if discovering the right lead for your own holding were not enough of a problem, it is often very important that your opening lead serve as some kind of signal to your partner.
The natural development of bridge has served only to complicate matters, for what was gospel to a player yesterday is often anathema to him today. One facet of the game that is certain to provoke lively discussion is what to lead from three small cards. Until fairly recently this presented few difficulties. With three small cards you would lead "top of nothing" to indicate that you held no honor card in the suit. But this often confused partner, who could not be sure that the lead was not a high-low signal from a small doubleton.
So the pendulum swung to the other extreme. It was generally agreed that with three small cards in a suit you led the lowest. This cleared up any possibility of mistaking your lead as top of a double-ton, but now it could not be differentiated from a lead from an honor or from four small cards. To cast light in these murky waters, MUD was born.
MUD is an acronym formed from the first letters of the words "middle," "up," "down," describing the sequence that more and more good players—though still not the majority—are using when leading from three small cards. This method has many advantages and is particularly useful against no-trump contracts, as this deal shows.
The hand occurred in a tournament where ESP as well as MUD seemed to be the order of the day. When your own suits appear to offer little hope of establishing tricks, or when your hand contains no reentry for a long suit, it is usually advisable to try to find partner's strong suit by leading one in which you are weak. One of the advantages of this kind of lead is that it seldom costs a trick that declarer could not have made on his own—a factor that is especially important in match-point tournament play. Therefore, at almost every table, in answer to his partner's silent prayers, West came up with the lead of the 8 of hearts. This caused difficulty for partnerships playing "top of nothing" leads from two-, three- or four-card suits. When dummy played low, East won the opening lead with the queen of hearts and hopefully cashed the ace and returned a low heart. This play set up two heart tricks for the declarer, who then established a spade for his ninth trick.
At one table, however, the defenders were using MUD. When West led the 8 of hearts, East knew it had to be from a doubleton—West would not have led the 8 if his holding had included an honor, say 10-8-7. So East could see that declarer had to have four hearts to the jack and 10. The suit thus offered little prospect for defeating the contract.
After winning the first trick with the queen of hearts, this East switched to a low spade. There was now no way for South to take the nine tricks before the defense could cash three spades and another heart to beat the contract.