Defending a hand in bridge is the same as declarer play in the sense that you're simply trying to use your good cards effectively to win as many tricks tricks as possible, establish your long suits and score extra tricks with your trumps.
There is a big difference between declarer play and defence, however, and that is that if you are declarer you can see all your resources, the 26 cards you're going to play. When you are defending you can only see your own cards and dummy, so successful defence requires good communication with your partner. The opening lead is possibly the most informative card for the defence because it indicates what the leader holds in that suit. Just as importantly, though, the lead often suggests a plan for defending the entire hand.
The player to the left of the declarer makes the opening lead. Leads are the only time you have to play a card before seeing dummy so there's always going to be some guesswork involved with your decisions!
Your main options are leading from length, leading a short suit, leading partner's suit or leading a trump. The opening leader can also 'show' partner cards by sticking to some well known leading agreements.
Leading from length
Leading your long suit, especially against a notrump contract, is a common way of establishing extra tricks.
Top of a sequence
When you have a sequence of touching honours leading the top of that sequence let's partner know about your holding in the suit. The lead of an honour shows the honour below but denies the honour above.
Try playing the hand yourself.
On the following hand South leads the ♠Q. North now knows that South has the ♠J but not the ♠K
The next two hands look similar but the opening lead of top of a sequence gives South the right information to defeat the contract each time.
North leads the ♠K against West's 3NT contract. Upon winning the ♦A, South returns a spade, knowing that North has the top spades.
South's hand and dummy are the same on this next hand but the opening lead is different.
This time North leads the ♠Q against West's 3NT contract. If South returns a spade, declarer will win that trick and play all the diamonds. South's only chance to defeat the contract is to switch to a heart and hope North has the ♥A.
The lead of a low cards promises an honour so your partner will know that's the suit you would like to establish.
When leading a low card from a long suit it's normal to lead your fourth highest. Doing so will help partner know the length of your suit.
In this first example, North leads the ♥2 against West's 3NT contract. North has no cards lower than the 2 so he must have started with exactly four hearts.
North started with four hearts!
This time, North leads the ♥6 against West's 3NT contract. You can't see the ♥4 yet so you can't be sure about North's heart length. Once you see the ♥4 you'll know whether North started with four or five hearts.
Who has the ♥4?
Top of a weak suit.
South's longest suit is spades but the suit is weak so he leads the ♠8.
Some players like to lead second highest of a weak suit and others still choose the fourth highest even with no honours in the suit. You can talk about it with your partner and make your own decisions, there are pros and cons to each approach.
What does leading away from an ace mean? If you have a suit headed by the ace and you choose to lead a low card from that suit you're said to be 'leading away from an ace' or 'underleading an ace'. That's ok against a notrump contract but not good against a suit contract.
The contract is 3NT by East and South leads the ♠3. West's ♠K makes but as soon as the defence regain the lead they can take four spade tricks.
On the same hand, imagine the contract is 5♦ by East. If South leads a small spade West's ♠K will make and declarer will be able to ruff any further spade leads. That's bad for the defence. Don't lead away from an ace in a suit contract.
Short suit leads.
Against a suit contract you also have the option of leading a short suit to try and score a ruff.
Leading a singleton hoping for a ruff
Here you're on lead against 6♠. You could try leading your ♣4. Partner might be able to win the trick with the ♣A and return the suit for you to ruff. Partner might even win a trump trick and be able to give you a ruff before declarer is able to take away all your trumps.
Top of a doubleton.
This time no lead looks particularly attractive but if there is only one unbid suit that can be a good option.
Lead the ♠8, top of a doubleton, and partner will know you don't have an honour in the suit.
Leading partner's suit
If partner has bid, it's often a good idea to lead that suit.
You might have chosen to lead a club but partner bid spades so keep partner happy by leading the ♠9
An opening lead of a trump can sometimes be an effective way of preventing declarer taking ruffs in dummy. One clue to when it might be the right thing to do is when you know dummy's side suit isn't breaking well.
Your double was takeout but partner passed so he must have very good trumps. A club lead will spell doom for declarer and happiness for your side.
When you really don't know what to lead you should eat a peanut butter sandwich. That way if your lead doesn't work out well at least you get to eat a peanut butter sandwich.
Returning partner's suit
The defence need to work together so if your partner has led a suit then it's often going to be best to keep leading that same suit should either defender regain the lead.
This time West is declarer in a contract of 3NT and North, your partner, leads the ♥K. If you are able to win a trick, maybe with the ♠A, you'll know to return partner's suit rather than attempt to set up your own suit.
Return partner's suit!
If your partner is on lead You're simply aiming to set up your tricks and the opening lead is an indication of where your tricks might come from. You often will return partner's suit but understanding why it's often right means you'll know when it's wrong, too.
Sometimes you may be able to foil declarer's plan to win extra trump tricks by ruffing by playing trumps yourself.
On the following hand, North leads a diamond against West's 4♥ contract. You win the first round of diamonds and immediately switch to a heart.
Play trumps to prevent ruffs in the dummy
If you can remove the two trumps from dummy you might be able to win three or even four diamond tricks.
If trumps are breaking badly for declarer then it can sometimes be worthwhile forcing declarer to use trumps leaving you in control.
You lead the ♠A then the ♠K against 4♥ contract. East ruffs the second round and plays the ♥K. What now?
Force declarer to ruff
Winning the ♥A then playing another spade will force declarer to ruff and you'll end up with more trumps than East!.
Sometimes you're defending a hand and you can see that declarer's finesses are going to fail and that nothing is breaking well. Perhaps your opponents appear relucant to bid game. Make a lead that will give nothing away.
East and West have crawled into game and it looks like no suit is breaking well. A club lead gives nothing away.
Time to go passive!
Your heart and diamond honours are probably sitting over the top of East's honours. Wait till East plays an honour and then simply play a higher one.
The attitude signal is defensive technique used to encourage or discourage partner from continuing the lead of a suit.
A 3 doesn't look like a high card but nobody can deny it's a higher card than a 2. Your opening lead is the AH, partner plays the 3 and you can't see the 2. Looks like partner has started a high-low sequence.
On this hand, that's all the information you need to know what to do at trick 2. And trick 3.
Defence is fun when you and your partner are working together.
While there are also numerous discard systems used around the world - including McKenney, Revolving Discard, Odd-Even, Dodds, and Finch - many partnerships of all skill levels decide to use natural discards.
What are natural discards in bridge? Throwing away whichever card is believed to be unwanted or unneeded by the partnership and using visualization techniques to find the clues in your partner's discards.
Rule of 11
The Rule of 11 in bridge tells you who has the missing high cards in the suit that was led. It can be used if you think partner has led the 4th highest card in a suit and it sometimes helps you to decide what card to play yourself.
How to use the rule of 11
You are South on the following hand and partner leads the ♦7 against West's 3NT contract. Dummy plays low.
How can you use the rule of 11?
Count the number of higher cards higher than the lead that you can see.
You can see three cards higher than the 7 in your hand and one card higher than the 7 in dummy for a total of 4.
Add the value of the card led.
Partner leads the 7 so 7 + 4 = 11.
11 - 11 = 0! Declarer has no cards higher than the 7. You can let partner's 7 hold the trick and keep your Ace to cover dummy's K.
Here is the full hand:
Partner's ♦7 wins the first trick!
Hi. Graeme. The hand explaining 'leading from an ace' I think it needs to be rotated. Maybe.