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Opening Lead Out of Turn

posted Jan 11, 2011, 8:56 AM by Paul Muench   [ updated Mar 17, 2012, 11:30 AM by Missoula Bridge Webmaster ]
By Paul Muench [Printable Version]

Good card etiquette: Opponents have won the auction. You determine which card you want to lead and then place it face down on the table, asking, "Any questions, partner?" (Good etiquette also requires that you only ask this question after you have selected your lead and placed it face down on the table; similarly, your partner ought not to announce that she or he does not have any questions until a lead has been selected and placed face down on the table by you.) This allows your partner the opportunity to ask opponents for an explanation of what one of their bids meant during the auction (always asking the opponent who did not himself/herself make the bid), or to be reminded of the entire auction sequence ("how the bidding went"). It also helps to protect your side from committing one of the most common errors encountered at the bridge table: making an opening lead out of turn. Since your card is face down, everything is not yet lost. If you have an alert partner, his or her first response will be to remind you that it is not your lead! No harm done. Place the card back in your hand and your partner will proceed to select his or her opening lead.

But what happens when good card etiquette is not observed and someone makes an opening lead out of turn and the card is face up? Let's assume you are declarer and it is one of your opponents who does this. What are your options?

Step 1: Immediately call the director. (Good etiquette: using a firm, but polite tone of voice, call out, "Director, please.")
Step 2: Once the director has been notified by you that one of your opponents has made an opening lead out of turn, then she or he ought to inform you that you have a number of options (see especially Laws 54 and 50D), depending on whether or not you decide to accept the lead. Let's break them down:

I. You Accept the Lead: You decide to treat the opening lead out of turn as a legitimate opening lead (you "accept the lead"). In this case, you have two options:

Option 1: You may choose to become dummy and let your partner play the hand (Law 54A). You put your hand down on the table and partner takes over. Normal play proceeds.

Option 2: You may choose to remain declarer (Law 54B). Partner immediately puts his or her cards down and then you play a card from your hand.

Note: if your partner had already begun laying out her/his hand as dummy (so that you could have seen one or more of her/his cards), then you must accept the lead (Law 54C).

II. You Refuse to Accept the Lead: You decide you do not want to treat the opening lead out of turn as a legitimate opening lead (you "refuse to accept the lead"). After you make this decision, your opponent's opening lead out of turn is retracted and the withdrawn card becomes a "major penalty card" (it is left on the table, face up). This means the state of play has been restored. It is as if no opening lead has yet taken place. Your left-hand opponent (LHO) is restored to his or her proper role as the one who should lead, with the qualification that his/her partner has a major penalty card on the table. You now have three options (which we'll label options three to five to distinguish these from the preceding two options):

Option 3: You may choose to require your LHO to lead the same suit that his/her partner originally tried to lead. If you choose this option, then the card originally played by your right-hand opponent (RHO) is no longer a penalty card and is picked up by RHO and replaced in her/his hand. When it becomes RHO's turn to play, s/he is then free to play whatever card of the suit in question s/he chooses.

Option 4: You may choose to prohibit your LHO from leading the same suit that his/her partner originally tried to lead. If you choose this option, then the card originally played by your RHO is no longer a penalty card and is picked up by RHO and replaced in her/his hand. Normal play proceeds.

Option 5: You may choose not to require or prohibit your LHO from leading the same suit that his/her partner originally tried to lead; this means LHO is now free to lead whatever s/he chooses, including the suit in question. If you choose this option, then the card originally played by your RHO remains a major penalty card.

Note: if you refuse to accept the lead, then as long as your RHO still has a major penalty card on the table, each time that your LHO is on lead you may choose from among options 3, 4, and 5.

Moral of the story: Always place your opening leads face down on the table!
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