By Joe Andrews, author of "The Complete Win At Spades"

Other columns by Joe Andrews:
The 5/5 Hand. (5 or more Spades plus a good 5 card secondary suit.)

It is the first hand of the game, and you have the following hand:

S - J 4
H - 8 6 4
D - A K 8 3
C - 10 6 4 2

You (South) are the dealer. West (to your left) bids 3, followed by your partner (North) with a nice 5 bid, and a 2 bid by East, as you chirp in with a 2 bid of your own. We have a 12 bid here. On the first trick, West leads the Ace of Hearts, followed by the 2, the 9, and your 4.

West next leads the Heart 5, your pard plays the Jack, East trumps with the 5 of Spades, and you throw your 6 of Hearts. On trick 3, East leads the 4 of Diamonds. You cash your King as West follows low and your pard notably plays the Diamond Jack.

When you follow with your Ace, West again plays low, your pard throws off a middle Club, and East tosses a low Diamond. It is now trick 5 and you have the following cards remaining:

S - J 4
H - 8
D - 8 3
C - 10 6 4 2

You know that your partner has no Diamonds. What should you lead in order to give your team its best shot at setting the opps?

The answer here is NOT what would be the common mistake of leading another Diamond (for a ruff)/

Very often, when a player has made a bid of 5 or more, he has been blessed with a hand containing several Spades and another long and strong suit (5 or more cards with good control of the side suit). He would not bid 5 unless he was assured of taking some trump tricks.

This type of hand is often referred to as the classic 5/5 distribution or better, indicating at least 5 Spades and another good 5 card suit, and maybe more Spades and / or cards in the other strong suit. Such hands will often represent great setting potential for the lucky player and his team, but this potential is often wasted as a result of mismanaging the play of the hand.

On the 2nd round of Hearts, your pard played the Jack, which was trumped by East. Your partner almost certainly has the King and Queen in the suit, and very likely more considering that you and East started with only 4 Hearts between you.

Not only does he need to have the opps' Spades pulled in order to run his Hearts, but he needs to be able to get back into his hand once that is accomplished in order pull off the maneuver.

If you were to lead a Diamond, forcing your pard to trump the trick, it would serve only to weaken his trump suit, and his hand. He would use up a Spade that could eventually be used to gain entry back into his hand once the opps' Spades are gone.

You MUST lead a Spade at this point in the hand!!!! Doing so will allow the process of pulling the opponents' Spades to begin, and without your pard having to waste one of his trump in order to gain the lead and start the process himself. Specifically, you should lead the Jack of Spades at trick 5.

There are 2 major reasons for leading the Jack rather than the 4:
  • It is important for your pard to know where the high Spades are in order to best be able to decide how to pull trump in the most efficient manner possible.
  • It allows your pard to finesse with your Jack if he needs to try that approach. If, for example, he has the Ace and the King, he may want to let your Jack ride, guessing that West has the Queen because of his 3 bid (compared to East's 2 bid).

A less critical reason in this case, but a major one in general in this type of situation, is that you do not want to get caught winning a trick with your high Spade and then have no other Spades to lead, meaning that the only safe way to get back into your pard's hand would be by making him waste a Spade on a trick where the opps are not having to play Spades as well (Imagine that you had the King rather than the Jack and that you led the Spade 4 at this point. If your pard won the Ace and you won the next round of Spades with the King, all of a sudden there would be no way to continue pulling the opps' trump).

If you do lead the Jack here and it walks, you should then lead the 4 in order to both continue the 'extracting' process and get your partner into the lead.
SUMMARY --- 'Rule of Thumb'
In general, when it appears that your partner may have a 5/5 or better hand, it is critical that you start the Spade 'extraction' process by either breaking Spades when possible and then leading another one, or leading Spades if they have already been broken.

Obviously, no rule is absolute, and you must use your best judgment. For example. If you have counted 1 or 2 of your trump in your bid, and will not be able to win your tricks if you use your Spades for pulling, you may not want to use the approach if you are concerned that your pard may not be able to make up for you falling short of your bid. More often than not, however, if your pard has the kind of hand outlined above, his strength will more than compensate for you sacrificing your Spades for the greater good.

In the hand in this example, North had 6 Hearts to the K, Q, J, and 5 Spades to the Ace, King. Leading Spades on the 5th trick led to the opps falling one trick short on their bid, whereas if South had led a Diamond to his pard's void, the opponents would have been able to prevent North from regaining entry into is hand the one last time necessary, and would have been able to make their bid.

The '5 / 5' hand is a powerful weapon, indeed!
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