The Rule of 11
As it applies to the lead of the 4th highest card of a suit

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R11.1 - Explanation

The Rule of 11 has many beginners (and some not so beginners) seriously puzzled. What is the significance of this mysterious number 11 ? Let me explain.

Every suit in a pack of bridge cards consists of 13 cards. The illustration below shows for example all 13 cards that make up the Spade suit.
In contract bridge (as in many other card games) the Ace is promoted from its humble lowest position to the highest ranking card in the suit.
As a result the poor old 2 is delegated to the lowest position in the suit, the 3 to the 2nd lowest, the 4 to the 3rd lowest, and so on. In other words the face value of each card is 1 more than its ranking within the suit.
If we were to continue the numbers for the picture cards ranked above the 10 the numbers would be

11 for the Jack   -   12 for the Queen   -   13 for the King   -   14 for the Ace

If we want to know how many cards in a suit are higher ranking than for example the 6 we simply substract 6 from 14 (the highest ranking card) to find the answer :   14 - 6 = 8

If you lead the 6 as the 4th highest card in your hand this means of course that you hold 3 higher cards in that suit yourself. The other players combined therefore hold

14 - your 3 - 6 = 5     or simply :   11 - 6 = 5 cards higher than the 6

The slide show below illustrates the principle visually.

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Above diagrams are intended to clarify the arhythmatics of the rule.
Some are not realist opening leads you would make.

The Rule of 11
When your partner leads the 4th highest of his suit, substract the face value of his card from 11. This indicates how many cards higher than his card lead, are in the hands of Dummy, Declarer and your own combined.

In most cases the 4th highest card lead is a card lower than the 8.
A 9 or a 10 can of course be the 4th highest in a suit held (lucky occasion), but in such cases the lead is usually a picture card, not the 4th highest.

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R11.2 - Application

The Rule of 11 can be applied whenever your partner leads a 4th card from the top in a suit. This happens especially in opening leads against No Trump contracts. Below some examples showing you what type of deductions you can make applying this rule.

In all three examples the contract is in NT.

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Example 1
The Heart 5 opening lead reveals that there are 11 - 5 = 6 cards higher than the 5 in the combined hands of yourself, Dummy and Declarer.
You can see five of these cards in Dummy and in your own hand. Declarer therefore can hold only one, probably the Ace or perhaps the King.

Also the Heart 2 is exposed in Dummy, but the two other cards below partner's 5 (the 3 and 4) are missing. Partner may therefore well hold 5 cards in the Heart suit, but not 6, as this would leave Declarer with a singlton only, which is most unlikely for a NT bidder.
Declarer must hold either A (or K) 4 3, leaving your partner with a 4-card Heart suit, or A (or K) 4 or A (or K) 3, in which case your partner holds 5 Hearts.

It is clear that Declarer will make 1 trick in Hearts only and your side 3 or perhaps 4. Therefore if Dummy plays the Jack cover it with your Queen, otherwise play your 10. This will force out Declarer's King.
If Declarer plays low instead and you win the 1st trick, lead your remaining highest Heart (Q or 10) at the next trick. This will avoid blocking partner's long suit.


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Example 2
His lead of the 2 shows that partner only holds a 4-card Diamond suit. However you hold also 4 Diamonds, leaving Declarer with three cards in that suit.

Also partner should hold at least one of the two remaining honour cards, the Jack or the King. If he holds the Jack you can develop 2 tricks in this suit. If partner holds the King instead you will make 3 tricks in Diamonds.

If Dummy plays the Diamond Ace, play your 8, encouraging partner to continue leading this suit (see Lesson 8.6)
If Dummy plays low, play your Queen. This will prevent Declarer winning with the Jack if he holds it, or otherwise force out his King.


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Example 3
Making an opening lead of a major suit can often be beneficial against a NT contract. After all, opponents were not interested or unable to find a major suit trump fit.

But in this case, looking at Dummy's holding, the Spade lead may not be all that promising.
Partner holds clearly only a 4-card major suit, as you hold the only card below his 3 in your own hand. This places Declarer also with a 4-card Spade suit in his hand and in all likelyhood including one of the two remaining honours (A and Jack).

Regardless what Dummy plays on the trick, play your King, but if you win the trick look for an alternative suit to lead in the next trick. In Spades you are more likely to do Declarer a favour by setting up two Spade tricks for him.


Copyright © 2004
Michael Furstner. All rights reserved.