by Alan Truscott
Here is a simple position:
A 5 3 2
Q J 4
East is on lead in an ending, forced to break this untouched suit, which he knows is 4-3-3-3 around the table. The defense needs one trick. Which card should he lead?
Clearly, the choice does not matter when West has an honor, so East assumes that South has king-ten-something.
(1) In a low-level game, East leads the queen; then, his low-level opponent wins with dummy's ace and finesses the ten, to take three tricks.
(2) In a middle-level game, East leads the four, hoping that South will play the eight from king-ten-eight. Often this works, but sometimes South has king-ten-nine.
(3) In a high-level game--national champions, let's say--South's playing the eight can't work. If South has king-ten-eight he will try the ten, albeit without much hope, because he knows that East would lead an honor from honor-nine-low. So, East gives up on South's holding king-ten-eight; he makes the low-level play of the queen (or jack, choosing at random). South, with king-ten-nine, will play for split honors and lose a trick.
East can be sure of a trick if South has the stronger holding, and has no chance against an alert declarer who has the weaker holding. That is what W. S. Gilbert called, "a most ingenious paradox."