Lightner strikes

When the opponents bid to a voluntary slam (as opposed to a sacrifice) you are not going to get rich by doubling them for penalties; they will usually not go down by more than a trick or so. It makes more sense to use the double to try to defeat the contract. But how does this work?

As early as 1929, when contract bridge was a mere four years old, Theodore Lightner suggested that a double of a freely-bid slam should ask partner to make an unusual lead. This will usually be dummy’s first bid side suit, or the leader’s longest suit. Typically, the Lightner double is based upon a void.

The leading pre-war bridge authority, Ely Culbertson, refused to endorse the Lightner double, reputedly because the first time it arose when Culbertson was partnering Lightner, the latter doubled for an unusual lead having forgotten that he himself was on lead, resulting in disaster.

However, the Lightner double has long been accepted as part of expert bidding. Your opponents bid to 6S and you have the following hand:

S A2
H —
D J76542
C Q9863

If partner will be on lead against 6S, you should double, Lightner. If dummy has bid hearts, or if you have shown the minors via an Unusual Notrump bid, then it is clear for partner to lead a heart – remember, the Lightner doubles asks for an unusual lead, such as dummy’s first bid suit, and not a suit you showed.

If there are no clues from the bidding, partner’s hand will have to suggest which lead you want. Your double suggests you have a void (and are looking for an opening round ruff) so partner who probably has lots of hearts can hopefully deduce that is likely to be your void.

Cover the North-South cards on the following deal from the 2008 European Championships. The Italian West opened a weak 2S. East started by replying 2NT as a strong enquiry and after West showed extras, 6S was reached. South doubled. Decide how you would declare as West on the HQ lead.

Dealer West, NS vul.

          S —
          H QJT732
          D QJ932
          C T7
WEST                EAST
S KQ7542            S J963
H K                 H A6
D 8654              D AKT7
C J4                C AQ2
          S AT8
          H 9854
          D —
          C K98653

The HK wins after which the SQ drives out the SA from South’s hand, with a heart returned. Over to you.

The Italian declarer discarded the low club from hand on the HA then drew trumps and led the D4. When North plays the D2, what should be played from dummy?

South’s double of 6S was surely a Lightner double, indicating a void somewhere. North had led a heart thinking that might be a void, but by now declarer knew South’s void was in diamonds. Accordingly, declarer finessed to dummy’s D7! Sure enough, this won, and declarer soon had 12 tricks, making the doubled slam.