When Declarer Leads from the Wrong Hand

A general theme here is that, if you look carefully at the laws, they have problems.

Resolving Differing Selections

Declarer is in dummy but leads from hand. One defender accepts the lead and the other rejects it. What happens?
  • It is clear from Law 53A that the acceptance of the lead has precedence: "It [a lead faced out of turn] becomes a correct lead if declarer or either defender, as the case may be, accepts it by making a statement to that effect, or if a play is made from the hand next in rotation to the irregular lead."
  • It is clear from Law 55B2 that the rejection of the lead has precedence: "If declarer has led from the wrong hand when it was his turn to lead from his hand or dummy's, and if either defender requires him to retract the lead, he withdraws the card led in error. He must lead from the correct hand.."
  • A common resolution to the two above claims was that whichever happens first has precedence. However.....
  • It is clear from Law 55A that whoever is next-in-turn after the lead out of turn has precedence: "If the defenders choose differently, the option expressed by the defender next in turn to the hand from which the card was led out of turn shall prevail." This was added to the 2008 Laws.

Eliminating the Second Interpretation?

A way of reducing the conflict is to claim that L55B2 only applies to after the lead as been rejected. (Ton Kooijman does this in his commentary on the laws). In other words, there are two possible interpretations of L55B2:
  • If he [declarer] is required to retract the lead, he withdraws the card led in error and leads from the correct hand.
  • If either defender requires him [declarer to retract the lead, he withdraws the card led in error and leads from the correct hand.

As noted, the first interpretation creates less dissonance in the laws. However, the second "interpretation" is a direct quote from the laws. So the question becomes if we should interpret a law as meaning exactly what it says, or if we should assume it written incorrectly and means something different from what it says.

The Old Resolution

I think the first two can be handled. Any acceptance by either declarer leads to acceptance of the lead. Now rejection is impossible. Any rejection starts the process of making the lead from the correct hand, and now acceptance is impossible. As noted, this seems to be the common resolution for the 1997 laws (according to Kooijman).

Since a main goal here is to moan about the laws, I will say that the laws were not written clearly if this is the resolution.

But the 2008 laws now give precedence to the defender who plays after the lead out of turn. (Parenthetically, this works well when the player after the lead out of turn has accepted the lead by playing a card face up. In the old laws, if this came after partner's rejection, it would be a major penalty card, which doesn't seem fair.

So the other sections really should have been rephrased.

A New Resolution?

There is a simple resolution to handling declarer's leads out of turn. The players enforce the laws at the table and the director is never called. This is an ostrich-with-its-head-in-the-sand resolution. But all of the resolutions are going to be that.

The usual reason for being called to the table is that dummy told declarer that the lead was from the wrong hand, declarer tried to lead from the correct hand, and a defender wants to accept the lead. You apply Law 53A (either player can accept the lead) and say that the lead is accepted. If this acceptance is by the player who was not next to play, you do not tell that player that he has the right to overrule this decision. This violates Law 10C1, the Director shall explain all of the options available. If the next-in-turn defender nonetheless rejects the lead, then the lead is rejected.

What if you are called to the table as soon as the lead out of turn is noticed? Kooijman suggests asking next-in-turn defender to make the decision. The other defender presumably still has the right to accept or reject the lead (law 55A). So you would again be violating the rule to inform the defenders of their options. If the partner of the next-in-turn defender does offer his preference, then what do you do? I don't know. To continue the head-in-the-sand policy, you proceed with that decision, never telling the next-in-turn defender that he has the right to over-rule it, but you do accept the opinion of next-in-turn if he does over-rule partner's decisions.


Suppose the director has asked me to choose whether to accept or reject the lead out of turn, because I am the next-in-turn to play defender. But I don't have a strong opinion about the right option. I know my partner can offer his opinion, and my partner knows that too. So I can wait to see if partner says anything. If he does, I demure to his decision. If he doesn't, I make a decision.

This is presumably illegal, because it is consulting between players. "If a player has an option after an irregularity, he must make his selection without consulting partner." Let's play this out. If my partner says "I accept the lead" and I decide to reject the lead, my opinion has precedence (because I am next-in-turn). My partner is clearly in his legal right to express his preference, so apparently I must ignore it and use whatever decision I would have made had I not heard his opinion. In this case, no problem -- I went against partner, so I obviously was not using his opinion.

The problem occurs when partner says he accepts (or rejects) the lead and I don't over-rule partner. Now I have essentially consulted with partner. This is the time that the Director should be checking my hand to make sure my decision was not influenced by my partner, when in all probability it was (though we don't know if I would have decided the same thing).

Consultation: Unavoidable and Not That Bad

Consider this system for when my partner and I have to decide wether to accept or reject declarer's lead out of turn. If it is very obvious to one of us what to do, we immediately say that preference. If it is less obvious but one of us has a preference, we wait to see if partner has a strong preference, then if he doesn't, we state the weaker preference. If no one even has a weaker preference, someone makes a decision.

Presumably it is illegal to agree on this convention in advance. But everyone is going to naturally play it. To play this convention, all you have to do is state your opinion when you have one. Which of course is what everyone naturally does. That's what I mean by consultation being unavoidable.

Is that so bad? When declarer leads from the wrong hand, about half of the time it doesn't make any difference which hand is actually led from. When it does make a difference, usually either defender can figure out the correct answer. When it makes a difference but the difference is hard to detect, the "time" consultion probably will help, but not very much -- the first person to decide isn't that much more likely to get it right than the partner.

So I rate consultionation as being a problem not worth worrying about. If you want to worry about it, the only solution I can see is to change the laws so that the next-in-turn defender decides first (with "defer to partner" being a possible decision, or not, as the law authors decide). That still won't get around the problem that the player who is not next-in-turn won't point out the lead out of turn if he can quickly figure out that the lead should be accepted.

How to Reject

How does a defender require declarer to retract the lead out of turn? The laws don't say. (They are slightly more clear about how a lead can be accepted.)

The traditional way, apparently, is to state the declarer has led from the wrong hand. The problem is, that leaves the defenders with no option for noting the irregularity without rejecting it. I prefer the ACBL advice: "Occasionally someone will point out declarer’s lead from the wrong hand. That is merely calling attention to the irregularity. Both defenders still have all their rights."

However, I join with apparently everyone else in using "You're in dummy" or "You're in your hand" to mean that the lead came from the wrong hand and declarer should lead from the correct hand.