Rusinow Leads

Devised by Mr. Sydney Rusinow, born in the year 1907 and died in the year 1953, and applied at the bridge table with his friends and partners, Mr. Philip Abramsohn and Mr. Simon Rossant, in the 1930s. Mr. Sydney Rusinow won the Vanderbilt Cup in the year 1933 with his team mates Phil Abramsohn, Benjamin Feuer, and Francis Rendon. He was of Newark, New Jersey, United States, and owner of a lucrative silver mine in the United States.

Note: The original principle behind the concept of this manner of leading, which bears his surname, was the lead of the lower of two honors. This principle was later revised, refined, modified to the lead of the lower of two touching honors.

Although the leads were original and unique, the ACBL, for undisclosed reasons, declared them illegal and barred the use of this principle at ACBL sanctioned tournaments until 1964, after which year the ban was lifted.

The principle behind the concept of the Rusinow Leads apparently did not sit well with the bridge community in the United States, but they were adopted by many European bridge players. They were employed also by Mr. Walter Avarelli and Mr. Giorgio Belladonna and they were incorporated into the Roman System, which they devised, and became also known as Roman Leads. Since the Rusinow Leads have become common practice with many bridge players, they have been incorporated in several bidding systems.

The principle behind Rusinow Leads is simply the leading of the second-ranking of touching honors. Rusinow Leads are used only on the first trick against a suit contract in a suit, which the partner has not bid during the auction, if at all.

It is uncommon to employ the Rusinow Leads also against a No Trump contract since the purpose of the lead against a No Trump contract is entirely different in nature, but it is not illegal.

Since the 1930s represented the era of the transition from Whist to Contract Duplicate, many innovations had to be considered and many traditional playing strategies had to be re-arranged and redefined. It was quite normal practice for the defenders to lead the King against a contract, when holding the Ace and King of the same suit. It was also quite standard for the defender to lead the King against a contract, when holding the King and Queen of the same suit. This standard practice sometimes led to unusual situations where the partner of the defender was uncertain as to the better play, since the partner was uncertain as to whether his partner had the Ace or the Queen after leading the King.

The ambiguity of the lead becomes apparent. If West has the King/Queen, East will wish to play the Jack of Spades and encourage West at the same time. However, if West has the Ace/King, then East will wish to play the 3, so that West will choose to change to another suit. If South, the declarer, holds the Queen-9-8-x, a continuation will give South at least one winner in this suit.

In the early days of bridge, defenders were looking for new ways to impart information and to try new strategies. The attempt at leading the Ace from an Ace/King, promising the King, proved unsatisfactory, since leading a single Ace against a suit contract seemed prudent and in hindsight the only lead that would defeat the suit contract. It was concluded that one problematic situation was exchanged for a second problematic situation, and it was not quite clear, which principle should be more favored, or if a new principle should be created for the defense.

Mr. Sydney Rusinow came up with a solution, which was first endorsed by Mr. Ely Culbertson. However, the solution did not gain very much favor and popularity by the bridge community. The solution was to lead the second highest from touching honors, such as leading the King from Ace/King and Queen from King/Queen and Jack from Queen/Jack. Although this solution of leading in this manner was eventually barred from ACBL tournaments, the Europeans seemed captivated by the concept. They were eventually adopted by the World Bridge Federation and especially by the advocates of the Roman Club bidding system, the players of which were looking for innovative ideas.

The main principles of the Rusinow Leads are as follows:

1. Ace: this lead denies the King, except when holding the Ace-King as a doubleton.

2. King: this lead is from Ace-King. The third hand should signal encouragement with the Queen or a doubleton.

3. Queen: this lead is from King-Queen. The third hand should normally signal with the Ace or Jack, but not with a doubleton if the dummy contains three or four small cards of the same suit. This may be to avoid a Bath Coup, whereby the declarer could possible be holding the Ace-Jack-x, and thereby cash two tricks.

4. Jack: this lead is from Queen-Jack.
4.1. Ten: this lead is from Jack-Ten.
4.2. Nine: this lead is from Ten-Nine.

These leads complement the MUD lead convention, in which the original lead is from three small cards. The first is the Middle card, followed by the higher card, followed by the lower card, when holding only three cards in that suit, or Middle, Up, Down.

5. In the case that more than two touching honors are held, and a lead has to be made, the card representing the second-highest honor is led. For example, from King-Queen-Jack, the Queen is led. The second card from this sequence, which is then led, is the Jack. The third hand knows that his partner holds the King of that suit.

A Short Summary of Rusinow Leads

  • Card Lead Card Combination
  • Ace Denies the King unless the holding is an AK doubleton.
  • King Lead from AK. Partner should unblock the Queen, if held.
  • Queen Promises KQ or longer sequence.
  • Jack Promises QJ or longer sequence.
  • Ten Promises J10 or longer sequence.
  • Nine Promises 109 or longer sequence.
  • Middle-Up-Down The play of a higher second card shows an odd number of cards in that suit.
  • Up-Down A high-low play promises and even number of cards in that suit.

Rusinow Leads gave the partner information about the holding, but the Rusinow Leads are used only on the first trick against a suit contract. This fact is very important to remember concerning the communication with the partner.

Note: After the first trick, it is important to remember that the highest card should be led from touching honors. This is true whether the lead if from either of the hands of the defenders.

Important Side Note: the Rusinow Leads were originally devised for use against a suit contract. The experiment was made to use this lead also against a No Trump contract, and the experiment failed miserably, since the purpose of a lead against a No Trump contract is different than against a suit contract. The information needed by the partner is whether the partner has led from his longest suit, and not where his honors are located.

Whether or not Rusinow Leads should be part of the partnership agreement must be considered by the individual partnership. The advantages are obvious and they are presently accepted as a form of defense by the ACBL and most other bridge governing bodies around the world.

Note: The long-time former bridge columnist for The New York Times featured in his articles deals, the outcome of which were determined better and more advantageously by the employment of Rusinow Leads. One such article appeared in The New York Times, on Monday, July 17, 1995. Unfortunately the diagrammed deal, to which Mr. Alan Truscott refers, was not archived by The New York Times.

Note: Mr. Charles Goren was also a national bridge columnist, who collaborated together with other well-known bridge players such as Mr. Omar Sharif, the actor and bridge player. He also mentioned the introduction and growing popularity of the Rusinow Leads within the bridge community in his bridge column, which appeared in The Blade, a newspaper; published in Toledo, Ohio, United States, on Saturday, June 16, 1979, a picture of which in a .pdf file format has been archived and preserved on this site for future reference.