A concept of leading to the first trick 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 Mr. Phil Abramsohn, Mr. Benjamin Feuer, and Mr. Francis Rendon. He was of Newark, New Jersey, United States, and owner of a lucrative silver mine in the United States.

Mr. Sydney Rusinow also placed as a runner-up for the Von Zedtwitz Gold Cup in the year 1934. His partner was Mr. Walter Malowan, who is known also for his contribution to the game of bridge with the Malowan Six Club Convention.

Mr. Sydney Rusinow married actress Viola Richard. The following is excerpted from a published article by Lisa Stark, Z. Byron Wolf, and Meg Fowler of April 2, 2012, and the copyright belongs to Good Morning America.

1940 Census Excerpt

At the time of the 1940 Census, Ronald Reagan (later President of the United States) was pursuing his burgeoning acting career and was just married to his first wife, Jane Wyman, a co-star from the movie Brother Rat. The year he married Wyman, Reagan was living in an apartment in the hills of Hollywood. In the spring of 1939, the couple moved to a different apartment in Los Angeles proper, according to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. The detailed census data indicates that Reagan and his wife lived alone at 1326B Londonderry View Drive in Los Angeles. They both reported incomes of greater than $5,000 a year.

One of the men living two-doors down from Reagan was Sydney Rusinow, a famous bridge player, who married actress Viola Richard. There is a technique named after him called the Rusinow Lead. He died in a house fire according to that bio of Viola's linked (in the source document).

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.

Note: In an article authored by Mr. Raf Sanchez for The Telegraph he mentions in his article about Mr. Ronald Reagan, the actor, that among their well-heeled neighbours was Sydney Rusinow, a famous bridge player for whom the Rusinow Lead technique is named and who would go on to marry Viola Richard, a silent movie actress who starred opposite Laurel and Hardy.

Note: Laurel and Hardy were one of the most popular and critically acclaimed comedy double acts of the early Classical Hollywood era of American cinema. Composed of thin Englishman Stan Laurel (born in the year 1890 and died in the year 1965) and large American Oliver Hardy (born in the year 1892 and died in the year 1957), they became well known during the late 1920s to the mid-1940s for their slapstick comedy, with Stan Laurel playing the clumsy and childlike friend of the pompous Olivier Hardy. They made over 100 films together.

Note: Any attempt at finding / discovering a photography of Mr. Sydney Rusinow has met with no success. Any contribution by a reader of photographic memorabilia of this pioneering bridge player would be greatly appreciated.

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.

Note: 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.

Note: 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. Although unusual this agreement is not prohibited by most sponsoring organizations.

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.

West   East
K   J103

The ambiguity of the lead becomes apparent. If West has the King-Queen, then 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 and evolving years of the game of bridge, defenders were looking for new ways to impart information, silently communicate vital details, and to experiment with 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 fundamental concept was actively accepted and endorsed by bridge players in Europe. 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.



If you wish to include this feature, or any other feature, of the game of bridge in your partnership agreement, then please make certain that the concept is understood by both partners. Be aware whether or not the feature is alertable or not and whether an announcement should or must be made. Check with the governing body and/or the bridge district and/or the bridge unit prior to the game to establish the guidelines applied. Please include the particular feature on your convention card in order that your opponents are also aware of this feature during the bidding process, since this information must be made known to them according to the Laws of Duplicate Contract Bridge. We do not always include the procedure regarding Alerts and/or Announcements, since these regulations are changed and revised during time by the governing body. It is our intention only to present the information as concisely and as accurately as possible.