Lesson 2T Main

# Third Hand Play

by Richard Pavlicek

This lesson pertains to defensive play by the defender who plays third to a trick; that is, the partner of the player who leads. These rules are general to all contracts (notrump or suit) and are most important on the opening lead, but they apply throughout the play whenever partner leads a suit.

## Third Hand High

The general rule as third hand is to give your best effort to win the trick. Even if you don’t succeed, you will force the fourth hand (declarer on the opening lead) to spend a high card to beat you, and this will help partner. In other words:

As third hand, play your highest card.

 1. NT 7 5 K J 10 9 4 A 8 2 West leads Q 6 3

On the jack lead you should win the ace and return the eight, which allows partner to run his entire suit. Note what would happen if you played low.

 2. NT 5 4 3 J 8 6 2 K 9 7 West leads A Q 10

This time your king will be slaughtered but you still must play it. If you played low, South would win the 10 and win all three tricks with the aid of another finesse. Playing the king holds South to two tricks.

 3. NT A 5 4 10 9 8 6 Q 7 2 West leads K J 3

This time nothing matters (declarer wins three tricks regardless) but the proper play is the queen. Partner’s 10 lead might be from a holding of K-10-9-x(x), in which case your queen would win the trick.

 Lesson 2T Main Top Third Hand Play

## Play From Equals

When leading you were taught to play the top card of an honor sequence. This is completely correct, and it also applies when you are the second hand to play. The rule for third hand is different:

As third hand, play the lowest of touching cards.

 4. NT 8 4 K 9 7 6 3 Q J 5 West leads A 10 2

Since the queen and jack are equal, play the jack. If South wins the ace, partner will know you have the queen (else declarer could have won it) so the defense becomes easier. If you played the queen to force the ace, partner would be in the dark.

What was that! Don’t you know second hand low, third hand high?

But I’m from Australia and “down under” it’s reversed.

 5. NT A 4 2 Q 9 7 5 J 10 6 West leads K 8 3

Since the jack and 10 are equal, play the 10. When this forces the king, partner will know you have the jack and can safely lead the suit again. If you played the jack as third hand, you would deny the 10.

 6. NT 8 5 A 9 7 4 3 K J 10 West leads Q 6 2

Don’t fall into this trap! It is true that your jack and 10 are touching, but they are not touching to your highest card. Hence, “third hand high” prevails and declarer’s queen is history.

 Lesson 2T Main Top Third Hand Play

## Finesse Against Dummy

An exception to “third hand high” occurs when second hand (dummy at the first trick) has an honor and you have a higher honor. Your goal is usually to capture that honor. The general rule is:

If you have an honor one or two steps above dummy’s honor, try a finesse if dummy plays low.

 7. NT Q 6 4 10 7 3 2 K J 8 West leads A 9 5

This should be obvious. With the queen in dummy, your jack is just as effective as the king, and you will save your king to capture the queen later.

 8. NT Q 5 4 J 9 6 3 2 A 10 7 West leads K 8

Here it is less clear but the proper play is the 10 and save your ace for the queen. This holds declarer to one trick, whereas playing the ace would give him two.

 9. NT J 5 3 Q 8 7 4 K 10 2 West leads A 9 6

Keep your king over the jack, and finesse the 10. Whether declarer wins or ducks, all he can make is one trick. If you played the king, South could win the ace and later win a second trick with North’s jack.

 10. NT A 10 2 J 7 6 5 Q 9 3 West leads K 8 4

This one is even more subtle. The honor of concern in dummy is the ten (not the ace) and your queen is two steps above it. Hence you should finesse the nine, which limits declarer to two tricks.

 Lesson 2T Main Top Third Hand Play