Third Hand Play on Defense - based on Eddie Kantar Teaches Modern Bridge Defense

 

Prepared by John Blankinship

 

General Principles for Defense

 

       Take an active interest in cards played by partner (especially) and declarer.

       Don't turn over your card to a trick until you have noted and interpreted partner's card.

       Try to figure out what declarer is doing, and devise a defensive plan to counter it.

       Be thinking all the time.

 

Assumptions

 

       standard leads, including fourth best leads against notrump and suit contracts

       attitude signals for suit initiated by partner (typically standard or upside down carding)

       count signals for suit initiated by declarer or dummy (typically standard or upside down)

 

Partner leads low against a notrump or suit contract, dummy has small cards

 

       Defending against a notrump or suit contract

       Dummy has small cards

       Your high cards are not equals

 

 

S8 6 3

 

Sleads 2

 

SK 9 4

 

S???

 

 

This play is automatic: play the king. If it wins, return the nine, the higher of your two remaining cards. This is a classic case of Third Hand High.

 

Partner leads low against a suit contract (discovery play)

 

       Defending against a suit contract

       Dummy has small cards

 

 

S8 6 3

 

Sleads 2

 

SK J 4

 

S???

 

 

Against a notrump contract, this play is automatic: play the king. However, against a suit contract, there is an opportunity for East to make a discovery play. Partner would not underlead an ace against a suit contract, so declarer presumably has the ace. Play the jack to "discover" who has the queen.

 

Partner leads low, dummy has small cards, third hand has equal honors

 

       Defending against a notrump or suit contract

       Dummy plays low

       You have two or more equal high cards

 

 

S9 6 3

 

Sleads 2

 

SQ J 5

 

S???

 

 

Play the jack, the lowest of two or more equal cards. This is sacred!

When partner sees your jack, she realizes you may have the queen but cannot have the ten.

When third hand plays high, it can never have the card directly under the one played.

 

Using these principles, you can often deduce who has missing cards in the suit - Example #1

 

S8 5 4 3

 

(You)

SK 9 7 6 2

 

Splays J

 

Splays A

 

 

Say hearts are trump and you decide to lead the S6. Dummy plays low, partner the SJ, and declarer the SA. What can you deduce about the missing spades (Q 10)?

 

Answer: Partner started with the SQJ, and declarer the SA10.

 

Using these principles, you can often deduce who has missing cards in the suit - Example #2

 

 

S10 6 5

 

(You)

SQ 7 4 3 2

 

Splays 8

 

Splays K

 

 

Against a notrump contract, you lead the S3. Dummy plays low, partner comes up with the S8, and declarer wins the trick with the SK. Who has the missing spades (A, J, 9)?

 

Answer: Partner started with SJ98, and declarer SAK.

 

Using these principles, you can often deduce who has missing cards in the suit - Example #3

 

 

S10 6 5

 

(You)

SQ 7 4 3 2

 

Splays 9

 

Splays J

 

 

Against a heart contract, you lead the S3. Dummy plays low, partner plays the S9, and declarer the SJ. Who has the missing spades (A, K, 8)?

 

Answer: Partner started with the stiff S9, and declarer the SAKJ8. Partner can ruff the second round of spades.

 

Using these principles, you can often deduce who has missing cards in the suit - Example #4

 

 

S4 3 2

 

(You)

SK 9 7 6

 

Splays J

 

Splays Q

 

 

The opponents land in a notrump contract after checking for majors with Stayman. You lead the S6, partner plays the SJ, and declarer wins the SQ. Who has the missing spades (A, 10, 8, 5)?

 

Answer: Partner started with the SJ85, and declarer the SAQ10. You should wait for partner to lead a spade through declarer's SA10.

 

Partner leads low, dummy has honor but plays low, third hand has a higher honor

 

       Defending against a notrump or suit contract

       Dummy has an honor but plays low

       Third hand has a higher honor than dummy

 

 

SQ 7 3

 

leads S2

 

SK 10 4

 

S???

 

 

Rule of Thumb: If you can insert a nine-spot or higher, it usually saves a trick if you conserve your honor to capture dummy's honor. Hence, in this case, you should play the S10. But if you had SK84, you would play the king.

 

However if your honor is the ace, you need to insert at least a ten-spot to make it worthwhile. Hence, if you had the SA104, you would play the S10 - but with SA94, play the ace.

 

Partner leads low, dummy has honor but plays low, third hand does not have higher honor

 

       Dummy has an honor but plays low

       Third hand does not have a higher honor than dummy

 

 

SK 8 3

 

leads S2

 

SQ 10 7 5

 

S???

 

 

The proper play is the SQ. In this case, third hand plays as if there were no honor in dummy at all - i.e. third hand high. Similarly, if your spades were SQJ7 and dummy played low, you would play the SJ, your lower equal.

 

Partner leads low, third hand has doubleton AK or KQ

 

 

 

SQ 7 4

 

Sleads 3

 

SA K

 

S???

 

 

Play SA, and then (if you decide to continue spades) the SK. Playing equal honor cards out of order (higher-lower) indicates a doubleton.

 

Applying the Rule of Eleven

 

Assuming fourth-best leads: 11 - (size of card led) = number of cards in the suit led in the three remaining hands which are higher than the card led. This rule can be used by Third Hand to deduce the number of higher cards in declarer's hand, and also by declarer to deduce the number of higher cards in Third Hand.

 

 

S9 7 6

HK 6 4

DJ 7 6 5

CK 10 5

 

SA Q 8 5 4

H10 5 3

D9 3

CQ J 2

 

SJ 10 3

HA J 7 2

D8 4

C9 8 6 4

 

SK 2

HQ 9 8

DA K Q 10 2

CA 7 3

 

 

Against a 3NT contract by South, West leads the S5. East plays the S10, which loses to the SK. Assuming fourth-best leads, East can deduce that declarer started with only 11 - 5 - 3 - 2 = 1 spade higher than the S5, which evidently is the SK. Hence, all of West's remaining spades must be winners!

 

After winning the SK, declarer crosses to the CK in dummy and leads a low heart in a sneaky attempt to steal a ninth trick in hearts. The normal play for East is a low heart, retaining the AJ over dummy's king. But, applying the Rule of Eleven, East rises with the HA and returns a spade to defeat the contract.

 

Unblocking

 

General Rule: When partner leads an honor card against a notrump contract, and you (third hand) have a doubleton honor, unblock your honor and play it.

 

 

SA

 

SJ 10 9 7 4 3 2

 

SQ 6

 

SK 8 5

 

 

Partner has preempted in spades, and leads the SJ against a notrump contract. If you don't unblock, declarer can hold up the second time spades are led, and your side won't be able to lead a third round of the suit.

 

Corollary: If partner leads low and dummy wins the trick and third hand has a lower doubleton honor, it is almost always right to unblock and play the honor.

 

 

SK Q J 7 2

HQ 6

DJ 10 5

CA 6 5

 

S8 5 4

HA 10 7 5 4 2

D6 4 3

C2

 

SA 9 6

HJ 3

DK Q 7

C10 9 8 4 3

 

S10 3

HK 9 8

DA 9 8 2

CK Q J 7

 

 

Against a 3NT contract, West leads the H5 and dummy wins the HQ. You (East) should unblock and unload the HJ. When declarer knocks out the SA, you win and return a low heart, allowing partner to rattle off five heart tricks for down two. If you play a low heart at trick one, declarer can duck your later return of the HJ and you get one heart trick instead of five.

 

Overtaking (first cousin of blocking)

 

General Rule: When partner leads an honor card against a notrump contract, dummy plays low, and you (third hand) have a higher doubleton honor, overtake and play your higher honor. However, there are some exceptions when defending against suit contracts.

 

 

S7 4 3

 

SQ J 10 9 5

 

SK 2

 

SA 8 6

 

 

Against a notrump contract, West leads the queen, showing at least a 3-card perfect or near-perfect sequence. You (East) should overtake and play the king. If you play low, declarer can duck the queen and also the second round of spades, thereby blocking the suit. If you play the king and then the deuce, partner wins the second round of spades and can drive out the ace.

 

Note that against a suit contract for the above hand, overtaking with the king could give up a trick (e.g. to declarer's ten) and is not recommended. This is because the lead of the queen against a suit contract only shows at least a 2-card sequence.

 

 

S6 4 3

 

SK Q 10 8 2

 

SA 7

 

SJ 9 5

 

 

Against either a suit or notrump contract, West leads the king and you (East) have the doubleton ace. Overtake with the ace, and lead back the seven. At notrump, partner has probably led from KQJ or KQ10, so unblocking is correct. At a suit contract, overtake even though partner may only have led from KQ. If you set up a trick for declarer's jack, you can still ruff a third round of spades.

 

When not to overtake

 

When it is clear that overtaking will cost you a trick, don't overtake.

 

 

S10 6 4

 

SQ J 9 8 2

 

SK 3

 

SA 7 5

 

 

Against a notrump contract, West leads the SQ. In this situation, you cannot afford to overtake the queen because of the ten in dummy.

 

Watch and try to interpret partner's spot cards on opening leads

 

Third hand should take a good look at the card partner leads. For example, the lead of a five can be a singleton, top of a doubleton, low from three, fourth best, etc. The main clues lie in the bidding and whether the opponents are in a suit or notrump contract.

 

 

SJ 7 3 2

HA 8 6 3

D5 2

C8 7 5

 

S10 6

H7 4 2

DK 9 8 3

CQ 9 3 2

 

S9 8 5 4

HQ J 9

DA 6

CK 10 6 4

 

SA K Q

HK 10 5

DQ J 10 7 4

CA J

 

 

Against a 3NT contract, West leads the D3 and you (East) win the ace. Seeing the D2 in dummy, you know partner has led her lowest diamond from a four-card suit. If partner has four diamonds, declarer has five. It rarely pays to attack (and probably help set up) declarer's five-card suit. A better shot is to switch to a low club at trick two. The defense builds up three club tricks plus two diamonds to defeat the contract.

 

Returning partner's suit

 

If you win the opening lead and wish to return partner's suit, or you don't win the opening lead but wish to return partner's suit later in the hand - which card should you return?

 

The idea in most cases is to give partner count with your second card, while unblocking the suit if necessary. The general guidelines are as follows:

       With two cards remaining, return the higher.

       With three cards remaining, return the lowest.

       With four or more cards remaining, return your original fourth highest.

       With an honor sequence remaining, return the highest card in the sequence.

 

 

S7 6

 

Sleads 2

 

a) SA 10 5

b) SA 10 5 3

c) SA 10 5 4 3

d) SA J 10 8

 

S???

 

 

Partner leads the S2 against a notrump or suit contract. In each case, you play the ace, third hand high. If you wish to return the suit: (a) return the S10, (b) the S3, (c) the S4, (d) the SJ.

 

 

S7 6

 

SK J 9 2

 

SA 8 3

 

SQ 10 5 4

 

 

West leads the S2 against a notrump contract, you (East) play the ace and return the S8 to the S10 and partner's SJ. Partner knows that you started with three spades and declarer with four spades, because with four you would have returned low. Consequently, partner does not cash the SK and instead waits for you to lead a spade through declarer's SQ.

 

 

S7 6

 

SK J 9 2

 

SA 8 4 3

 

SQ 10 5

 

 

West leads the S2 against a notrump contract, you (East) play the ace and return the S3, showing that you started with four spades and declarer three spades. When declarer inserts the S10, partner wins the jack and confidently plunks down the SK, knowing that the SQ will drop.