INTERMEDIATE BRIDGE COURSE                                                   





     Second Hand Play:   Declarer has led a card from his/her hand or from dummy.   You, second in position to the lead must decide whether to play high or low.   Most of the time, the second hand player plays low allowing his/her partner, who plays last to the trick, to try to win the trick as cheaply as is possible.   A popular maxim, “Second hand plays low”, sets forth the idea that there is no need to waste your high card on one of declarer’s low cards, better to wait until declarer plays a high card which you can then capture.   On the other hand, if declarer plays an honor, another maxim, “cover an honor with an honor”, more likely applies.   When to administer these principals is most useful when considering second hand play.   One must consider the conditions under which they arise as well as their exceptions.


1.      When Declarer Leads a Small Card:   Defender’s high cards are best utilized not only when they take a trick, but additionally when they can be preserved to capture one of declarer’s high cards at the same time.   An old bridge adage proclaims, “Aces are meant to take Kings, Kings to take Queens; etc.”    For this reason, if declarer plays a small card, it usually works out best for the player in second position to also play a small card.   In the following examples, declarer leads the 2 towards dummy.  How many tricks will declarer take if you, in second position, play low, versus those likely taken should you mistakenly play high?


              DUMMY                      DUMMY                    DUMMY      

         Q75                        AQJ                      A109

    YOU       PARTNER          YOU       PARTNER        YOU       PARTNER

    K84        A1093           K84       1097653        K84        J753

       DECLARER                  DECLARER                  DECLARER

         J62                        2                        Q62     


         0;1                       2;3                       2;3


        Conclusion:  By playing second hand low, you usually make your side’s best effort to   

        conserve its high cards so that they not only take tricks but also capture the opponent’s high

        cards at the same time.


2.      When Dummy Leads a Small Card:   In the first exercise, the second hand had the advantage of 

      seeing the cards in the dummy such that the decision as to what to play was assisted by this 

      advantage.   When a small card is led from dummy, this advantage does not exist for the second

      hand player since declarer’s hand is concealed.  The concept of second hand playing low,

      however, is still applicable and, indeed, still effective.  Look at the following examples!  Notice

      the one trick difference (added for the defense, subtracted from declarer) by playing low in the

      second seat.


              DUMMY                      DUMMY                    DUMMY      

        8732                        J82                      A82

  PARTNER     YOU            PARTNER     YOU        PARTNER       YOU

          6         Q95             A1064      Q95          K76         Q95

       DECLARER                  DECLARER                  DECLARER

        AKJ104                      K73                     J1043


     Conclusion:  Whether a small card is led from declarer’s hand or from dummy, it is usually

         best for second hand to play low thus conserving the defenders’ high cards.   Partner plays

         last so you usually do not have to worry about declarer winning the trick too cheaply.




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3.      Splitting Honors:   Previously we have observed that when declarer leads a small card, it is  

      generally good advice for second hand to play low.  There are, however, several exceptions to

      this general principle.   The first of these deals with the play of the lowest of several sequenced or

      nearly-sequenced honors to stop declarer from winning a trick to which he/she would otherwise

      not be entitled.   This is called splitting honors and this principle takes precedence over the

      normal “second-hand-low” maxim.   In each of the following, declarer leads the 2 towards the

      dummy. Which card must second hand play in order to ensure all the tricks to which the

      defenders are entitled?


             DUMMY                    DUMMY                   DUMMY

          Q95                      A96                     KQ9

     YOU       PARTNER        YOU       PARTNER        YOU       PARTNER

     J104       A873          Q103        874         J104       A753

        DECLARER                 DECLARER                DECLARER

          K62                     KJ52                      862


      Conclusion:  Split your honors on defense rather than play second hand low.   It will ensure 

            that your team get all the tricks to which you are entitled.   On the other hand, if there are no

            tricks for you to promote for your side, or if it may cost you a trick to split your honors, revert 

            to the general principle of playing second hand low.


4.      Covering Honors:   Another circumstance where a defender in second position does not play low 

      occurs when declarer plays a high card.  Now the guideline of covering an honor with an honor

      comes into play; i.e., playing a high card on top of declarer’s high card in order to promote your

      side’s lower cards.   In each of the following layouts, how many tricks will declarer get if you

      cover the Queen played from dummy, and how many, if you do not cover?


           DUMMY             DUMMY               DUMMY             DUMMY           

      Q65               Q65                 Q65              QJ1065


  7432     KJ10     J1074    K32       10874     K32      874        K32

    DECLARER          DECLARER            DECLARER          DECLARER

      A98                A98                AJ9                A9


      1,2               1,2                 2,3                5,4


Conclusion:  When you know or believe you can promote a trick for your side, it is a good

idea to cover an honor with an honor.  When it does not look as if there might be anything to

promote, you stand a better chance of getting a trick by playing second hand low.















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5.      Covering Second Honors:   Sometimes you will be presented with the situation in which there are a couple of touching high cards from which declarer has led.  In this instance, it is usually best to wait until the last high card is led before covering.  In the following examples should you cover the first honor led from dummy or not?


           DUMMY                      DUMMY                   DUMMY

           J108                       J103                    J103

     PARTNER     YOU           PARTNER        YOU        PARTNER      YOU

      Q97        K642           K762         Q95         7654        KQ9

         DECLARER                   DECLARER                 DECLARER

            A53                       A84                      A82


             No                           No                         Yes


          Conclusion:   When there are two or more honors, it is usually best to wait to cover the last 

                     honor, unless you can afford to cover more than one of them.


6.   Putting it all Together:   When you are second hand to play, and a small card is led, it is generally

      best to play a low card.   When a high card is led, it usually works out best to cover with a higher

      card.   In the following examples, which card do you play when declarer leads the indicated card?


1)      DUMMY          2)      DUMMY            3)     DUMMY

         Q83                    KJ4                     J84

      YOU                    YOU                      YOU

   AJ5                    Q73                      K62   

                          DECLARER               DECLARER                 DECLARER

                6                      5                       3


                             5 (low)                                    3 (low)                                        2 (low)





             4)        DUMMY           5)       DUMMY             6)      DUMMY

                                 Q83                     K                     A103

                   YOU                    YOU                      YOU

         J1097                  A642                     K75 

                             DECLARER               DECLARER                DECLARER

                 4                      9                        J


             9 (Split)            Ace (Take King)          King (Cover)


         Conclusion:   Defenders afford themselves the best chance in situations in which they are

                   uncertain what to do by playing a low card as second hand if a low card is led, and by

                   covering an honor with an honor if a high card is led.             














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