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"WHEN YOU HAVE A HOLDING SUCH AS A-Q OR A-J IN THE SUIT LED BY PARTNER, DO NOT AUTOMATICALLY PLAY ‘THIRD HAND HIGH."

by Schmuel Lev (Israel)

Israel did not join the European Bridge League until 1965 but growth since then has been rapid. In 1967 an official Hebrew bridge terminology was approved by the Academy of Language, and in 1975 Israel hosted the European Championship, finishing second to Italy and so qualifying for the 1976 Bermuda Bowl in Monte Carlo. Israel came third to U.S.A. and Italy followed with a creditable performance in the Olympiad.

Many of the top Israeli players are of Polish origin, and Poland, of course is one of the strongest nations in Europe. Schmuel Lev is one of the players responsible for Israel’s success. He is very much at home in big money rubber bridge and has great stamina. When the Bermuda Bowl and the Olympiad were played in succession, over three weeks, he was putting in some of his best work at the end. His tip is of very wide application.

‘One of the maxims that bridge inherited from whist was ‘Third hand high’. Another slogan expressed the same idea was "Never finesse against your partner".

‘Since the early days, of course, a great deal has been discovered. My tip describes some quite frequent situations where it may be good play for third hand to finesse against his partner – that is, to play the lower non-touching honours even when dummy has a worthless holding in the suit led.

‘A common situation occurs in no-trumps. It is often vital to winkle out declarer’s stopper on the first round, so that the suit can be run when defenders next obtain the lead:

    J 109    
    A K 9 2    
    K Q 10 5    
    5 3    
5

N

K Q 8 6 2
4 3

W

E

Q 8 7 6
9 8 7 4 2   3
Q 9 8 4 2

S

A J 7
    A 7 4 3    
    J 10 5    
    A J 6    
    K 10 6    

‘West leads the 4 against South’s contract of 3NT. If East puts up the ace (third hand high!) South will duck the next round of clubs and West’s suit will be dead. South will be able to develop his ninth trick by taking heart finesse into the safe hand.

‘But if East plays the jack of clubs on the first round, it will be too dangerous for South to duck. He would look very foolish if West’s clubs over AQ9xx and simple heart finesse would have won the contract.

‘Of course, there is sometimes an element of risk when you finesse against your partner. Here, East will be giving declarer an unnecessary trick if his clubs are Q-x-x. But East can afford to take the risk, for he has control of the major suits and can see that the contract will be defeated if West’s club suit can be brought in. East also knows that West cannot possibly have a side entry, so it is essential to establish a lifeline between the defending hands.

‘Against a suit contract, finesse at trick one may create an entry for a vital switch later in the play:

 

    9 5    
    A Q J 4    
    K J    
    K Q J 6 3    
Q 7 6 4 2

N

A J 3
3

W

E

K 8 7
9 7 5 3   A Q 6 4 2
8 7 2

S

9 4
    K 10 8    
    10 9 6 5 2    
    10 8    
    A 10 5    

‘North-South are playing Precision and the bidding goes:

 

South West North East
- - 1 Pass
1 Pass 1NT Pass
2 Pass 4 Pass
Pass Pass    

‘In this sequence the opening club is conventional, South’s heart in natural and positive, and North’s 1NT asks for controls. South’s two diamonds indicates three Neapolitan controls (2 for an ace, 1 for a king). Realizing that no slam is possible, North bids a direct game.

West leads the 4 of spades and East, in view of the bidding, can gauge the hand very accurately. He knows that South must hold an ace and a king, so there can be no advantage in going up with the ace of spades. On the contrary, East must insert the jack, to drive out South’s king. When East comes in with the king of hearts he leads a low spade to his partner’s queen. The obvious diamond switch then defeats the contract.

‘A defender who has bid a suit may often have an opportunity to finesse against partner when this suit is led:

    Q J 7 2    
    10 9 4    
    K Q J 10    
    A Q    
5

N

A 4
J 5 3 2

W

E

A Q 8 6
9 3 2   A 8 4
8 7 6 5 4

S

K 9 3 2
    K 10 9 8 6 3  
    K 7    
    7 6 5    
    J 10    

‘South becomes declarer in four spades after East has opened one heart. West leads the 2 of hearts, which suggests he has an honour in the suit. East therefore finesses the queen, forcing the king. When East comes in with the A it is quite safe for him to underlead the ace of hearts, because West is likely to hold the jack; in any case, there is no hope of defeating the contract. When West obtains the lead with J he naturally switches to a club, establishing a trick in this suit before the ace of diamonds has been forced out.

‘My bridge tip is this: When you have a holding such as A-Q or A-J in the suit led by partner, do not automatically play third hand high. By finessing the lower honour you may be able to create a vital entry to your partner’s hand.

There are, indeed many exceptions to the old rule of ‘third hand high’ and, still more, ‘second hand low’. Some occasions where the third player should finesse against partner for reasons of communications wee described in connection with Rixi Markus’s tip.

It is generally right for the third hand to insert the middle card in this type of situation:

  5  
K 9 7 4 2   A J 6
  Q !0 8 3  

It is unlikely, after the lead of the 4, that the defence can run five tricks, and communications are better maintained if East plays the jack on the first round.

Players seldom make the right play in this position:

  K 7  
A 9 6   Q 10 8 4 2
  J 5 3  

Assume that East has a poor hand with no quick entry. When West leads the 6 and dummy plays low, it is plain that the lead, against no-trumps, is from AXX or JXX. If from AXX, it is essential for East to play then 10, not the Queen. (Note that the lead of the ace, in line with Jeremy Flint’s tip, would simplify the position.)

In suit contracts, providing that you are reasonably certain that partner has not underled an ace, it is important to play the jack from KJX or any longer suit headed by KJ. There are three reasons for this:

 

1. It is a discovery play: you find out whether declarer has AQ or just the ace – in other words, whether there are tricks to be made in the suit later.

2.If the jack forces the ace, partner will willing later to lead from the queen; but of the king is headed by the ace, it may be much more risky for partner to underlead the queen next time, on occasions when this would suit the defence.

3 To some extent you deceive the declarer about the lie of the cards. You may think that it could make no difference whether East, defending against six spades on the deal below, were to play the king or jack of clubs on the opening lead – but watch!

    A K 8 6 4 2    
    A 10 5    
    10 3    
    9 4    
7 3

N

9
-- W

K Q J 9 7 3
Q 8 7 4 2   9 6 5
10 7 6 5 3 2

S

K J 8
    Q J 10 5    
    8 6 4 2    
    A K J    
    A Q    

 

East opened a weak two hearts, South doubled, and North bid three hearts. Thus South became the declarer in six spades and West, following the modern style of second-best from weak suits, led the seven of clubs. East played the king and South won. Deciding that East had already shown his ration for a weak two bid, South drew trumps and played off AKJ of diamonds, discarding a heart from dummy and leaving West on play.

‘If East had played the jack of clubs at trick one, the position would not have been so clear. South might place West with the king of clubs and East with the queen of diamonds. If he took that view and finessed the jack of diamonds he would lose the contract. The king and jack of clubs appear to be equals, but some equals are not so equal as others.

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