DRC Bridge Lecture for Hearts Ch4 (February 27, 2017)

Our chapter for today — ACBL’s Heart Series, 2nd Ed., Ch. 4 — explains how 2nd-Hand Defender (SHD) plays when Declarer or Dummy is on lead. The chapter discusses 5 categories of SHD play. There are more than a dozen examples. In about 2/3 of the examples, SHD low is the correct play. Players need to recognize when the odds favor playing SHD low or SHD high. You may download this lesson in one of the two following formats:

  1. Paragraph: ACBL Hearts Ch4 Para
  2. Outline: ACBL Hearts Ch4 Note.doc

Theory of Second-Hand Defender (SHD)

2nd-Hand Defense vs 3rd-Hand High: SHD against a lead from Declarer/Dummy has similarities to third-hand defense against a lead from partner. In both cases, the Defender must choose whether to win immediately, signal for a continuance or avoidance, or duck. The optimal decision is typically a guess based on limited information.

2nd-Hand Low: The guideline of “2nd-Hand Low” means that generally SHD will duck rather than play high on the trick that Declarer is offering. Note that about 2/3 of the time, SHD should play low. About 1/3 of the time, SHD should play high. That is, 2nd-Hand Low is a compelling Guideline rather than a rigid rule.

Legend: Let’s arrange the various SHD situations into 5 categories. In all these examples, you are SHD. Generic honor cards are represented as “H” for high honors (AK) or “h” for low honors (QJ). Spot cards are represented as “x.” The correct cards played to the round are underlined.

  1. Category 1 (SHD has a sequence): There are exceptions to SHD playing low. You may have information from the bidding on what is a better play. You may be able to run sufficient tricks to set the contract.
  • Suit Contract (SHD high): Declarer=xxx, 2ndHand=HHx, Dummy=h Dummy has a doubleton and ruffing power. If you have two ranking cards, play them immediately, before Dummy can ruff. See p. 145.
  • Setting Trick (SHD high): Dummy=xxx, 2ndHand=hhx, Declarer=H You need very few additional tricks to set the contract. Dummy leads low. Split your honors to promote your remaining honor into a winner. See p. 146.
  • Promotion (SHD high): Dummy=xxx, 2ndHand=Hhhx, Declarer=H If you duck, Declarer might win with a high intermediate. Split your honors by playing the lowest card from your sequence. Declarer will cover, but this will promote your remaining honors. See p. 142, or the 4th Challenge on pp. 154-5.
  • Cover an Honor (SHD high): Dummy=hxx, 2ndHand=Hhh, Declarer=H Cover an honor if such a play will promote another honor held by you or your partner. Of course, you may not know that partner has a promotable honor. Unseen honors might be held by partner, Declarer, or both. If the unseen honors are held either by partner or Declarer, covering RHO’s honor will do no harm. If the unseen honors are held by both, then covering an honor will gain because it sets partner up to trap another honor. See p. 147, or the 5th Challenge on pp. 154-5.
  • Summary: Category 1 has 4 situations: in 100%, you as SHD play high. You hold a solid sequence, either runnable or not.
  1. Category 2 (SHD has a tenace): Your suit is frozen, meaning both teams have a tenace in the suit. If you play high, Declarer gains a trick. If you duck, Declarer might win the trick but will gain no information about the location of the missing honors. Declarer might misplay due to this lack of information. Don’t tell Declarer where the Defenders have their strength.
  • Known Honors (SHD low): Declarer=x, 2ndHand=Hhx, Dummy=Hh You can see all five honors. Keep the suit frozen. Let Declarer or Dummy stay on lead. Play your lowest spot card. As play continues, either your honors will be promoted or you will trap Declarer’s honors. See p. 139.
  • Unknown Honors w/ Declarer on Lead (SHD low): Declarer=x, 2ndHand=Hhxx, Dummy=Hh. You can’t see all five honors. Play your lowest spot card. Anticipate this play, and be ready to play smoothly. Declarer or partner has the missing honor. See p. 139, or the 2nd Challenge on pp. 154-5.
  • Unknown Honors w/ Dummy on Lead (SHD low): Dummy=xxx, 2ndHand=Hhx, Declarer=Hh You can’t see all five honors. You have a tenace. Declarer may need multiple tricks from this suit. Play your lowest spot card. Anticipate this play, and be ready to play smoothly. Declarer or partner have the missing honors. If partner has a missing honor, good. If Declarer has all missing honors, your tenace will trap some of Declarer’s honors as play continues. See p. 140, or the 1st Challenge on pp. 154-5.
  • Dummy Has Length (SHD low): Declarer=xxx 2ndHand=Hhx, Dummy=Hh There is a guideline, “Where Dummy has a 5c+ suit, Declarer has hope.” This means that if SHD plays high, Dummy becomes established. Declarer may have inadequate entries to Dummy. Let Declarer or Dummy stay on lead. Play your lowest spot card. Save your honors to stop Declarer from running the suit, or from gaining entry to Dummy’s established tricks. See p. 151, or the 3rd Challenge on pp. 154-5.
  • Declarer Has Length (SHD low): Declarer=x, 2ndHand=Hhx, Dummy=H This is the same play as if Declarer were short, but the bidding has revealed Declarer holds a 5c+ suit. Declarer will not take the finesse, due to the guideline of “9 never 8 ever.” So, don’t split your honors. Play low. See p. 143.
  • You are Finessed (SHD low): Declarer=x, 2ndHand=hhx, Dummy=HH You have two low honors that Dummy can capture. Play low, smoothly, hoping Dummy will play high. See p. 144.
  • Summary: Category 2 has 6 situations: in 100%, you as SHD play low. You hold a tenace.
  1. Category 3 (SHD has a ranking honor): RHO leads low. Sitting in 2nd seat, if you play high, LHO will play low. You will only capture low cards with your honor. Instead, you should play low too. RHO may have another honor card that you can capture later, or partner might win the current trick.
  • Declarer on Lead (SHD low): Declarer=x, 2ndHand=Hxx, Dummy=h Play your lowest spot card. Don’t waste a high intermediate card. That is, don’t play semi-low when you can play low. Declarer or partner might have the missing honors. See p. 139.
  • Dummy on Lead (SHD low): Dummy=x, 2ndHand=Hxx, Declarer=h It doesn’t matter if the lead is from Declarer or Dummy. If the lead is low, SHD plays low. See p. 140.
  • LHO Has Shortage (SHD low): Dummy=hhhx, 2ndHand=Hxxx, Declarer=H If RHO is longer than LHO, Declarer will not be able to repeat a finesse indefinitely. Play low initially. Eventually LHO becomes void. At that time, cover. See the 6th Challenge on pp. 154-5.
  • Summary: Category 3 has 3 situations: in 100%, you play low. You hold a single ranking card.
  1. Category 4 (Declarer or Dummy seems short): In general, SHD plays low when RHO plays low, and SHD plays high when RHO plays an honor. It is correct to cover an honor early if you can see that your honor is doomed because it will eventually lose to repeated finesses.
  • Declarer Has Shortness (SHD splits): Declarer=x, 2ndHand=Hh2, Dummy=H Declarer is on lead. Declarer might gain a trick by taking the finesse. Split your honors by playing the lowest card from your sequence. Dummy will cover, but this will promote your remaining honors. See p. 142.
  • Last Honor (SHD splits): Dummy=hhx, 2ndHand=Hxx, Declarer=x If RHO has more honors than you do, only cover when you have the same number. In the meantime, partner may have ranking cards to take the initial tricks. See p. 151.
  • Summary: Category 4 has 2 situations: in 100%, you delay playing your highest honor. In this category, either Declarer or Dummy seems short.
  1. Category 5 (Declarer is leading trumps): Trumps are a special situation.
  • Trumps (SHD low): Declarer=Hhhxx, 2ndHand=hxx, Dummy=H Generally, if Declarer (or Dummy) leads a high trump towards a higher trump, they want you to cover. Instead, play low smoothly. Assuming Dummy (or Declarer) plays high, your trump will be promoted. See p. 152.
  • Summary: Category 5 has 1 situation: in 100%, you play low. Declarer is leading their best suit, trumps. [Be aware that SHD playing a low trump won’t work in all cases.]

Tests of Comprehension

  1. Declarer Leads Low: Go to Exercise One. (p. 162). Try all.
  2. Dummy Leads Low: Go to Exercise Two. (p. 164). Try 1.
  3. Splitting Honors: Go to Exercise Three. (p. 165). Try 1, 3
  4. Covering Honors: Go to Exercise Four. (p. 166). Try 1, 3.
  5. Covering Honor Sequences: Go to Exercise Five. (p. 167). Try 2.
  6. Chapter 4: Go to Exercise Six. (p. 168). Try 1, 6.
  7. Opener’s Rebids: Go to Exercise Seven. (p. 170). Try all.
  8. Finesses: Go to Exercise Eight. (p. 171). Try all.

Hands to Play, from Hearts = “ACBL Defense in the 21st Century” (404p)

Deck Hands Declarer Dealer Bid Lead Hints
Hearts P. 172 #4-1 S N 4 Q A
Hearts P. 174 #4-2 W E 4 J B
Hearts P. 176 #4-3 N S 3NT 5 C
Hearts P. 178 #4-4 E W 3NT 4 D


  • A: N=19 PVP . S=8 PVP. North (N) opens their better minor, 1♣, intending to show their strength and distribution with a rebid of 2NT. South (S) is a minimum, so bids a cheap 1. N has 4c support, a tenace in ♦, so goes to game. West doesn’t help by leading into the tenace, rather leads top of a sequence, Q. Declarer ruffs in hand the 3rd round of . Declarer has 7 QT, must win 3 of their 4 trumps to make the contract. Two are easy (the ruff and the promotion of the Q). West must assume that Declarer has a trump honor, and this honor can only be the Q. West must wait for the Q. The problem for Declarer is that both hands have low-spot trumps. The correct play is to find one opponent with Ax, but this does not happen. Down 1.
  • B: E=14 PVP. W=14 PVP. East (E) opens their longest minor, 1. West ( W ) has support, but bids 1. E shows 4c support in and a minimum hand. W with a maximum hand goes to 4 W has 9 QT, needs a trick in or . N leads top of a sequence, trapping Declarer’s hope for a . Declarer wins the 3rd round, pulls trumps, and finesses Dummy’s KJ. If W plays high, the contract makes. If W plays low and Dummy plays high, the contract makes. Any other play fails. Down 1.
  • C: N=16 PVP. S=11 PVP. N opens 1NT with adequate strength but two bad suits. S with strength, two aces, and a rebiddable suit, goes to 3NT game. East leads 4th best. West wins with 3rd hand high, returns the suit which Declarer wins. Declarer moves to Dummy’s hand to finesse with the J. East covers, promoting partner’s 9♦ to a winner. Down 1.
  • D: E=19 PVP. W=9 PVP. E opens their better minor, 1 intending to show their strength and distribution with a rebid of 2NT. W has no majors, so bids a 4c . On the rebid, W goes to 3NT game. South leads 4th best, the 4. N plays 3rd hand high, then returns the J that S overtakes. Declarer wins the 3rd round. If break evenly and N has the K, Declarer can make the contract. N does have the K but the suit does not break evenly. N does not cover. Down 1.

1PVP = Partnership Valuation Points. It is the partnership’s sum of HCP, Length Points, and Dummy Points.

Student Notes: (nb: The latest version of “ACBL Hearts Ch4 Para.docx” may be downloaded at BetterBridge.blog.)

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