Second Hand Low
When a low card is led from declarer’s hand or from the dummy and you are the second person to play to the trick, it’s usually right not to play your highest card, because you don’t want to waste your big cards capturing only low cards from declarer. Ideally you would like to use your aces to capture declarer’s kings, your kings to capture declarer’s queens etc.
There are exceptions:
Don’t play second hand low if it will allow declarer to win a trick too cheaply. With a strong holding in the suit, you may need to split your honours e.g.
declarer plays the ♥2 towards ♥AJ106 in the dummy. You are second to play, and you hold: ♥KQ953. It's best to "split" your honours and play one of the ♥K or ♥Q, because you don't want declarer to win a trick with the ♥J or ♥10.
Don’t play second hand low if you could defeat the contract by playing high. e.g. In this situation - Declarer leads the ♦5 towards this dummy, and you are second, next to play after declarer's ♦5. Dummy has ♦Q107. You hold the ♦A86. You know you can defeat the contract if you win your ♦A here, so don't follow the "second player plays low" suggestion, but rise with your ♦A.
If declarer leads a high card, you should generally cover an honour with an honour if you have a higher card. You should do this however only if it’s likely to promote a trick for your side, If declarer leads from touching cards, you should generally wait to cover the last card led. (More about this next lesson).
The defenders are able to work a lot out from the way declarer plays the hand too. Here's a common situation where we need to think carefully. You're looking at this in dummy and the contract is 4♠: Bidding: 1♠ (South) P 4♠ (North) Declarer leads a low spade towards dummy. (There are plenty of entries to dummy).
Declarer leads the ♠2
Your first thought would be to jump up with your ♠K, because you might not make it next time if you duck and the ♠A is played. But stop and think: where is the ♠A? Would declarer be playing spades this way if they held the ♠A?
The answer is definitely no, because they would have taken the spade finesse if they held the ♠A, by crossing over to dummy in another suit, and leading the ♠Q. You know from the bidding that North South have at lease ten spades between them. So YOUR PARTNER will be holding the singleton ♠A!
If you play your ♠K now you will crash partner's ♠A, and instead of making two spade tricks, you'll (unhappily) make only one!
Another situation is to play low in second seat when you see a singleton in dummy. Let's say the opponents are in a contract of 4♥, and you hold ♥A65, and dummy has a singleton heart. Admittedly this may not be their best contract, but that's what you're defending. Declarer may hold something like ♥KQ10943, and if you rise with your ♥A, this will be the only trump trick for the defenders.
♥7 (this card is led from dummy)
Partner holds: You hold:
If, as second player, you play the ♥6 or ♥5 and NOT the ♥A, your side will make two heart tricks; partner's♥J and your ♥A.
Making Life Hard for Declarer
Sometimes you play low in second seat to force declarer to guess which card to play from dummy. If you hold ♣A106 and you see ♣KJ86 in dummy, when declarer leads a low card towards dummy, you would play the ♣6, not the ♣A (unless of course it was the setting trick!) because declarer might be missing the ♣Q as well as the ♣A, and have to guess where these honours are. If they guess wrongly, you will make two tricks in the suit. Don't help them by rising with your ♣A, BUT whatever happens, don't hesitate and fumble with your cards and then play low. This is not acceptable. Be aware of the situation early on in the hand, and prepare to play low smoothly!
Again as defenders, there are a lot of clues for you in the way declarer is playing the hand, and also what you can see in dummy!
Test your knowledge
The quiz below may not work properly on some mobile devices. If you are having trouble using it, please click here to open the quiz in its own window.