In the game of Spades, is the rule of thumb: "Third player play high" exists? (as in the game of Bridge)

The logic behind playing third high is is to prevents opponents winning a trick cheaply.

  • In what situation this rule apply?
  • What are the exceptions?

If the highest card in the suit (known as the Boss) wasn't played yet, should the third player play:

  1. her highest card?
  2. her highest card below the Boss-1?
  3. Never play the King before the Ace is out but do play the Queen?
  • 1
    This is going to depend on how many tricks have been played in the suit among other things.
    – Joe W
    Aug 26, 2018 at 23:20
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    @JoeW that logic applies to bridge as well, yet the rule of thumb exists in bridge...
    – John
    Aug 27, 2018 at 2:10
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    I dont see why this question is opinion-based. This rule in Bridge is not opinion-based.
    – Cohensius
    Aug 27, 2018 at 17:38
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    This question is most definitely NOT opinion based. There are sound reasons why the rule is accepted, as well as very definite and well understood exceptions - specifically to play top-of-a-sequence by Second Hand when held and a higher honour could be in either or both Third and Fourth Hand. Every intermediate level Bridge player knows these exceptions to the rule. Aug 27, 2018 at 20:51
  • 2
    Note also that not a single one of the contributors who voted to close has even a single tag contribution in a relevant related game, such as Spades, Bridge, Euchre or Hearts. It is a farce that they felt entitled to vote rather than abstain on closing this question. Aug 27, 2018 at 20:53

1 Answer 1


Contract Bridge (whether Rubber or Duplicate) is a similar game to Spades but with greater information available to players do to the assets of Dummy being known to all. This makes card play in Bridge a true science. However many sound lessons can still be gleaned for use in other trick-taking games such as Spades, Hearts, Euchre and Whist.

Multiple National Champion Richard Pavlicek discusses many aspects of Second hand play here. The main exceptions to the guide of Second Hand Low are:

  • With at least three honours where at least two are touching, play the highest of the touching honours. This is generally the same card one would lead as First Hand to open the suit.

  • Cover an honour led with your highest card if (a) you have two or more cards higher or (b) it is the second or subsequent round of that suit being led by an honour from First Hand.

  • From a strategic standpoint it is desired to win the trick (a) to lead trumps (Spades obviously in Spades); (b) to provide partner with a ruff before trumps are drawn; or (c) with a doubleton to unblock the suit and provide partner with a count in the suit.

  • With holdings of only small cards there is great strategic and tactical value to agreeing with partner to play a remainder-count echo where (a) the lowest card is played from a remaining odd number of small cards; (b) the highest card is played from a doubleton remaining; and (c) the second highest card is played from a 4- or 6-card holding. When both partners have learned to read these count signals in building a complete count of the hand, some esoteric end-plays become accessible in the later tricks.

Numerous examples of how these guidelines assist in maximizing a partnership's rick-taking potential are readily available on the Internet's many Contract Bridge sites, usually under the main heading of Defensive Card Play such as here (again) by Richard Pavlicek.


  • Ruff - When out of the suit led, playing a trump (ie a Spade) in an attempt to win the trick.

  • Honour - While Honours are normally regarded as the cards Ten through Ace, for the purposes of this analysis, the Nine should be regarded as an honour also.

  • Touching Honours - Two cards of the same suit, both honours, of adjacent rank such as AK, KQ, QJ, JT, or T9.

  • Doubleton - A two-card holding in a suit. Depending on context this might refer to either the original holding of the suit, or to the remaining holding in the suit. Likewise Singleton and Tripleton for 1-card and 3-card holdings in a suit.

  • Echo - The playing of small cards to the first two rounds of a suit such that the card played on the first round is higher than that played on the second. It is usually done with an even number of cards in the suit to assist partner in counting the hands around the table.

    In the Trump suit (always Spades playing Spades) partnerships may find it useful to reverse the signal (echoing with three or five) to explicitly signal possession of an additional Trump (ie Spade) and an ability to ruff in a side suit.

Note on echoing:

While the value is undoubtedly reduced when both Dummy is unexposed and Partner is blind to the meaning, my recommendation would be to still make these plays. They will cost little, and have tactical value in and of themselves - most particularly playing second highest from a 4-card holding (led by 0 or 1 honour) on the first round.

Note on importance of these guidelines

In my university days I shared a house with a group that enjoyed the 3-player Whist variant Nine-Five-Two (or Sergeant Major). It employs a cascading scoring system that results in better card play early on improving one's hand in subsequent deals. My deeper understanding of card combinations and greater discipline at counting the hand was worth perhaps 1/4 of a trick each hand - with the result that I won almost twice my share of games, and virtually 100% of games that lasted longer than 7 or 8 deals. Yes, better card play will very much influence one's success in trick-taking card games.

  • 1
    while I really like your answer, my concern is that this answer is true for Bridge but maybe need some adjustments for Spades. I think that the considerations in Spades are much simpler, e.g., the players I know don't use the 'ask for count / attitude' convention (since less information is reveled).
    – Cohensius
    Aug 28, 2018 at 8:43
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    As an occasional spades player but not a bridge player, I have no idea what the terminology here means. Honours, touching honours, a ruff, a doubleton, a count, etc.
    – Samthere
    Aug 28, 2018 at 8:55
  • Honours - high cards: 10 to A. Touching honours - for example K,Q or Q,J,10. Ruff - a cut - playing spade in a trick lead by non spade. Doubleton - a suit with only 2 cards. a count - a Bridge convention of signaling to your partner how many cards you have in that suit.
    – Cohensius
    Aug 28, 2018 at 9:52
  • @Samthere: Does the new section address your questions sufficiently? Sep 3, 2018 at 10:30
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    @ForgetIwaseverhere Yes, that's much more understandable to a layperson, thanks!
    – Samthere
    Sep 3, 2018 at 11:06

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