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 heart  club  THIRD HAND  diamond  spade 

Number of Players:      Two.

The Deck:      24 Cards (strip out 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8).

The Deal:      Twelve cards are dealt to each player.

The Third Hand:      Out of these twelve cards, four are removed and put aside by each player - combined to make a third hand of eight cards.1 This hand is to be used later.

The Bidding:      The non-dealer takes one card from his hand and places it, face up or face down, to the middle of the table on his left. This card is significant - if face up this card stipulates both the value of his bid for the contract and the high rank of the deal 2 if the bid is successful - if face down this constitutes no bid. The dealer then places his card on his left - he must either top a bid with a higher-ranked card (suits are irrelevant), discard face down (no bid), or make the contract his own with an initial bid. The higher bid sets up high rank, this bid also having a contract value (see table below), and locks that player into the role of contract holder. If there is no contract (both players not bidding) then Kings are the highest rank (Aces are special, see below).

Trumps:      The third hand is then shuffled and cut, and the cut card is placed, face up, between the two bid cards. The suit of this card determines the trump suit for this deal (there is always a trump suit in Third Hand).

The middle of the table should now look something like this:

heart    club

(Face Down -
No bid)

diamond    spade

heart    club


diamond    spade

heart    club

unsuccessful bid
(Face Down -
No bid)

diamond    spade

The Exchange:      The contract holder then has the option to exchange his hand with the third hand. There is no penalty for doing so. If there is no contract then this is not an option for either player.

The Contract:      The contract bid locks the contract holder into making a certain amount of points from tricks collected:

Rank of bid cardHigh Rank in dealValue of Contract

The Play:      The contract holder then leads. If there is no contract then the non-dealer leads. Players must follow suit if possible, otherwise they may trump or discard. Highest ranking card of suit led (ace is low when led, high when played second, or stipulated as high rank in the contract) takes trick unless trumped by trump suit. Winner leads to next trick.

The Scoring:      Aces captured in tricks score one. Picture cards in tricks captured score ten. Tens and nines captured score face value. Points are claimed by both players. If there is an active contract, then the points collected by the contract holder needs to equal or exceed its value. If this is the case, then the difference between the two player's scores is added to the score of the holder; if not made then this difference is subtracted. If all three cards on the table are face up (ie both players bade for contract) then differences between the scores are doubled. If there is no contract, then only the scores from tricks are claimed.

The player who scored the most3 points deals the next hand, and play begins again until one player wins. In a tie the next hand is dealt by the non-dealer.

To Win:      The highest score past 500 points wins the game.


  1. For example, this third hand could be used to discard weaker cards, or to stack with a long suit in the hope that suit comes up trumps. If the latter is the case, it is usually in that player's interests to hold the contract.
  2. "Beats a King" - for example if Jack is high rank then the order is (A)-J-K-Q-10-9-(A). If Ace is high rank then the order is A-K-Q-J-10-9.
  3. Most points refers to net points - that is, points for each player's tricks after the difference has been incorporated (added if contract has been made or subtracted if not made).
    A suggestion for ease of scoring would be to ascertain the two scores, and record both if no contract. If there is a contract the score of the non-holder is recorded, then the difference between the two scores attributed to the other player for the final score to be recorded. A tied score is relatively common in this game.

Strategy Guide

How do we enjoy this game? The key is in stacking the third hand. Think back to the old rock-paper-scissors theme and you’re getting warm. One strategy will beat another, but be negated by a third. How many strategies are there? We’ve found four:

Beginning Strategies for stacking the third hand:

These strategies do not require anticipation of your opponent’s intention, thus, they are ideal for beginning players:

  1. Put your four lowest cards (aces are high in this equation), regardless of suit (but try to keep your hand balanced), into the third hand. When asked to bid, decline (put your next weakest card face down). Thus you are left with a stronger overall hand that should have some exposure to the trump suit. Plus, the third hand is made weaker should your opponent be chasing it. This is good defensive strategy; particularly useful when dealer and leading on the scorecard!
  2. Put four cards of one suit into the third hand, and if possible bid for contract with your long rank, the higher the better, but only what you are prepared to risk (given the caveat that the return for making contract exceeds the risk). With this strategy, you have at least a four in eight chance of getting your suit as trumps - swap, and you should be able to get close to your bid with at least three of these trump cards. This is offensive strategy.

Intermediate Strategies:

These are more fun, trying to anticipate (or betting on) your opponent’s intentions. Of course your opponent will second guess you, but these strategies can lead to higher return.

  1. This is a good one for the non dealer. If you have two of one suit, it is a given that your opponent has four and may try strategy no (2) with this suit. You can weaken his ploy by trying strategy no (1) (try not to dump his long suit), but bid with your long rank (but not too high a bid) for contract. This is a dummy bid, a bluff that forces your opponent into outbidding you for a higher contract. Given that you have weakened the third hand, there is less chance of your opponent making contract - plus double the penalty if he misses! If he declines, it is likely he has played strategy no (1) himself. There is even the chance he has loaded the third hand with his long suit and been bluffed out of it; for your benefit if this suit duly comes up trumps. No matter the outcome you have kept strength for your contract with your high rank and exposure to trump suit. This forcing strategy can be quite effective, but whether to chance taking the third hand if your opponent declines to bid can be guesswork.
  2. If you have two of one suit, put your two into the third hand, along with the two highest cards of another suit (these will come in handy for the last two tricks). Bid high, because you must outbid your opponent if he has indeed played as expected. If non dealer, an ace bid (king will suffice if you have all the aces) is required. Once you are the contract holder, you have a six in eight chance of getting this suit as trumps. If the suit doesn’t come up you are playing a no trump deal. More likely however that it does so swap and you are guaranteed 5 tricks, which will get you a long way toward making contract. You can get a good score here, but this is a gamble in the sense that your opponent may have already bailed out (deliberately or not) with strategy no (1).

Advanced Strategies:

  1. I hope that it is apparent that there are combinations of the above strategies available, and it is these that make up advanced play. Certainly once the four above are in your play, you can combine them for an each way bet, eliminate your exposure, strengthen a weaker hand and/or negate your opponent’s strength, take a calculated risk, and so on. With practice your game can transcend the basic rock-paper-scissors theme.

The play

You’ve only got your opponent to worry about, so (thankfully) the trick-taking component is not too complicated. Lead with the lowest card that could take the trick, or at least one that will flush out the stronger card. When following, again the lowest card to win the trick is good. When following, your ace will always win, but cheapens the value of the trick :-) so the overall benefit may be to get back the lead.

© Matthew Shields 2004

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Last updated: 31st May 2005