Third and fifth opening leads were originally designed for four or five card suits, respectively. From a four card suit, the third highest card is led. From a five card suit (or longer), the fifth highest card is led.

Examples:

  • K953 - lead the 5.

  • Q9762 - lead the 2.

  • J86542 - lead the 4.

Alternatively, many players use third and fifth leads from an even or odd number of cards, respectively. The opening leader leads the third highest card from an even number of cards in a suit, and the fifth highest card from an odd number.

Examples:

  • K953 - lead the 5.

  • Q9762 - lead the 2.

  • J86542 - lead the 6.

The difference between the original practice is subtle - from a six card suit, the third highest card is led instead of the fifth highest card.

The benefit of third and fifth leads is that they help partner gauge your suit length. Playing standard leads, the 2 would be led from both K92 and K972. Playing third and fifth however, the lead of a 2 always indicates a three or five card suit. It's easier for partner to try guess whether you hold three or five cards in the suit, rather than whether you hold three or four.

A disadvantage of third and fifth leads is that the third highest card is sometimes too costly to lead. For example, leading the 9 from KJ92 can easily blow a trick.


Other Considerations

Third and fifth leads are used in conjunction with the Rule of 10 and 12. These mathematical formulas are used by the opening leader's partner to count how many higher cards declarer has in the suit.

See also

  • Ace from Ace-King
    The practice of leading the ace when holding the ace and king of a suit.

  • Fourth-best leads
    The practice of leading the 4th-highest card from a 4-card holding or longer.

  • Jack denies, Ten implies
    A lead agreement whereby the jack denies a higher honor, but the 10 does not.

  • Journalist leads
    A conventional system of leads used against no-trump contracts.

  • MUD
    The practice of leading the middle card from three small cards.

  • Rule of 10 and 12
    Mathematical formulas used by the defense to gauge declarer's hand after a third or fifth lead.

  • Rusinow leads
    The practice of leading the second-ranking honor from any two honors like A-K or K-Q.

  • Standard leads
    A table of standard leads against suit and no-trump contracts.

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