Dormer on Deception

The Deceptive Holdup

Every declarer, from time to time, has drunk the bitter dregs in this type of situation:


A Q J 7 5 4
10 3

South is in a notrump contract. He can afford to lose a trick in this suit but has no other entry to dummy. He leads the 10 and it holds, but when he finesses a second time East wins with the king and South’s house of cards collapses.

Your job, when you are defending, is to bring about this type of collapse more often. This may sometimes involve risk, but the risk is frequently justified. Suppose, for example, you are East with this holding:



 A Q J 7 5 4  East (You)
 K 6

If you are to triumph over the forces of darkness you must surely nullify this suit. Therefore you should hold up the king, even though it will be left unprotected. Of course, if your side has already set up all the tricks it can, or if dummy has an independent entry, you may as well grab the trick.

Actually, the deceptive holdup is seldom as risky as it looks. Suppose declarer, with the A Q J opposite x-x, takes a finesse which succeeds. At rubber bridge, if he can see his contract, he may not finesse a second time. At duplicate he can hardly afford not to if there is a prospect of an overtrick.

Hence the firm principle: A defender should usually hold up when the declarer takes a finesse which he likely to repeat. You do not necessarily expect tremendous results — you hope perhaps to cause declarer to waste an entry, or such like.

♠ A Q J 2
8 4 3
K J 2
♣ A 6 3
♠ 9 7 5 ♠ K 10 4
K 10 7 2 A 9 5
Q 10 7 9 8 5 3
♣ Q 8 4 ♣ K 10 7
♠ 8 6 3
Q J 6
A 6 4
♣ J 9 5 2

South is in 1NT and West leads a heart. South is permitted to win, and he takes the spade finesse. If East releases the ♠K, South will probably use his remaining entry, the A, to take the diamond finesse, collecting 120. East should therefore hold up in spades. If South decides to use the A as the entry for a second spade finesse he may wind up with only 90.

In the same way it is often right to duck with an ace. Suppose this is the situation:

K Q 8 4 East (You)
A J 9 3

South is in a trump contract and this is a plain suit. If you can judge there is nothing to be gained by taking the lead, you should duck when South leads low to the king. To repeat the maneuver, South may enter his hand with a entry that could have been used for a better purpose.

When declarer takes a finesse into the closed hand you are faced with more of a challenge, as to duck now may give declarer a trick. For example:

 West (you) 8 6 2
 K 9 3

South leads low from dummy and plays the queen. It would be nice to duck if South had A Q J x, but if he turned up with, say, A Q x x, you would have a lot of explaining to do. Partners are so unimaginative at times. All the same, you very often should duck. Perhaps you can place South with five cards in the suit. If so, the duck is unlikely to cost, as South cannot have less than A Q 10 x x or Q J 10 x x.

Another type of clue may be present. Perhaps in tackling this suit South has neglected another quite promising suit in dummy. In that case you may be able to infer that the suit that he is tackling is at least as strong.

Holdups in bridge, like the violent kind, are apt to be less effective if the victim has advance warning — so you must avoid a fumble. Smoothness is the watchword. The saying that he (or she) who hesitates is lost is especially true of a holdup play, and therefore you must try to think ahead. Take an earlier example:

K Q 8 4 East (You)
A J 9 3

Suppose the general situation favors a duck when South leads this suit, but there is a danger that South may have only a singleton. In that case West will have four and will start an echo. Before South even touches this suit, East must consider which spot card from West will make it safe to duck. It is easy to see that only if West follows with the three — or if South leads the three and West follows with the five — will the duck be safe.

A holdup that is without risk when smoothly performed may become fraught with danger when accompanied by a fumble.

♠ A
K 6 4
9 6 5 3
♣ J  9 6 4 2
♠ 10 6 2 ♠ Q 9 8 5 4
A 9 7 2 Q J 3
A J 4 Q 10 7 2
♣ K 8 5 ♣ 10
♠ K J 7 3
10 8 5
K 8
♣ A Q 7 3

South opened a weak notrump and all passed. West led the 2 and East won with the J, returning the queen to dummy’s king.

South led a low club from the table and finessed the queen, West ducking. This was the right idea, for if East has ♣A 10 the suit could be cut off. Unfortunately, Wesy hesitated just a little — and South, noticing, continued with a low club towards the table!

Now West was in a fine old pickle in case East really did have the ♣A. He decided to duck for a second time and South, on winning in dummy, cased the black aces and threw West in with a heart, making sure of nine tricks.

But despite such ups and downs I firmly believe the duplicate player should hold up more often — and certainly much more often than the rubber bridge fiend. For at duplicate you are at least protected from what happened to East in this deal:

♠ A J 10 6
K J 6
J 8 4
♣ 9 7 4
♠ 5 3 2 ♠ Q 9 7
9 8 4 3 A Q 5
7 5 2 A Q 10 3
♣ 8 5 3 ♣ 10 6 2
♠ K 8 4
10 7 2
K 9 6
♣ A K Q J

South opened 1NT and was raised to three. West led the 3, dummy played low, and East played off three rounds of hearts, awaiting developments.

South entered his hand with the ♠K and played a second spade, finessing the jack. East had been thinking, however, and realized that if he won with the queen, South, with only three spade tricks, one heart and four clubs would eventually be forced to lead a diamond from dummy, making nine tricks.

East ducked, therefore, hoping South would re-enter his hand and finessed again. In that case he would go down, being cut off from the long spade and the dummy entry needed to lead towards his K.

But this was rubber bridge — and when the ♠J was played West made as though to reach across and collect the trick which he though East was about to take. Whereupon South gave East a pitying look and played the ace next.

Verily it is written — in Ecclesiasticus, iv. 31 — let not thine hand be stretched out to receive.

Please follow and like us: