This is a holdup!


Pat Harrington

Our opponents have an uncanny knack for leading the suit we fear most. A common technique to help declarer cope with a threatening lead is to hold up on his meager stopper — often the ace. Let’s see how this hold-up play can help declarer make his contract here.

♠ 9 4
A 6 5
A 10 9 6 2
♣ K 7 3

 

♠ A 6 5
K 9 4
Q J 7 5
♣ A Q 6

You, South, open 1NT, partner raises to 3NT and West leads the ♠7.

You have seven top tricks, and the opponents have attacked the only suit that is singly stopped. To make 3NT, you must finesse in diamonds.

The key to success, even when the diamond finesse loses, is to analyze the opening lead. Start by assuming that West has spade length (as will be the case most often). If the ♠7 is fourth best, how are spades divided? You don’t know! West might have led from a four-card suit (e. g., ♠K J 8 7), but he might also have led from a six-card suit, possibly ♠K J 8 7 3 2.

If West started with only four spades, the suit is not a threat — East–West can take only three spades and a diamond if East wins the K. What you fear is a 5–3 or 6–2 spade split. It is very fortunate that your play in diamonds will allow only East to gain the lead on a losing finesse. Why? You can deplete East of spades on one of
these scary splits as long as you hold up on winning the ace. The first spade goes to East’s queen. At trick two, East returns the ♠10, which you also refuse to win. The defenders lead a third spade, and you win perforce.

If East has another spade, the suit has broken 4–4. If East has no more spades, he cannot hurt you by winning theK. Take the diamond finesse at trick four and you will make at least 4NT. With the complete deal as shown below, you would have gone down if you had not held up the ♠A two times.

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

In the first example, holding up made declarer 100% certain that he would make his contract. Sometimes, declarer can only hope that holding up will work. What are you hoping for on the next deal? Again, you have opened 1NT as South. Partner raises to 3NT and West leads the K.

♠ A 7 4
9 2
Q J 10 8 3
♣ K 9 5

 

♠ K 8 3 2
A 7 5
K 9 6
♣ A Q 8

From the bidding and the opening lead, you expect West to be leading from at least four hearts. You have no idea of how hearts will split. They could be 4–4, 5–3, 6–2, or even 7–1 (although West might have bid with a really long, good suit). With only one heart stopper, you fear any split but 4–4. A count of tricks tells you that you must develop three additional tricks. The only way to accomplish that is by promoting diamonds — and losing to the A.

All you can do is hope for one of two things — a 4–4 heart split, or finding the player who is short in hearts also holding the A. The first step is to hold up the A until the third heart lead. East and West follow to all three leads. At trick four, it’s time to do your work and build diamond tricks. Don’t make the error of taking black-suit winners first. You will just set up additional tricks for the defenders to use to defeat you. Look at the complete deal below and see how
winning the A at trick three allows you to make this scary contract. When East gets in with the A at trick four, he is out of hearts and has no lead to hurt you.

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