Mike’s Bridge Lesson


When you read an article about the holdup play, you can usually spot the key play.

The key is to gain enough understanding so that you will know the right play in real life.

You have seen the subject of this article, so you should know what to do in the situation that follows.

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

You, South, open 2NT. North raises you to 3NT. West leads the ♣K, East playing the 4. Should you take it?

Here is what happens if you duck it. West will switch to the ♠2, and East will play the king. Do you wish you had taken the first trick now? If you take this trick, East might be able to get in with the K. A spade return would give you a sinking feeling.

Take trick one over. Go back and win the first trick with the ♣A.

You intend to take the diamond finesse, and if East has the king, you are safe because the worst that can happen is that the defenders take three club tricks, which would mean West led the singleton ♣K against your contract. You can expect that to happen virtually never.

When you take the first trick and lead the Q, West covers. Are you home? It looks like you now have a spade, three hearts, five diamonds, and a club. That is an overtrick.

Your refusing the holdup at trick one turned out not to matter, but you get credit for spotting the dangers of holding up at trick one. Holdups are important but they do require you to see a need. On many hands, grabbing an early trick may be best.

Is that all there is to this contract? Think about it for a moment before you read on.

You were right to take the first club. It is dangerous to duck it given the potential for a spade switch. But what you do next is important, too.

When you lead the Q and find West with the king, you still are at the mercy of one factor. You need diamonds to divide 3–2. That is a 68% chance, so even though West has played the K, you are not home yet.

If you win the A and continue the suit, you will discover that diamonds divide 4–1. You can take three diamond tricks but not four and not five. The solution?

It is the holdup! But not the one you saw first. This time, you are not holding up on one of the opponents’ leads, you are holding up on a suit that you are leading yourself. Let West win his K. Now you have nine tricks as long as diamonds divide no worse than 4–1. Do you know how often five cards will divide 3–2 or 4–1? The answer is that they will divide 3–2 or 4–1 about 96% of the time.

Coming back to the deal, if you can make 3NT almost a certainty by letting the defenders have that K, you will have done something extremely good.

If you are playing matchpoints, you might hate the thought of giving up a trick you do not have to lose, but if you are playing IMPs, ducking this trick will be rewarded a third of the time.

Nice play.