Source: Karen Walker Site The hold-up play is a strategy that can prevent your opponents from cashing tricks in their long suit. It’s usually used when declaring notrump, but can also be used when playing a suit contract. The most common situation is when the opponents lead a suit where you have the ace but no other honors. If you will have to surrender the lead later (because you need to drive out a high card in another suit), you “hold up” (duck) the opponent’s lead at least once and allow him to win the trick. The purpose is to try to void one opponent in this suit. Later, if that opponent gets the lead, he won’t have any cards left in the suit to lead over to his partner’s good tricks. In the typical hold-up play, you duck your ace twice, then win the third lead. Here’s an example. As South, you’re declaring 3NT and West leads the ♠K. Before you play, count your sure tricks, suit by suit:
  • Spades: One sure trick — the Spade SuitA.
  • Hearts: Three sure tricks — the Heart SuitAKQ.
  • Diamonds: No sure tricks (yet) because you don’t hold the ace.
  • Clubs: One sure trick — the Club SuitA.
You have only five sure winners, but you need nine tricks. Diamonds is the only suit that can provide four extra tricks, so you need to drive out the ace. How can you stop the opponents from running spades when they get the lead with their Diamond SuitA? You have to hope that the player who wins the Diamond SuitA will have no more spades to lead. The only way to make that happen is to run one opponent out of spades. If you win the first or second spade lead, both opponents will still have spades when you lose to the Diamond SuitA. If you wait until the third lead to win your Spade SuitA, then lead diamonds, you’ll make your contract. East will win the Diamond SuitA, but will have no spades to lead to his partner.

Other hold-up plays

Your hold-up honor does not have to be the ace. Suppose you have Spade SuitK32 in your hand and Spade Suit654 in dummy. Your left-hand opponent leads a low spade to his partner’s Spade SuitA, and he leads another spade. You should play your low spade and let him win the second trick. This guards against a spade break of 5-2 or 4-3 in the opponents’ hands. In both cases, your right-hand opponent will be out of spades when you win your Spade SuitK on the third trick. You may want hold up even when you have two stoppers in the opponent’s suit. You’ll need to do this when you can see that later in the hand, you’ll have to lose the lead twice to establish tricks in other suits. If you have Spade SuitAK2 opposite Spade Suit54, for example, let the opponents win the first lead of the suit. Some hold-ups will prevent the opponents from leading the suit a second time. If your left-hand opponent leads the Spade SuitK (showing a suit headed by the Spade SuitKQ) and you hold Spade SuitAJ2, play your Spade Suit2 and let the opponent win the first trick. If he leads spades again, he’ll be leading into your remaining Spade SuitAJ, giving you two tricks. This is often called the “Bath Coup”.

When not to hold up

When you have enough top tricks to make your contract (you will not have to lose the lead to establish tricks).
  • When you have only one opportunity to win a trick in the suit. If you hold Spade SuitQ65 opposite Spade Suit432 and the opponents allow you to win your Spade SuitQ on the first lead, take the trick.
  • When you can develop a lower honor or spot card into a second stopper in the suit. If you have Spade SuitA102 opposite Spade SuitJ5, win the Spade SuitA if the opponents lead or play the Spade SuitK or Spade SuitQ. Your Spade Suit10 will be a trick on the third lead of the suit, after the opponents win their other honor. The same applies if the opponents play a high honor and your holding is Spade SuitA2 opposite Spade Suit10982 or Spade SuitA983 opposite Spade SuitJ2.
  • When there’s a possibility that the opponents will switch to another, more dangerous suit. Don’t forget to follow us @