Joan Butts
Joan Butts
On Saturday 20 September 2014 ABF Teaching Coordinator Joan Butts delivered a workshop at Peninsula Bridge Club on “Defence: Keeping Our Communications and Interfering with Declarer’s”. She has kindly allowed us to publish her notes below which can also be found on her site, Joan Butts Bridge. If you join her site (go to her home page) you will also be able to play through the associated practice hands.

Holding Up

Declarer regularly establishes tricks in long suits to make their contract. Once they’ve done this, they often need an entry to reach their winners. To make things difficult for declarer, the defenders mustn’t take their winners until they can break declarer’s communication with dummy. For example: Declarer South
Q J 10 4 2
8 5 4 A 9 6
K 3
Declarer plays the K to force the A, promoting the Q J 10 4 for four tricks. If the defender sitting East doesn’t take their A until the second round, declarer won’t be able to reach these winners unless there’s an entry in another suit. The defenders can help each other with a count signal when declarer is playing the suit. This means that instead of telling partner whether you like the suit or not (it’s a suit declarer is playing on for tricks, after all), you tell partner how many cards you have in the suit. If playing natural count West plays the 4 followed by the 5, (playing low high to show an odd number) East will work out that declarer started with two spades, and will take their A the second time the suit is played. If declarer has an entry in another suit, your holdup play will not help, but at least you did your best. Declarer South
Q J 10 4 2
8 5 4 3 A 9 6
Here if declarer leads the K and you win the first trick with the A, declarer can use an outside entry to get to dummy’s winners and take four tricks. If you hold up, declarer can use the external entry to get to dummy, but when you win the trick, declarer would need a second entry to dummy to get back to the established winners. If there was only one outside entry to dummy, your hold-up play restricts declarer to one trick in the suit. You might think it is dangerous to holdup with an ace in a suit contract, but if there is only one entry to dummy, then sacrificing your ace might be worthwhile. Here’s another opportunity to make declarer’s life difficult by holding up your winner. Declarer South
A J 10 9 6 5
8 2 K 7 4
Q 3
Trying to establish winners in this suit, declarer leads the Q and plays a low card from dummy. This would work if partner held the K, as partner’s Q would win the trick and declarer would repeat the finesse. It would also be successful if you won the first trick with the K, as the remaining cards in dummy would be winners and declarer would have a low card left to get there. If you let the Q hold the first trick, declarer will probably take the finesse again, thinking you do not hold the K. If declarer does take the finesse a second time, you now win your K. Unless declarer can reach dummy in another suit, you have successfully stranded declarer from the winners there. Your partner helped a lot by playing the 8 followed by the 2 to show an even number of cards in that suit (assuming you are playing natural count). Declarer South
A J 10 9 6 5
8 2 K 7 4
Q 3
In this similar situation, when declarer plays the Q, your partner should signal with the 2 to show an odd number of cards. If you have nerves of steel and can play without hesitation, you will NOT win the K! Why? Because it’s odds on that declarer, thinking the finesse worked and your partner is holding the K, will take the finesse again. If you take the K on the first round, declarer has an entry to reach the five winners over there, but by holding up you give them a chance to go wrong.

Attacking Entries

Another way to make life difficult for declarer is by driving out their entries, before they are ready to use them.
A 5 7 4 2 J 5 4 K J 10 9 3
10 6 4 J 10 9 8 9 6 3 8 6 2 K Q 9 3 A 5 10 8 7 2 A 7 5
J 8 7 2 K Q 6 3 A K Q Q 4
Contract 3NT Lead: J From the lead it is likely that declarer has the K and Q. So win the A, and consider what declarer will try to do to make the contract. They will surely play on the club suit to promote winners there, so you should switch to a spade (your K). This way you force declarer to win their A, before they’ve had time to promote their club suit. Then, when declarer plays clubs, your partner will signal with the 2, showing an odd number of cards. This means that declarer has two clubs, so if you hold up your A until the second round, you’ve broken declarer’s communications with dummy. Declarer will make seven tricks, but not nine, without the help of the club suit. By switching to the K, you took declarer’s entry to the club suit away before they wanted you to. The lead of the K did cost a trick, because if you don’t play spades at all, you will make two spade tricks. But the sacrifice is worthwhile because You have stopped declarer making four clubs tricks.


You’re often faced with the problem of which suit to discard when you can’t follow suit. If you know that declarer has a long suit in their hand or dummy, that’s the suit you should hold onto, especially if you have a holding like Jxxx or Qxx. You will make a trick here if you hold the small cards in your suit.

Defending against Finesses

Don’t disclose the location of your cards when declarer is leading a card up towards a holding like KJ.
A 9 6 5 4 Q 10 7 2
8 3
If declarer leads a low card towards dummy, you must play low (without hesitating and showing declarer you have a problem) to leave declarer with a guess. When you duck, declarer doesn’t know whether to play dummy’s K or J.


You normally wait to cover the last honour led from dummy when declarer is finessing. There are times when you give declarer a more difficult time by covering immediately.
Q J 9 2
6 5 4 K 10
A 8 7 3
If declarer leads the Q from dummy, planning to finesse, you make it easy if you play the 10. The Q will win the trick and now that the 10 has appeared, declarer can repeat the finesse losing no tricks in the suit. If you cover the Q with the K, declarer may play a small one up to the 9, and it will lose to your 10. In general, though, don’t cover if there is nothing to promote in your partnership hands.

Declarer’s Hold up Play

Declarer must hold up to disrupt the defenders’ communications too. Here’s the classic example:
8 3
K Q J 10 9 7 6 4
A 5 2
The K is led, and declarer should not take the A until the third round, to break the communications between the defenders. It’s easier for declarer as they can see both hands, as opposed to the defenders.