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Holdups Not Just For Notrump

  by Richard Pavlicek

Almost every bridge player is familiar with the holdup play, in which declarer does not win his ace (or other stopper) on the first round of the suit. The purpose is to break up the opponents’ communication. Many players, however, apply this tactic exclusively at notrump contracts and are unaware of its importance at suit contracts. In today’s deal, South became declarer in four hearts after a sound auction. Especially notice North’s raise to three hearts, which was proper with a doubleton since South had rebid his heart suit to show at least six.

4 H South
E-W Vul
S A Q 6 4 3
H 10 8
D J 9
C K J 9 3


1 S
3 H

1 H
2 H
4 H
S J 10 7
H J 5
D Q 10 7 5 3
C 8 7 5
TableS K 9 8
H 9 4 2
D K 8 6
C A Q 6 2

Lead: D 5
S 5 2
H A K Q 7 6 3
D A 4 2
C 10 4

West led the diamond five to the nine, king, and ace; and declarer considered his best move. Unfortunately, he should have made this consideration one trick earlier; for now the contract was unmakable.

South finally led the club 10 to East’s queen, and a diamond was returned to West’s queen. West then shifted to the spade jack to scuttle the contract. There was no way to avoid the loss of four tricks (one diamond, two clubs, and one spade).

Let’s go back to that first trick. Declarer should have held up his diamond ace, allowing East’s king to win. If East returns a diamond, South wins the ace, ruffs his last diamond in dummy, and draws trumps in three rounds. The club 10 is then led and the contract is assured, regardless of the location of the club and spade honors.

If East instead returns a trump at trick two, South wins and immediately attacks clubs — then if East leads another trump, South draws trumps and leads his last club to establish two club winners in dummy.

Exactly what did the holdup play accomplish? As usual, it broke up the opponents’ communication; and, specifically, it prevented West from gaining the lead to attack spades.

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© 1984 Richard Pavlicek