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:
How can you stop the opponents from running spades when they get the lead with their ♦A?
You have to hope that the player who wins the ♦A 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 ♦A. If you wait until the third lead to win your ♠A, then lead diamonds, you'll make your contract. East will win the ♦A, but will have no spades to lead to his partner.
Your hold-up honor does not have to be the ace. Suppose you have ♠K32 in your hand and ♠654 in dummy. Your left-hand opponent leads a low spade to his partner's ♠A, 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 ♠K 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 ♠AK2 opposite ♠54, 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 ♠K (showing a suit headed by the ♠KQ) and you hold ♠AJ2, play your ♠2 and let the opponent win the first trick. If he leads spades again, he'll be leading into your remaining ♠AJ, giving you two tricks. This is often called the "Bath Coup".
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 ♠Q65 opposite ♠432 and the opponents allow you to win your ♠Q 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 ♠A102 opposite ♠J5, win the ♠A if the opponents lead or play the ♠K or ♠Q. Your ♠10 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 ♠A2 opposite ♠10982 or ♠A983 opposite ♠J2.
When there's a possibility that the opponents will switch to another, more dangerous suit.
© 2016 Karen Walker