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Contract Bridge
Hold Up and Avoidance Play

  1. What is a Hold Up
  2. Hold Up in NT when you hold A x (x)
  3. Hold Up in NT when you hold K x x
  4. Hold Up in NT when you hold 2 Honours
  5. Avoidance Play
  6. When NOT to Hold Up in NT
  7. Hold Up in Trump contracts
  8. Deals 61 to 64
  9. Quiz - Answers - Review

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BR 18.1 - What is a Hold Up

You are in a contract of 3NT and North leads a small Spade.
Dummy plays low, South plays the 10.     What do you do ?


If you play the Ace on the first trick you win that trick but are now totally defenceless in Spades. When either Opponent regains the lead they will rattle of 4 Spade tricks in succession and you are down one at least !


Instead you should "hold up" your Ace and play low for the first two rounds, as illustrated in the slide show below.

Previous trick - Next trick

By holding up twice and playing your Ace only on the third round, you have exhausted South's Spade cards and isolated North.
If South now regains the lead he has no longer a Spade left to lead to his Partner's winners.
Sure if North gains the lead he will make his two Spade winners, but that is something you must try to avoid during the rest of the game.
(Of course when the 8-card suit is divided 4-4 between the two Opponents then you will also lose a 3rd trick in the suit no matter what, but that is only one more trick instead of two.)

This is the essence of a hold up play in No Trump contracts. You isolate the Opponent that holds a long suit, by exhausting his Partner's cards in that suit.

A hold up is a type of ducking play. But its characteristic feature is that in this case it are the Opponents that lead the suit, instead of you.

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BR 18.2 - Hold Up in NT when you hold A x (x)

A hold up play in a No Trump contract is effective

  1. when the Opponents hold more cards in a suit than you and Dummy combined, and

  2. when Partner of the long suited Opponent has only 3 cards or less in the suit.
The play is mainly applied in situations where Opponents suit is split 5-3 or 5-2.

When the Opponents' cards are divided 5-3, hold up twice, and win with the Ace on the third trick


When the Opponents' cards are divided 5-2 or 6-2, hold up once, and win with the Ace on the second trick. (In such case you can also hold A x doubleton opposite x x x x.)


But if you are not sure of the card length of the short suited Opponent, hold up twice.

If the Opponents hold 8 cards in a suit, divided 4-4 do not hold up, as both hands hold more cards in the suit than you do.

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BR 18.3 - Hold Up in NT when you hold K x x

When you hold K x x instead of A x x, try to follow the same strategy and hold up until the third round against a 5-3 split if you can. But not if you are likely to lose the King.

Therefore as long as your left hand Opponent (N below) keeps the lead it is safe to hold up the King. (Hold up a second round only if Opponent's Ace has dropped. If they still hold it win the second trick with the King, otherwise it will be captured by the Ace in the third round.)


When your right hand Opponent (S) threatens to gain the lead (other than with the Ace), do not hold up but win the trick with your King.


If you do hold up in above situation South will lead the suit again and your King will be captured by North's Ace.

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BR 18.4 - Hold Up in NT when you hold 2 Honours

Whether you hold up a long enemy suit or not very much depends on one question. Can you keep the danger man off the lead when you develop your own suits ? We look at that in the Chapter below.
Subject to that hold up once only when you hold the following Honour combinations in the enemy's long suit.

  1. A K x   opposite   x x
    Hold up once when you will have to lose the lead twice during the game

  2. A J x   opposite   x x
    Hold up once if left hand Opponent leads the King or Queen : the Bath Coup

  3. K Q x   opposite   x x (x)
    Hold up once

  4. K x x   opposite   Q x       or   Q x x   opposite   K x (x)
    Hold up once

  5. K J x   opposite   x x (x)
    Hold up once if either Opponent plays the Queen, unless you are confident that you can keep your right hand Opponent off the lead. In this case capture Opponent's Queen with your King.
The objective of all these hold up situations is that you aim to win the vital 3rd trick. Because in most cases that is the trick which cuts the communication between the two Opponents.

When you hold the Ace in their suit you are in complete control of the hold up and its favourite outcome. However with the Ace in enemy hands (cases , and e above) the outcome can be uncertain when Opponents hold a 5-3 distribution (a 5-2 split is fine).

Take case e for example.
Holding up when the enemy's Queen is played on the first round, will ensure that you always will make a trick in the suit.


But look what happens when both Opponents duck the second Club trick (North holding up his Ace). Declarer is forced to win the trick with his Jack, and the Club communication between N and S is still in tact for the vital 3rd trick.


Therefore in a case like this always consider the following option.
If you can avoid giving the lead to South, you can safely win with the King on the first trick. As long as North gains the lead, your J x will always be a second stopper in the suit.


You can adopt a similar approach in cases and above.

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BR 18.5 - Avoidance Play

The aim of the avoidance play is to prevent the dangerous Opponent from gaining the lead.
An Opponent is the danger man because

  1. he holds the winners of a long suit, often after your hold ups

  2. or he sits in front of a vulnerable K x (x) either in Dummy or in Declarer's hand.
    If the danger man gains the lead he can lead that suit so that his Partner can capture your King and leave the suit unprotected.

  3. or, in a trump contract, the danger man may be able to lead a suit which can be ruffed by his Partner.

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Example 1
You are in a contract of 3 NT and North, who made an overcall in Hearts during the bidding, leads the 4 of Hearts.
You can count 8 sure winners. The 9th trick must clearly come from your long Diamond suit.
Therefore first hold up the first two Heart leads then win the third trick with your Ace.

- Q 10 7
- A 9 3
- A J 10 9 2
- A 8
- A K J 9
- 7 5
- K 7 4
- J 9 7 3

The situation is now as shown below.
North is now the danger man, as he holds two Heart winners in his hands. South on the other hand has no Hearts left..
You can play the finesse in Diamonds in either direction, but if you finesse South for the Queen and North has it instead and wins, he can cash his two Heart winners and your contract is one down.
- Q 10 7
- A J 10 9 2 (lead)
- A 8
- A K J 9
- K 7 4 (play low)
- J 9 7

Therefore you must play the finesse the other way : play the Jack of Diamonds for a direct finesse against North's Queen. Play low in Dummy if North plays low (or play Dummy's King if North plays his Queen). Even when the finesse fails and South wins with the Queen, he can not give the lead to North and your contract is safe, making 10 tricks in total.
This is a typical avoidance play.

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Example 2
Once again you are in a 3NT contract and you can count 7 sure winners. The remaining two tricks can come from your long Diamond suit.
North leads the 4 of Hearts and South plays the Jack. What do you do now ?

In this case South is the dangerous Opponent. If he gains the lead he can play a small Club and your K x will most likely be captured by North, giving the Opponents at once 3 or 4 Club tricks.

- Q 10 7
- A K 3
- A Q 10 8 2
- K 8
- A K J 9
- 8 5
- 9 7 4
- 7 5 3 2

Therefore do not hold up the Heart lead, but capture South's Jack of Hearts with your King.
Next go across to Dummy with a Spade, then lead Dummy's 9 of Diamonds for a double finesse in Diamonds.

- Q 10
- A 3
- A Q 10 8 2 (play low)
- K 8
- A K J
- 8
- 9 7 4 (lead)
- 7 5 3 2

North will win the trick, but he can not endanger you. Win his second Heart lead with your Ace. Then go over to Dummy once more with a Spade and lead Diamond for the second finesse in Diamonds. This has a 75% chance of success and of making your contract.

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BR 18.6 - When NOT to Hold Up

Whether you hold up Opponents' long suit or not is a matter of common sense. Typical scenarios where you not hold up their suit are :

  1. when you can make all the tricks required.

  2. when the 1st trick is your only chance to stop the suit

  3. when an other suit is more dangerous

  4. when you can promote a second stopper
    For example with A J x opposite Dummy's 10 x x capture Opponent's K or Q with your Ace on the first trick

  5. when both Opponents have more cards than you in the suit

  6. when the long suited Opponent sits behind all your finesse positions

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BR 18.7 - Hold Up in Trump contracts

Hold ups in trump contracts are less common, as Opponents' long suit is generally easily controlled by ruffing.
Hold ups in trump contracts are used in the following scenarios :

  1. Against the lead of the King or Queen when Declarer holds A J x: the Bath Coup.
    This ensures two tricks provided the lead comes again from Declarer's left hand Opponent.

  2. When holding A x x   opposite   x x
    Hold up once, play the Ace on the second round, ruff in Dummy on the third round.

  3. When holding A x   opposite   x x (x)
    Hold up once as an avoidance play if you hold a vulnerable K x x in your hand.

Case 3 above would apply in the following scenario.
You are in a 4S contract and North makes the opening lead of the Queen of Hearts

- A Q 10 7 5
- A 9
- K 9 5
- A J 6
- J 9 8
- 7 5
- 8 7 4
- K Q 8 7 3

In this situation hold up once (provided South does not overtake the trick with his King) and win with your Ace on the second round. This will prevent South gaining the lead, for if he does he will lead Diamonds and your vulnerable unprotected Diamond King is likely to be captured. You will then lose 3 Clubs tricks plus one Heart trick and lose the contract.

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BR 18.8 - Deals 61 to 64

Deals 61 to 64 are examples of play as outlined in this lesson.

BR 18.9 - Quiz 18 - Answers - Review

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Copyright © 2006 Michael Furstner (Jazclass). All rights reserved.