## Introduction

In this article, we will cover two intermediate trick-taking techniques that will help you make or defeat a contract

The Hold-Up play

Suit Combination/Planning

## The Hold-Up Play

In bridge, entries are extremely important. For example, suppose you have ♠AKQJT98765432

You presumably have 13 tricks. But what if the contract is NT, and you never have the lead? Then you take 0 spade tricks! You lack an entry to your hand, which means you cannot take your tricks.

The hold-up play seeks to disrupt the opponent’s entries.

Example:

Contract: 3NT — you need 9 tricks.

How many tricks do you have?

1 in ♠, 2 in ♥, 3 in ♦, 0 in ♣ — 6 sure tricks. And you have the potential of developing 3 in clubs.

What is the danger?

Answer: The danger is that your opponents have a lot of spades, and when you give up the lead to the ♣A, they can run their spades and take enough tricks to beat 3NT.

How do you prevent that?

Answer: The key is to not win the first trick with the A. Instead, “duck (or hold up)” by playing small. Duck again on the second spade trick. Only win with the A on the third round.

This way, if the defender with 3 or less spades have the ♣A, they will be unable to return a spade to defeat the contract. In other words, the defender with the two remaining spade tricks has no entries to enjoy them! If spades split 4-4, they can only take 4 tricks (3 in ♠, 1 in ♣).

The contract will still fail if the defender with 5+ spade also have ♣A, but in that case, there is nothing you can do.

### The Hold-Up Play on Defense

The Hold-Up play can also be used on defense!

Example:

Say this is dummy’s (North) hand: xxx-xx-Jxx-KQJT9

You are East, holding xxxx-Kx-QT3-A43

Declarer is playing in 3NT.

When declarer leads up to dummy’s K, do you want to win it?

Answer: Probably not!

Imagine this is the club suit:

KQJT9

xx Axx

xxx

If you win the A on the 1st or 2nd trick, declarer has 4 club tricks. But if you duck the 1st and 2nd tricks (HOLD IT UP), now you can win the 3rd trick, and declarer is limited to 2 club tricks if dummy has no entries.

## Suit Combinations/Planning

It is important for a good player to analyze how to best tackle a single suit. This is a difficult skill to develop simply because of how many possible combinations there are. Additionally, by changing just one card, the best play can change.

Example:

Planning:

7NT → You need 13 tricks

Guaranteed tricks: 3 in ♠, 3 in ♥, 3 in ♦, 3 in ♣ → Need to make 1 more

♠ offers the best chance

How do we play spades without losing a single trick?

Analysis:

Your opponents have 4 spades, J876.

If the split 2-2 or 3-1, you can drop them with AKQ

→ The only danger is if they split 4-0

How can you play for 4-0?

How can you play if West has all 4?

How can you play if East has all 4?

Can you play for both?

Solution

You cash the K or Q on the first round. (Not the A)

If both opponents follow, then the split is no worse than 3-1, so just cash the other 2 honors

If West shows out, play a small towards the A. Then, play a small from the dummy towards your hand, finessing East’s J.

If East shows out, play a small, finessing West’s J.

You will win 5 tricks in this suit 100% of the time

Example:

Planning:

7NT → You need 13 tricks

Guaranteed tricks: 3 in ♠, 3 in ♥, 3 in ♦, 3 in ♣ → Need to make 1 more

♠ offers the best chance

How do we play spades without losing a single trick?

Analysis:

Your opponents have 4 spades, JT76.

If the split 2-2 or 3-1, you can drop them with AKQ

→ The only danger is if they split 4-0

How can you play for 4-0?

How can you play if West has all 4?

How can you play if East has all 4?

Can you play for both?

Solution:

You cash the A on the first round. (Not the K or Q)

If both opponents follow, then the split is no worse than 3-1, so just cash the other 2 honors

If West shows out, play a small towards your hand, planning to finesse East’s JT.

If East shows out, you go down → nothing you could’ve done.

You will win 5 tricks in this suit 95% of the time.

Example:

Planning:

6NT → You need 12 tricks

Guaranteed tricks: 3 in ♠, 3 in ♥, 2 in ♦, 1 in ♣ → Need to make 3 more

♣ offers the best chance

How do we create 3 extra tricks in ♣ without losing more than 1 trick?

Analysis:

Your opponents have 5 clubs, KQ765.

Think about how the K and Q are distributed

Can you make if both are in West? How?

Can you make if both are in East? How?

Can you make if the two are split? How?

Is there any way to combine those scenarios and maximize your chances?

Solution:

You play small from South

If West plays small, play small from dummy

If this loses to East’s K or Q, win their return and play small from South, planning on finesse West again.

If this wins, return to South and finesse West again.

If West plays the K or Q, cover it with the A. Then, your JT98 can knock out the remaining honor.

This plan works unless East has BOTH the K and Q (~75% chance of success)

This suit combination is called a Double-finesse

### Suit Combination Rapid Round

1.

AK32

JT98

What is the best way to win 4 tricks? (assume ample entries to either hand)

Answer: Plan on finessing the suit by playing West to have the Q. First cash the A (or K) to guard against East holding stiff Q. Then, cross to South and run the J.

2.

AK432

JT98

What is the best play for 5 tricks?

Answer: In bridge, we have the saying “eight ever, nine never”. This means that when deciding whether to finesse the Q or play to drop it, we finesse if we have an 8 card suit but we play to drop the Q if we have a 9 card suit.

In this combination, we can play the AK and hope East has Qx. Or, we can play West to have Qxx and run the J. Because we have a 9 card suit, we should play the AK and hope to drop the Q.

Note for examples 1 and 2: missing just the Q, the chances are a lot in favor for finessing with 8 cards. However, playing for the drop is just slightly better than finessing with 9 cards. Other factors such as bidding can easily swing it to make finessing more favorable.

3.

AQT

432

What is the best play for 3 tricks? What percentage of the time will you win 3 tricks? 2 tricks? 1 trick?

Answer: To score 3 tricks, we want to hope West has both the KJ. We first finesse the T. Afterwards, we finesse the Q. Note that we cannot first finesse the Q, because if we do so, we will not score the T. The chance of 3 tricks is 25% (West holding both KJ), the chance of 2 tricks is 50% (The K and J split between EW) and the chance of 1 trick is 25% (East holding both K & J)

## Summary

The timing of when you win a trick can be very important! By refraining from winning a trick immediately, you mess up your opponent’s entries, preventing them from enjoying their established winners. This is what we call a Hold-Up Play.

As a good declarer, you must be able to analyze suits and figure out how to best play the suit. It is not a good idea to memorize suit combinations (because of how many there are!), but instead try to figure it out.

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