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Hold Up a Stopper by Julian Pottage

Source: Mr Bridge

When you first learned bridge or whist, you probably took every chance you could to win a trick. Why lose a trick that you could win? Well, if you have a winner, you can win it only once. If it is a sure winner, such as an ace in a no-trump contract, there is no rush to take it. The winner will not run away. The idea of a hold up (refusing to win) is to cut the opposing communications.


You are South in 3NT. West leads the six of spades and East plays the king. You have six top tricks (one spade, two hearts and three clubs). You therefore need three more tricks. The diamond suit will be more than adequate for this purpose.

You need to knock out the ace of diamonds, which means losing the lead. You want to guard against losing four (or more) spades and a diamond. You will need luck and skill to do this. If someone (West you imagine) has five or six spades and the diamond ace, you will go down no matter what. To succeed when the missing ace and long spades are in opposite hands, hold up your ace until the third round. With any luck, whoever wins will be out of spades. If spades are 4-4, the hold up will fail but you will lose only three tricks in the suit. Holding up can also be correct when you have two stoppers.


You are in 3NT. West leads the six of spades and East plays the jack. Suppose that you are blasé through having two stoppers and win the first trick. When you play on diamonds, East comes in with the ace of diamonds and clears the spades while West still has an entry. Down you go. Now try ducking the first trick. No switch can harm you and, since East will have no spade to lead when in with the ace of diamonds, you make 3NT.


This time you are in 5♦. West leads the spade six and East plays the king. This is a suit contract and a hold up is still a good idea. Do you see why? You have no need to cut out the long spades – you can ruff them – but you do want to avoid losing two spades. You can do this with the 5-2 break. Another factor is relevant. If you duck the first trick, you will have a tenace. Holding up is only right because you expect to lose the lead to East. If the club finesse went into the West hand, you would win the first trick. Is it ever wrong to hold up?

Yes, here are common reasons to win quickly:

1 You are weak or wide open in another suit.

2 The suit led is not dangerous.

3 A switch could attack a vital entry.

4 Holding up would cost a trick.

5 Winning blocks the opposing suit


You are South in 3NT. West leads the two of spades and East plays the queen. There are many reasons for winning the first trick. The first is that, if the two is fourth best then West has only four spades – you do not mind losing three spades and a club. The second is that you may well have a double spade stopper if you win. The third is that a heart switch will surely be deadly if West holds the king of hearts. Last but by no means least, a diamond switch terrifies you – this will kill the club suit if someone can hold up the club ace.


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