Blum on Bridge
Holdup and Ducking Strategies

As soon as the beginner has learned as declarer how to finesse, obtain entries to both dummy
and his hand, and how to establish his favorite suit, it becomes time to learn an integral part of
play of the hand. Though both the use of the holdup and ducking are considered elementary,
many advanced declarers fail to use either properly. Hopefully after finishing this article you
will have a clearer understanding of the two strategies.

The main purpose of the holdup is to break communication between the two defenders. In a
no-trump contract it's that simple. We'll discuss another reason to holdup later when in a suit

Assume lho opens the bidding 1-spade and we end up in the final contract of 3 NT. Lho's
opening lead is the spade 3. Dummy is tabled with the 96. We, the declarer, hold A84. An
analysis shows lho must have at least five spades to have opened the bidding, thus rho holds a
maximum of three spades. Also, if lho is leading fourth best we can assume his fifth spade is
the deuce.

Now suppose we didn't know the difference between a bridge holdup and a bank holdup. We
decide to win the trick with our lone stopper, the ace. If we have to give up the lead at some
point during the hand, regardless which defender wins the trick, he will play a spade and their
side will take their four remaining spade tricks, setting the contract.

The holdup occurs at the first trick when we, with our newfound knowledge, decide NOT to
take our ace. Of course the defenders play a second spade and once again we refuse the trick.
When a third spade is led we are forced to win with our remaining spade, the ace, but look
what's happened. Rho no longer has a spade to return to lho so that lho can play his two
remaining spades to set the contract. We have broken their communication. Our plan of play
must be to keep lho from winning a trick. Any finesse that must be taken should be against
lho. Thus, if rho wins a trick he has to lead a suit other than spades.

At this point I shall give you a rule to help you determine at what point in a no-trump contract
during the holdup you should win the trick. It is called "The Rule of 7." When holding one
stopper in the enemy suit, add the number of cards you and dummy have and deduct that
number from 7. That is the number of times you should holdup before winning the trick.
Applying the rule to our example, we held 3 cards in the spade suit and dummy held 2 for a
total of 5. Subtracting 5 from 7 we must holdup twice, as we did, before winning the trick.
Simple enough if you remember the rule.

Incidentally, if dummy in our example held 3 spades added to our 3 we would have had 6
spades and should holdup only once as rho would have no more than a doubleton. Had
dummy and us held 7 spades there would be no need to hold up, 7 minus 7 equals 0.

Often your stopper will be a guarded king instead of a sure winning ace. The decision to take
the first trick or holdup will depend upon two factors. One, who has the ace, lefty or righty
and two, is the king guarded enough times to allow you to refuse taking the trick? Sometimes
you may be fortunate to hold a double stopper in the enemy suit. Don't be fooled by this guise
because it still is usually necessary to holdup before you are forced to win your tricks.

As declarer in a suit contract you may hold something like A4 opposite dummy's 82. Lho
leads this, his strongest suit. If you hold up once, when the defender's win a later trick they
can no longer lead the suit or you will be able to sluff a card in either dummy or your hand and
ruff in the opposite hand. Next week we will discuss that close relative of the holdup called