Learning when to duck tricks and when to win them is challenging.
It helps to read about ducking situations.
Holdups by declarer
When you are declaring a contract or when you are on defense, there are many opportunities for you to win a trick. The first hands in this series will focus on declarer play. Later, there will be hands where you are a defender.
You are South. West deals. No one is vulnerable.
North’s double is negative, showing exactly four spades and 6 or more support points. He may have clubs, too, but they are not promised. South knew there was an eight-card spade fit, so he bid 4♠. This was a good value bid. 3♠ would have been a thoughtful bid, but with these values, reaching for game is wiser.
West leads the ♥K. You play low from dummy. East plays the 10.
What are you thinking about?
It looks as though you can make 4♠ if you can hold your losers to one spade, one heart and one diamond. To do this requires that trumps divide 3–2. You are not making 4♠ if someone has four spades. No way.
Let’s make the assumption that spades divide 3–2. How will you play this contract? The full deal:
Here is what one declarer did. Seeing that he had to ruff two hearts in dummy, he won the first heart and returned a heart, which West won. West saw his partner’s ♥10 and ♥8, so he knew East started with two hearts. West led a third heart. Declarer ruffed in dummy and was overruffed by East. East led a diamond to West’s ace, and West led another heart. Dummy ruffed and East overruffed again. This led to South’s losing one heart, two heart ruffs, the ♦A and a final trick to West’s ♠Q. Down two. “Wow,” said East. “I never expected to take two tricks with this hand.”
Here is what another declarer did. He saw that if he ruffed hearts in dummy, East would overruff. He did not like that possibility, so he won the ♥A and played the ♠A and ♠K. When he led a heart, West won and played his ♠Q. This left dummy with one spade, so declarer could ruff only one heart in dummy. This declarer managed to go down just one.
The last declarer was a little more aware of the possibilities. He chose a play many would not even consider — he let West win the first trick!
West had nothing better to do than to lead another heart. South won this one, and now he did what the second declarer did. He cashed his top spades and when they divided 3–2, he was safe.
He ruffed a heart in dummy. Because there was only one spade outstanding, South did not care if it was overruffed. When the heart ruff survived, South returned to hand with the ♣K and ruffed his last heart. When that also won, South gave up a diamond trick and conceded a trick to the ♠Q. Ten tricks.
What South did was to lose a trick that he had to lose anyway, and he did so in a way that did not have the dangers you saw in the lines used by the first two declarers.
Most holdups you see are in notrump contracts, the usual reason being that you want to keep one player from running his suit. For now, be aware that the holdup works well in suit play, too.
Note also that 4♠ was, ultimately, a good contract. It was necessary for South to bid 4♠ and not make a lesser bid of 2♠ or 3♠. 2♠ would qualify for some kind of wimpy bid award, and 3♠, while a step in the right direction, would still not get the job done. North would have passed 3♠ on the basis that he had a minimum hand for his bidding.