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Timing and Entries continued

Hold-ups can also be used by the defence. Consider playing the following hand in 3NT:
 S A K x x 
 H A J T 
 D x x 
 C A K x x 
[W E]  S x x 
 H x x 
 D K Q J T x x x 
 C x x 
Contract: 3NT
Lead: Sx
As declarer, you can set up 2 spade tricks, 1 heart trick, 2 club tricks and 6 diamond tricks. That's 11 tricks, which should be plenty. But consider what happens if the defender with the DA waits until the second round to win it. You will have no entry to dummy, and will make just one diamond trick! You should consider holding up as a defender when you have the ace of dummy's long suit and dummy has no outside entry. Your partner should signal count in the suit (playing high-low with an even number) so that you can work out how many times you need to hold up.

Hold-ups can work just as well in trump contracts. Consider the following hand in 4H after North oened 1NT. You try covering the CT lead with the CJ, but South plays the CQ.
 S A K x 
 H K Q J x x 
 D x x 
 C A 9 8 
[W E]  S x x 
 H T x x x 
 D A J x x 
 C J x x 
Contract: 4H
Lead: CT
You have just 3 losers—a heart, a diamond, and a club. However, there is a danger that you could also lose a club ruff—the CT looks like a doubleton. If you win the CA and play trumps, North will win his HA and lead his second club to South, who will then lead a third club for North to ruff. This will defeat your contract. To prevent this, you should let South win the first club trick, then win the continuation and lead trumps.

Avoidance plays

The hold-up is an example of a play where you are hoping to prevent a certain opponent from gaining the lead at a dangerous time—usually to stop him from running a suit or giving his partner a ruff. There are other situations where you don't want a particular defender on lead. Consider playing the following hand in 4S. North leads the CA and switches to a low spade.
 S A Q x x x x 
 H K x 
 D A x x 
 C Q x x 
[W E]  S K J x 
 H A Q 
 D K J x x x 
 C x x x 
Contract: 4S
Lead: CA
You draw trumps in three rounds and have to decide how to play diamonds. Normal play in the suit is to cash the ace and finesse the jack. However, if North wins a diamond trick, the contract cannot be beaten—if he cashes the CK you make the CQ, but if he exits in another suit you can set up the long diamond to discard your losing club. On the other hand, if South wins a diamond trick, he will play a club, and North will win another two club tricks to defeat the contract. To minimise the chance of South winning a diamond trick, you should win the ace and king, then play a third diamond, and hope that North has the last diamond. This allows you to make whenever South has a doubleton DQ, as well as when the DQ is onside. If one of the small diamonds is the 8 (or higher), you can also cope with North holding DT 9 precisely—draw trumps ending in dummy and lead the 8 from dummy, running it if it is not covered (or lead up to the A8x and just cover South's card if the 8 is in hand).

Another example:
 S K x x 
 H A x x x 
 D A J T x 
 C x x x 
[W E]  S
 H K Q x 
 D Q x 
 C A J T x x x x 
Contract: 3NT
Lead: Hx
Try this hand in 3NT on a heart lead. You easily have enough tricks if you can set up the clubs, but if South ever gets the lead and leads a spade through, you could be off. To avoid this you should maximise your chance of losing your club trick to North. If South has CK x, there is nothing you can do. However, if South has CQ x, there is something you can do!

If South has CQ x, North has a singleton king, so when you play a club from hand North's king will appear. You now duck this, knowing that nothing North does can harm the contract. If North doesn't play the king, play the Ace and hope that North has a doubleton. This will lose out when North has all 3 clubs (because he now has time to knock out your spade guard before you set up clubs), but that is less likely than North having the SA and South having exactly one of the missing clubs. Even if North did start with three clubs, you'll still have the chance of the diamond finesse and a 3–3 heart break.