Play Basics: Ducking  -  By Kitty and Steve Cooper


It is hard to not win a trick when you can, but sometimes it is better to wait. This is known as “ducking”; both declarer and defenders can use this maneuver.

The most obvious example of ducking is when declarer in a notrump contract waits to use his (single) stopper in the suit led by LHO, hoping that RHO will not have any left and so be unable to return one if he gets in. Declarer’s usual holding here is ace third. Winning the ace on the third round after ducking is called a hold up play. Sometimes you hold up (or duck) with king third when RHO wins his ace and plays another (ducking when he plays a lower honor is a very bad idea, since he will return the suit through your now doubleton king).

Suit contracts also offer declarer chances for ducking. For example, if the opening lead looks to declarer to be from a doubleton, it is usually best to duck because if you win the first trick LHO will have another card in the suit to lead to his partner for a ruff, overruff, or trump promotion. However if the lead is a singleton and you duck, LHO will get a ruff immediately. This comes up most frequently when dummy has a side suit headed by the AQ and you don’t have the king; when LHO leads a high spot card in that suit you are sure that the finesse is off, but you must decide whether he led a singleton (in which case you should win the ace) or a doubleton (in which case you probably should not).  Here is an example; you, South, are in 4S and get the lead of the H 9:


                         S 976

                         H AJ1084

                         D AK43

  •                       C 8

S K103                                              S 54

H 92                                       H K65

D J8                                        D 10752

C A95432                               C QJ106


                         S AQJ82

                         H Q73

                         D Q96

  •                       C K7


On the hand as given you should not play the ace because if you do when West wins the S K he will lead his H 2 to East; and then East can return his third heart for West to ruff. However if West’s H 9 were singleton and you duck, you would go down (the H K, H ruff, S K, and C A), while if you win the ace you would make.

The problem is similar for the defense. When partner leads an obvious short suit and you hold the ace, do you win or wait? That depends partially on who has the next entry, partner or you. If you have the trump ace, for example, you can win the opening lead and try to give him a ruff, both immediately and when you win your trump trick. If you have no entry you have to judge whether partner has led a singleton or doubleton. If he has a trump entry and a doubleton, it is best to duck at trick one so he can lead the second one to you for his ruff.

Doubletons are more frequent than singletons, but let the auction and dummy be your guide. If partner preempted then it is more likely that he led a singleton. If you know that your side has no trump trick coming - for example, if all the high trumps are visible in dummy - then neither of you is getting in again before trump are drawn, so it may be best to play him for a singleton as the only hope.

Another time for a defender to think about ducking is when partner leads a suit you bid against an enemy notrump contract. If you have no outside entry, and your suit is AKxxx, it is probably best to duck, hoping that declarer’s stopper is only three cards long, say QJx. That way, when partner gets in he will have another to play to you, so that you can run your suit.

All in all, there are no hard and fast rules about ducking. Look at the hand and think.


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