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Sometimes I will have Axx in a key suit, opposite dummy's holdings of Kxxxx. In such situations, I was taught to make a "ducking" play by playing a low card from both sides, instead of playing an A or K, and letting the opponents win with a Q or J or some other card.

One advantage of this is that I save my A and K for later rounds. So is the ducking play like a "hold up?" Or is it used for a "throw in" situation where I want to put an opponent on lead?

What are the benefits of ducking? Are there times when this would be a bad play?

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2 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Ducking can be used for multiple purposes (not necessarily all on same hand, of course).

Some uses of ducking

  • Entry creation: This IMO is the primary use. Sometimes you duck in your side suit to make sure you have enough entries to establish the suit and cash it. Notice that the primary use of hold-up is to prevent opponents from having entries to cash a suit.

Example:

xxx
xx
AKxxxx
xx


AKx
AKx
xx
Axxxx

You are in 3NT, playing rubber bridge. Opponents lead a spade.

You have 5 tricks outside of diamonds and need at least 4 from the diamond suit. You have to hope diamonds break 3-2.

If you play diamonds from the top, on a 3-2 break, you will lose the third round, and establish the suit, but you will not have a way to cash them.

But if you duck the first round of the suit, then you have lost a trick while you hold a small diamond in your hand. Now once you get back in, you can play a diamond to dummy and play AK drawing the opponents diamonds and are in dummy to cash the rest of the suit.

  • Avoidance: You duck a suit making sure an opponent who cannot harm you will win the trick.

Example:

AQx
AKxxxx
xx
xx

9xx
xx
AKQJT9
AK

You are play rubber bridge and have gotten to a diamond small slam.

LHO leads the spade 7.

You have 11 top tricks, and the 12th can either come from either the spade finesse, or by establishing a long heart.

If you play the SQ at trick 1, RHO might with the K and knock out your spade A, thus removing your option of establishing the long heart too.

The correct play is a low spade from trick 1. The 9 in your hand ensure that your RHO has to win it, who cannot attack spades without giving your the 12 trick.

This play also lets you combine your chances.

Say RHO plays back a club. Now you can draw trumps, play AK of hearts and ruff a heart. If hearts prove to be 4-1, you can fall back on the spade finesse.

  • Timing: You might duck to rectify the count of a squeeze, at a time it is convenient to you, etc.

A common example (for defence) which is cited for this is the following:

South is playing 6NT.

        KQJ
        AKJ
        AKQx
        Qxx
xxx           Axxx
xx            xxxxx
JT98          xx
JT98          xx
        xxx
        Qxx
        xxx
        AKxx

Say West leads a spade and East should hold up. Declarer wins and play a spade. East should hold up again. Now if declarer plays another spade, East can cash two tricks. If declarer abandons spades, no matter what he does he cannot avoid losing two tricks.

If east takes either the first or second spade, declarer's count is rectified and West gets squeezed in the minors.

As with almost every play, there are times where it would be a bad play. For instance, you duck and realize you just gave away the setting trick :-)

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If you give away the setting trick by ducking, then you have to take your top cards and hope for the best, right? Because if the opponent's "secondaries" don't drop, you'll go down anyway. –  Tom Au Oct 25 '11 at 19:20
1  
@TomAu: Depends on the hand. There might be squeeze, where you should cash none, or some end play where you cash exactly one or two etc. I suggest you concentrate on when you can apply ducking, rather than when you cannot. –  Aryabhata Oct 25 '11 at 19:43
    
Don't forget throw-ins and other associated (end)plays. –  Pieter Geerkens Feb 3 at 1:14
    
@PieterGeerkens: Yes, that too. I will add an example some time. Thanks! –  Aryabhata Feb 3 at 19:13
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The purpose of "ducking" is so that you can "run" the remaining tricks in your suit, or in your hand. I don't like the term, because I'm confused by it.

Say you have Kxx of a suit, and dummy has Axxxx of the suit. One way of establishing it is to play your two top cards, and then give up "duck" a trick to the master card in a presumed 3-2 split. IF dummy regains the lead, it can win two more long tricks.

The problem is that dummy may have responded with as little as the A and a side queen, or the A and two jacks, and have no more entry.

Another way to establish the suit (against a 3-2 split) is to lose the first trick by playing low from both hands, win the second trick in the suit in your hand (when you regain the lead), which is a form of "unblocking," and win the third trick in dummy with your ace. Then run the remaining two tricks. Thus, the ace serves a dual function as a winner AND an entry.

So the issue is not WHETHER you duck, but WHEN you duck (on the first trick or the third). If your opponents are going to win a trick ANYWAY, then give it to them "early" to save an entry.

Another example with a safety play. Dummy has AKQxx of a suit, you have xxx (or even xx). As responder, dummy's nine points in the suit means no other entry. You need four tricks in the suit to make your contract. You can take the three toppers in dummy, and hope that opposing cards drop 3-2 (or 3-3). To guard against one opponent with four cards in the suit, you make the "safety play" of losing the first trick by playing low from hand and dummy. When you regain the lead, your three toppers "clear" the suit, and the remaining long card scores your fourth trick.

Another commentator also pointed out that you duck to "rectify the count" for a squeeze, which allows you to "run" the remaining tricks.

The same person also pointed out that you shouldn't duck if it represents the setting trick (except, perhaps in duplicate, where you accept "down one" to prevent "down more than one.") Then you might try a finesses, squeeze, pseudo-squeeze or "drop," play, even against the odds, as your best hope.

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