How to Deal with the Danger Hand in Bridge
In bridge, when a particular opponent has winning tricks and can hurt you by gaining the lead, you call that opponent the danger hand. For example, after you win the third round of spades in the hand below, West is the danger hand because West has two winning spades.
Stay clear of West. East has no more spades, so East is the nondanger hand. You can hang out with East because East can’t hurt you even if East gets the lead in another suit.
Voiding one opponent to isolate the danger hand
When you make a hold-up play, your intent is to void one opponent in the suit that was led. Usually you’re trying to void the partner of the opening leader — usually, but not always, as you can see.
In the hand above, East bids spades, and West leads a low spade, the ♠2. You win the third round of spades with your ♠A, a flexible stopper. In this case, East is the danger hand because he has two winning spades and West has none. If you have to lose a trick, you hope that West wins that trick because West has no more spades to lead.
Using a flexible stopper to your advantage
A flexible stopper is the highest remaining card in a suit that can take a trick whenever you want. Aces are always flexible stoppers, but a king can be a flexible stopper if the ace has already been played. Here is a hand where the king gets upgraded to flexible-stopper status.
In this hand, West leads the ♠5, and East plays the ♠A. After taking the trick, East returns the ♠7. Your ♠K is the highest outstanding spade and is a flexible stopper. You don’t have to take the trick just yet. You can play the ♠10 and allow West to take the trick with the ♠J.
Say that West plays a third spade, the ♠Q, which you must take with your ♠K. Fine. Because of your hold-up play, you have cut your opponents’ spade lifeline. If East gets the lead later in the hand, East can’t hurt you by playing a spade, because he doesn’t have any!
Avoiding a hold-up when you don’t have a flexible stopper
When your stopper isn’t flexible, grab the trick while you can. This hand shows you when not to hold up.
West leads the ♠3, and East plays the ♠J. Grab the ♠K! Your ♠K isn’t the highest outstanding spade. The ♠A and ♠Q are still out there roaming around. If you don’t take your ♠K, East’s ♠J will take the trick. Now East returns a spade, and your ♠K is mincemeat. You remain with the ♠K10. If you play the ♠10, West wastes no time or effort snatching it up with the ♠Q. If you play the ♠K, West then tramples all over it with the ♠A. East-West will take five spade tricks, and you won’t take any!
You can make a hold-up play only when you have the highest card or the highest remaining card in the suit. If you don’t have the highest card in the suit, just take the trick while the taking’s good!
If you have enough tricks to make your contract, take them. Whatever you do, try to avoid taking any finesses into the danger hand.