Article 7A06 Main

Which Way To Finesse

 by Richard Pavlicek

The diagrammed deal is from a duplicate game at the Fort Lauderdale Bridge Club. Almost all North-South pairs reached the normal four-heart contract, usually after the bidding shown. The problem was how to play the trump suit.

It is generally correct to finesse for a queen when you have a combined holding of eight cards or fewer in the suit. Sometimes you will have a two-way finesse, where you can finesse against either opponent, and there are some useful rules and myths about which way to go. It takes a knowledgeable player to separate the facts from the fiction.

Where, oh where can the missing queen be?

One thing is certain: You can’t play correctly looking only at a single suit; you must consider the deal as a whole and choose the play that offers the best chance to make the contract.

South dealsS 7 6 4 3WestNorthEastSouth
Both vulH A 7 51 H
D 9 6 4Pass2 HPass4 H
C K 4 3PassPassPass
S K Q 8 2TableS A 10 9 5
H Q 8 4H 6 3
D J 8 7 5D Q 10 2
C J 8C 10 9 7 6
H K J 10 9 2
D A K 3
4 H SouthC A Q 5 2

The opening lead was the spade king, followed by a second spade which South ruffed. One player now led the jack of hearts and let it ride. Success! This allowed West’s heart queen to be captured, and the rest was easy. Declarer won five heart tricks, two diamonds and three clubs. At best this could be described as a lucky guess. Declarer’s play was like a coin toss; half the time he would win and half the time he would lose.

At another table, South, a slightly stronger player, realized that with a two-way finesse it is better to win the top honor in the shorter hand first. Therefore, a trump was led to dummy’s ace followed by a finesse against East. Disaster! West won the queen of hearts and simply returned his last trump. The end result was only nine tricks for declarer — down one.

The queen always lies over the jack!

Which way would you have finessed in the trump suit? The correct answer is neither way. Experienced players at the Club saw the danger of losing a trump finesse: the contract would then depend on a 3-3 club break, which was well against the odds. Instead, all that was required to succeed was a 3-2 trump break, which was a heavy favorite. If the queen of hearts did not fall, declarer could benefit by ruffing with the remaining trump in dummy.

Whoever tries to look innocent has the queen!

The correct technique is to cash both top trumps, ending in dummy. When both opponents follow your contract is assured. Ruff a spade; cross to the club king; ruff the last spade, and cash the top clubs. West ruffs the third club, but dummy still has a trump, and the only remaining trick you will lose is a diamond. Well played! No finesses!

Note that the proper play would also gain if the missing clubs divided 3-3. In that event, South could discard a diamond on the fourth club, then a diamond could be ruffed in dummy for an overtrick.

The queen is wherever Richard puts it!
— Case closed —

Article 7A06 MainTop Which Way To Finesse

© 1994 Richard Pavlicek