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PLAY and DEFENCE for Improving Players

A Different Kind of Finesse

Recently, I watched a club player struggle and fail in a relatively tricky contract and it occurred to me afterwards that a technique which seems quite obvious to more experienced players has not been explained even on the New Zealand Bridge website. It would certainly have helped the declarer had they appreciated what a ruffing finesse is all about.

Finesses themselves are well covered. Yet, for a finesse you lead towards an honour or perhaps play a card like the jack, playing low from the other hand, hoping your left-hand opponent has the queen.

The ruffing finesse is different as you always are leading a high honour and if the missing honour does not appear, you discard a loser…or if the honour does appear, ruff and return to the other hand to play established honours for further discards.

Watch what happened and how South could have made their awkward contract.


South Deals
None Vul
8 2
A Q J 10 7
Q 9 4
A Q 5
9 6 4 3
7 3 2
K J 10 6 4
W   E
A J 9 6 5
K 8 5 2
K 8
7 2
K Q 10 7 3
A J 10 6 5
9 8 3
West North East South
Pass 1  1  2 
Pass 3  Pass 3 
Pass 4  Pass 5 
All pass      


The auction was not a good one. Even though South has only 10hcp, they have 2 good suits and indeed the hand fits into the Rule of 20 for opening bids (sum of high card points and length of one’s two longest suits equals at least 20). However, passing was not criminal. After South’s 2Diamond-small response, North would have done better to bid 2Spade-small, the opposition’s suit, to ask for a hold. 3Heart-small tends to show 6 hearts.

South was unsure of bidding 3NT without a club hold and thought 3Spade-small would show spades and ask for help in another suit. That is not the normal treatment (it would ask for a spade hold). As a result, 5Diamond-small became the final contract and looked in great danger when West led their singleton and scored a ruff at trick 2. Unfortunately, South forgot the bidding and inserted Spade-smallQ on the Spade-small9 (instead of Spade-smallT) and that made it even harder for declarer.

West exited Club-smallJ. South needed the rest of the tricks and played Club-smallQ to win the trick. South still had a club and two spade losers in hand. A low spade was discarded on Heart-smallA after which declarer played Diamond-smallQ covered by the king and the ace. Another spade was ruffed in dummy and was followed by another trump. South cashed Club-smallA, ruffed a heart but was left with a club loser for down 1.

All would have been well even after the misplay at trick 2 if South had taken the ruffing finesse in hearts. The only heart honour missing is the king and declarer must hope it is with East who did overcall. Thus, when Club-smallQ scores, play Heart-smallA discarding a club and then play Heart-smallQ. If East plays low, discard a spade (the “ruffing finesse”). If East plays the king, ruff and play a club to the ace. Now play Heart-smallJ and Heart-small10 hoping both defenders have to follow suit. Declarer discards both their remaining spade losers. Next comes the Diamond-smallQ and with East holding the king, all is well.

3NT would have been a much easier contract and so would 5Diamond-small had declarer played the correct card at trick 2. However, if South had known about ruffing finesses, they would still have made their contract. If such a technique seems easy to you, it may well be uncharted territory for many club players. Just something else to remember on one’s fascinating journey through the world of Bridge.

Richard Solomon




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