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PLAY and DEFENCE for Improving Players

Another Finesse That Failed

They all do, or so it seems. Selective memory, perhaps, for the 50% or so that work…usually when you have missed an iffy game and play in part-score, when every finesse seems to work!

Yet, there are some finesses which, if you play a deal correctly do not work, because you do not take them. Let’s see what happened on a recent deal when what might seem to be a 50-50 finesse failed….and turned into sheer disaster for the declarer.

It all revolved around a trump suit. 

Spade-small AQ9652   opposite Spade-small 73                     Contract 4Spade-small

You can afford two losers in this suit and still make your contract but with one side-suit loser, you cannot afford three.

Let’s see what happened.

West Deals
Both Vul
7 3
A K Q 7 2
A 5
K 7 4 3
10 9 8
8 7 4 3 2
J 10 9 6
W   E
J 10 8 4
J 6 5 4
K 6
Q 5 2
A Q 9 6 5 2
Q J 10 9
A 8
West North East South
Pass 1  Pass 1 
Pass 2  Pass 2 
Pass 2 NT Pass 3 
Pass 4  All pass  


(2Diamond-small was forcing to game and might have been artificial.2NT was therefore stronger than a jump to 3NT. Yes, 3NT may well have proved an easier contract to make.)

West led a middle diamond which declarer won in dummy to take an immediate spade finesse. (There had been no opposition bidding to indicate whether or not the finesse would succeed or fail or any indication that the declarer would suffer any immediate ruff.)

Thus, the Spade-smallQ lost to the Spade-smallK. Back came a diamond to the king to be followed by the Spade-smallJ from East. It was not long before South was left with spades in hand headed by 96 while East held T8. Three trump losers and one diamond loser…down one.

Bad luck? Perhaps but was the finesse the best line to take?

Had spades broke 3-2, only a maximum of two trumps would be lost, no matter how the honours lie. Where West holds 4 trumps, South has no hope to matter how they play the suit. So, what about when East holds four trumps? As long as declarer can lead trumps twice from dummy, they will only lose two trump tricks where the king is in the four card suit. The real danger is where it is not.

4Spade-small is secure, therefore, as long as declarer does not take a first round finesse by playing Spade-smallQ. You could play the Spade-small9 on the first round, the Spade-smallQ on the second round…(that’s the possibility of 2 losing finesses!) or play the ace on the first round.  

On the actual lay-out, South plays  Spade-smallA, returning to dummy and then playing a second spade through East's known holding. 10 tricks are secure, 11 if declarer set about shortening their own trumps. That's champagne play. Ensuring the success of the contract is one's primary aim.

South’s spades were not of sufficient quality to afford the luxury of the queen on the first round. Just check out the strength of your trump or any such suit before you finesse. It could be that the finesse is not the best line…and that your cries of bad luck fall on deaf ears.

Richard Solomon


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