A Two-way Finesse


Pat Harrington

How would you play the club suit shown below for four tricks?

Dummy
♣ K 10 9 3

Declarer
♣ A J 5 4

You are likely to follow the saying “eight ever, nine never,” which applies to holdings missing the queen. This saying suggests taking a finesse when you have eight or fewer cards between declarer and dummy and playing for the queen to drop when you have more than eight cards between you.

What if you need only three club tricks to make your contract? Even if you fail to guess the location of the ♣Q, you will have developed the needed trick. If you cannot afford to lose the lead, you are in the same position as the player who needs all four club tricks.

Sometimes, it’s safe to lose the lead to one opponent but not to the other. Suppose West has a long suit ready to run in 3NT. Finesse as if West has the ♣Q. Play the ♣A and then lead the jack and let it ride if the queen doesn’t appear. Your finesse may lose, but you have determined that East cannot hurt you.

Nobody can ask you how to play the clubs shown above without giving you a lot more information. How many tricks do you need from the club suit? What was the bidding? How has the play progressed to this point? Is there a dangerous opponent? Let’s see how all this works in a complete deal. West leads the ♠9. East plays the ♠10.

♠ 6 4 3
9 8 2
A 5 4
♣ A J 8 5

♠ A 7 5
A K 6
K 6 3
♣ K 10 9 4

West North East South
2♠(1) 2NT
Pass 3NT All Pass

(1) Weak

Count winners: one spade, two hearts, two diamonds and two clubs. wo more tricks must be developed. If you can guess the location of the ♣Q, you can finesse twice to get the needed tricks. Winning all four club tricks is your only hope of making 3NT. What’s your plan? You may have decided to hold up winning the ♠A at trick one. It’s safe to do so but isn’t going to help you make 3NT since your plan is based on guessing clubs correctly. Moreover, it appears that West’s lead is a singleton. A weak two-bid is usually made with a six-card suit. The main issue is how you play clubs to avoid losing a trick. Although East is the dangerous opponent, it’s best to finesse West for the ♣Q. West is short in spades and probably has length in the remaining three suits. The ♣Q is more likely to be with the player having length in clubs. Also, when a player shows a weak hand and reveals a very strong suit, he is less likely to have high cards in other suits.

The full deal:

♠ 6 4 3
9 8 2
A 5 4
♣ A J 8 5
♠ 9 ♠ K Q J 10 8 2
Q 10 5 4 J 7 3
J 10 9 7 2 Q 8
♣ Q 6 3 ♣ 7 2
♠ A 7 5
A K 6
K 6 3
♣ K 10 9 4

Now suppose North has the Q instead of the 9. The auction and opening lead are the same, but now you need only one extra trick to make 3NT. Can you guarantee it?

Yes. Duck one round of spades to make sure East has opened a six-card suit, then play a club to the ace and continue with the jack. West may win the ♣Q but he cannot hurt you. Contract made.

This is the proper play in teams or rubber bridge, but at matchpoints, where overtricks count, you might still play West for the ♣Q because the bidding indicates he is more likely to have it.

When things go according to the odds, daring declarers come out on top, making 3NT with an overtrick. But my advice is to play it safe and finesse East for the ♣Q. At your level, you will do surprisingly well to bid to a good contract and make it. Go for overtricks only when your play to do so is safe or the odds are overwhelmingly in your favor.

Please follow and like us: