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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Should You Take the Finesse? by Jim Kaplan

There’s an obvious finesse you can take. But should you?

The following board from an OK Bridge game offers a sobering example. North was dealing, with both sides vulnerable:

       S 6
       H A K J
       D K Q 10 7 2
       C A 8 5 4
 WEST                EAST
 S A Q J 10 5 4      S K 8 3 2
 H 3 2               H 10 7
 D A 9 8 4           D J 5 3
 C 6                 C K 7 3 2
       S 9 7
       H Q 9 8 6 5 4
       D 6
       C Q J 10 9

The bidding in Auction 1 proceeded as follows:

 North   East   South   West
 1D      Pass   1H      1S
 DBL•    2S     Pass    Pass
 4H      All Pass
• Support double showing three hearts

Opening lead: club 6

Sitting South, I saw a finesse. I took a finesse. East cashed the club king and returned a club for a ruff. When West cashed aces in spades and diamonds, I went down. “I was praying that you’d go up with the ace at Trick One,” my partner said. “You can make the contract, losing only a spade, a diamond and a club.” In other words, the “obvious” club finesse was one I didn’t need to take. I could make the contract without it, and risk the contract with it.

On the following board, also taken from OK Bridge, East deals with North-South vulnerable:

       S J 4
       H 10 7 4 3
`      D A 8 7 3
       C K 9 5
 WEST            EAST
 S Q 8 2         S K 5 3
 H A K           H 6 5 2
 D J 5 4         D K 10 9 2
 C J 10 8 7 3    C Q 6 2
       S A 10 9 7 6
       H Q J 9 8
       D Q 6
       C A 4 

The bidding in Auction 2 proceeded as follows:

 East   South   West   North
 Pass   1S      Pass   1NT
 Pass   2H      Pass   3H
 All Pass
Opening lead: club jack

Despite two sure losers in hearts and one apiece in spades and diamonds, no finesse is necessary to make the contract.
Without the king and queen, the spade finesse can’t succeed. So win the opening lead with the club king and lead a low diamond.

Now let’s assume that you need a big score to win a match and bid 4H. What now?

Obviously you need some luck. Win the opening lead with the club king again, but take the spade finesse this time. As long as the defenders don’t break diamonds, lead trump and prepare to finesse again in spades. This time the finesse will work and you can throw three diamond losers in dummy on spade winners in hand. It’s a long shot but all you have to work with. Here’s another decision about finessing. Let’s say you’re playing a 3NT contract and you need what appears to be a finesse in one of these two suits. If you make the wrong decision, you’ll go down:

     D J 10 9 8
     C A K J

     D A K 5 4
     C 10 9 8 6
Which one do you take?

Neither! To improve your odds beyond 50-50, first cash the diamond ace-king. If the queen falls, you’re home free. If not, you can fall back on the finesse in clubs. Your chances are better than even — more like 60-40 — if you look for a break in the 4-4 suit before finessing in the 4-3 suit.

“To Be or Not To Be?” Hamlet asked. “To Finesse or Not To Finesse?” is the eternal question bridge players ask. Just remember these three principles:
DO FINESSE whenever your contract will fail if you don’t. (Auction 3).
DO NOT FINESSE when doing so actually jeopardizes your contract (Auction 1).
And THINK CAREFULLY when things get more complicated (Auctions 2 and 4).

These three guidelines keep the relative merit of finesses in proper perspective.

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