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The “Finesse” Mystique

The attempt to promote a high card, depending on the relative position of that card and an opposing higher card, is known as a finesse.

There is an air of mystique about the word “finesse” that is perhaps misleading. For a finesse is a straight technique of card promotion, the key moves being as follows:

  1. Identify the card that you are hoping to promote.
  2. Lead from the opposite hand to the card.
  3. Assuming the opponent playing second goes low, play the card you are trying to promote.

If that second player holds the missing higher cards, your high card will be promoted. If, however, the fourth player, crucially playing after your card, holds the missing higher card, then your finesse has failed.

(K) x
(K) x
x x

In the above scenario, you are trying to promote North’s queen. You must lead from the opposite hand (i.e. South). You lead an “x” (i.e. low card) and, assuming West plays low, try North’s queen. Assuming you have no clue as to the whereabouts of the king, you have an exactly 50-50 chance of promoting the queen: the inherent gamble of the finesse.

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

What happened
West led a diamond - to East’s  Q - and declarer won  A (no point in ducking). Setting up clubs was sure to result in failure (it involved losing the lead), so, with seven top tricks ( A,  AKQJ,  A and  A), he needed to promote  QJ. At Trick Two declarer led  4 to  J. Success - with West holding  K,  J was promoted. Now he erred, cashing  A.  K did not fall,  Q could not be promoted, and he went down one.
What should have happened
After promoting  J, declarer needs to cross back to hand (he can cash  AK, then lead to  QJ), in order to lead through West’s  K. In this way he finesses  Q: nine tricks.
If you remember just one thing...
When finessing, lead from the opposite hand to the card or cards you are promoting.

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