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Finesse or Drop?

Finesse or Drop? What is the best chance of avoiding a loser with:

  • (a) AKJ32 facing 7654?

  • (b) AKJ3 facing 7654?

The answer to these, and all other holdings when you are missing just one picture card, is given by the...

Finesse or Drop Test (FDT):

  • (1) How many cards are missing?

  • (2) Assume the most even split.

  • (3) Put the missing honour in the longer length.

  • (4) Will the honour “drop” if you play out your higher honour(s)?

In (a) you are missing four cards. Assume a 2-2 split. Put the queen in one of the twos. It will drop. Play out the ace-king. [For the curious, the reason why the drop gives (slightly) better odds than the finesse, even though four missing cards are more likely to split 3-1 than 2-2, is that the queen could be singleton in a 3-1 split, whereupon the drop would still succeed].

In (b) you are missing five cards. Assume a 3-2 split. Put the missing queen in the three-card length (where it would be a 3:2 favourite to be). It will not drop. Therefore finesse.

South Deals
N-S Vul

A Q 10 2

5 2

10 8 2

Q 10 5 2

J 9 7 5

A J 9 6 4

A 6

9 7








8 6 4

Q 10 8

K 7 5 4

8 4 3


K 3

K 7 3

Q J 9 3

A K J 6












2 NT1


3 NT

All pass


  1. 17-18 balanced - because it is a jump
    over partner’s response. With 15-16
    South is technically supposed to pass.

What happened
West led  6 to East’s  Q, and declarer was forced to win  K immediately (or not at all). Unable to develop diamonds - losing the lead would result in a torrent of hearts - declarer cashed four clubs. West discarded  6, then  4; East threw  4. Now what?
At the table declarer tried  K, then over to  AQ.  J did not drop - down one.

What should have happened
The a prior odds in spades (using FDT) say “Finesse”: seven missing cards; assume a 4-3 split with the jack in the four-card length; it will not drop. The lack of a spade discard on the club further reinforces the need to finesse in spades. Win  K, cash the clubs, then follow with  K, and  3 to dummy’s  10 (key play). This wins, and  AQ bring the tricks tally to nine. Game made.

If you remember just one thing...
The Finesse or Drop Test

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