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Can you afford to play a top Honour first?

Consider how to play the following suit:

  • AKJ43 facing 982

The a priori odds are 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)?

Assuming the five missing cards are splitting 3-2 with the queen in the three-card length, the drop does not rate to work. The plan should be to finesse. So you lead the two to the jack - right?

Wrong. Entries permitting, it costs nothing to cash the ace (or king) first, before crossing to the other hand and leading to the jack. In this way, you (and this is the key expression) retain the finesse position (king-jack) for a round, and so give yourself the extra chance that the queen will drop singleton.

South Deals
Both Vul

9 8 2

K 7 5

A 7 6

8 6 4 3

Q

10 8 4 3

K 8 4 3

J 10 9 5

 

N

W

 

E

S

 

10 7 6 5

9 2

J 10 9 2

A K 7

 

A K J 4 3

A Q J 6

Q 5

Q 2

West

North

East

South

 

 

 

1 

Pass

1 NT

Pass

3 1

Pass

4 2

All pass

 

  1. Game-force, showing (at least) five
    spades and four hearts.

  2. Jumping to 4 , to show actual
    (delayed) support, as opposed to mere
    preference.

What happened
Defending 4 , West led  J to East’s  K, and East switched to  J (best). Declarer covered with  Q, and took West’s  K with  A. At Trick Three declarer led  2 to his  J. West won  Q, and the defence cashed a trick in each minor, then led a third diamond. Declarer ruffed, and laid down  A. Disappointed when West discarded, he had to concede a fourth round trick to East’s  10. Down two.

What should have happened
After winning Trick Two with  A, declarer crosses to  A (key play), retaining  KJ for a second-round finesse. The extra chance - that West holds  Q singleton - duly materialises. Knowing that East holds the guarded  10, declarer now crosses to  K, and runs  9. A third spade to his  KJ picks the suit up without loss. Game made.

If you remember just one thing...
Cash as many higher honours as you can afford (retaining the finesse position), before taking the finesse.

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