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Times NOT to Finesse

Our current theme is when NOT to finesse. Here are some disincentives:

  • (a) You think the finesse will lose.
  • (b) You will gain little from a winning finesse.
  • (c) A losing finesse will be fatal.

This deal is not so much about avoiding a finesse altogether; rather about into which opponent to finesse.

West leads  3, and you correctly try dummy’s  K (the only hope of making a trick with the card). Plan the play if:

  • (i)  K wins the trick.
  • (ii)  K loses to East’s  A, and back comes  10.
South Deals
Both Vul
K 6
A Q 10
J 4 2
A 10 8 6 5
A J 9 3 2
8 7 3 2
Q 9 3
W   E
10 8 4
6 5 4
K 10 7
Q 7 3 2
Q 7 5
K J 9
A 8 6 5
K J 9
West North East South
      1 NT
Pass 3 NT All pass  

What happened
Declarer saw dummy’s  K win Trick One. He crossed to  K and led  J for a finesse. West discarded, but he had no alternative (needing extra club tricks) but to run  J. East won  Q and returned  10 (crucially through  Q). Declarer ducked, so  10 won, and a third spade saw West’s  A beat  Q, and West cash his two long spades. Down one.

What should have happened
Declarer was correct to finesse in clubs. But he finessed the wrong way. When dummy’s  K held Trick One, East (leading spades through  Q) became the danger hand; West, however, was safe, because a second spade lead from him would promote declarer’s  Q. After winning  K, declarer should lead  10 and run it (underplaying it with  9). He does not mind if it loses to West, the safe hand. On the layout,  10 will win, so he next plays  5 to  9 (West discarding). He cashes  K, crosses to  A, follows with  A (felling  Q), and  8. Two more hearts plus ¨A mean ten tricks and game made (plus one).

What if - as per question (ii) -  K had lost to  A in East’s hand at Trick One? You now duck  10 continuation, win  Q on the third round, and expect West to hold the two long spades and therefore be the danger hand. Now you must finesse clubs the other way, cashing  K and running  J (not minding if East wins the lead, as he has no more spades - or one if the suit is 4-4).

If you remember just one thing...
Fnesse into the safe opposing hand not the danger hand.

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