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The Ruffing Finesse


  ♠A Q J  
West   East
?♠K?   ?♠K?

You can take a normal finesse, leading the two to the jack (queen). However, unable to repeat the finesse (for the lack of a second card in South’s hand), even a successful finesse (West holding the king) will yield just two tricks.

The other approach, assuming there is a trump suit, is to take a “ruffing finesse”. This involves cashing the ace, and then running the queen, planning to discard a side-suit loser from hand should East play low; if East covers with the king, you ruff, cross back to North, and discard a loser on the promoted jack.

If East holds the king, North’s queen/jack will be promoted without losing a trick; even if West holds the king (and the ruffing finesse loses), you have disposed of a loser from hand on the second round of the suit. The ruffing finesse is therefore a very attractive technique - and generally more so than a normal finesse.

South Deals
Both Vul
A K 9 7 3
K 7 3
9 7 6 5
J 9 6 3 2
8 5 4
W   E
K 10 8 3 2
K 10 8 4
Q 10 9 2
7 5
Q J 10 8 6 4 2
A J 6
West North East South
      3 1
Pass 6 2 All pass  
  1. Weak hand with seven good diamonds.
  2. After recovering from the surprise.

What happened
Seeing finesses in every suit apart from trumps, declarer began by inserting  Q at Trick One. East won  K and returned a passive second heart. Good guesswork in the black suits would still have prevailed, but when declarer took the combination line (as good as anything from here) of cashing  AK (in case  Q fell), and then playing to  Q, East won  K, and cashed  Q. Down two.

What should have happened
6  is 100% guaranteed, regardless of the position of the three missing honours ( K,  K,  Q). Rise with  A (key play - spurning the finesse), draw the trump, then cash  A and run  Q, planning to throw  7 if East plays low. On the above layout (East holding  K), you are finessing  Q for the overtrick. Even if West holds  K, and wins with it, you can ruff his heart return, cross to dummy in trumps, throw a club on the promoted  J, and claim 12 tricks. Slam made.

If you remember just one thing...
Prefer a ruffing finesse to an ordinary one: a bad outcome is less disastrous, as you have thrown away a loser in the process.

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