IT TAKES A LITTLE FINESSE

December 25, 1972

Most players think of a finesse as a lead toward a high card that is accompanied by a lower one, say an ace and a queen, in the hopes that the lower one will win the trick. The artifice is not quite that simple. Any attempt to win a trick with a card lower than the highest one outstanding is a finesse, and there are a dozen different kinds. Many deals offer a choice of finesses to take—and in some cases none should be taken at all. In this year's quiz, the decisions are yours. On each hand you are South. Making an overtrick or risking an extra undertrick is not a vital consideration; your aim is merely to find the best chance to make your contract. Decide in what order you will make your plays and exactly which card you will play to each trick. There are occasional bonus awards for careful plays that enhance your chances, and I have assessed demerit points for plays that might imperil them unnecessarily. Finessing is a tricky business. If you score 75 points or less, you had better devise new stratagems. Earn 76 to 99 and you are sure to come out ahead. Total 100 or more and you win my congratulations. You will have helped to disprove the old saw that "one peek is worth two finesses."

1

NORTH

[Ace of Spades]
[King of Spades]
[Queen of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[King of Hearts]
[Jack of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[9 of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]
[4 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

[9 of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[9 of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[King of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]

Contract: 4 [Heart]. West leads the diamond ace and continues with another diamond. How should you proceed?

2

NORTH

[Ace of Spades]
[King of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[7 of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[King of Clubs]
[Queen of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[King of Diamonds]
[7 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

[9 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[King of Hearts]
[Jack of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[7 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]
[8 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]

Contract: 4 [Heart]. West leads the club jack and dummy's queen falls to East's ace. East returns the club 4, West's 9 forcing the king. How should you play trumps?

3

NORTH

[Jack of Spades]
[10 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[King of Hearts]
[Queen of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[Queen of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

[Ace of Spades]
[King of Spades]
[9 of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[Jack of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[Jack of Clubs]
[10 of Clubs]
[9 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]

Contract: 4 [Spade]. West leads the diamond jack. What is the best route to your game?

4

NORTH

[9 of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[9 of Hearts]
[8 of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[King of Diamonds]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[10 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

[Ace of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[Queen of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[Ace of Clubs]
[Jack of Clubs]
[9 of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]
[4 of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]

Contract: 3 NT. West leads the heart 2, you win East's 10 with your queen and lead a diamond on which West plays the 6. How should you continue?

5

NORTH

[5 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[King of Hearts]
[Queen of Hearts]
[7 of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]
[7 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

[Ace of Spades]
[King of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[10 of Spades]
[9 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[10 of Hearts]
[9 of Hearts]
[Ace of Clubs]
[Queen of Clubs]
[8 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]

Contract: 4 [Spade]. West leads the queen of diamonds and continues with the jack, which is overtaken by East's king. East cashes the diamond ace and returns the club 10. What is your plan?

6

NORTH

[King of Spades]
[Queen of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[10 of Hearts]
[9 of Hearts]
[8 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[Ace of Clubs]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[8 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

[Ace of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[King of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[10 of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]
[King of Diamonds]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]

Contract: 6 [Heart]. West leads the club king. How should you play for the slam?

7

NORTH

[Queen of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[8 of Hearts]
[King of Clubs]
[Jack of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]
[King of Diamonds]
[7 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

[Ace of Spades]
[King of Spades]
[10 of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[Queen of Hearts]
[Jack of Hearts]
[Ace of Clubs]
[10 of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[10 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]

Contract: 6 [Spade]. West leads the 4 of hearts. How can you ensure your contract?

8

NORTH

[Ace of Spades]
[King of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[10 of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[9 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[9 of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]
[King of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

[9 of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[Ace of Clubs]
[Jack of Clubs]
[10 of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[10 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]

Contract: 3 NT. West leads the queen of hearts. Losing either the spade or the diamond finesse will cost you your contract. Which, if any, should you take?

9

NORTH

[10 of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[King of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[9 of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[Ace of Clubs]
[King of Clubs]
[Queen of Clubs]
[7 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

[Ace of Spades]
[Queen of Spades]
[9 of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
[6 of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[King of Diamonds]
[Queen of Diamonds]

Contract: 6 [Spade]. West leads the jack of clubs. How should you play for the slam?

10

NORTH

[Ace of Spades]
[Queen of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[Jack of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[King of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]
[King of Diamonds]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

[5 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[3 of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[Ace of Clubs]
[Queen of Clubs]
[Jack of Clubs]
[10 of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]

Contract: 6 [Club]. West leads the diamond 10. Can you produce a sure 12th trick?

11

NORTH

[3 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[Queen of Hearts]
[Jack of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[Ace of Clubs]
[Jack of Clubs]
[10 of Clubs]
[9 of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]
[9 of Diamonds]
[8 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

[Ace of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[10 of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[8 of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[King of Clubs]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[10 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]

Contract: 3 NT. West has overcalled in hearts and leads the 5 of hearts. How can you guarantee nine tricks?

12

NORTH

[10 of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[King of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
[7 of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[8 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

[Ace of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[9 of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[8 of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[Ace of Clubs]
[King of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[King of Diamonds]

Contract: 4 [Spade]. West leads the heart jack and East drops the queen under dummy's king. What is your best line of play?

THE ANSWERS

1 Ruff, cash the heart king and lead a second heart. If East follows, finesse for the queen; if East shows out, take the ace and play spades—10. Ruff, cash the heart king, lead another heart and, if East follows, take the ace and play spades—4.

With nine trumps it is mathematically correct to try to drop the queen. However, a safety finesse on this deal ensures that East cannot win a trump trick and lead through your king of clubs. (This could be fatal if East had fewer than three spades and West held the ace of clubs. East could ruff a spade and lead a club in time to collect at least two club tricks.) Even if the heart finesse fails and West wins with the queen, your king of clubs is safe; you will lose at most three tricks—unless West holds all four trumps. Give yourself a two-point bonus if you elected to ruff West's second diamond lead with the jack or 10; if East holds all four trumps, the lead will otherwise be stuck in dummy after three rounds of hearts and you will be unable to draw East's queen. Take no credit at all if you went up with the heart ace and ruffed a diamond before playing spades; this would endanger your contract should West hold three hearts and fewer than three spades. Score a one-point demerit if you let the second diamond lead ride around to your queen-jack and thereby increased the danger of a club lead through your king.

2 Cash one top heart, then go to dummy and finesse—10. Take an immediate trump finesse—6. Cash two top hearts—2.

You have nothing to lose by guarding against the chance that West holds the singleton queen before you take the heart finesse. Cashing two top hearts without finessing is against the odds, but it earns a sop since it wins against a doubleton queen in the West hand, as will happen every now and then.

3 Take the diamond ace, cash the ace and king of spades, then run hearts—10. Win the diamond ace, then take the spade finesse—5. Take the diamond finesse; if it loses, take the spade finesse later—2.

You can afford to lose one spade and two clubs. To avoid losing a diamond trick as well, your best plan is to refuse both the diamond and the spade finesse. Even if the queen of spades does not drop, the chances are you will be able to discard your diamond loser on a good heart before a defender can ruff and cash a diamond trick. Taking only one finesse (in spades) is obviously better than risking two. The danger in taking either finesse is that if you lose the lead too soon, a club shift may cost you a third-round club ruff.

4 Duck the first diamond completely—10. Finesse the 10 of diamonds—6. Play to drop the jack of diamonds—2.

Thanks to the heart opening, you have four tricks outside of diamonds and you need only five diamond tricks. Finessing the 10 of diamonds is better than playing for a 3-2 split (or a singleton jack), since it guards against any 4-1 break and may bring in the entire suit. But you have an absolutely sure play by ducking the trick completely—if West has all five missing diamonds, you will still be able to win five tricks by finessing the 10 on the second lead of the suit, whereas if you finesse the 10 at once, you can bring home only four. My generous two-point award for the play for the drop is in grudging recognition of the fact that most of the time superior skill will not be necessary on a hand like this one.

5 Win the club ace, lead to a high heart and take a spade finesse—10. Win the dub ace, cash one high spade, play hearts, discarding the club queen, then take the spade finesse—5. Proceed as above but without cashing a high spade first—1.

The situation is different from that in Question 2. Here, you have only two trumps in dummy, and if you cash a top trump first, guarding against a singleton queen in the West hand, you will be unable to take a second finesse and pick up four to the queen in the East hand—a holding that is far more likely (the odds are about 4 to 1) than West's having the lone queen. To succeed against this distribution, you must leave a second entry to dummy; hence cashing all of the hearts in order to take an immediate discard receives credit only because it may not be necessary to finesse twice in the trump suit. Finally, one spade finesse is better than trying to drop a doubleton queen; thus the one-point award.

6 After taking the club ace, lead the heart 10 and let it run unless covered; if it loses, cash a high heart to see if it is necessary to repeat the finesse—10. Cash the heart ace (or king), then go to dummy with a spade and run the heart 10 if it is not covered—8. Cash a top heart but then lead a low heart to the second round of trumps—7. Cash the top hearts, then run diamonds—2.

The only real danger is that trumps may not split. The top-rated play preserves chances to make the contract against East's having all five of the missing hearts. The second choice guards against his holding four to the queen-jack. The third plan gets a slightly reduced award because although it succeeds as far as the trump suit is concerned, it needlessly increases the risk of a diamond ruff. As for the fourth award, cashing two top hearts is superior to taking two heart finesses or attempting to ruff clubs at once.

7 Win the ace of hearts, draw trumps, ruff your third diamond, then lead the 8 of hearts—10. Take the heart finesse at the first trick; if it loses, finesse against West for the queen of clubs—2.

Overtricks are not important, so by refusing the heart finesse and playing as first described, you will make the contract against every possible distribution. Whoever eventually wins the second heart trick with the king will have to lead clubs or give you a ruff and discard. Taking two finesses is worth far less than playing the sure thing, but I am awarding two points because the heart finesse might win, and because I have arbitrarily given West the queen of clubs and you guessed right.

8 After winning the heart ace, cash the king and ace of diamonds, then finesse in spades if necessary—10. Cash the ace and king of spades, then if necessary cash the diamond king and finesse the diamond 9—6. Cash the diamond king, then finesse against East for the diamond queen—1.

On the face of it, making your contract depends upon guessing which finesse will succeed. But you can give yourself an extra chance by trying to drop a queen in one suit before committing yourself to a finesse in the other. With eight cards in diamonds and only seven in spades, there is a much better chance of dropping the doubleton queen of diamonds. The final one-point award is for taking the diamond finesse the proper way—by first cashing the king to perhaps drop a singleton queen in West's hand without losing the chance to pick up four to the queen in East's hand.

9 After winning the club queen, lead to your spade ace, then return to dummy for a second spade lead—10. Take a deep finesse against the spade jack on your first trump lead—6. Take a simple finesse against the king on your first spade lead—3.

You don't mind giving up one trump trick if it will enable you to avoid losing two. Cashing the ace of spades, then leading the next spade from dummy eliminates guesses and wins against all the combinations you can cope with; at the same time it also eliminates the danger of a club ruff. Add a bonus of one point if, after cashing the ace of spades, you went to dummy by ruffing a good diamond—your safest play to avoid any possibility of a ruff.

10 Will the opening diamond, draw trumps, cash your remaining diamonds, then lead toward the 10 of hearts—10. Lead toward the heart 10 immediately after drawing trumps, then repeat the finesse with the heart jack later—4. Draw trumps and lead to the heart 10; if the finesse loses, take the spade finesse later—1.

The top award is for a sure thing. If West plays an honor when you lead a heart toward dummy, you take the ace and surrender a heart trick, establishing a discard that makes the spade finesse unnecessary. If West plays low on the first heart and East wins, whatever he returns will give you your 12th trick. As for the second and third choices, there is a 75% chance of your finding at least one of the two missing heart honors in the West hand and only a 50% chance that West will have started with the king of spades.

11 Play the 4 of hearts from dummy and win with the ace then overtake the club king with the ace in dummy and continue clubs—10. Go up with the queen or jack of hearts and. if it wins, lead the 9 of diamonds for a finesse—2.

The first choice preserves an entry to dummy (on the third round of hearts) and ensures nine tricks, although if Hast wins the queen of clubs and returns a low spade, you must put on the jack or 10. The defenders then cannot take more than one trick in each suit before you make five clubs, two hearts and the diamond and spade aces for your contract. The alternate line gets a little credit in case, by some miracle, the diamonds arc favorably located and West happens to be continuously end played and is eventually forced to give you nine tricks and your game.

12 Lead to your ace of spades, then play another spade—10. Take two spade finesses—4. Take one spade finesse, then cash the spade ace—1.

Ordinarily, taking two finesses offers a 75% chance of success. In this case, however, you are threatened with a possible heart ruff and should reject the percentage play in spades in order to avoid the greater danger. (If East has made a diabolical false-card with two or more hearts and K Qx in spades, he has earned his victory.) Taking one spade finesse, then cashing the ace wins only against the king-queen doubleton in the West hand and fails in the cases where he holds the king or queen alone. Still, if you chose to lead the 10 of spades from dummy, intending to go up with the ace anyway but hoping East might foolishly cover with K Qx, you have earned a Christmas one-point bonus award.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)