The Right Finesse

Dlr: South
Vul: N-S
Scoring: Rubber
Contract: 3NT
Lead: D5
NORTH (dummy)
S J 10 5
H A 6 4 2
D 10 3
C A J 8 5
As you have to lose a diamond sometime, it is normally good strategy to lose one early, so you should duck the DK and then win the second diamond with your DA, keeping the position of the DQ in doubt by East. Now count your sure tricks. You have one club, two diamonds, two hearts and one spade for a total of six. The other three are available in the black suits by finesses, but which should you tackle first? Does it matter?

You bet it does.

Look ahead and consider what will happen when you next lose the lead. Obviously the opponents will play another diamond to drive out your last stopper in that suit. At that time, and this is the important thing to look at, there will be a very dangerous opponent- the hand with all the good diamond tricks- West.

S K 7 4
H Q 8 7
D J 9 7 5 2
C 7 4
S 9 8 6
H J 10 9
D K 8 6
C K 8 3 2
S A Q 3 2
H K 5 3
D A Q 4
C Q 10 9

So let's see what happens if you try the clubs first. If the finesse wins, you will have enough tricks to make your contract, so let's assume that the finesse loses. You will still have to find that missing SK.

If you have been thinking along the right lines, you will realize that you will only have one dangerous hand after three rounds of diamonds. East is likely to have run out after that. West is therefore the dangerous hand if the finesse you take goes wrong, and for that reason it all falls into place! You must take the first finesse towards the dangerous hand so that if necessary you can take the second finesse towards the safe hand!

See how it goes: You win the second diamond and get to dummy with the HA. Play the SJ and whenever West decides to take her SK, your problems are over. She will, of course, drive out your last diamond, but at the same time she will take out her partner's last diamond as well. When you have to finesse for the CK, you do it towards the safe hand, East, and you make your contract even though both of your finesses were wrong!

If you tried the club finesse first, East would win and clear diamonds. West would get in later with the SK and would score two more of those diamonds to set your contract.

Originally written by Louis Landau and published in The [Unit 430] Matchpointer, June 1998.

When I read Louis' article back in June, 1998, something in this analysis struck me as odd. I carefully followed Louis' instructions.

  1. Duck the DK.
  2. Win the DA.
  3. Cross to the HA.
  4. Take a losing spade finesse.
Danger bells started going off in my mind. I thought to myself, "Hey! I wouldn't have done that."

Can you spot the emminent danger in these first 4 tricks?