Nancy Evins: Talking about finesses last week, weren’t we?

Nancy Evins • Updated Feb 25, 2018 at 2:00 PM

I think I got off the subject several times, but I know I am mostly preaching to the choir since this column is called Basic Bridge, and most of you already know what I am writing about.

To the newcomer, however, some explanations might be an advantage. 

The definition of a finesse is a technique for taking tricks with lower honors when your opponent has higher ones.

Another is a card-play technique, which will enable a player to win an additional trick or tricks should there be a favorable outcome.

The most common finesse is when your partner, North, is dummy and holding something like the ace, queen and jack, and if you decide to finesse at this time, you are hoping as you lead a small card to the queen, the king is held by West. You can then return to your hand and lead toward the jack.  

If you don’t need to do this immediately and can hold up for a while, you may get clues from your opponents. If East has to discard and drops a large card belonging to the suit you are concerned about, ask West what signaling method are they using. A large card is the most common, but some play upside down discards or odd-even. I don’t know what a player, using odd-even, does when he is holding something like 8, 6, 4 or 2.

Still another, and much more difficult, finesse is to strip the cards down so that 

East holds only the cards in that suit and must finesse himself by leading it. I have done that twice in my life and modestly accepted the praise without telling anyone I hadn’t a clue as to how it happened.

There is an old adage, “eight ever, nine, never,” which refers only to the idea of attempting to finesse the queen. If you and partner hold only eight cards in that suit, then finesse. If nine, don’t. I’ve never heard any advice of that sort about a possible king finesse.

How would you handle this situation? Partner, still North, is holding ace, queen, jack, 10 and 9.You have only a singleton in that suit. Would you play the ace or try for another trick?

In rubber bridge, making the contract is what is important. In duplicate, overtricks are most important. 

If you go up with the ace, you can make a ruffing finesse. You would simply play the queen, and if not covered by the king, you would let it ride and toss a loser from your hand. If king covers, you would trump, setting up the rest of the hand. If king is on wrong side, you lose that trick but may have prevented losing in the suit you have tossed.

But if you play the queen, and it works, you can throw away a loser on the ace. However, if opponents get in, they may have a suit of their own to run, and you have lost control.

My personal adage on this? Heads or tails.

Nancy Evins, of Lebanon, is a certified bridge instructor. Email her at [email protected]


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