How to Play the Finesse in a Bridge Hand

By Joe Andrews
Major Suit Jacks!

We continue my series on Bridge with the play of the hand. Your side has won the auction and you have declared a contract. The mission here is to make your bid. Overtricks are nice, especially in Duplicate formats; however, the primary goal is to bring your contract home! One of the most effective weapons is the Finesse. This is the attempt to win a higher card of a suit with a combination of lower cards opposite the winning card in the same suit. This is the simplest of the special plays-and there are many examples. Here are a few.

* Please note that you are sitting South on lead, playing as declarer and opposite your partner in the North seat. Assume trump contracts, unless otherwise stated.

FINESSING THE KING

(You) Q J 10 /// (Partner) A x x ("x" is a small spot card)

Here is a standard play. Lead the Queen. If West (the next player in rotation) plays low, let the Queen ride through. If he covers with the King, then you win the Ace and your J 10 are good. (You have a 50 percent chance of winning all three tricks in this suit.)

LOCATING THE KING

(You) Q x x /// (Partner) A x x

Here we have the Queen without the Jack. Lead a small spot card to the Ace. Then lead a small card of the same suit back to your Queen. If the King is on the right, it should be played (why would an opponent hold it up?) and you should score your Queen. (If this is a side suit, it must be assumed that you have extracted trump.) Yes, here is another 50-percent probability maneuver.

CHASING THE QUEEN

(You) A K J /// (Partner) x x x

Here is a familiar scenario. Cash the King first, hoping (praying) for a singleton Queen. If she does not appear, then cross to partner's hand with another suit. Then lead your original suit. If the Queen still does not appear, finesse the Jack. Once again, we must extract trump before tackling this suit.

TWO-WAY STREET

(You) A J x /// (Partner) K 10 9

Here is a dual-finessing position. Play your Ace, then lead your Jack toward the K 10 9-or if you suspect the Queen may be on your right, then lead your small card to the King and play the ten or nine toward your King. Yes, this is a 50-percent guess, a virtual coin toss.

DOUBLE FINESSE

(You) x x x /// (Partner) A Q 10

Here you're missing the King and Jack. Ideally, you hope these key cards are on your left. Lead small, and if your left-hand opponent plays small, play the TEN. If it loses to the Jack, you can repeat a finesse with the Queen. If the ten loses to the King, then your A and Q are good. If the K and J are on your right, then you were doomed in any case. The odds are 75 percent you will win one of the finesses.

KEY CARDS

(You) x x x /// (Partner) A J 10

Here you are missing the King and Queen of suit. You hope that one of these cards is on your left. The plan is to lead low, and if the next player follows low, you will lose to an honor card. You will repeat the finesse when you get back to your hand via another suit. If an honor card comes out on the first lead of this suit, you will take the Ace and cheerfully concede a trick to the other missing high card.

DEEP FINESSE

(You) A K x x /// (Partner) J x

Here is a motif we see frequently in No trump play. Your best lead is a small card toward the Jack. If the Queen pops up on the left, you will duck. Now your Jack scores separately along with your Ace and King. If she is on the right, then you have lost a trick with little harm to your side.

RUFFING FINESSE (TRUMP CONTRACT)

(You) A Q J x /// Partner x

Here is an unusual combination of cards in a side suit. Normally, if partner had two or three low cards, you would lead from his hand toward your high-card holding (hoping to "hook" the King on the RIGHT). Here he has a SINGLETON. Assuming a trump has been called, we lead the Ace of this illustrated suit, and then the Queen. If the LEFT-hand opponent plays low, we discard an off-suit card from partner's hand, hoping the King is on the Left. If this play loses to the King, we have discarded a loser from partner's hand. This is called a RUFFING finesse.