Display finesse – by avoiding one

Finessing is one of most important plays in bridge. But what do you do when the cards are likely offside and your finesses are therefore slated to lose?

          NORTH
          ♠ Q86
          J63
          762
           AQ54
WEST                EAST
 42                 97
 AQ82               T975
 KJ4                T985
 KT92               J76
          SOUTH
          
 AKJT53
          
 K4
          
 AQ3
          
 83

WEST  NORTH  EAST  SOUTH
1C    Pass   Pass  Dble
Pass  1NT    Pass  4S
All pass

South was too strong to overcall 1S, especially in the passout seat where values can be shaded. With such a strong hand, a takeout double may be made even without the classical shape. After North replied 1NT, South launched into 4S, although 3NT would have been easier to make.

Knowing partner had little, and not wanting to give anything away on the lead, West led a passive trump. Declarer too knows that East is poverty-stricken. To have had an opening bid, West surely has the kings and ace that declarer is missing.

Consider declarer’s losers. Spades are solid. The K-x of hearts could both be losers, and there could be two losers in diamonds too. Declarer has two small in clubs but dummy’s A-Q should both be winners because as we know, West is marked with the CK. That still leaves four losers, one too many.

Better than taking a finesse (or at least the losing ones in the red suits) is if an opponent can be made to lead a worrisome suit up to your honours. First you need to get rid of any suits you don’t want the other side to lead.

After winning the opening spade lead in hand, declarer finesses to the CQ, then cashes the CA and ruffs a club. Cross back to dummy via the SQ, and lead the last club, discarding the D3 to throw West in on lead. West has only red cards left so must broach one of those suits, and the contract is made.

This next one has added subtlety:

          NORTH
          
 QJ765
          
 KJT7
          
 QJ
          
 QT
WEST                EAST
 A3                 T984
 96                 53
 K873               T52
 AK986              7543
          SOUTH
          
 K2
          
 AQ842
          
 A964
          
 J2

WEST  NORTH  EAST  SOUTH
1C    1S     Pass  2H
Pass  3H     Pass  4H
All pass

West sensibly starts by cashing the two top clubs then getting out safely with a trump. Declarer still has the SA to lose and again the auction indicates that the diamond finesse is unlikely to be working. So, how do we avoid having to rely on it?

One possibility is that the spades could be 3-3 between East and West, in which case the suit can be established for three discards and there go declarer’s little diamonds. But what about a solution for the actual layout?

Declarer draws trumps, finishing in hand, then plays spades. Although it is normal to start “high from the shorter holding”, this time it is better to instead lead the S2 towards dummy. West plays low (hopping up with the ace would establish the suit for declarer). After the SQ (or SJ) wins, a low spade is led back to the SK, losing to the SA.

If the suit is divided 3-3, nothing has been lost by declarer in playing spades in this fashion. But if West started with only two spades, look what happens. Stripped of major suit cards, West must either lead a diamond (solving the problem there) or else lead a club, which allows the diamond loser to be discarded from dummy while declarer ruffs in hand. Game bid and made.

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