Almost Bridge 7F53   Main

The Un-Finesse

  by Richard Pavlicek

All bridge players know about the finesse, which has been around since the beginning of bridge, and even before then in the days of whist. The basic technique is quite simple: Lead from one hand, forcing an opponent to play next, then win the trick as cheaply as possible.

Well, that was just too easy. Back in 1943 my uncle Cedric, a nuclear physicist assigned to the Manhattan Project, came across another discovery. In his Chicago laboratory he tested 729 card combinations and found that certain holdings defied physical laws. An ace was sometimes a deuce; and a deuce was sometimes an ace. The shortest route to dummy was not a straight line but a space-time continuum. Tricks would disappear then reappear as quantum particles. A finesse that worked was often a losing finesse, and a finesse that lost was often a winner. Card play had entered a new era.

Consider this “Deal of Infamy” which occurred in a team game in Cedric’s laboratory. (Historians say that World War II would have ended a lot sooner if Cedric had not become a bridge addict.) Both tables reached the slam in spades on the primitive auction shown. After West’s 1 H overcall, North cue-bid 2 H to force to game. South jumped to 4 S to show extra strength; North invited slam, and South accepted. (Players of today would make a negative double with the North hand, but this gadget wasn’t invented yet.)

West led the H J, won by the ace, and both declarers next led the S Q, seeing West produce the king. How sweet! At Table 1 declarer took the ace and drew a second trump, discovering the bad break. Despite the 11 top tricks there was just no way to come to 12, and the contract failed.

Enter Cedric, who was South at Table 2. When he saw the S Q covered, he knew that a winning finesse might lose, and vice versa. His laboratory analyses confirmed time and time again that honor cards are transcendental, always in flux and never at real coordinates. Clearly this was an opportunity for the “un-finesse” so he let the S K hold. In order to “win” the trick, he had to lose it.

Board 11
None Vul
S A 7 5 4
H Q 3 2
D A 9 8
C A 10 2

1 H
All Pass

2 H
5 S

1 D
4 S
6 S
H K J 10 9 8 7
D 6 5 4
C K 9 8
Table S 8 6 3 2
H 6 5 4
D 3 2
C J 7 6 5
6 S South
Lead: H J
S Q J 10 9
D K Q J 10 7
C Q 4 3

After unexpectedly winning the S K, West exited safely with a diamond, taken by the ace as Cedric unblocked the 10. A heart was ruffed, then the S J-10 were cashed. Dummy was entered with the D 9 to draw East’s last trump, then diamonds were run. This was the ending before Cedric led his last diamond:

S win all S
C A 10
C K 9
Table S
C J 7 6
South leadsS
C Q 4

On the D J West was hopelessly squeezed. If he let go the H K, dummy’s queen would be good; if he let go a club, his king would fall. Either way, Cedric had the rest. Making 6 S!

Final Thoughts

Virtually all players have lost to singleton kings offside, but my uncle Cedric was the first to do so with the kings onside. But then, how do we know what is actually onside? Is there really an up and a down? Or is it just a matter of relativity?

Almost Bridge 7F53   MainTop   The Un-Finesse

© 1998 Richard Pavlicek