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Valentine’s Finesse

Until recently little was known of St. Valentine, a Christian martyr who lived in third-century Rome. His persecution and death in 269 A.D. was believed to be a direct result of religious beliefs, but newly discovered tablets near the Tiber River shed further light on this mystery. Evidence now points to his bridge exploits, which were way ahead of his time and angered his peers.

Consider the following tablet. As South, Valentine responded 1 S to his partner’s opening bid and was duly raised. Rather than settle for the easy game, he next made a tactical 3 C cue-bid to confuse the opponents. When his partner bid game, he leaped to slam!

6 S by South

Both Vul
S A 7 6
H 3 2
D K Q 5 4
C A 5 4 3
S K 5 4
H J 9 8 7 6
D 9
C 9 8 7 6
TableS 3 2
H Q 10 4
D J 10 8 7 6
C K Q 10
Lead: D 9S Q J 10 9 8
H A K 5
D A 3 2
C J 2

West


Pass
Pass
All Pass
North

1 D
2 S
4 S
East

Pass
Pass
Pass
South
Valentine
1 S
3 C
6 S

West led his stiff diamond and Valentine studied the dummy for a moment then spread his hand. “I claim,” he said. “I will finesse in two suits and squeeze East in the other two; simple hand.”

The opponents and kibitzers were bewildered. Even with the S K favorably placed, Valentine’s statement made no sense. Almost in unison East and West asked, “What’s this about finessing in two suits?”

“My dear opponents,” he continued, “as a patron of love, I would love to explain it to you, but it would be wasted on deaf ears. Suffice it to say that my brilliance is beyond your comprehension.”

West studied the layout and said, “The only finesse I see is the spade finesse and I would not cover with the king so you can’t ruff a heart. You have only 11 tricks, and I don’t think my partner can be squeezed.”

Ruff a heart! You make me laugh. I didn’t gain my stature by silly ruffs. I play with finesse. You are right that East cannot be squeezed with ordinary technique, but I don’t waste my time on ordinary technique. First I will take the heart finesse.”

West was dumfounded. “What heart finesse?”

“Open your eyes! I win the D K and lead the H 2; if East plays the four I finesse the five. If East instead plays the 10 or queen, I win it and finesse later.”

“So what?” West rebutted. “I will win a heart trick either way.”

“Fine, take it! I am in six not seven. I fully intend to give you a heart trick, and finessing the five is the only way to make this slam. Trust me; I am a genius.”

“So, I win the heart and lead a club,” West argued.

“Too late! That’s where my shrewd bidding paid off; you were a pigeon to believe that phony cue-bid. I win the C A, cross to my hand with a heart and finesse and draw trumps. The last six cards will be:

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

“Next I cross to my hand with the D A and lead my last two spades and the H A. East is squeezed in the minors and I win the rest. If you don’t see it, I understand. Perhaps one of the kibitzers will explain it to you very slowly.”

Epilogue

St. Valentine’s body was found a few days later in the Tiber River and ruled an accidental death (despite the marble slab bound to his ankles). In lieu of flowers and in memory of his heart finesse on this deal, many Romans sent his family parchment cards with a heart symbol in red ink. And so it came to be.

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© 1999 Richard Pavlicek