Puzzle 8N61   Main

Ready Freddy

  by Richard Pavlicek

Luke recovered quickly from his opening-lead accident, and after a week of prosthetics orientation we were back on track with our planned trip to Mt. Rushmore. I set up a team match against the Dakota Aces, a group of bridge pros sponsored by Ira Cornbucks, for $100 an IMP. On the surface they might be considered favorites, but we were packin’ a bigger ace, with Ready Freddy on our team. “No finesse too tall” is his trademark, and it set the tone of the match on the first board as both teams bid this optimistic game:

3 NT South
None Vul
S A 2
H 7 5 4 2
D A 4 3
C Q 9 8 7

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

At my table Luke led the S J, taken by the king, and declarer played ace and a club to my king. A spade return left declarer in dire straits, so he tried the diamond finesse hoping to salvage something. When this lost he was down five. I wanted to point out that 3 NT was still made — just by the wrong side — but held it back lest the postmortem unearth my body in the Black Hills.

At the other table Ready Freddy was declarer, so the contract was a cinch. After the same lead, Freddy began with a club to the nine, then after a spade back led the club queen to bring in the suit. After that it was child’s play to run diamonds by starting the jack. Easy game, and the beginning of a 166-26 rout for a cool 14 grand apiece, albeit pocket change for Cornbucks.

Many people have questioned Freddy’s uncanny card-reading ability, but I have no qualms. After all, it’s not how you play the game, but how much you can rake. By hook or by crook, all tricks count the same.

Luke and I urged Freddy to teach us his knack, but after one look at Luke’s left arm he declined, “Sorry, but it involves digital periscopics, and it won’t work with a prosthesis.”

The techniques described are commonly called a “backward finesse” (diamonds) and an “intrafinesse” (clubs). While successful on the layout, these plays are almost always anti-percentage, unless declarer expects a normal finesse to fail from the bidding or defense, or a periscope, as the case may be. Nonetheless, they enliven the postmortem, and this month will provide a puzzle:

What are the weakest suit holdings to allow a backward finesse and an intrafinesse?

Clarification: While the techniques are not strictly defined, the essence of each must be retained, and it must be the only maneuver in the suit layout to win the most tricks, which may be as few as one. For the sake of uniformity, South must lead first. After that, either North or South must lead; i.e., there are no endplays or help from the defenders. If there is any ambiguity, I will be the judge as to what constitutes a backward finesse and an intrafinesse.

Weakness is judged by the total N-S HCP (fewer is better) and secondarily by the sum of all N-S card ranks (lower is better), but remember that the essence of the technique must be retained.

Leif-Erik Stabell Wins

In July 2017 this puzzle was presented as a contest, inviting anyone who wished to submit a solution. And if wishes were horses… sigh, participation dropped again, and in fact took a nosedive, as only 27 persons gave it a try. (I get the message, so rather than wait around to hit zero, I will take this opportunity to go out as a perfect cube.) Only the seven listed managed to submit viable layouts that passed my scrutiny as a backward finesse and an intrafinesse.

Congratulations to Leif-Erik Stabell, Zimbabwe, who stands alone at the top with the lowest N-S HCP total, 2 points better than anyone else. Curiously, Leif-Erik also won North by North-West, the companion puzzle to this; hmm… Leif?… Luke?… close enough! Leif-Erik also goes back to my play-contest days, winning The House on Phantom Lane and Our Finest Gifts We Bring, and almost always near the top whenever he entered. Second place went to Craig Biddle, Pennsylvania, a new participant with a sharp eye. Rounding out the top three is Nicholas Greer, England, a regular top solver who also won Doubled in Spades.

Winner List
RankNameLocationN-S HCPRank Sum
1Leif-Erik StabellZimbabwe491
2Craig BiddlePennsylvania688
3Nicholas GreerEngland690
4Ryou NijiMichigan690
5Wayne SomervilleNorthern Ireland792
6Franco MasoeroItaly892
7Richard SteinCalifornia895

Puzzle 8N61   MainTop   Ready Freddy


As stated in the clarification, valid solutions had to retain the essence of the technique. To some extent this was subjective, but it was my call to draw the line. As expected, the attempt to minimize HCP and rank sums caused some solvers to go too far. As judge, jury and executioner, I will spare them the guillotine but not from my invisible ink.

Up periscope

For the backward finesse, every successful solver but one hit on the following theme, although some unnecessarily put a third card in dummy. Craig Biddle, Pennsylvania, and Franco Masoero, Italy, each found the lowest possible rank sum (41) with this layout:

NT win 1 D J 2 
D K 10 5Table D A 8 6 4 3
South leads D Q 9 7 

The only way to establish a trick is for South to lead the nine. If West covers with the 10, the jack forces the ace, then declarer can finesse the seven on the second round.

Nicholas Greer: The backward finesse is achieved by leading the nine to prepare a later finesse of the seven.

Ryou Niji: Sane people finesse East for the D 10. Freddy leads the nine (ten-jack-ace) then his Q-7 sits nicely over East’s 8-6 to score a trick.

Ryou seems to equate evildoing with insanity, but I wonder; some brilliant criminals come to mind. Let’s see… there’s Moriarty, Trump…

On the road again

While the preceding rank sum can’t be beaten, the priority tiebreaker was fewer N-S HCP. Only one solver found the road to 1 HCP, call it the “Road to Zimbabwe,” as Leif-Erik Stabell revives the Hope-Crosby tradition.

NT win 1 D 10 3 2 
D A K 9 4Table D Q 7
South leads D J 8 6 5 

South must lead the eight, clearly a backward finesse, which leaves the defense helpless. If West covers with the nine, dummy’s 10 forces the queen, then South’s spots ensure a trick when the seven pops later. If West ducks, South floats the eight, then a subsequent lead toward the 10 develops a trick.

Here come da judge

The intrafinesse took a beating this month, as some solvers obliterated its identity in trying to win the tiebreakers. For example, if South with 7-6-3-2 leads toward North’s Q-9 and finesses the nine, is this an intrafinesse? Not in my book; it’s just a finesse. An intrafinesse must have a retrograde element, i.e., playback into the original leader’s hand.

Wayne Somerville, Northern Ireland, certainly retained the essence with this fine submission:

NT win 2 C J 7 4 
C 10 5Table C A Q 9 6
South leads C K 8 3 2 

Declarer can establish two tricks, but only by leading first from the South hand: low to the seven assuming West follows low (playing the 10 does not help the defense). Subsequently North leads the jack, and eventually the four. No matter how East defends, he can win only his ace (besides the nine already scored).

Down periscope

A controversial issue in the definition of an intrafinesse is whether the first finesse requires a two-card gap as in Wayne’s example, or whether a one-card gap is sufficient. My ruling was to allow the latter, as long as the playback element exists. Therefore, it is possible to have only 3 HCP, as three of the top four solvers showed with this optimal entry, a rank sum of only 46.

NT win 2 C 10 8 4 
C 9 7Table C A Q J 5
South leads C K 6 3 2 

Declarer can win two tricks, but only by starting with low to the eight.

Ryou Niji: Some declarers would start by finessing West for the nine; and when this works, lead [low to the 10] as a safety play for one trick; [or alternatively lead toward the king hoping East has A-J-x]. Only Freddy knows to lead the 10 next to pin the nine, now scoring his king over East’s queen, and his six over East’s five.

Nicholas Greer: The intrafinesse consists of finessing the eight, then leading the 10 to pin the nine that has just been finessed against.

Leif-Erik Stabell: North will have to lead the suit twice for the six to score a trick.

Auf Wiedersehen

This puzzle will end the current series, which ran 32 months. Thanks to everyone who participated, and that’s more than a token message. As many of you know, this series spanned an emotionally distraught period for me, and having the diversion every month definitely helped me to cope. No doubt I’ll be coming up with something new in the near future, so stay tuned. -Richard Honey, I Miss You

Puzzle 8N61   MainTop   Ready Freddy

Paid for by the committee to add President Trump to Mt. Rushmore
© 2017 Richard Pavlicek