The Speaker

I'm playing in a 2-session regional compact KO. Between sessions, I'm giving a lecture on finesses. Today is July 5th ("Independence Day Observed" in the US), so my theme is "not all finesses are created equal."

In the first half, everyone is vulnerable, and I hold

 S:83 H:K52 D:AQ8 C:AQ764
I'm dealer. We are playing strong notrumps, and this one certainly qualifies. Partner bids Stayman, I deny, and he bids 3D:. That's natural and game forcing and promises a major; we have ways to show single-suited minors without Stayman. It doesn't promise the moon, however, so we are not necessarily in a slam auction. Therefore, I bid 3H:, so that partner can judge between 3NT and 5D: if that is his goal. We may even end up playing 4H: if he has four strong hearts and weak spades. Partner bids 3S:, and I have my first real decision. I can retreat to 4D:, or I can be a little more encouraging with 4C:. I think it's close, but while I have a minimum in high cards, I like my hand for diamonds. Two and a half key cards, a possible source of tricks, a possible ruffing value, and lots of controls...I take the high road. That's enough for partner. He leaps to slam in diamonds. While LHO ponders his lead, I realize that I'm playing the hand.

I get a small trump lead and see

S: A942
H: AJ5
D: KJ1097
C: 3
S: 83
H: K42
D: AQ8
C: AQ764
Pfui! On any lead but a trump, this is a fine slam, requiring roughly one of two finesses and nothing horrible's happening. On a trump lead, I can only ruff one of dummy's spades in hand, so I am two tricks short. I start with one spade, two hearts, five diamonds, and one club, for nine tricks in high cards. I can maneuver one spade ruff for ten, so I need to find two more tricks. There are two obvious finesses to get them, but 25% seems like poor odds. Can I improve my chances?

How about setting up the clubs? If they are 4-3, I can win the trump, club and a club ruff, duck a spade, win the trump, ruff a club, ruff a spade, ruff a club. Whoops...each hand has been shortened, so they'll have a long trump. I won't be able to cash the long club. But I can set them up if I take a successful club finesse. Club hook, club ruff, duck a spade. Win the trump, ruff a club, ruff a spade, ruff a club, draw trumps, and claim. There are chances if clubs aren't 4-3 (mostly the heart finesse), so this looks like the best general approach.

Before I commit to it, is there any edge to leading spades from hand? Yes, RHO may win and not have a trump, or might choose to shift to clubs. If I duck a spade at Trick 2 and a trump comes back and then the club finesse loses, I'm going down more than one. That won't matter much; at the other table, they almost certainly won't be in slam, so the one IMP or so for going down two or three probably isn't relevant. I need to make the hand.

I win the trump cheaply in hand and float the S:8 to the S:10. RHO thinks about this for a little bit, but returns a trump. Rats. I win in dummy and start my plan. Crossing my fingers, I take a club hook. It works! Since I don't want to discard from dummy now, and there's no gain from playing the C:A, I ruff a club as each follow. Next, cash the S:A and ruff a spade. RHO drops the S:Q and LHO the S:J on this trick. It looks like LHO started with S:KJxx, which is why he led a trump. Anyway, I ruff another club. If both follow, all I need is 3-2 trumps and I can claim. Nope, LHO shows out, so clubs are 2-5. That's OK, though; if trumps are breaking, I'm home without the heart finesse, assuming that LHO has the long spade. Even if I weren't pretty sure about that from the lead and early play, the 2-5 club break makes it pretty likely.

The position is

S: 9
H: AJ5
D: K
S: K
H: ???
D: x
H: ???
H: K42
C: A7
I draw the last trump. RHO pitches a heart, as do I, and LHO follows. Now I cross to the H:K and cash (finally!) the C:A. LHO has to keep his spade, so he pitches a heart. I pitch the spade from dummy. I play a heart up and play the ace. I'm gratified to see the H:Q fall, since RHO could have had the black kings left, though that was a little unlikely. As expected, the double squeeze worked.

If I have time during my talk, perhaps I shall discuss this hand, and note that the club finesse was essential, but the heart finesse was irrelevant. Happy Independence Day!

Copyright © 2010 Jeff Goldsmith