Declarer Play III -- The Finesse


Some suit combinations allow you to create extra tricks by capturing the opponent's honors. You can do this by trying a finesse in a suit where you have one or more, but not all, of the high honors. When you finesse, you play the suit as if a certain opponent had one or more of the honors you're missing.

To run a finesse, first try to visualize where you need a missing honor to be. Then lead the suit through the opponent you hope has the honor (arrange for him to be second to play to the trick). Depending on which card he plays, choose a card from the third hand (yours or dummy's) that isn't the highest card in the suit, but which will win if second-hand has the honor you're trying to trap.

Keep in mind that your opponents will usually follow two defensive card-play rules:
Finding Queens:
Finding Kings:

For a summary of the probabilities of winning a finesse, see Declarer Play: Simple Odds.


  Common Suit Combinations -- How to finesse 

(DUMMY)
 AQ5 

 432 
(YOU) 

With this combination, you have one winner and two losers unless your left-hand opponent (LHO) holds the King.
Lead the 2 from your hand and, if LHO follows with a low card, play dummy's Queen. This type of simple finesse will win 50% of the time. 

K32 

654 

You can also finesse for an Ace.
Play LHO for that card by leading from your hand toward dummy's K32. If your LHO follows low -- and he almost always will when he holds the Ace -- play dummy's King. If your right-hand opponent (RHO) has the Ace, you never had a chance to win a trick in this suit.

A432 

QJ109 

If LHO has the King, finessing will win four tricks.
Lead the Queen and if LHO plays low, "let it ride" by playing low from dummy. If the Queen wins, repeat the finesse by leading the Jack. 

A432 

QJ65 

This is different than the example above because you don't have the 10 to back up your  QJ. If LHO has the King, you can't gain a trick by leading the Queen (LHO will cover your Queen with the King and you'll lose to the 10 later). You have to lose at least one trick and hope to take three.
Your best play for three tricks is to cash the ace and lead dummy's 2 toward your QJ6. If RHO plays small, play your Queen. If LHO wins the King, the suit has broken 3-2 and you'll have three tricks.
If your Queen wins and LHO shows out on the second trick (RHO started with K1098 and now has K10), go back to dummy and lead low again toward the J6 remaining in your hand.

AJ32 

K654 

In an 8-card fit, the Queen will not usually fall if you cash the Ace and King, so plan to finesse LHO for the Queen.
Cash the King first (in case the Queen drops singleton), then lead low toward the AJ3 left in dummy. If LHO plays low, play dummy's Jack.
This line of play will win slightly more than 50% of the time. 

AJ32 

K1054 

This suit offers a two-way finesse because you hold the Jack and ten. Decide (or guess) which defender is more likely to hold the Queen.
If you think LHO has the Queen, cash the King, then lead toward dummy's AJ3 and play the Jack if LHO follows low.
If you think RHO has the Queen, cash the Ace, then lead toward your K105 and play the 10 if RHO follows low. 

A432

J1098 

You can try a double finesse when you're missing two honors. Here, you hope to lose only one trick by playing LHO for one or both missing honors.
Lead the Jack. If LHO plays the King or Queen, win with the Ace and then lose just one trick to the remaining high honor.
If you lead the Jack and LHO plays low, play low from dummy and let RHO win his Queen or King. You can now finesse LHO for the remaining honor by running the 10.
This play of finessing twice will win three tricks 75% of the time. 

AQ32

10987 

This is a double finesse like the example above, but you're missing the Jack and King (instead of the Queen and King).
Lead the 10 and let it ride, then repeat by leading the 9. If LHO holds both the King and the Jack, you'll win all four tricks. If LHO has either one of these honors, you'll win three tricks. 

K432 

J1098 

This is another double finesse, but it offers an extra trick only if LHO has the Queen.
Lead the Jack and let it ride. If this wins or if RHO wins the Ace, you'll know you've trapped LHO's Queen. Repeat the finesse by leading the ten and letting it ride.
This play will win three tricks 50% of the time. 

A432 

Q765 

Since you don't have the Jack and 10 to back up your Queen, you can't trap the King if LHO has it. If you lead the Queen, LHO will "cover an honor with an honor" to force the Ace and you'll lose at least two tricks to the Jack and 10 (or perhaps three tricks to the J109 if the suit breaks 4-1).
Instead, you must hope RHO has the King and will win it as you play small cards.
Cash dummy's Ace, then lead the 2 towards your Q76. If RHO plays low, play the Queen. (Note that RHO won't always "fly" with his King, especially if this is the trump suit). 

A432 

Q1065

This is similar to the combination above, but holding the 10 gives you another option.
If you think RHO has the King (because of a clue from the bidding or previous tricks), play the suit as above -- cash the Ace and lead the 2 toward your Q106, playing the Queen if RHO follows low.
If you think LHO has the King, you can finesse RHO for the Jack. Cash the Ace and lead toward your Q106. If RHO plays low, play the 10.
If in doubt, choose this option (Ace, then low to the 10); this will succeed when RHO holds Jxx or KJxx. 

A432 

Q1098

You have the same honors as in the previous two examples, but your 1098 allows you to run another type of double finesse.
The best way to play this suit for three winners is to lead the Queen. If LHO covers with his King, you'll win the Ace and lose only one trick to the Jack.
If you lead the Queen and LHO plays low, play low from dummy. If RHO wins your Queen with the King, take a second finesse -- play LHO for the Jack by leading the 10 towards the A43 and letting it ride.
Like other double finesses, this line of play will succeed 75% of the time. It loses two tricks only when RHO has both the King and Jack.

K432 

Q1065

When you're missing the Ace and Jack, you'll sometimes have to finesse for the Jack on the second round of the suit.
Lead low from your hand and play dummy's King if LHO plays low. Whether RHO plays low or wins the King with the Ace, the Jack is not likely to drop on the next trick when your fit is 8 or fewer cards.
For the second lead of the suit, start in dummy and lead the 2 toward your Q106. If RHO plays small, play your 10.

Note:  For simplicity, all of the above examples show combinations where you and dummy have equal length in the suit. Most of the recommendations still apply in similar layouts where you have shorter or longer fits, unequal suit lengths and/or "spot" cards that are in different hands. 
    For example, for the combination of A432 opposite Q1098, you can try the same double finesse (leading the queen first) if the cards are divided Q2 opposite A10987, or Q102 opposite A98.

For more tips on declarer play, see the lessons on Forming a Plan and Establishing and Cashing Tricks.


Copyright   Karen Walker