Resist the urge to take that finesse!

This week’s Thursday night Swiss team game with duplicated boards at the Bridge Studio of Delaware in North Wilmington presented some challenging boards – and perhaps therefore had some surprising results.

In the shark tank of the highest ranked teams, Rick Rowland, who just got his Life Grand Master ranking when he went over 10,000 MasterPoints, playing with Studio Big Man Harold Jordan and their respective spouses came in dead last with their team with just one tie. Francis “Mooch” Taylor and Carolyn Broomall, playing with Randy Berseth and Tom Kramer, took first.

In the other game, the team of the Browns and the Chaleks swept the table to come in first, while our team with myself, partner John Walston, and Eileen Bickel-Thomas playing with Anne Morris who filled in very capably for the cruising Ed Maser, came in second overall and first in the C category. We won three head-to-head matches and lost only to the eventual winners in our bracket, earning 1.13 MPs.

One of the most challenging boards was one on which my partner John went Down One in an attempted 3 No-Trump contract on a combined 27 points. In retrospect, it was easy enough to see how he could have made his contract – all he had to do was go for the drop of the missing Diamond Queen, but that didn’t seem like a logical play since he was missing 7 Diamonds in total – how to guess that it was in fact sitting in second position?

The board didn’t hurt us since all the other teams bid 3 NT as well and also went Down One, so no one found the winning play. Still, all the North and South players who picked up hand records at the end of the evening must have felt considerably chagrined to discover that not only should they have made their contracts, but they could have made an overtrick with the sharpest possible play.

How to make that overtrick when everyone else – Life Master ranking and all – went Down One? Obviously this is a job for Smug Sam, so we will imagine that Smug Sam also played the hand as South, putting all the other North-South pairs to shame. My partner John, who played South, will have to become my column’s anti-hero Flustered Flo one more time, but several other North-South players from Thursday night could have shared that dubious honor. I’ll be Flo’s partner, Loyal Larry, with North.

The hand

North Dealer; neither side vulnerable

9 8
A K 5 2
K 9 5 2
West East
7 6 Q J 10 5 4
J 10 9 6 8 3
9 8 4 3 2 Q 7
A 3 Q J 6 4
A K 3 2
Q 7 4
10 6 5
10 8 7

 The bidding

North East South West
1 Pass 1 No-Trump Pass
3 No-Trump All pass

Opening lead: 4

How Flustered Flo played it

Flustered Flo is really trying to become a better bridge player. To do that, she knows she has to curb her tendency to be finesse-happy. The best bridge players, she knows, avoid taking a risky finesse at all cost, especially when they have a chance to end-play an opponent and Make THEM give YOU a free finesse.

But once in a while, Flo slides back into her old bad habits, as she did on the diagrammed deal in a recent club game, when she botched a difficult, but makeable 3 No-Trump Game contract and went Down One.

When dummy came down, Flo counted only seven sure tricks, two in Spades, three in Hearts and two in Diamonds. Regardless of the position of the missing Club Ace, Flo was pretty confident of picking up one trick in Clubs, but that still gave her only eight in total. She’d still need a 9th trick to make her contract, and she saw no better opportunity than to pick up the finesse on the Diamond Queen.

She took the finesse right away, and it lost. East continued with the Spade Queen, which Flo captured with her Ace, and she next led a small Club to her King when West ducked the Ace. Now Flo’s only chance for her 9th trick was a 3-3 split in Hearts to set up a free 13th Heart, but when that didn’t work, either, Flo was stuck with only eight tricks and had to accept her minus-50 score for Down One.

At the end of the evening, Down One wasn’t such a bad score as Flo had lots of company. But, as Flo had feared, her nemesis Smug Sam took tops on the board as South, not only making his 3 No-Trump Game contract but doing it with an overtrick no less.

“I guess you dropped the Queen of Diamonds instead of taking the finesse,” Flo told Sam, “although I still don’t understand why you would. But how on earth did you make an overtrick? Even picking up the Diamond Queen, you never have more than 9 tricks.”

“Dropping the Queen of Diamonds was a bonus,” Sam replied, smug as always. “But I set out from the start to pick up my 9th trick elsewhere. I didn’t want to have to depend on an iffy finesse. I couldn’t count on 3-3 splits in either Hearts or Clubs, so I had to try and end-play my opponents and force them to give me a free finesse and pick up an extra trick.”

“How could you possibly do that?” Flo asked.

“Well, Clubs was the better choice since we had a lot of middle cards in the suit, from the 10 through the 7,” Sam replied. “So I took the opening Diamond trick in the dummy, came to my hand with the Heart Queen and led a small Club. When West ducked the Ace, I ducked the King, too, and let East take the trick with the Jack.

“East returned a top Spade,” Sam continued, “putting me back in my hand. Then I drove out West’s Club Ace, took the next Diamond lead dropping East’s Queen and ran out my remaining winning red cards. East had to protect his Club Queen, so he had to part with two small Spades. I came back to my hand with the Spade King, and put East in the lead with his last Spade. East was then end-played, and had to give me the last two tricks in Clubs.”

“Did you see all four hands to be able to hatch that plan?” Flo asked.

“I didn’t have to,” said Sam. “This plan would have worked whoever had the four Clubs.”

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