You are in a four spade contract, (West and East passed throughout), and the two suits of interest are spades, and a side suit (call it hearts). These are the North and South hands, as given in a bridge column.

          S AQJ
            H A65
            D Q64
            C QJ74
            S T9876
            H K3
            D 32
            C AK32 

The opening lead (7 of hearts,covered by East's 9) goes to your K of hearts. You lead a low spade to the Q in dummy for a finesse, and it holds (West and East play 3 and 2). If you now play A and J of spades, you will probably lose a spade to the king, but make your contract, because your natural losers are one spade and two diamonds. On the other hand, you can repeat the finesse by cashing the A of hearts and coming to your hand with a heart ruff. Your fear is that East will ruff with the K, and then go to West via a high diamond for a ruff. In rubber, the right thing to do is to draw opposing trumps as fast as possible by playing A, then "low" (J), in spades, conceding a trick to the opposing king.

But suppose this is Matchpoints (duplicate). Given East's and West's silence, is it reasonable to assume that hearts are split 4-4 or 5-3, and that you can return safely to your hand for a second finesse? If we can earn an overtrick half the time by finessing spades again, will that "make up" for the few times that East can ruff and defeat the contract?

(The column reported that the actual declarer went to his king of clubs, the second spade finesse lost to East's king, and East reached a high diamond honor in West for a club ruff, down one, since clubs were 4-1. This, to me, is a greater risk than the heart ruff.)

The bidding was North (opener) 1NT, South 2 clubs North 2 diamonds South 4 spades. Neither side vulnerable.

  • You say this is from a bridge column - if so, give the entire hand just as presented in the column. Without that information I cannot give an informed pinion. It is impossible to make an informed whole hand opinion on only half a hand. Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 22:52
  • @PieterGeerkens: Hand was added.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 1:23
  • Now, please specify the heart spots played to the first trick, and the spade spots played to the second and third. Defenders are trying to communicate, and I really want, and know how, to eavesdrop. There is a world of difference whether West led the heart deuce or four, along with whether they play fourth best or third and fifth. I also want to know whether the defenders play coded 9's and 10's leads. Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 2:04
  • 1
    A key observation from the totally inadequate description of the hand given so far - if you are not observing and interpreting the defensive carding you are presented with you shouldn't even be asking this question. Make your contract before you allow the defenders to do something subtle to set you unbeknownst. Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 2:12
  • Also are the Defenders playing standard or inverted signals; is their primary defensive signal attitude, count or suit preference; and what are their Notrump honour leading practices? Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 2:13

1 Answer 1


Was this hand posted on July 5, the thirtieth anniversary of Barry Crane's death. Fifth of his eleven commandments is

Sevens are singletons.

I lead low to the Club Ace at trick three and repeat the Spade finesse at trick four. Assuming it wins I then cash the Spade Ace at trick 5 and if all have followed to the second round of Spades claim making 5, conceding two diamonds only.

The heart trick is a red herring, as even if the play wins it doesn't provide any additional tricks or any additional entries.

Many partnerships will be playing Jacoby transfers to make North declarer, so we may be facing an unusual defence. I must protect that by playing to take the eleventh trick. No-one will be missing game, so making is at best average.

  • In the problem, declarer went to his hand in clubs (an eight card suit), and lost a club ruff after taking, and losing the second finesse. (East went to West in diamonds.) My solution is to have declarer go to his hand via a ruff in hearts (a five card suit), on the theory that the chances of opponents' "trumping in" are smaller. And I'd take this chance only in duplicate, not rubber.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 14:40
  • 1
    @TomAu: S*t happens. The difference in *a prioiri odds is very small: 3.9% for a 5-0 break in Clubs and 2.8% for a 7-1 break in Hearts, but the actual odds are now different in hard-to-calculate ways because of the information received, and the lead made. The Heart lead still smells, and you still haven't given me the Spade spots played by defenders on the first lead of the suit. The question is a trick because you refuse to provide full information. Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 16:53
  • From the question: "You lead a low spade to the Q in dummy for a finesse, and it holds (West and East play 3 and 2)." Actually, I'm worried about a 4-1 break in clubs, where East can "trump in." But the point is, with those "slim" odds against you, you should try the second finesse in Matchpoints (but not rubber)? Or am I missing something?
    – Tom Au
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 17:21
  • Actually, you answered my question with your comment. That is, if I use hearts, not clubs, for "transportation," to my hand, I have to worry about a 7-1, but not 6-2 heart split (I can overuff anything but the king in my hand). The chances of a 7-1 break is < 3%, so in Matchpoints, I take that 3% chance for the 50-50 chance of a successful finesse, and an overtrick. Accepted for your enlightening comment.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 17:34
  • @Tim Lymington: I deleted my answer since your (and Pieter's) comments taught me what I wanted to learn from asking the question. But the point of the question was that a lot more risks are permissible, even ex post, in Matchpoints, than in rubber.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 13:50

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