Finessing in Bridge

The art of making an extra trick with an honour card that would lose if it was led.

What do I mean by that?

This is a move that declarer makes either from hand or from dummy (ie you can see two hands)
Imagine that you are South and you and dummy hold the following cards in a suit:

Finessing in bridge

Can you make a trick with the King?

If you lead the King it will always lose as whichever opponent holds the A will play it. It doesn’t matter whether it is with W or E.

Now suppose that instead of leading the K, you enter hand and play a low card towards the K? Can it win? You now have a 50-50 chance. If W holds Ace, you can make a trick with K. If E holds ace there is nothing you can do.

How does this work?

Lead a low card from hand and see what West plays:

  • If W plays the Ace, you play low from dummy and the King will be a winner next time the suit is played.
  • If W plays low you play K. If W does hold the Ace, then you have won the trick with the K. (As I said above, if E holds Ace there is nothing you can do as they will play it on your King.)

This is the basic principle of finessing – you lead low TOWARDS the honour you hope to make and it will work approximately 50% of the time. (Leading the honour will always fail).

The Marked Finesse

Usually with a finesse, as described above, we can’t be sure that it will win.  With a marked finesse we are sure of winning.

What is a marked finesse?

The marked finesse happens when one opponent has shown out of cards in the suit.  We then know which opponent has the remaining cards.

Imagine you hold the following cards in the suit:

Marked finesse

Can you make 4 tricks?  (Assuming you are playing in NT or have drawn trumps)

If the remaining cards break 3-2 between the opponents you will always make 4 tricks, Likewise if they break 4-1 with the singleton being the Jack.

But suppose the singleton isn’t the Jack or the cards break 5-0?  This is where you use the marked finesse.

Imagine you’ve played one round of the suit and W played 9.  You try a second round and W discards.  You now know that E holds the J & 7.

How does the marked finesse work?

As with finessing above you need to leads TOWARDS the honour you want to make.  If you lead Q from hand, then W will play the 7 and keep J for the next round.

You need to cross to dummy – this is where forward planning helps, as you would have kept entries to dummy if possible.

Once in dummy you lead towards your hand.  You know E holds J and 7.

  • If E plays 7 you win with 8.  Your Q will win next time
  • If E plays J you play Q.  Your 8 will win next time.

You can practice finessing if you join No Fear Bridge for your two week trial membership.

Acol bridge players join HERE.

American Standard bridge players join HERE.