Source: Australian Bridge Federation Newsletter

Barbara Travis
Barbara Travis

This article illustrates the thought processes that top players go through before making their opening lead. It is important to listen to the auction and draw relevant inferences, to help guide you to the best lead.

In the May 2017 edition of the IBPA Bulletin, Mikael Grönkvist wrote about a hand on which he had the opportunity to star:

A heart lead felt like a stand-out after the splinter sequence, mainly because partner was a favourite to have the Ace, since neither opponent made a control bid in hearts. Another reason for a heart lead was that I had the club suitQ-J, which were wasted defensive cards when LHO had a club singleton.

The question was: which heart to lead?

A low heart would be correct if declarer held theHeart SuitQ, while the surround play of the Heart SuitJ would work spectacularly well if dummy held Heart SuitQ-x-x and declarer held the Heart Suit10-x-x. I decided to go for the latter option, since dummy was more likely to have more strength in hearts, given that declarer definitely held a diamond honour, and possibly theclub suitA. For once, I got it right:

Declarer could do nothing as we cashed the first three heart tricks and later scored the Diamond SuitQ for one down. A low heart would not have been a success, and that was West’s choice at many tables, probably after similar bidding. [By starting with the Heart SuitJ, Mikael had created a finesse of dummy’s Heart SuitQ, and when East won the Heart SuitA, he could return a heart through declarer’s Heart Suit10 to Mikael’s Heart SuitK-9, for the three heart winners.]

AN EXPENSIVE ‘GUESS’

Mikael Gronkvist’s hand demonstrates the surround play. For some reason, when these plays are made, the term used to describe them varies depending on whether done defensively (surround play) or by declarer (reverse finesse).

A reverse finesse situation arises when declarer is missing
the queen and ten in a suit, but has the other relevant cards,
including the nine:
Dummy                            Declarer
A J 9 5       opposite          K 8 7 2

Declarer could just play the ‘normal’ finesse, by leading towards dummy’s A-J and finessing (South) for the Queen. If, for some reason, declarer thinks North holds the Queen, then he could instead lead the Jack first, finessing North for the Queen. If North covers the Jack, then declarer finesses South for the 10 on the next round of the suit. This is a reverse finesse.

In the final of the 2017 Spring National Open Teams, a reverse finesse position existed which I had not considered before (missing the J-9 instead of the Q-10).

Justin Williams and John Newman had a slam invitational sequence:

This comfortable contract made 11 tricks.

Stephen Fischer and David Morgan reached 6NT, based on different bidding methods. The hand hinged on playing the heart suit for one loser. Declarer played the normal line, leading a small heart from North to the King and Ace, then finessing West for the Jack on the return. The hearts broke 3-3 but the Heart SuitJ was off-side, so 6NT went down one.

If declarer had seen the heart suit, he would have taken a reverse finesse. He has to lead the Heart Suit10 from dummy first. If East covers with the Heart SuitJ, the play continues Heart SuitK – Heart SuitA. He can then finesse West for the Heart Suit9 on the next round and, with the 3-3 break, 6NT makes. Should East duck the Heart Suit10, declarer runs that card to West’s Heart SuitA – again making 6NT.

I’d never really considered this holding in a suit as suitable for a reverse finesse. The fact that a national teams final’s outcome hinged on the play added to my interest in the hand – because the winning team gained 13 IMPs on this hand, but if 6NT had made they would have lost 13 IMPs instead. The final margin was 18 IMPs, with this hand swinging 26 IMPs.

Barbara Travis