Source: The Sydney Morning Herald – 8 Oct 1978

Dick Cummings
Dick Cummings

How you avoid losing a trump trick when you hold KJ102 in hand opposite A983 in dummy?”

It is tempting to answer, “Tell me that and you tell me the secret of life.” The question, however, is a serious one, reflecting a typical confusion among beginners between good management and good guessing. This is a guess situation – a standard two-way finesse. In the absence of clues from the bidding or the table, a view has to be taken.

There are those who believe in the theory of imperfect snuffle, which states that the queen is more likely to sit over the jack. Then there was the famous American player of the thirties. P. Hal Sims, who claimed that the first defender to speak, light a cigarette, order a drink or react in similar fashion could be expected to hold the queen.

This would be an attempt to show non-chalant disinterest but would in fact betray nervousness. Make what you want of that advice. You can’t sue Sims if it doesn’t work. He died of a heart attack in 1949 while bidding a hand at the Havana Colony Club. In practice, the best way to start a suit as good as this is to lead the jack.

The principle is that, when you want an opponent to cover an honour, you lead as high as possible. If West plays small without pain you have to decide whether to run the jack or go on with the ace and finesse through East.

When the jack is led, ethical problems can arise. Even though declarer draws inferences at his own risk, it is a breach of the properties for a defender to hesitate unduly when following suit with insignificant small cards. The ideal scheme for West is to play his card in rhythm, neither too slowly our too quickly. Which brings to mind an Albert Dormer story reported by British writer Derek Rimington. Some years ago Dormer sat East defending a contract of 6 spades. The trump layout was as follows:

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

Winning the first trick in an outside suit, declarer shrewdly continued with the jack of trumps. West, the club smart-aleck, hesitated before playing low. South was fooled and finessed but he won the trick when Dormer contributed the three.

Declarer then cashed the king of trumps and claimed his contract, conceding a missing side-ace. West inspected Dormer’s cards. You had the queen of trumps, partner, and did not make it?”

“Sorry.” said Dormer drily, “you hesitated to long I was fooled into thinking you had it!”