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In contract bridge, a finesse is a technique which allows to promote tricks on base of a favorable position of one or more cards in the hands of the opponents. If one can lead up to a finessable position as e.g. Ace, Queen an additional trick can be won if the King is positioned in front of the combination of Ace and Queen.

A more general definition of a finesse would be:

One or more plays, allowing to promote additional tricks by means of leading up to a combination of cards in the hope that one or more cards of intermidiate rank of the same suit are trapped in front of that combination.
Such a combination is called a tenace.

In case of a favorable position of a finessable honor the finesse is called to be on else off.

Table of contents
1 Trump Finesse or Ruffing Finesse
2 Suit Combinations

Direct Finesse

A direct finesse is a finesse that gains a trick without losing one, as long as it is on.


                 S: A Q
                 H: -
                 D: -
                 C: -

                 S: 7 2
                 H: -
                 D: -
                 C: -

If South is on lead he can lead a small Spade to the Queen, if West is holding the King (the finesse is on) South will win two tricks, for a gain of one trick without losing a trick.

Indirect Finesse

An indirect finesse is a finesse that gains a trick - if it is on - but one has to lose one trick before, a typical example is
                 S: K 7

                 S: 6 3

South leads a Spade and wins a trick, whenever West holds the Ace of that suit.

Double Finesse

A double finesse is a finesse in which we can gain two tricks.

                 S: A Q 10
                 H: 6
                 S: 7 4 3
                 H: A

South leads a Spade to the Ten, if it holds he crosses to the Heart Ace and leads another Spade to the Queen. There are no gurantees but South can wind up with one, two or three Spade tricks. (Assuming Spades are trumps)

Deep Finesse

A deep finesse is a manouvre that allows to win one additional trick, but only if two cards are favorably positioned. A deep finesse has therefore a probabilty of only about 25% of success.

                  S: A K 10

                  S: 6 5 4

South leads a Spade and inserts the 10 if West plays low. South will gain a trick if both, the Queen and the Jack are with West. NB: If there are no entries back into the South hand, West can assure himself one trick by splitting his honors, that is raising with the Queen or Jack, when South plays low.

Trump Finesse or Ruffing Finesse

The trump finesse is an interesting variation of a finesse. It is indeed a finesse in which the finessable card is positioned behind the tenace, and is finessed against ruffing.
The following is an example, hearts are trumps.

                 S: K Q J
                 H: A
                 D: -
                 C: -

                 S: -
                 H: 2
                 D: 4 3
                 C: 5

Assuming there are no more Hearts out and the lead being with North, North-South can take all tricks if East holds the Ace of Spades. A Spade is led and loseres are shed unless East covers. In that case the Ace of Spades is ruffed and dummy is high.

Sometimes a ruffing finesse is a superior alternative to a normal finesse.
Let us look at a complete hand.

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

East plays 4 Hearts. After the lead of a Heart he wins the Ace and plays the two top trumps ending in dummy, they break 3-2. When the Spade finesse loses the opponents cash two diamonds, with a trump to lose, one down. Out of luck?
Not at all. The contract is on the table as long as trumps break 3-2.
The correct play is to win the Ace of Diamonds and to continue with the Ace of Spades followed by the Queen. Even if the King is with South, declarer loses 3 tricks only, if trumps are 3-2. And if trumps are 4-1 the game will still make if the King of Spades is sitting with North. The advantage of the losing trump finesse to the losing normal finesse is the gain of tempo.

Suit Combinations

The Encyclopedia of Bridge has a list of all suit combinations and how to play them depending on how many tricks you need. A good player does not need to memorize this, and can usually deduce the correct play at the table. However, it is worthwhile to study the suit combinations table. Also remember that the optimal play in a suit may not be best in the context of the entire hand.

In optics, finesse is a parameter characterizing a Fabry-Perot etalon.

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