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Reverse Finesse
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In a qualifying session of the Kaplan Blue Ribbon Pairs, you sweep aside an intervening double to reach 5 with these cards:

West
North
A94
103
4
KQ109764
East
South
KJ2
KQ75
J9
AJ85
W
N
E
S
 
1N
X
2
P
2N
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
4
A
9
2
0
1
6
K
A
3
0
0
2
J
10
2
Q
3
1
2
3

Against your game in clubs, West leads a fourth-best 5 to East's ace. East switches to the 6, and West takes your king with the ace. 

West continues with the J to crush dummy's ten. East follows with the 2 and you win your queen. 

Having lost the first two tricks, how do you plan to win the rest? If you ask about carding, the opponents play upside down signals. 

West
North
A94
103
4
KQ109764
East
South
KJ2
KQ75
J9
AJ85
W
N
E
S
 
1N
X
2
P
2N
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
4
A
9
2
0
1
6
K
A
3
0
0
2
J
10
2
Q
3
1
2
3

You have 10 top tricks, and the obvious candidate for the 11th is the spade finesse. You can review the play to the first three tricks by clicking 'Next' in the above diagram. 

Is there any indication whether the spade finesse will be successful?

And is there any other chance for the contract?

Before committing yourself, you try a few exploratory maneuvers as a matter of good technique. 

After winning the heart return at trick three, you draw trumps ending in hand. West discards the 2 and 7 and East follows suit twice as you win the K in dummy followed by the A in hand. 

Ruffing your diamond in the dummy seems like a cost-free play for your next move. West covers your J with the K, dummy ruffs and East follows with the 6.

North
A94
Q1097
South
KJ2
75
J8
W
N
E
S
1NT
X
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
P
P

What do you make of the layout now?

North
A94
Q1097
South
KJ2
75
J8
W
N
E
S
1NT
X
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
P
P

The opponents have kindly given you a lot of free information. West's double pinpoints them with five or more diamonds and a four-card major, as yet not clear which. Additionally, West's low diamond lead followed by the play of the diamond king on your jack marks East with the A-Q, as West would have led the king if they held both the king and queen. 

So far, West has only shown up with 8 HCP. Although they have shape, they must be a favourite to hold the spade queen. 

Have you seen any way to put pressure on either player to increase your chances?

North
A94
Q1097
South
KJ2
75
J8
W
N
E
S
1NT
X
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
P
P

If West has the spade queen, we will need a squeeze as the queen can't be dropping doubleton. Perhaps West started with 4=4=5=0 including the Q-10. Then they can be squeezed in the majors, but for the squeeze to operate we must extract East's last heart (isolating the menace). In addition, ruffing a heart might give us a clue to the layout. 

After crossing to the 8 (East throwing the 8 and West the 5), we play the 5 and ruff in the dummy. West follows with the 9 and East the 4. 

What's the shape of the hand? Who has the last heart and what do the spades look like?

North
A94
Q10
South
KJ2
7
J

North
A94
Q10
South
KJ2
7
J

We can certainly play to squeeze West if they are 4=4=5=0 with the Q-10. We simply play off our last two clubs tossing the 2 and West is gone. 

However, there are a few little clues that this might not be the layout. 

Last chance. What's going on?

North
A94
Q10
South
KJ2
7
J

Recap:

1. West has shown a long minor (in this case, diamonds) and a four-card major. 

2. West led the 5, then discarded the 2 and 7. East played the A and then followed with the 6 and discarded the 8. We have a strong suspicion that East holds the Q based on West's failure to lead an honour from K-Q.

3. In hearts, East switched to the 6, then followed with the 2 and 4. West held A-J-9 that we have seen. The 8 is still at large.

4. In spades, West discarded the 5. We aren't sure about the Q but we suspect West holds it based on the bidding, especially if they are known to be a solid citizen. 

 

If we've made up our minds to play West for the queen of spades, our line of play depends on the shape. The opponents have done well to conceal the 3. If you had seen it, you would have a certain count on the diamonds (if West had it they must have six diamonds, while if East has it then the diamonds are 5-5). But, as always, there are a few clues in the spots... 

If you had to guess, the hearts are 3-4 with West being short. East's play of switching to the 6 before following up the line would be 'normal' play from 8-6-4-2 and 'abnormal' from 6-4-2 (you and I would probably play 6, 4, 2 instead). 

Also, the diamonds rate to be 6-4 rather than 5-5. East's plays in diamonds would be 'normal' from A-Q-8-6 and 'a bit strange' from A-Q-8-6-3 playing upside down signals. It would be a little weird for East to clutch onto the 7, but it is not too difficult for West to conceal the 7 while discarding. 

If West is 4=3=6=0 and we trust our inferences, the major suit squeeze on West is not going to work... but can East be squeezed?

North
A94
Q10
South
KJ2
7
J

Time to have a look at the full deal:

West
Q875
AJ9
K107532
North
A94
103
4
KQ109764
East
1063
8642
AQ86
32
South
KJ2
KQ75
J9
AJ85
W
N
E
S
 
1N
X
2
P
2N
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
4
A
9
2
0
1
6
K
A
3
0
0
2
J
10
2
Q
3
1
2
5
2
K
2
1
2
2
4
3
A
7
3
3
2
J
K
6
6
1
4
2
7
8
8
5
3
5
2
5
9
9
4
1
6
2
8

West was indeed 4=3=6=0, but East held the 10. This gave declarer hope. 

When declarer played two winning clubs from the dummy in the endgame, East was squeezed in the majors. After pitching the Q, East had to retain the heart guard so pitched a spade. Declarer threw their heart, then could play K followed by J through West to squash East's 10 and wrap up 11 tricks. 

Squeeze enthusiasts will have noticed a pretty theme to the hand. Declarer needed to isolate the heart menace by ruffing the third round. Interestingly, in the spade suit declarer could have performed the same feat earlier in the hand! If declarer leads the J forcing West to cover, they would have performed a rare 'double isolation of the menace'. To be fair, the winning route that declarer chose had a certain aesthetic to it as well. 

West
Q875
AJ9
K107532
North
A94
103
4
KQ109764
East
1063
8642
AQ86
32
South
KJ2
KQ75
J9
AJ85
W
N
E
S
 
1N
X
2
P
2N
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
4
A
9
2
0
1
6
K
A
3
0
0
2
J
10
2
Q
3
1
2
5
2
K
2
1
2
2
4
3
A
7
3
3
2
J
K
6
6
1
4
2
7
8
8
5
3
5
2
5
9
9
4
1
6
2
Q
Q
J
10
1
7
2
10
3
7
3
1
8
2
4
6
K
7
3
9
2
J
8
9
10
3
10
2
11 tricks claimed
N/S +400
12

The title is a reference to the usual 'backwards finesse' where declarer holds KJ9 opposite Axx and suspects the queen sits over the jack. Here, with the 9 in the wrong hand, declarer had to work a bit harder. Well done to New Zealand wunderkind Matthew Brown who put together all the pieces and chose the winning line of play. 

If you enjoyed this piece of squeeze artistry, hover over my name in the right-hand panel and click Follow. You’ll get a notification the next time one of these articles is published.

Previously: Hop, Skip and a Jump (later shortlisted for 2019 IBPA Declarer Play of the Year)

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