It Was Nothing by Matthew Granovetter

 

One of the most basic techniques of declarer play is the finesse. We're all familiar with the finesse of a king. And everyone enjoys struggling with the two-way finesse of a queen. The finesse of a jack is also fun (when you guess it), but what about the ten? This is a strange card to finesse against, and anything lower is esoteric. So when Bobby Goldman took a trump finesse against an 8 to bring home a slam, it deserved a close inspection. This may be the lowest finesse ever taken in a trump suit:

 

Dealer: East                S  9 8 2

Vul: Both                   H  A K 9 7

                            D  A 5

                            C  A 7 6 4

            S Q J T 6 5                    S 4 3

            H 8 6 4 3                      H 5

            D 9                            D K J T 8 6 4

            C 9 5 2                        C Q T 8 3

                            S  A K 7

                            H  Q J T 2

                            D  Q 7 3 2

                            C  K J

 

         WEST         NORTH         EAST         SOUTH

          -            -             -          Goldman

          -            -            2D           2NT

         Pass         3C            Pass         3H

         Pass         6H            All Pass

 

Goldman, South, overcalled East's weak 2D with 2NT and showed his hearts after partner bid Stayman. North raised gently to six and West led his singleton diamond. Goldman had to win the ace in dummy. How would you play it? Would you finesse the eight of hearts? Would you ever dream of finessing the eight of hearts? Would you believe this was the right play?

 

A more prosaic plan is to finesse immediately in clubs. This finesse is lucky, of course. Besides, anyone can finesse against a queen. Goldman saw 12 tricks without a finesse, if the hearts divided 3-2 or

if he could draw all the trumps some other way....

 

He played for a dummy-reversal. A club was led to the king, then the jack back to the ace and a third club, ruffed high with the queen of hearts (not the deuce). Next came the jack of hearts to the king, and the last club ruffed with the ten of hearts. Talk about squandering honors. He now held the deuce of hearts opposite the A-9-7. No problem. Goldman cashed the ace of spades and then led the deuce of hearts; when West played low, he called for the 7. Goldman drew the remaining two trumps and led a diamond from dummy. East took the king and Goldman tabled the DQ and SK for the last two tricks.

 

I buttonholed Goldman in the hall last night as he was bemoaning his loss in the final. "But Bobby," I said, "cheer up. You made a great slam. Tell me what made you finesse that 8 of hearts."

 

Goldman: "It was nothing. East had shown up with six diamonds and four clubs and one spade.  He was either 2-1-6-4 or 1-2-6-4."

 

Late-night buttonholer: "But what if he held the latter?"

 

Goldman: "Then I'd still be 3 to 2 odds when I finesse against the 8. I tell you, it was nothing."

 

Somehow I wished I had made that "nothing" play.

 

A final note: The top players go with the odds and are philosophical when the odds don't work. Had Goldman lost to the original eight-doubleton on his right, he'd have shrugged his shoulders and gone on to the next board. These guys never lose a night's sleep over a bridge hand, so long as they went with the percentages. At least that's what they say.