A two-way finesse is a card combination in which either defender can be finessed for a queen:

Dummy
AJ43
WestEast
??? ???
South
SKT92


In this layout, South can cash a top spade in either hand and then finesse for the SQ.

Several factors may influence South's decision:

  • Counting the points and distribution around the table may swing the odds of finessing in either direction.
  • An endplay might force a defender on lead, thus eliminating declarer's guess.
  • An avoidance play may be necessary for declarer, if it's too dangerous to finesse into a particular defender.
  • Table presence or "feel" may help declarer determine which way to finesse.


Examples

Counting the suit distributions or high card points during the play of the hand may help declarer, as in the following deal.

Dummy
AJ95
65
AQ76
J32

South
SKT7
H974
DJT42
CAK4


West

Pass
Pass

North

2C2
2NT

East
Pass
Pass
All Pass

South
1NT1
2D

  1. Weak notrump (11-13)
  2. Stayman


South passes partner's game invitation but still ends up in trouble. West's opening lead is the H3, won by East with the HK. East continues with the HA, HJ and low heart to West's queen.

At trick 5, West leads a low diamond. South finesses but East wins the DK and plays back the CT.

At this point, South must either :

  1. Duck and play East for the CQ. This is unlikely - barring a Grosvenor gambit, East probably would not lead away from CQ-T with the CJ in dummy.
    OR
  2. South must guess spades to make the contract.

South has an additional clue to inform the decision. East has already shown up with 11 HCP, yet passed in first seat. Holding either black queen as well, East would have 13 HCP and would probably have opened the bidding. Therefore, South should rise with the CA and play West for the queen of spades.

The complete deal:

Dummy
AJ95
65
WestAQ76East
Q83J32642
QT83AKJ2
53SouthK98
Q765SKT7T98
H974
DJT42
CAK4


An endplay can also obviate the need for guessing a two-way finesse. For example:

Dummy
64
KT9
JT98
AKQ3

South
SAJT2
HAJ8
DAKQ
CJ98


South plays in 6NT and receives a CT opening lead. There are 11 top tricks, and a 12th is possible if South guesses hearts correctly or takes a successful double finesse in spades.

However, the 12 trick is guaranteed if the minor suits split normally. South wins the opening lead and rattles off all the minor-suit winners, finding both suits 4-2. Having finished in dummy, South can now lead a low spade to the jack. If this loses, then West is endplayed in the major suits. The full deal:

Dummy
64
KT9
WestJT92East
KQ98AKQ3753
Q637542
65South8743
T987SAJT242
HAJ8
DAKQ
CJ65


An avoidance play might also be necessary if declarer can't afford to let a particular defender gain the lead, as in the following deal.

Dummy
87
AK54
WestKT98East
KQJ93432642
J9QT62
Q64South73
T85SAT5J976
H873
DAJ52
CAKQ


West

1S
Pass

North

Double 1
3NT

East

Pass
All Pass

South
1D
2NT

1. Negative double


Naturally enough, West begins by leading spades, South winning the third round.

South can count 8 top tricks. A 9th trick can be created from the two-way finesse in diamonds. However, it is vital for South to finesse West for the DQ, not East. If South cashes the DA and runs the DJ, East might win with the DQ, but won't have any spades left.

If South instead cashes the DK in dummy and runs the DT, West might win the DQ and plunk down two more spades to defeat the contract.


Lastly, table presence may also influence a two-way finesse. Two bridge stories involve the late American expert Hal Sims:

"The legendary American Hal P Sims, a champion at many other sports besides bridge, was famed for his ability to guess which of his opponents held a crucial queen. He would rely primarily on what is called 'table presence' (he was an excellent poker player in addition to his other talents). One day, some friends rigged a deal... both opponents held a queen of spades! Sims won the opening lead and thought for some time. Finally, he exploded: 'This is impossible - you've both got the queen!'" 1
The second story involves a much more cunning approach:

"Once, when faced with a two-way finesse, Sims turned his formidable gaze on his left-hand opponent and declared: 'You look like a lady with the queen of spades.'

"'Oh, Mr Sims,' gushed his victim. 'Aren't you wonderful!'" 2

A third story involves the late American expert Barry Crane. As told by Grant Baze, it's more superstition than table presence but is still worth sharing.

"Barry had several superstitious rules that he followed always, and his partners better follow them or all hell would break loose. One of these was that if you had a two way guess for a queen, you did not have to think about it -- the queen was over the jack in the minors, and under the jack in the majors. So if you held Axxx and dummy had the KJ109, you would lay down the ace and lead to the J if the suit was a major, and lead to the King and finesse coming back if the suit was a minor.

"Barry and I wind up in 7NT and that was our club holding, with only 12 top tricks; we each had balanced hands so I did not expect to get a count on the hand. No problem, I'm thinking to myself, I will not be able to get a count on the hand so I will just follow Barry's rule; if it does not work at least he will keep his mouth shut. I cash a few side suit winners; to my annoyance the suits split crazy and I do get an exact count on the hand. LHO has three clubs and RHO two clubs, which makes it a 50% better play to ignore Barry's rule.

"Meanwhile, at the same time, downstairs in another section, Mike Smolen is playing this hand at the same moment; he knows he and I are playing this hand simultaneously. Mike also gets a count on the hand, but decides to follow Barry's rule. Sure enough, the Queen was doubleton and Mike makes the hand. Mike knows I am going to guess the hand the technically correct way, regardless of Barry's superstitions; Mike tells his partner 'Listen closely, you are about to hear an explosion from upstairs.' How right he was. I misguessed the Queen and Barry went ballistic, screaming like a lunatic and then running out of the room....

"Parenthetically, for the rest of the day Barry and I kept track of how often his rule was right; to my shock, in the relevant situations, it was right five of six times. I am telling you, Barry was mystic; there is absolutely no reason it should not be a 50-50 proposition. Nevertheless, to this day, if I have no clues as to which way to finesse in these situations, I just follow Barry's rule." 3

References

1 Mahmoud, Zia. How to Play Bridge

2 Kantar, Eddie. Bridge Humor

3 Baze, Grant. Barry Crane and the Barry Crane Top 500 "Race" .

See also

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