SI Vault
 
Chinese finesse: unsound but oh so useful
Charles Goren
July 03, 1967
Not long ago there were reports out of Peking that Teng Hsiao-ping, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, had been purged from his office because of his addiction to bridge. He was said to have diverted state building materials to the construction of a palatial bridge club, to have played not only at night and on weekends but during working hours and even to have arranged his trips around China so that his bridge associates would be available to travel with him. The symptoms of Teng's addiction, shocking as they may have seemed to the Chinese Communists, are not unfamiliar ones, especially when you consider that the Chinese have been inveterate card-players—and uninhibited gamblers—for a long time. There is evidence of cards being used in China in the 10th century, though there is no suggestion that the Chinese invented any form of bridge.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
July 03, 1967

Chinese Finesse: Unsound But Oh So Useful

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Not long ago there were reports out of Peking that Teng Hsiao-ping, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, had been purged from his office because of his addiction to bridge. He was said to have diverted state building materials to the construction of a palatial bridge club, to have played not only at night and on weekends but during working hours and even to have arranged his trips around China so that his bridge associates would be available to travel with him. The symptoms of Teng's addiction, shocking as they may have seemed to the Chinese Communists, are not unfamiliar ones, especially when you consider that the Chinese have been inveterate card-players—and uninhibited gamblers—for a long time. There is evidence of cards being used in China in the 10th century, though there is no suggestion that the Chinese invented any form of bridge.

The plight of poor Teng, who might have displayed more finesse, offers an occasion to show you the one play in modern bridge that does have a Chinese association. It is called the Chinese finesse and is based on the absurd canard that the Chinese deal and play their cards backward—counterclockwise. What the play involves is the lead of an unsupported honor in the hope that an opponent will not cover. It is a technically unsound maneuver usually resorted to by beginners who do not yet understand the principles of the finesse, but it has its uses.

A form of the Chinese finesse once helped Margaret Wagar win one of her many national championships. The contract was a grand slam. The only hope Margaret had of succeeding with the hand was a backward play, and, believe it or not, the defender who let her get away with it made the correct move. I must confess that I have forgotten the exact hands, but they were very similar to the ones diagramed here.

North, having too good a holding to bid only three spades, risked a skip bid in a three-card suit, a fairly safe action because North could always return the contract to spades if Margaret became excited about the diamonds. Unfortunately, after Margaret had located two aces and two kings in North's hand via her Blackwood bidding she went to a grand slam, expecting to get discards of losers on dummy's diamond length.

As soon as dummy was put down, declarer saw that she had no legitimate play for her contract. With nine clubs outstanding, it was virtually impossible that one of the opponents would have a blank king. So Margaret won the opening lead in her hand and promptly led the club queen.

Put yourself in West's chair. If South held the queen-jack-10 of the suit and West covered the queen with the king, declarer would get a discard of a loser from dummy. If South held the 9 of clubs as well, covering the queen would give dummy two discards. West could not know that both red suits were solid. He ducked the queen of clubs and the grand slam came home, by way of China.

1