Mark Blumenthal

Idiot’s Finesses -2

The next sucessful one I had  was initiated by an unfortunate lead.  Here is  the auction:


West North East South
Pass 1D Pass 1NT
  3NT Pass Pass


 My partner led a small heart.




West East
xxx QJ10x
Qxx Jxx
xxx Kxx
A10xx xxx

Declarer called for  the heart ten.  Being aquainted with my partner’s opening leads, I smoothly ducked it. Declarer now finessed the jack of diamonds. I won and shifted to the queen of spades which declarer won in his  his hand. After cashing diamonds declarer knocked out the ace of clubs.  My partner won and  returned a spade which was won in dummy. Declarer now crossed to his hand with the king of hearts to cash his good club. My partner,  who was well versed in idiot’s finesses, dumped the dueen of hearts under the king. After the ten of clubs had failed to drop, declarer led a small heart and my partner followed with a small one.

Again, declarer had a finessing position which he shouldn’t have had. Surely, thought declarer, my partner had led small from the QJxx of hearts. I hadn’t been able to beat the ten  at trick one. After thinking about it for a while declarer finessed the nine, and I won the last two tricks.


Chris HasneyMay 20th, 2009 at 3:53 am

This is interesting on its own, but also because it brings out a problem with active ethics that can’t be solved.

“Being aquainted with my partner’s opening leads, smoothly ducked it.”

This is a partnership game. Familiarity with partner’s tendencies in bidding and play are normal. Must we alert the opening lead and say “My partner is given to making wierd leads, read nothing into it?” And if it then turns out to be 4th best but declarer thinks it wasn’t because of the alert and misplays the hand, is that not also a problem? I love Bobby Wolff’s concepts but I can’t figure out how their extensions can work. Perhaps all of our tournaments should be individuals. But then one will still meet regular partners for a couple of boards… it’s vexing.

Bobby WolffMay 20th, 2009 at 4:47 am

Hi Chris,

It is possible that somewhere, somehow, you have made a valid point, but regarding Mark’s recent blog that wasn’t it. When one earns the right to fall for an idiot finesse it has little to do with any kind of ethics, but rather with forever being remembered for your play.

However, by your comments, it is clear that a link can be made to anything and some percentage of the people will believe it. I’ve heard tell (of course, I’ve never seen it) of players who with QJxx will throw the jack under the king and then follow low, just to irritate a declarer who doesn’t fall for it (there probably are a few of those). but that is valid legal gamesmanship, although it is hard for me to think of anyone who would risk such a thing.

My point is that yes ethics do involve coming clean with disclosure, but to entice some declarer to now finesse, borders more on the hilarious and has nothing to do with ethics, active or otherwise. Please Chris, bridge has enough problems trying to police itself fairly and intelligently, without the topic turning to the theater of the absurd.

Chris HasneyMay 20th, 2009 at 4:56 am

I think you missed my point. It has nothing to do with idiot finesses or any other bridge play. It has to do with how far we carry the active ethics idea. If I know my partner’s tendencies, and you don’t, must I tell you of them to be ethical?

As for the play, I remember stories from the 70’s of a guy in California named Grossbender who made the kind of gamesman plays you discuss in such a way that if declarer didn’t fall for it he made the contract when Grossbender’s normal play would have set it.

Mark BlumenthalMay 20th, 2009 at 6:49 am

Chris, No. , I meant it as sarcastic. I I’m pretty sure this before I played with Goldman regularly. When I played with him then he told me he didn’t underlead aces on opening lead. In one of my bridge tips I wrote up underleading them. Even before that my partners would not underlead the except for maybe Walvick. I never played with him as a partner, but I know Peter Pender liked to underlead them. That’s why alerts have a flaw. are you supposed to explain everything you know or think ?

Mark BlumenthalMay 20th, 2009 at 8:13 am


I’ve heard of the plays Bobby describes. A god player would only do so if he is certain declarer is good enough to know that player would never make that mistake. Usually the defender and declarer are good friends. It gives the defender the option to tease the declarer.

Bobby WolffMay 20th, 2009 at 2:31 pm

Hi Chris,

Since you are a confirmed blogger, and especially a bridge lover, you are entitled to much respect, especially from me.

What you are talking about has really nothing to do with the playing of bridge, but only to do with fun and games and possibly providing bridge journalists something to write about. The subject of Active Ethics is a deadly serious caveat, at least to me, and should not be taken lightly. Let’s go deeper! In Mark’s 3d seat example of his not playing his jack of hearts third seat, it would be incorrect of him had partner happen to be leading from both the King and the Queen, neutral, if in this case he was leading from only the Queen, but a winning play if his partner was leading from the King since, to play the Jack, it would now give the declarer four tricks if declarer had three and at least three tricks if he had two.

If my above statement is true, then I, for one, agree with Mark’s playing low since I think on this hand the NT bidder is more likely to hold the Queen of hearts rather than no heart honor at all. End of bridge subject! However, you are extending the discussion to include the ethics of the 3d seat player (Mark) discussing partner’s sometimes weird leads. Why would it be considered a weird lead for Mark’s partner to be leading from either Queen xxx or Queen xx or (from declarer’s viewpoint) Queen Jack xx? It wouldn’t, but why on earth if the opening leader had both the Queen and the Jack would he unnecessarily contribute the Queen underneath the King?

The whole discussion becomes absurd and only fitting for a bridge satirist or better described, masochist. BTW could you be using the name Grossbender instead of the accepted name of Grosvenor, to describe one who continually tantalized a declarer by making impossible (usually defensive) plays, to give declarer a chance to make a hand he would ordinarily not make?

All of the above discussion is to be taken lightly, but in reality, both Mark and I are fond of you since you are obviously a great bridge enthusiast, and those types need to be appreciated, not put down.

In conclusion, I, at least for the time being, take bridge and all its aspects, especially ethics, very seriously in the hope that one day many others will fall in line by treating our unbelievable game with more respect than they have up to now. I sadly choose to report that I am probably fighting a losing battle, but anything worth its salt, and this fight certainly, is worth my time and energy. Please join in this crusade with me and an all too few other enthusiasts, to at least make a dent in favor of bridge posterity.

Chris HasneyMay 20th, 2009 at 7:16 pm

I joined your campaign when you started it Bobby. I just lack the ability to carry it out correctly, and that’s the problem we have out in the clubs. BTW, THANK YOU for finally giving me the correct name Grosvenor. Did you know him? I only heard the stories, but in them he came close to getting punched out at times. It would be an interesting article for the Bulletin, assuming the guy is now long dead.

M BlumenthalMay 20th, 2009 at 9:37 pm


Fairly early in my bridge career I learned a lot of those I played against were pretty weak players and had had no idea they were being unethical. I would sometimes this type of player get away with his action because calling the director about it would cause them to think adversely about the game. If I knew this player realized what he was doing and was good enough to take advantage of information he shouldn’t have I would always call the director. Sure, a weak player might have gotten away with an undeserved good result, but in the long run this player might have continued to play rather than being turned off.

Was it subjective? Sure.

Chris HasneyMay 20th, 2009 at 11:25 pm

“…Usually the defender and declarer are good friends. It gives the defender the option to tease the declarer.”

Ah. Perhaps the person who told me of the stunt exagerated. Thanks for adding the background Mark and Bobby.

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