by Gabriel Chagas



When you have to develop a shaky suit, consider whether you can prepare for an intra-finesse by ducking with an 8 or a 9 on the first round.


Not easy, you might think, living and working in Brazil, to force yourself, in popular estimation, into the ranks of the top half-dozen players in the world, Gabriel Chagas, has done this in just a few years, playing mostly with Pedro Paulo Assumpcao.

Chagas was 23 when he first appeared on the world bridge scene at Deauville, in the 1968 Team Olympiad. After representing Brazil in numerous Bermuda Bowls, he won the Team Olympiad at Monte Carlo in 1976 and followed this with outstanding performances in the annual event, the Sunday Times Pairs, winning by a big margin in 1979.

Gabriel holds a master’s degree in actual mathematics, Fluent in Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, French and English, familiar with German, Russian and Japanese, and able to understand Swedish, Dutch, Hebrew, Hungarian, Tagalog (!), Arabic, Icelandic, and a few others, he must be by far the most cultivated bridge master in a linguistic sense; with his serious but friendly look, he is also one of the most popular.

His piece for he Bols competition is entitled ‘I love finesses’:

‘The finesse is commonly regarded as one of the humbler forms of play, but it sometimes requires quite a lot of imagination. This is especially true of the Intra-finesse – a play of which I am very fond. This diagram shows one common type of Intra-finesse:

  Q 8 5 3  
J 7   K 10 4
  A 9 6 2  

The bidding has given you quite a good idea of the layout of this suit. To hold yourself to one loser, you play small towards the dummy and finesse the 8! East will make the 10 but later you will enter the North hand and lead the queen, pinning West’s jack. Well, this was an Intra-finesse.

‘Here’s how an Intra-finesse can arise in practical play:


    Q 9 2    
    6 5 4    
    A Q 3    
    K 8 4 3    
10 6  


K J 7
10 9 8 2   W


5 4     10 9 7 6
10 9 7 5 2  


    A 8 5 4 3    
    7 3    
    K J 8 2    
    A 6    


‘South plays in four spades after East has opened a strong no-trump. West leads the 10 and South ruffs the third round. Knowing that East has the king of spades, South leads low to the 9, losing to the jack.

‘South wins the club return and takes a second and third round of this suit to test the distribution. With East showing out, South decides to place him with three trumps. So, after ruffing the third club, he crosses with a diamond and leads the queen of spades.

‘A veteran intra-finesse now, you find yourself in four hearts on the next deal after a club overcall by West.

    K J 2    
    A 9 2    
    K 9 6 2    
    9 6 3    
8 6  


10 9 7 5 4
J 5   W


Q 10 7 6
Q 10 3     8 4
K Q J 10 8 7  


5 4
    A Q 3    
    K 8 4 3    
    A J 75    
    A 2    

‘You duck the first club and West continues the suit. As a 3-3 trump break is unlikely, you lead a low heart towards the dummy, and when West follows with the 5 you finesse with the 9!

‘East wins with the 10 and switches to a spade, confirming that the clubs are 6-2. You cash the trump ace, and when this collects the jack from West you pick up East’s remaining trumps by finessing the 8.

‘On the fourth trump you throw, not a club, but a diamond from dummy. The successful intra-finesse has brought you to 9 tricks but now you must establish a diamond game.

‘As you are wide open in clubs you lead a low diamond, intending to finesse the 9 into East’s hand. West, however, inserts the 10. You win with dummy’s king and cash the remaining spades. When West shows out on the third remaining spade you have a perfect count. West began with six clubs, two hearts and two spades – and therefore three diamonds.

‘You need no more finesses. On the third spade West is forced down to two diamonds and the jack of clubs. You therefore lead dummy’s losing club, throwing West in and forcing him to lead into your diamond tenace.

‘This ending was very satisfying – but you would never have got there without the aid of intra-finesse in the trump suit.

‘My bridge tip, therefore, is that whenever you have to develop a shaky suit, and especially when this suit is trump, you should consider whether you can prepare for an intra-finesse by ducking with an 8 or 9 on the first round.

‘Happy finessing!’

There are many variations of this theme. Most players know what to do with this combination:

  J 9  
  A 8 7 5 4 2  

The only chance to hold the losers to one is to lead low and finesse the 9 (unless West plays an honour). If this loses to the king or queen in your next play is the jack from dummy, pinning the 10 if West started with 10-x.

When two intermediate cards are missing you can achieve surprising results when both are favourably placed:

  J 9 4  
10 8   K Q 6 3
  A 7 5 2  

You lead low from hand, covering West’s 8 with the 9 and losing to the king or queen. On the next round you lead the jack, pinning the 10, and you still hold the major tenace, 7-5 over East’s 6-3. It may be noted that in many of these situations it is good deceptive play for a second hand to play his higher card on the first round, just as it is usually correct to play the jack from J-9.

There is a different type of finesse (Chagas’s description has passed into the language) that is very seldom mentioned in bridge literature. Consider this deal:

West dealer

North-South vulnerable

    8 4    
    9 3    
    9 7 6 4 3    
    A 10 9 7    
Q 9 7 3  


J 5
Q 10 8 6 4 2   W   E A J 5
5 2     K J 10 8


Q 6 5 3
    A K 10 6 2    
    K 7    
    A Q    
    K J 8 2    
South West North East
  Pass Pass 1
Dble 1 Pass Pass
2NT Pass 2NT Pass
Pass Pass    

Spurning his partner’s suit, West leads the 6. East wins and returns a heart.

Assuming that the diamond finesse will be right, South needs to make four tricks in clubs. Because of the entry situation, he must lead the jack of clubs – no other card. Having overtaken the jack with the ace, he leads the 10, unblocking with the 8. Then he can make four club tricks and still be in dummy for the diamond finesse.

Here is an extremely difficult hand with the same theme :-

South dealer

North-South vulnerable

    A 10 9 4 3    
    9 8 7    
    K J 6 2    
A J 10 9 7 6 5 3


4 2
K J 8 5   W   E Q 7 2
-     K 10 6 4


Q 10 5 4
    K 8    
    A Q J 5 3 2    
    A 9 8 3    
South West North East
1 1 2 Pass
3 4 5 Dble
Pass Pass Pass  

West begins with ace another spade. How can South make his contract of five diamonds? Even with a sight of all the cards, you might battle at this for hours without striking the right answer.

Everything hangs on the pips in clubs. South wins the second spade in hand, discarding a heart in dummy and noting East’s echo. If West holds two clubs, or the singleton 10 or queen, the contract is laydown, because declarer can pick up the trumps without loss and make three tricks in clubs.

The critical situation is when West has the singleton 7 of clubs. Preparing for this, South leads 8 at trick three. Seeing West’s 7, he plays low from dummy. East wins with the 10 and exits with a heart to dummy’s ace.

Declarer now plays diamonds until East covers. South wins and leads the 9 to dummy’s king. Now, with J-6 of clubs in dummy, A-3 in hand, he can pick up East’s Q-5 and still be in a position to finesse in diamonds.