Swing sessions for hep kibitzers

Not until the final hand did the Fishbein team win the U.S. Bridge Team Championship and a crack at Italy this winter
November 10, 1958

They came out swinging on board No. 1 of the U.S. Bridge Team Championship playoff match. And, to the delight of the 300 to 400 spellbound kibitzers, the swings continued right down to the last moment.

In the end, it was the veteran Fishbein team that won the right to represent the United States in the World Championship to be played in New York next February.

The very first hand left no doubt that the New York audience was rooting for the home team. Harry Fishbein, Sam Fry Jr., Lee Hazen and Leonard Harmon are New Yorkers; only Ivar Stakgold hails from out of town. By contrast, except for their pair of Miamians, Robert Rothlein and Cyrus Neuman, the opponents live almost as remote from one another as from New York. The two Californians, Paul Allinger of Alameda and William Hanna of Los Angeles, are such a long day's journey apart that even when they are on the same team they do not play as partners; instead each plays with Sidney Lazard of New Orleans.

In the very first hand, Fishbein bid and made four spades doubled for 590 points. In the other room, Stakgold and Harmon stole the hand for a contract of four clubs, down 50. The swing of 540 was worth 6 International Match Points. This lead lasted only long enough for the second hand to be completed.

North-South vulnerable East dealer

NORTH

[10 of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[Jack of Hearts]
[9 of Hearts]
[8 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[10 Diamonds]
[7 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]
[9 of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]

WEST

[Ace of Spades]
[Queen of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[King of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[King of Diamonds]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[Queen of Clubs]
[10 of Clubs]

EAST

[9 of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[7 of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]
[Ace of Clubs]
[Jack of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]

SOUTH

[King of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[Queen of Hearts]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[8 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]
[King of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]

In the closed room the bidding was:

EAST
(Fry)

PASS
DOUBLE

SOUTH
(Allinger)

1[Diamonds]
PASS

WEST
(Fishbein)

PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Lazard)

PASS
PASS

Somehow Allinger managed to snare six tricks to hold his loss to down one, 200 points.

In the open room, however, the spectators shuddered at the slaughter that followed South's opening weak no-trump bid.

EAST
(Rothlein)

PASS
DOUBLE

SOUTH
(Harmon)

1 N.T.
PASS

WEST
(Neuman)

DOUBLE
PASS

NORTH
(Stakgold)

2[Hearts]
PASS

Stakgold was sent down to a staggering 1,100-point set and a net loss of 900 points, worth 7 IMPs to the Rothlein team.

After this unfortunate beginning the Fishbein team trailed through most of the early play. But they whittled away at the Rothlein lead and with a late rally that gained 11 IMPs, they finished the first half, or 56 boards, in a tie at 66 IMPs each.

Then, on the very first board of the second half, Stakgold and Harmon absorbed another 1,100-point drubbing when their weak no-trump opening was doubled and set four tricks. By the halfway mark in this session, however, the Fishbein team had reversed the trend and achieved a slim 3-point lead, which they built steadily throughout the remainder of Sunday afternoon—thanks in part to this lucky but well-played slam hand which thrilled the gallery.

North-South vulnerable West dealer

NORTH

[Ace of Spades]
[King of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[Queen of Hearts]
[Jack of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
[5 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]
[Ace of Clubs]
[King of Clubs]
[9 of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]

WEST

[10 of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[9 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[King of Diamonds]
[8 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]
[Queen of Clubs]
[Jack of Clubs]
[10 of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]

EAST

[9 of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[King of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[10 of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[7 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]
[2 of Clubs]

SOUTH

[Queen of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[8 of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[7 of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]

In the earlier play, in the closed room, Lazard and Hanna stopped at four spades—a decision that was quite reasonable, since a diamond opening would have given South no chance whatever to make a slam. But the excited gallery of kibitzers heard Fishbein and Hazen in a more ambitious auction:

WEST

PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH

1[Club]
3[Spade]
PASS

EAST

PASS
PASS
PASS

SOUTH

1[Spade]
6[Spade]

Opening lead: club queen

Considering the sort of club suits that are bid on many hands, West's choice of leads was less inept than unfortunate. Hazen won with dummy's king and drew three rounds of trumps, ending in his hand.

By this time the kibitzers had been alerted by the commentators to the possibility that if West ducked the next club lead it might give declarer considerable trouble. Throughout the match, and despite earlier partisan leanings, it was clear that a large segment of the audience was rooting for whichever team was underdog at the moment. So, naturally, there was a great groan when Hazen led a club and West played an honor. West was allowed to hold the trick. South won the diamond return—the lead that came too late—and finessed against West's remaining club honor. North's two remaining clubs thus provided discards for South's jack of diamonds and one of his hearts and the success of the heart finesse brought home the slam.

Meanwhile, one of the experts at the commentators' table reassured the audience that the first analysis had been wrong. It would do West no good to duck the second club. North would win the trick with the 8, cash the ace and lead a fourth club for declarer to ruff. Entry could be forced to dummy by leading a low heart, giving up the finesse but making certain that the North hand could be reached in time to discard South's losing diamond.

The gain of 7 IMPs on this hand helped the Fishbein team go into the final quarter with what seemed like the commanding margin of 21 points. Then, in the final 28 hands, the devil got into the cards.

On five of the first 14 deals played Sunday night, the Rothlein team scored 26 IMPs. But Fishbein scored 25 IMPs on six others and clung to 20 points of his lead with only 14 boards to go.

After three deals in the last half of this final session, Fishbein's lead had soared to 23—the largest margin either team enjoyed during the match. Then, while the gallery stirred and muttered, Rothlein began to close the gap. Steadily the lead shrank to 16, 15, 14, 12, 7. Then came this decisive hand.

Neither side vulnerable East dealer

NORTH

[Ace of Spades]
[King of Spades]
[Queen of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[Queen of Hearts]
[Jack of Hearts]
[9 of Hearts]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[Ace of Clubs]
[King of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]

WEST

[7 of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[8 of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[King of Diamonds]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[7 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]
[5 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]

EAST

[10 of Spades]
[9 of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[7 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[—] Diamonds
[Queen of Clubs]
[Jack of Clubs]
[10 of Clubs]
[9 of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]

SOUTH

[Jack of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[King of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[10 of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[8 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]
[6 of Clubs]

At both tables East opened preemptively with three clubs. In the closed room, Stakgold and Harmon zoomed into a grand slam at diamonds. The Blackwood four- and five-no-trump bids revealed that South held only one king, but Harmon gambled that it would be the king of diamonds. Every bridge book points out that gambling on a grand slam is against the odds, but Harmon had to take into account that the other team, being behind, might be shooting the works on the last few boards. Result: Down two,-100. So the spectators in the open room, by now numbering some 400 enthusiastic bridge fans, were aware that the match hung in the balance when Hanna and Lazard bid it thus:

EAST
(Fry)

3[Club]
PASS
PASS
PASS

SOUTH
(Hanna)

3[Diamonds]
4[Diamonds]
5[Hearts]
6[Diamonds]
PASS

WEST
(Hazen)

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Lazard)

4[Club]
4 N.T.
5 N.T.
6 N.T.

Opening lead: club queen

Making six no trump would be worth 8 IMPs to the Rothlein team and give them a one-point lead. Lazard won the opening club and cashed two spades.

The commentators pointed out that cashing two more spades would reveal East's four-card holding.

His opening three-club bid suggested a seven-card club suit.

Declarer could not afford to play two rounds of hearts to complete the count for he needed two entries to dummy. But if he led the heart queen to dummy's king, all but one of East's cards would be accounted for, and North would have at his command a play that would bring home the slam if that card were any but the king of diamonds.

The percentage line is to lead the 10 of diamonds from dummy and, if West ducks, play the queen. This play is superior to the double finesse. It wins if East holds the singleton jack, as well as where West holds all four diamonds. West's best play is to duck and let North make the queen. West has previously been forced to discard two hearts on the spades. Now cashing the high club bails him out of that suit, leaving him with two hearts and three diamonds. Declarer cashes his two remaining hearts and throws West in by playing the 9 of diamonds. West is forced to return a diamond into dummy's tenace. It does no good if, earlier, he tries to escape this fate by discarding a diamond. Then it is a simple matter for declarer to concede the diamond trick before cashing the hearts.

However, it didn't happen that way. Lazard (who afterward confessed that he was obsessed with the idea that East held the lone king of diamonds) led a low diamond from his hand after cashing only two spades. That scuttled the contract. West now had two diamond stoppers, and declarer could win only 11 tricks. Going down only one picked up an IMP, and the Rothlein team gained three more on the final hand of the match. But it wasn't enough. Fishbein's outfit managed to preserve four points of its margin, and will play for the United States next February—reinforced with one player from the Rothlein team, in accordance with the American Contract Bridge League's ruling that a five-man team must select its sixth from the runners-up. Thus, though haunted by regret for not having come up with the play that would have won the match for his team, Sidney Lazard, New Orleans oilman, will nevertheless be playing for us in the big matches next February.

To give you some idea of their timbre, his teammates agreed that the winners had made the logical choice!

And to give you an idea of what kind of player Lazard is, even before the match was played he had spent weeks studying the Neapolitan system (he even read my book on it!).

How will our team fare against Italy next February? I'm not ready to predict that as yet. Meanwhile, that Neapolitan system has six very interested students.

PHOTOINTERSTED KIBITZERS FOLLOW ACTUAL PLAY OF EACH HAND ON A LARGE SCREEN
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)