All hail to the ladies!

January 12, 1959

Plagiarizing itself as usual, history last month trotted out much the same script it used when the Spring National Contract Bridge Championships were played in Atlantic City early last year. This time the scene was the Fall Nationals, the place was Detroit and the cast of principal characters was changed. But, against a similar snowy background, a national meet was again dominated by the performance of a relatively unknown player—and once again this starring role fell to a woman.

She is Sylvia (Mrs. Harry) Stein, an attractive young Detroit wife and mother who has been playing serious bridge for less than six years. As recently as last August she would not even have been eligible to play for the big championship in which her victory capped her best-in-tourney performance in Detroit.

Mrs. Stein had gone to Miami last August for the Summer Nationals, snatching a brief bridge vacation from family duties because she was within a few master points of the 300 total which would qualify her as a Life Master, the highest tournament ranking of the American Contract Bridge League. But no major successes awaited her in this summer tournament. In fact, on the day she was scheduled to leave for home, she still lacked a fraction of a point of reaching her goal. More or less in desperation, she entered an open one-session side game, partnered with a complete stranger. They missed first place but did well enough to earn for Sylvia enough points to put her over the 300 mark. Her success with a strange partner may have been an omen.

In Detroit last month Sylvia's first appearance in the winners' circle was a modest one. She was a member of a team which tied for third place in the first national title to be decided—the Women's Team of Four event, won by Peggy Rotzell of Philadelphia, Carlyn Brail and Bea Gale of New York, and Sally Johnson of Westport, Conn. That was on the second day of the meet—the same Sunday night on which the Men's Team title was captured by a reunited group of sometime Clevelanders, including Elmer Schwartz and Arthur Goldsmith, who still live there, with Alvin Landy, now of New York, Jeff Glick, now of Miami, and Vic Zeve, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

On Wednesday night Mrs. Stein, partnered with fellow Detroiter Louis J. Cohen, finished second in the Mixed Pair championship, won by Carol (Mrs. Sherwin) Ross of Detroit with Edwin J. Smith Jr. of suburban Grosse Pointe. This time her performance created a ripple of excitement because, earlier that same day, Sylvia had taken a 15½-match-point lead after three sessions of the blue-ribbon Life Masters' Individual championship.

Just one session remained in that event, and on Thursday this vivacious blonde housewife, playing coolly and steadily, built her lead to a comfortable 32 points over runner-up John R. Crawford to become the second woman in history to win the Life Masters' Individual. (In the 27 previous battles for this title, the only victory by a woman was won by Elinor Murdoch of Birmingham in 1934.)

In that final session, this was one of the deals that helped her to victory.

In an individual event, instead of playing through with a partner of your own selection, you change partners more often than in a square dance, beginning with a new one on every round. In a four-session game, this means 52 different partners; to win you must be a superb partner as well as a fine player. Generally, good partnership consists of getting together on bidding, but in this deal defensive play was decisive.

With the East hand, Mrs. Stein won the first trick with her ace of diamonds. Hoping that her partner could ruff the next diamond, she returned the 9—an unnecessarily high card—to tell partner that her reentry was in the higher of the remaining side suits. Declarer let the lead run to dummy's 10, but West trumped and returned the queen of spades.

Trying to keep East from regaining the lead, declarer refused to cover with dummy's king. But, like the champion she was to prove herself, Sylvia overtook her partner's trick even though this established a high card in dummy. To warn partner against leading a club, she returned the diamond queen—again calling for a return of the higher suit. West trumped and led another spade.

South was able to get a discard of a club on dummy's king of spades, but it was a valueless sluff. Eventually, declarer had to give up two clubs, to go down two tricks for what is known as "the magic number" for the side that gets it, and "the kiss of death" for the side that loses it—200 points.

It happens that, barring a somewhat miraculous defense by South, East can make five diamonds, thanks to the favorable location of both the black kings. Nobody bid game on the East-West cards, but those who were allowed to play at diamonds wound up with a plus of 150 points—100 for tricks and 50 points for making a part score. Had Mrs. Stein failed to overtake her partner's queen of spades, she could not have given West the second ruff in diamonds and the contract would have been set only one, for a plus of only 100 points, and very close to a bottom score instead of what proved to be a near top.

Another well-bid hand ran into a bad break, but the new champ made it nevertheless. This was the deal:

North-South vulnerable Dealer, North

NORTH

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

WEST

[King of Spades]
[10 of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[— of Hearts]
[King of Diamonds]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[10 of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[Jack of Clubs]
[9 of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

NORTH

1 [Club]
3 [Diamond]
4 [Heart]
PASS

EAST

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

South
(Mrs. Stein)

1 [Heart]
3 [Heart]
6 [Heart]

WEST

PASS
PASS
PASS

Opening lead: diamond king

North's diamond ace won the first trick, but when dummy led a low trump, West showed out. Knowing she had to drop a trump trick, declarer had to avoid losing a spade.

Boldly and promptly, she led her singleton club and finessed dummy's 10-spot. The finesse succeeded, the heart ace was cashed, and the clubs were run. When the jack of clubs dropped it did not matter that East trumped this trick. Declarer discarded a third spade, won the spade return with the ace and got to dummy with another heart to cash the good club and discard the last spade loser.

Later in the week, the tall, smiling champion brought her good-looking husband, Harry, and her 9-year-old boy, Ben, to breakfast. "The first time I played duplicate, I finished rock-bottom," she confessed. But she fell victim to the fascination of duplicate bridge and played so often and with such success that her husband helped her finance her ownership of the Empire Bridge Club, where she now runs duplicates two afternoons and one evening each week. So, though a newcomer to top bridge ranks, Sylvia Stein hardly rates as an amateur.

Women scored two other notable victories when Mrs. Dalton Howard, of Marion, Ind., won the third flight Masters' Individual, and when Mrs. David B. Howes of Fort Worth won the Open Pair Championship with the first M.D. ever to win that title, Dr. John Fisher of Dallas.

Masculine honor in the individual competitions was partially retrieved when R. Norman Miller of Austin, Minn., rallied to win the Senior Masters' title. And male pride was further bolstered when the Masters' Team Championship was taken by five men, including two of the players who will represent the United States in the World Championship against Italy and Argentina next month: Ivor Stakgold of Washington, D.C. and Leonard Harmon of New York. Their teammates were Edgar Kaplan, Alfred Sheinwold and Ralph Hirschberg, all of New York.

But when the week ended, a big share of the trophies had been captured by the ladies—notable among them, the Lou Herman trophy for the best all-round performance. Sylvia Stein took that one home to Harry and Ben, who hailed it as a symbol of victory and of the end of the nine long days when the Stein men didn't see much of their bridge champion.

PHOTO PHOTONEW CHAMPION Sylvia Stein was first woman in 24 years to win Life Masters.

North-South vulnerable Dealer, East

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

[10 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[King of Hearts]
[Queen of Hearts]
[9 of Hearts]
[8 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[King of Diamonds]
[8 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]
[King of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]

EAST

[Ace of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[2 of Hearts]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]
[9 of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]

EAST
(Mrs. Stein)

PASS
2 [Diamond]
3 [Diamond]
PASS

SOUTH

1 [Heart]
2 [Heart]
PASS
PASS

WEST

1 [Spade]
PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH

DOUBLE
PASS
3 [Heart]

Opening lead: diamond jack

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)