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Champions though married

Sept. 05, 1960
Sept. 05, 1960

Table of Contents
Sept. 5, 1960

Editorials
Olympics
Yankees
Horse Racing
Golf
  • By Theodore M. O'Leary

    JoAnne Gunderson won the women's Amateur title, but an unknown girl from Kansas proved the tournament's most upsetting ingredient

Cards
Acknowledgments
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over
Pat On The Back

Champions though married

The big surprise at the Nationals was the victory of the happy Portugals

If there was one supreme lesson in the Summer National Championships last week, it was that bridge tournaments today can be physically exhausting. The tournament began in Los Angeles at 1:30 p.m. on a Saturday. It ended before a handful of bone-weary competitors and spectators 11 days later at 10 minutes to 4 in the morning when the Spingold Trophy, emblematic of the Masters Knockout Team Championship, was presented to my team. We were just a little less knocked out than the others. That, mainly, is why we won.

This is an article from the Sept. 5, 1960 issue Original Layout

Into the days between were packed the biggest attendance ever at the Summer Nationals (8,461 tables) and some of the most exciting bridge I have seen. There was also a surprising upset. For the first time a husband-and-wife team, Helen and Morris Portugal of Los Angeles, won the Life Master Pairs Championship, and with it the Von Zedtwitz gold cup. The Portugals are the first pair living west of the Rockies to win the title.

A field of 64 teams entered the Masters Knockout Team Championship. It was steadily whittled down, until only four remained on the night before the end of the matches. Three of the teams—one from Los Angeles captained by Mel Breslauer, another from New York captained by George Rapee and mine—had already been defeated once. The fourth, the Texans captained by bantam G.R. Nail of Houston, had not been beaten and were favorites to win the title. The draw pitted Breslauer against Rapee, my team against the Texans.

But my teammates (Helen Sobel, Harold Ogust, Howard Schenken, Peter Leventritt and Boris Koytchou) were in brilliant form—I think they were also better rested—and rolled up a 34 International Match Point lead in the first 18 hands of our 36-board match. In the end, we won by a margin of 12, forcing a three-way round-robin playoff in the finals.

The Rapee team (George Rapee, B. Jay Becker, William Grieve and Ralph Hirschberg of New York, Sidney Silodor of Philadelphia and Norman Kay of Merchantville, N.J.) had put out the Breslauer outfit, but halfway through the final the Nail team (G.R. Nail and Mervin Key of Houston, Curtis Smith and Dr. Robert Farris of Austin, with Robert Wolff of San Antonio) was 17 IMPs up on Rapee and 12 on us. In the third match we also trailed Rapee by 12. We seemed completely out of contention, but then remarkable things happened to us, and this hand had a great deal to do with our recovery.

Dummy won the first trick with the ace of clubs, and East discarded his remaining club on the ace of diamonds. Next, Ogust adopted the self-shortening process in trumps which Portugal successfully used in the hand described later. He ruffed a diamond, led to dummy's spade ace, trumped a club, led the jack of spades covered with the king and ruffed in dummy. Another diamond ruff put East back to lead the spade queen. South trumped with the heart 8 to shut out dummy's 7, then cashed the ace of hearts to stop the threat of another spade ruff in dummy. But Ogust made five hearts in his hand, plus dummy's three aces and a spade ruff and scored 140 points for his contract. (In tournaments, a part score is worth a bonus of 50 points.)

The fireworks came at the other table when Schenken made his contract on a "no-sech-animal" bid.

SOUTH
(Sckenken)

1 N.T.
DBL.
3 N.T.

WEST
(Hirschberg)

2 N.T.
PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Mrs. Sobel)

PASS
3 [Spade]
PASS

EAST
(Kay)

3 [Club]
PASS
PASS

Hirschberg's two no-trump bid was of the "unusual" variety, which was sorely misused and thoroughly clobbered throughout the tournament. It called for partner to choose between the minor suits. So, with six hearts and five spades, East had to bid his doubleton club. Schenken's double was for penalties, and when Helen Sobel took him out, his three no-trump bid represented pique rather than superior strategy. But the maestro proceeded to justify this "impossible" call by bringing home an impossible contract. And it was that much abused "unusual no trump" that provided comfort to the enemy.

West led the club 6, and East's 9 forced South's 10. South led the king of diamonds. West refused this trick and the next diamond lead as well. Schenken used his lone lead from dummy to play the heart 10, covered by East's jack and won by the queen. South's last diamond put West in, and Hirschberg, convinced that East must have three clubs, made the unfortunate choice of cashing the club ace and continuing the suit.

South's queen won, and it was now apparent that West had started with two five-card minors. South cashed the ace of hearts, and when West followed there was no doubt he also held a singleton spade. So Schenken led a low spade and West had to take his ace. Back in with a club, South had time to establish another heart by leading the 9 to East's king. The spade king and the heart 8 gave Schenken his eighth and ninth tricks, and a miraculous but meticulously played game contract was worth 740 points, or 6 IMP's, on the combined scores at the two tables.

In the Life Master Pairs a different pair led after each of the four sessions. Before the final match word went out that several pairs were in the running. The eventual winners, the Portugals, were never mentioned, but they compiled a rock-crusher in the last round and sailed by four other teams, each of which had a chance to win almost up to the final hand.

Helen Sobel and I were making a strong bid to annex the Von Zedtwitz cup for the third time. But with a score that ordinarily would win most pair championships, we had to be content with a fifth-place finish, about one full board behind the winners. Between us and the "Ports," as they are known in Los Angeles, came Texans Smith and Wolff, Warren Blank and Breslauer of Los Angeles and Sam Fry Jr. and Koytchou of New York.

There were many who have said it couldn't be done—that a husband-and-wife pair could never win the Masters. The Portugals have now disproved the theory, but their playing partnership has had its stormy moments. Friends hearing them argue at a tournament, however, take such outbursts as a real sign that they are having a good game.

The Portugals are convinced that they don't fight. "We have given that up," says Morris, who recently left a children's-wear manufacturing business to assist in the management of the Regency Bridge Club in Los Angeles. He has ideas, however, on why other married couples squabble so much. "They're stuck with each other. They can't just shrug it off and cut a new partner. Then, too, they expect more of one another."

The Portugals expect a great deal of one another because each regards the other's game so highly. When I talked with Helen Portugal in Turin, Italy, where she played as a member of the U.S. women's team in the Olympiad, she constantly referred to her husband as the real player of the family. Mr. Portugal, after their victory in Los Angeles, said that Helen was the bulwark of their team.

True or not, she is only the third woman ever to win the Life Master Pairs. Helen Sobel, playing with me, has won it twice, and Ruth Chase Gilbert of Philadelphia won it in 1949 with Leo Roet of Irvington, N.J.

It requires courage, as well as perceptiveness, to win a bridge championship, and in a pair game the play of a mere one-bid can be as important as a grand slam. To illustrate, here's a hand that helped the Portugals win their title.

West wasn't strong enough to double one spade, but got his opportunity to convert partner's reopening takeout double via a penalty pass.

East won the first club and returned the spade 8. At this point most declarers panicked, dashing in with the high spade and hastening to ruff a losing club before dummy's remaining trump could be drawn. These players fared badly. When they came off dummy with a diamond, East won with the jack and cashed two high clubs, giving West two diamond discards. On the next diamond West overruffed South. A heart put dummy in with the ace, and South managed to make two more trump tricks for down two.

Portugal played with greater valor as well as greater discretion. After winning the trump return, he reasoned that East surely did not have another trump and that West probably did not have a high diamond. So, before dashing to ruff a club, he led the diamond 9 and passed it to East's jack. East put back a high club. Dummy ruffed and South trumped a diamond to his hand. Next he led to dummy's heart ace and ruffed another low diamond. With only the king-jack of trumps remaining against West's four spades, he exited and waited for West to lead trumps, making five trumps in his own hand, the heart ace and one ruff in dummy.

THREE PHOTOSFACES IN THE BRIDGE CROWD AT LOS ANGELES
SHOWING STRAIN OF LONG TOURNAMENT, THREE OF 17,000 RECORD ENTRY STARE NUMBLY, GAZE WARILY, QUESTION PRETTILY
PHOTOWINNING COUPLE, Morris and Helen Portugal, in quiet moment after victory.

Both sides vulnerable South dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

[Queen of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[King of Hearts]
[Jack of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[Diamonds] none
[9 of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]

SOUTH
(Silodor)

1 N.T.
PASS
PASS

WEST
(Koytchou)

2 [Club]
3 [Club]
PASS

NORTH
(Rapee)

2 [Diamond]
PASS
PASS

EAST
(Ogust)

2 [Spade]
3 [Heart]

Opening lend: king of clubs

Both sides vulnerable East dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

EAST

1 [Club]
DBL.

SOUTH
(Portugal)

1 [Spade]
PASS

WEST

PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Mrs. Portugal)

PASS
PASS

Opening lead: club 10