Victory with a smile

It was a happy Los Angeles team which overcame a bad start, hung on in an exciting last hand and again downed New York to keep the bridge capital on the West Coast
November 28, 1960

Last Thursday at a few minutes after 11 p.m., Edwin Kantar, the brilliant young bridge player from Los Angeles, sprang from his chair in the crowded Georgian Room of the Statler Hilton Hotel in Manhattan and began jumping up and down with fists clenched while emitting slightly stifled screams. "We did it! We did it!" he seemed to be crying in his frenzy.

Kantar's performance supplied the final note of drama to the standing-room-only crowd of more than 600 people who were following the progress of a bridge match on a Bridge-O-Rama board at the end of the room. This was the final deal of the two-day 80-board challenge match between Los Angeles and New York for the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED trophy, emblematic of the title "Bridge Capital of the U.S." As some readers will recall, the Westerners won the first challenge match last summer when a late rally by New York fell just short of victory. So the rivalry in this return match only a few months later was running very high. Nonplaying Captain Kelsey Petterson of Los Angeles had shrewdly deployed his veteran stars, Lew Mathe, Meyer Schleifer, Morris Portugal; Ivan Erdos, Ira Rubin, Oliver Adams; and his youngest partnership, Harold Guiver and Edwin Kantar, performed with equal skill and effectiveness. The team had to be good to beat New York, led by Captain Waldemar von Zedtwitz and including Howard Schenken-George Rapee; Harold Ogust-Boris Koytchou; B. Jay Becker-John R. Crawford; Ralph Hirschberg-Richard Kahn.

Los Angeles fell behind by 7 International Match Points on the first board and stayed behind until the 63rd deal when it gained a 2-IMP lead. As the 80th board was first dealt in the closed room, Los Angeles led by only 1 IMP. However, on that deal Erdos was set 300 points—the equivalent of 7 IMPs—on a contract of two spades with the 10 of diamonds opening lead. So when the hand was shown in the so-called open room, where Kantar and his on-edge teammates were watching on the Bridge-O-Rama, everybody except the four men playing the hand knew that New York actually had a 6-IMP lead. The New York pair of Hirschberg and Kahn landed at two spades, just as had the Angelenos in the closed room. Obviously, if New York could keep from going down more than two tricks, it would gain enough to win the match.

At the moment when Kantar got so excited, he had clearly sensed that his teammates were about to set New York three tricks. Here is the deal.

North-South vulnerable North dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

NORTH
(Hirschberg)

1 [Heart]
2 [Diamond]
PASS

EAST
(Mathe)

PASS
PASS
PASS

SOUTH
(Kahn)

1 [Spade]
2 [Spade]

WEST
(Schleifer)

PASS
PASS

Opening lead: queen of spades

The Los Angeles rooters in the audience—and they were a highly vocal minority—groaned when it appeared that the queen of spades lead would work to declarer's advantage. But Mathe and Schleifer recovered by collaborating in a sturdy defense.

Dummy won the spade ace and declarer led a heart toward his 9. West took the king and returned the diamond 10. Dummy's king fell to East's ace and Mathe moved to extricate his partner from the impending end-play by shifting to the jack of clubs. South and West ducked, and dummy's ace won. The queen of hearts was led, and declarer discarded his losing diamond, allowing West to win the trick with the ace, but closing the door on any further heart leads. West got out with his remaining diamond and South trumped.

The result of the entire 80 boards now hinged on South's next play—and oddly enough it was Schleifer's seemingly unfortunate choice of the spade queen that tipped the decision in favor of Los Angeles. Had both spade honors still been outstanding, Kahn would have had little choice but to play the king of spades and continue the suit, hoping for a break and/or a throw-in play that would give him a club trick. The break would not have come through but the end-play would have, with West (Schleifer) winning two trump tricks but then forced to give declarer a trick in hearts or clubs. Had this happened, New York would have won the match by 2 IMPs.

But with the jack and 9 the only high spades outstanding, Kahn had hopes of a trump end-play—plus the certainty of winning a club trick if either opponent had started with three to the king. So, instead of the king of trumps, he led a low club.

East captured this trick with the 10 and led a high diamond, trumped by South and overtrumped by West's 9. The club king was cashed and the fourth club led. East ruffed with his remaining low trump, and another diamond return insured that West would make his jack of spades for the third undertrick. The result, down 300 at both tables, preserved L.A.'s 1-IMP lead and her intercity title.

Adding to the tension, the Los Angeles team, after a previous warning, had been penalized 1 IMP for arriving late for the final session. For a while it appeared as if that penalty IMP might decide the match. It didn't, but the use of a new scale of International Match Points did. On that new scale, recently adopted by the International Bridge Federation and approved by the American Contract Bridge League—and used for the first time anywhere in this intercity match—Los Angeles won by 164-163. But if the match had been scored by the scale in use when L.A. captured the first contest between these teams, the result would have been 96-94 in favor of New York!

Close as the outcome was, it was generally conceded that Los Angeles earned its victory.

New York's alteredlineup,strengthened by the addition of five new players, made the match closer, but it did not dislodge Los Angeles from the championship and the right to meet challenges of other cities for the title of Bridge Capital of the U.S.

Let's examine some of the other hands that made this match so exciting, particularly deal 63, on which L.A. took over the lead for the first time in the match:

North-South vulnerable South dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

The audience, watching the open room play on the Bridge-O-Rama, saw New York meet only a mild setback, due to a slight overbid and some unfortunate breaks in the way the cards fell.

SOUTH
(Schleifer)

1 [Heart]
PASS
PASS
PASS

WEST
(Hirschberg)

PASS
2 [Heart]
3 [Spade]
PASS

NORTH
(Mathe)

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

EAST
(Kahn)

1 [Spade]
3 [Diamond]
4 [Spade]

Opening lead: king of hearts

After winning the heart, South shifted to the spade 2, won by dummy's ace. A diamond lead to East's 10 was captured by South's jack and the spade 3 continued. Since declarer planned to ruff a diamond, nothing was to be gained by a finesse. He won with dummy's king, led the queen of hearts and trumped, then ruffed a low diamond in dummy. Declarer trumped another heart with fill spade 10, led to dummy's club king and ruffed another heart with the spade jack. South ruffed the next club and led a low diamond to North's king and the defenders took the rest, to put East down three for a total of 150 points.

Then the audience learned of New York's disastrous result in the closed room, where the bidding had been:

SOUTH
(Schenken)

1 [Heart]
2 [Diamond]
PASS
DBL.
PASS

WEST
(Rubin)

PASS
PASS
DBL.
PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Rapee)

1 N.T.
2 [Heart]
PASS
3 [Diamond]
PASS

EAST
(Erdos)

PASS
PASS
2 [Spade]
DBL.

Opening lead: king of clubs

Although two spades might have been defeated (East made only seven tricks at spades in the other room), North had less than his bidding had advertised and felt he could not afford to let the double stand.

After winning the club king, West (Rubin) shifted to the diamond 2. East's queen was captured by South's ace. Declarer returned the spade 9, captured by East's 10 for another diamond lead, won by South. The heart ace was cashed and a spade trumped in dummy. East trumped dummy's next heart to lead the jack of clubs. South trumped and led a spade, forcing West's ace. As a result, when he trumped the next club with the diamond jack, South was able to cash the spade queen but could not win another trick. Down two cost him 500 points, and New York's net of minus 650 was worth 12 IMPs to Los Angeles and put them into a 2-point lead.

The 75th deal, which restored New York to an 11-IMP lead, was one of the best played in the match. Both the New York and Los Angeles declarers showed what could be done with a weak combined trump suit, despite the bad break against them. The difference lay in the bidding:

Neither side vulnerable South dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

SOUTH
(Schenken)

PASS
1 [Heart]
2 [Spade]
3 [Diamond]
PASS

WEST
(Rubin)

PASS
1 [Spade]
PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Rapee)

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

EAST
(Erdos)

PASS
PASS
PASS
DBL.

Opening lead: jack of diamonds

Previous to the above bidding in the closed room, the audience had watched Schleifer make 10 tricks at hearts, playing the South hand. But his contract was two hearts, so Los Angeles scored only 170 points. Now declarer (Schenken) let West hold the first diamond trick and won the continuation with dummy's ace. He led a club to his king and took a successful finesse of the club jack, discarding his remaining diamond on dummy's ace of clubs.

Next, declarer led a spade to his ace and returned a spade. West made the fine play of going up with the king to prevent his partner from being stuck on lead with the queen. West was able to shift to a trump without losing a trick. North's ace won and the last club was ruffed by South, East discarding a diamond.

Then declarer trumped his 2 of spades with dummy's king of hearts, effectively shutting out East's queen (a low ruff would have permitted East to overruff and return a trump, setting the contract).

East discarded his last diamond, but on the lead of a diamond from dummy he was helpless. If he ruffed high, South would discard his last spade. When he trumped low, South overruffed with the 9 and trumped his last spade with dummy's heart 10. East was able to score his queen of hearts at long last—but South remained with the jack of hearts to win the last trick and bring home his doubled contract, scoring 590 points for a net of 9 International Match Points and what, at that late stage, began to seem like a safer lead.

But Los Angeles took 13 IMPs on the next three deals. This set the stage for that final cliffhanger when, with the match in the balance, it was the New York team that fell off the cliff.

One of the biggest swings in favor of Los Angeles—13 IMPs—came one board before the end of the second half. At that moment L.A. was suffering (literally) from a 30-point deficit. The comeback was achieved when Erdos and Adams outbid Hirsch-berg and Kahn on the North-South cards of this hand:

Both sides vulnerable East dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

The New Yorkers, holding the North-South hands, bid four hearts. The L.A. pair bid it thus:

EAST
(Rapee)

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

SOUTH
(Adams)

1 [Club]
2 [Heart]
2 N.T.
PASS

WEST
(Schenken)

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Erdos)

1 [Heart]
2 [Spade]
3 N.T.

This fishing expedition for a three no-trump contract was reasonably safe; if South had had four spades, chances were he'd have bid one spade over the one-heart response. Adams' heart raise, far from getting his side into the heart game, actually helped in reaching the no-trump contract. I do not especially recommend that immediate raise, but it is the Erdos-Adams style to raise partner's major on any three trumps, and the fact that Adams' three were the smallest in the pack did not deter him.

West opened the spade 3, which did not help declarer a bit. But the no-trump game contract was impregnable, with nine tricks on top (five clubs, two spades, one heart and one diamond). Los Angeles gained 600 at this table, plus another 100 at the other, for a total swing of 700 worth 13 IMPs

PHOTOTRIUMPHANT AFTER SUCCESSFUL PLAY, EDWIN KANTAR OF LOS ANGELES STRUGGLES INTO COAT AS PLEASED TEAMMATES STUDY HAND PHOTOEMBATTLED EASTERNER, Richard Kahn, argues with partner during tight match.
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)