THE BEST IN BRIDGE

Sports Illustrated's expert on cards introduces a gallery of famous players and reveals which profession produces the most consistent winners
April 10, 1961

When I first got into bridge, I had little idea what a stimulating profession I had chosen. Because of the game I have been able to travel almost everywhere on earth and to meet both the leaders and the people of many nations. Bridge, I discovered early, was an interest I could share easily and pleasurably with men high in government, with schoolboys in Paris, or with professional baseball players. I have found surprisingly good players among all of them. But who, I am often asked, are the best players?

The question in a sense is unfair. With equal logic you might ask, who are the best beekeepers? Still, and perhaps recklessly, I have an answer. Lawyers are the best.

You may be surprised at this. There is a widely held belief that mathematicians as a group are superior players. They should be but, curiously, I have never known this to be so. It is the same with chess players. With their excellent training, I would have thought that they would make ideal raw material for the bridge table. Yet I have watched such world champions as José Capablanca and Dr. Emanuel Lasker, and I am certain that had they played chess as they played bridge their names would not be well known today. Musicians are said to have precise minds. The ones I have met have been great enthusiasts for bridge, but somehow they have all lacked the proper attitude to be really good.

No, in the end I am forced to conclude that among the professional men in the field of tournament bridge, the most successful have been those with legal training. This is a particularly difficult thing for me to say because I once practiced law myself. This, I hope, has not prejudiced my thinking. I suppose the reason why so many lawyers are good bridge players is that logic is the basis of their practice and, also, they are in close contact with people and are good judges of what behavior to expect.

Bobby Jones is an attorney in point. He took up bridge in his middle years after illness barred him from the golf course. Observe how he performed with the North cards below.

North-South vulnerable South dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

SOUTH

1 [Spade]
3 [Heart]
5 [Club]
PASS

WEST

2 [Diamond]
PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH

3 [Club]
4 [Spade]
6 [Spade]

EAST

PASS
PASS
PASS

Opening lead: king of diamonds

South opened with one spade, and West overcalled two diamonds. Jones, North, had a choice at this point. The routine call is a jump raise to three spades. However, he felt that his reasonably good club suit might have an important bearing on subsequent play if a fit could be uncovered, so he bid three clubs.

South rebid three hearts, and now Jones turned on the steam by jumping to four spades. Though South became slam-minded, the two losing diamonds demanded that he proceed with caution. A Blackwood call would not be appropriate for even if North had no aces, a slam might be around the corner if he had second-round control of diamonds.

So South bid five clubs. Since spades had been vigorously supported, this was an obvious cue-bid suggesting that partner contract for slam if he could take care of the unbid suit, diamonds.

Jones promptly accommodated, and shortly after the opening lead, South tabled his cards and claimed the small slam. Observe that North might just as easily have held a hand with two diamonds and a singleton heart, in which case he would have stopped at five spades.

Though I practiced law for more than a decade, the closest I ever came to a Supreme Court case was in my studies at school. Bridge, on the other hand, enabled me to meet one of the great men of our time, Fred Vinson, the late Chief Justice. Justice Vinson loved sports, particularly baseball and football, and the elephantine memory that catalogued tax figures for the House Ways and Means Committee also retained batting averages and famous plays from years back. In his youth he played shortstop, and the story, perhaps apocryphal but certainly typical, is told of the time a man asked him if he was the same Fred Vinson who played on a Kentucky team against a West Virginia nine some 40 years before.

"I am," he replied, "and we almost always lost, thanks to you."

"I'll bet you can't remember what position I played," the man said.

"Yes, I do," Vinson replied. "You were the umpire."

Early in 1953 I was the Chief Justice's partner in one of the last bridge games he ever played. It was at the country home of Harry Watkins, a judge of the U.S. District Court in Fairmont, W.Va., and we were meeting a team of West Virginia bar members in a marathon bridge game. We were far out in front, when suddenly I took an 1100-point set on an injudicious bid. Justice Vinson was furious. I never knew such wrath could reside within that placid exterior. We were playing for nothing a point, which made his ire the more noteworthy.

I regret that I do not recall the hand today. No doubt under the strain of acute embarrassment I promptly forgot it.

Tension, of course, often plays a part in bridge. One of the tensest partners I ever had was Forest Evashevski, the former football coach and now athletic director of the University of Iowa. But unlike most people, Evy, a supremely confident man, never seems to let tension affect his play. He is a highly capable bridge player and he acquitted himself most creditably in the Iowa State bridge championships a few years ago when he and I were partners. I must confide, however, that he covered more territory between rounds than he ever did as the blocking back for Tommy Harmon in his undergraduate days at Michigan. He performed at the tournament in a manner that would have done credit even to the most adroit card handler.

Neither side vulnerable North dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

NORTH

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

EAST

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

SOUTH

1 [Heart]
3 [Diamond]
4 [Heart]

WEST

PASS
PASS
PASS

Opening lead: king of spades

Evashevski's defense was quite diabolical. Actually, four hearts was rather a remarkable contract since it was the only game North-South could fulfill.

I opened the king of spades and in response to my partner's signal continued with the ace and another. South ruffed and led the queen of hearts and everyone ducked. He continued with the jack, and this, too, was permitted to hold as Evashevski dropped the 8 of hearts. It was obvious to him that if he took the second heart it would be the last defensive trick, since whatever honors I held in the minor suits were readily finessable. Furthermore, he felt his only hope to defeat the contract lay in the chance that declarer had started with a four-card trump suit—after all, he had ruffed with the 9 of hearts. If East could give South the impression that the adverse trumps were divided four-two, it might be possible to mislead him.

South was afraid to play a third round of trumps because if he removed the last heart from his own hand and the dummy, West presumably would be able to ruff in eventually with the long trump and cash at least one high spade. Declarer therefore began to run the diamonds with the intention of forcing out West's long trump while declarer still had control of the hearts. On the third round of diamonds, I put my 7 of hearts to good use by trumping in as my partner discarded his last spade. When I led the fourth round of spades, South discarded from dummy, expecting to ruff the trick with the 10 and then cross to the club ace to draw the last trump. He was startled when Evashevski produced the king of hearts for the setting trick.

Of the stage and screen stars I have known, few intrigued me more than the late Humphrey Bogart. Given a situation demanding hard lines, whether on camera or in real life, he delivered them with sharpness, yet he was capable of the most extraordinary gentleness. He was also capable of some excellent bridge, as you can see in the following hand.

Both sides vulnerable West dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

WEST

1 [Diamond]
DOUBLE

NORTH

PASS
PASS

EAST

1 [Spade]
PASS

SOUTH

2 [Club]
PASS

Opening lead: king of hearts

West opened with one diamond, and East responded with one spade. Bogart, playing South and never one to let vulnerability intimidate him, came right in with a two-club overcall, which West greeted with a brisk double. It would appear from the highly distributional nature of East's holding that he should have been reluctant to let the double stand. It will be observed that a heart game is easy to fulfill, and a run-out to two hearts by East would readily have uncovered the fit. No doubt East was unduly influenced by the tone of West's double—and so received his just deserts.

West opened the king of hearts, on which East signaled vociferously with the queen. The ace was cashed next, followed by the 10, which was ruffed by declarer.

Bogart pondered the situation at great length, for it was apparent from West's double that in addition to the five side-suit losers, trumps would break badly. It seemed that a deficit was in the offing, but Bogie was never inclined to give up tamely.

West, growing impatient at the delay, finally turned toward the declarer and said, "Come on, Bogie, you're going for a ride. Do the best you can and let's get it over with." Bogart rasped: "Hold on, chum. I have a perfect picture of your hand—and I'm going to make you eat those little words."

Here is what he was thinking. From West's failure to lead his partner's suit, it was apparent that he had no spades. His play of the hearts apparently marked him with only three cards in that suit. It therefore appeared that he was five-five in the minors.

Fortified by this analysis, Bogart proceeded to play with great speed. He led a club to the king in dummy to remove East's trump. A low diamond was returned and South's 10 forced out West's queen. West, burdened with the lead, chose to exit with a diamond. Declarer successfully finessed the jack and cashed dummy's ace, discarding a spade from his own hand. Then he ruffed a diamond, deliberately reducing his club holding to one less than his left-hand adversary.

Bogart now exited with the queen of spades, on which West discarded the king of diamonds. East was in and could play anything he wished—declarer would simply discard his last spade and West would have to ruff. Then West's forced trump return from J-9-8 would go up to the A-Q-10 and give Bogart the last three tricks. In all, Bogart scored two diamonds and six clubs to make good his prediction.

Humphrey Bogart was not as reckless as this hand might seem to indicate. Actually, I always had the feeling that he never permitted himself to be alone on a raft, and he rarely got himself into disastrous bidding situations.

An outstanding player among show people is Playwright George S. Kaufman. Had Kaufman chosen to devote less time to the theater and more to bridge, he could well have become one of our top tournament stars. The following hand offers a good sample of his dexterity.

North-South vulnerable South dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

SOUTH

PASS
2 [Diamond]
3 [Heart]
PASS

WEST

1 [Club]
PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH

DOUBLE
2 N.T.
5 [Diamond]

EAST

PASS
PASS
PASS

Opening lead: king of clubs

Kaufman was the dealer, seated South. He passed, of course, and West opened with one club. North doubled, East passed, and Kaufman jumped to two diamonds to temper the effect of his original pass. His partner now bid two no trump to show his club stoppers.

Kaufman rebid three hearts—which may appear to be rather drastic on such an anemic suit. However, it should be pointed out that the take-out double is usually based to a considerable extent on strong support for the major suits. The partner of the doubler is therefore encouraged to show a four-card holding which might not otherwise be biddable. North toyed with the idea of returning to three no trump but, impressed with the good trump fit, he finally jumped to five diamonds.

West led the king of clubs, and, as the dummy was spread, Kaufman could readily see that the fate of the contract hinged on the location of the spade honors. He had one sure loser in hearts and possibly an additional two in spades unless West held both the king and queen.

There appeared to be nothing more to the hand than to make the spade play and hope for the best, but Kaufman was reluctant to bank all his hopes on one shot. Analyzing the situation skillfully, he devised a line of play which would succeed even if the adverse spade honors were divided.

Kaufman won the club lead in dummy and immediately played ace and another heart. West was in and tried to cash a high club, but declarer ruffed, trumped a heart in dummy, led a diamond to the 10 and trumped his last heart in dummy. Now he ruffed a third round of clubs in his hand, removing East's last club and setting the stage for a squeeze.

Kaufman cashed all of his trumps and when the last one was played, everyone had to come down to three cards. West was forced to hold the 10 of clubs against dummy's 9, so he had to reduce to the king and 8 of spades. The dummy, discarding behind West, threw off the 9 of clubs, that card having served its function. East was reduced to three spades.

When Kaufman led the deuce of spades, West followed with the 8, and the 10 was played from dummy, forcing East's queen. East returned a spade and declarer's 4 brought forth the king from West and the ace from dummy. Declarer's jack of spades took the last trick in the cleverly contrived form of guard squeeze.

The late Prince Aly Khan was an intense competitor no matter what field he tried. I knew him best, of course, at the bridge table, where he showed the same degree of enterprise that had been characteristic of him on the racing turf and in his speedy motor cars.

As many of my readers know, I have constantly avoided high-stake games, but in Aly's house you had to play for big money. He usually insisted on 40 francs a point, which amounted to 96 at the time I played with him. Quite a little above the level of our domestic games!

An illustration of his resourcefulness follows:

North-South vulnerable West dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

[Ace of Spades]
[King of Spades]
[Queen of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[King of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[— of Diamonds]
[King of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]

EAST

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

WEST

PASS
4 [Diamond]
5 [Diamond]
PASS
PASS

NORTH

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

EAST

PASS
PASS
PASS
DOUBLE

SOUTH

2 [Spade]
4 [Spade]
5 [Spade]
PASS

Opening lead: king of diamonds

West passed his very strong hand. Aly, South, opened with a demand bid of two spades. West now decided upon obstructive tactics by way of a four-diamond call. Over South's four spades. West made the inevitable five-diamond bid. Aly went on to five spades. East's double ended the auction.

West led the king of diamonds, which declarer ruffed. Declarer drew four rounds of trumps leaving East with the high 9 of trumps. Since clubs had eventually to be established, declarer started to work on that suit, leading the king. West held up for one round but took the second club lead and shot back another diamond, which declarer ruffed.

At this point South was in position to force out East's trump with a club and resign himself to a one-trick set for he would have to give up a heart trick at the end. But Aly was loath to accept a sure loss when there was a chance of bringing in this highly remunerative contract.

Knowing West to be a sound player who was unlikely to bid five diamonds without eight sure winners, Aly played West for an eight-card suit. Defiantly, he exited with his last trump, knowing that if East did have another diamond the defense would take the rest of the tricks and 1100 points (less 100 honors) above the line. At 9¢ a point this was a proposition of some magnitude—but Aly had made the right decision. East had to lead a heart and Aly spread his cards, claiming the contract.

PHOTOLIKE A GREAT MANY LAWYERS, BOBBY JONES (LEFT), HERE DISCUSSING HAND WITH AUTHOR GOREN, BASES BRIDGE GAME ON LOGIC PHOTOFOREST EVASHEVSKI, "a tense player, relaxes with Charles Goren after finishing hand. PHOTOALY KHAN: INTENSE PHOTOBOGART: NO TIMIDITY PHOTOVINSON: HARD LOSER PHOTOKAUFMAN: DEXTROUS

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)