A bold bid stops Britain

February 26, 1962

Just before the World Contract Bridge Team Championships began in New York City, North America's non-playing captain, John Gerber of Houston, said: "There are no cowards among my players." He might have included himself in that statement.

A bridge team captain bears the heavy responsibility of deciding which four of his six-man squad will appear in each session and against which opposing pairs they are to play. Gerber adopted an ingenious combination of man-to-man and zone defense. He played certain pairs against certain others. He chose his pairs according to the way he felt they would react to playing in the closed room, where they are undisturbed, or the open room, where they are under great pressure from a large audience watching close at hand.

When things went badly in the match against Great Britain, Gerber took the bold step of splitting his pairs, in spite of the fact that this year's North American team had been selected to provide three well-practiced partnerships. Needing a swing, Gerber broke up his fellow Houstonians and his two Californians; he threw together his two veterans, daring to select Lew Mathe to play with G. Robert Nail. They appeared as partners, for the first time anywhere, midway through the critical match against Italy.

On at least one hand, the strategy backfired. Nail, obviously under strain in the new partnership, went into an unaccountable blackout and pulled the wrong card on a deal that cost his team 18 International Match Points. The "I-told-you-sos" got ready to point the finger of scorn at Gerber, but his judgment was vindicated the next day. Going into action against Britain 61 points behind, with 48 boards to play, Gerber's fired-up team came through to win a squeaker by 13 IMPs, 345 to 332. The hand shown at left made a crucial contribution to the victory of the new partnership.

The British were moving along the road to a slam as smoothly as they had set out on their march to Lexington and Concord nearly two centuries ago, when Minuteman Nail suddenly fired his five-spade shot into the auction. That bid blocked North from responding to the four-no-trump bid in a way that would show he didn't have an ace. South had to guess and simply assumed that his partner must have the ace of diamonds as part of his opening bid.

Mathe doubled the grand slam. Nail opened a diamond—the double of a slam usually calls for the opening lead of dummy's suit—and Mathe's diamond ace set the contract.

In the other room Charles Coon of Boston and Eric Murray of Toronto, with no interference from the opponents, found out that they lacked one of the aces and stopped at six hearts, which they made for 1,430. The combined gain of 1,630 for North America was worth 19 IMPs—more than enough to win the match and set the stage for the last day's dramatic final against Italy.

EXTRA TRICK
When you are not vulnerable, you can sometimes afford to make a bid that will disrupt the enemy's communications. Anytime you can force them to guess, there's always a chance they'll guess wrong.

ILLUSTRATION

North-South vulnerable North dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

NORTH
(Priday)

1 [Diamond]
3 [Heart]
PASS
6 [Diamond]
PASS
PASS

EAST
(Mathe)

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
DBL.

SOUTH
(Truscott)

2 [Heart]
4 N.T.
5 N.T.
7 [Heart]
PASS

WEST
(Nail)

PASS
5 [Spade]
PASS
PASS
PASS

Opening lead: 3 of diamonds

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)