Success was not in the cards

The author's team lost the big event at the Summer Nationals after he broke a rib and his favorite partner had a spider sit down beside her
August 19, 1962

The SummerNational Championship is always a huge and hectic affair, with its many majortitles at stake, its field of 3,000 and its nerve-straining 12 consecutive daysof competition that leave players as limp as a year-old deck of cards. But bythe time the competition for the biggest of all the titles, The MastersKnockout Team event for the Spingold Trophy, ended in Minneapolis last week, Ihad good reason to feel this had been the weirdest Nationals in years. Mypartner was made ill by a spider bite, I fell in a bathtub and broke a rib, andmy team still had the Spingold all but won until a grand slam was set by animprobable 5-and-1 trump break.

The first days ofthe Spingold competition were filled with upsets as other top-seeded teamsseemed to get beat as fast as they sat down at a table.

But my team,Helen Sobel, Howard Schenken, Peter Leventritt, Bill Root, John Gerber and I,had matters all our own way. It takes two losses to knock a team out of theSpingold, and we were still undefeated with only two matches to go. The firstwas against a team of Edwin Kantar, Marshall Miles, Ivar Stakgold and LeonardHarmon. It was here we had one of two slam hands that could have turned theresults around:

NORTH
(Goren)

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

WEST

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

SOUTH
(Sobel)

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

EAST

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

I opened theNorth hand with one diamond, and Helen responded one spade. I might, I suppose,have made a jump shift rebid of three clubs, but since Helen's one-spaderesponse could have been somewhat stretched, I satisfied myself with a mildunderbid—a jump raise of three spades. Helen then bid four clubs, showing theace, and I bid five clubs. At this point Helen could well have bid five hearts,showing her ace. But she elected to bid six spades. Later we learned she wasrunning a high fever as a reaction to her spider bite, and this, added to theexhausting pressure of the tournament, made her decision quite understandable.In the other room our opponents used a convention which got them to sevenspades.

NORTH
(Stakgold)

1 [Club]
4 [Diamond]
5 [Heart]
6 [Heart]
PASS

EAST
(Schenken)

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

SOUTH
(Harmon)

1 [Spade]
4 N.T.
5 N.T.
7 [Spade]

WEST
(Leventritt)

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

Opening lead:queen of hearts

If it seems oddthat Harmon bid a grand slam in a broken suit which his partner had neverraised, the answer lies in the highly artificial four-diamond bid, called theIngberman Fragment, which was to prove a fragmentation bomb to our title hopes.Rarely seen, it works like this. A double jump in a new suit (it must be thethird suit bid) confirms four-card support for partner's suit, announcesstrength although not necessarily four-card length in the third suit, andpositively guarantees no more than a singleton in the fourth suit.

Harmon had nodifficulty making all 13 tricks, trumping two hearts in dummy and discardinghis remaining low heart on dummy's queen of clubs.

This was by nomeans the only crucial hand of the match, but it was more than enough toaccount for our first defeat—by 6 International Match Points—and throw theSpingold into a three-way tie among teams that had all lost once. The thirdteam was led by G. Robert Nail.

A 36-dealround-robin playoff at the end of so much competition is a fearsome strain. Onehad only to look at the unbuttoned shirt collars, the rolled-up sleeves, thefull ashtrays and empty stares of the competitors to appreciate this. Anyplayer who had taken part in every previous session of the championship hadalready played the awesome total of 636 deals. Now there were 72 more to go.And I was on the sidelines as a result of my rib fracture.

There were,again, perhaps any of two dozen hands or more that might have changed the finalresult, but the most dramatic was another disastrous grand slam, again againstthe Kantar team. This time our team bid it and was set.

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

The enemy bid thebig hands thus:

SOUTH
(Stakgold)

1 N.T.
3 N.T.
5 [Club]
PASS

WEST
(Schenken)

2 [Spade]
PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Harmon)

3 [Club]
4 [Spade]
6 N.T.

EAST
(Leventritt)

PASS
PASS
PASS

Opening lead:king of spades

My teammates bidit better, but did not fare as well:

SOUTH
(Root)

1 [Club]
4 [Club]
4 [Heart]
5 [Diamond]
6 [Diamond]
PASS

WEST
(Kantar)

1 [Spade]
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Gerber)

3 [Heart]
4 [Diamond]
4 N.T.
5 N.T.
7 [Club]

EAST
(Miles)

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

You will noticethat Gerber, inventor of the four-club ace-asking system, also uses theBlackwood convention, just as Easley Blackwood occasionally employs a Gerberbid. Neither North player could positively locate the queen of hearts inpartner's hand. Harmon, with no assurance his partner had a long club suit, hadto settle for a small slam in no trump. Gerber, knowing his partner had a goodfive-card club suit because of the club rebid, bravely and rightly went theroute. The odds were certainly in favor of making all the tricks. But the fateshad a different ending in mind. West held five trumps to the 10. It wasimpossible to avoid a trump loser, and we were doomed. In fact, when Root wonthe ace of spades and properly played two rounds of trumps, it left him withtwo spade losers and no way to get rid of them before West could gain the lead.We were down three and, instead of gaining 10 I MPs on this deal, we lost16.

We beat theKantar team anyway. But the round robin ended in a three-way tie, each teamwinning one match when Nail's team beat us and Kantar defeated them. Thatnecessitated deciding the title by the percentage of points scored by each teamcompared to the points scored against it. On this basis the Kantar team won,Nail was second, we finished third.

Our third-placefinish is not without its benefits, however. Members of the first two teams inthe Spingold automatically qualify for the International Trials in Phoenix,where the team to play in the 1963 world championship will be selected. SinceSchenken, Leventritt, Helen Sobel and I had already qualified, and Gerber hadbeen appointed the team's nonplaying captain, we did not need the qualifyingspots. Now the members of both Kantar's and Nail's teams will be in Phoenix,helping to insure that the U.S. has the strongest possible squad when it takeson Italy and other foreign champions for the world title next June.

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)