Palmer vs. Nicklaus—at slam

September 30, 1962

It is well known that Arnold Palmer is a bold and incisive golfer, but it wasn't until a recent Saturday night at Akron, Ohio that I found out he plays bridge the way he plays golf. I was in Akron to watch the World Series of Golf. It was nearly 12 p.m. on the night preceding the final 18 holes when I was routed out of bed by a telephone call. It was my friend, Forest Evashevski, the athletic director at the University of Iowa. "I've got a couple of golfers here who want to play bridge," he said. "We need a fourth." Minutes later I found myself seated at a bridge table with Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, involved in a heated game that looked like it was going to last until tee-off time Sunday. It was about 1:30 a.m. when I finally inquired: "Don't you guys have to play for $50,000 today?" That broke up the show, but not before Arnie had bid and played the following hand:

Neither side vulnerable South dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

SOUTH
(Palmer)

PASS
3 [Club]
4 [Club]
PASS

WEST
(Nicklaus)

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Goren)

2 N.T.
3 N.T.
6 [Club]

EAST
(Evashevski)

PASS
PASS
PASS

Opening lead; king of hearts

I am well acquainted with Evashevski's play, as we have been partners many times, and I found out as this evening progressed that both Nicklaus and Palmer have some flair for the game, too. With a little more experience, Palmer could be quite good. Nicklaus is only 22, which is reason enough to be better on the golf course than at the bridge table. This was one of the earliest hands we played, so I didn't know if Palmer's three-club response was a Stayman call for the majors. Since I don't usually like responding in a suit headed by less than the queen, three no trump was my natural rebid, regardless of Arnie's intent.

Palmer overrode my greater familiarity with the course and took me out to four clubs. Considering our holdings in hearts, this move had some merit. I now had high hopes that Palmer held at least a six-card suit, so instead of playing safe with a bid of five, I decided to risk a slam and let Arnie really display his talents. What followed was an exercise of ability, nerve and just plain brass in a situation where nothing else would have sufficed.

Palmer trumped the heart lead and cashed the ace-king of diamonds. The fall of the queen was the first good break, yet it posed a problem. It would be risky to continue diamonds without drawing trumps, but if all the trumps were drawn Arnie would have no place to put his diamond loser. So, after drawing two rounds of trumps with dummy's ace-king, Palmer led to his diamond jack. Nicklaus couldn't ruff, so one obstacle had been successfully negotiated. More luck was now needed.

After ruffing his fourth diamond, Palmer could not afford to come back to his hand by trumping a heart before he had tried to establish a spade trick, so he had to play for a spade split. He cashed dummy's ace-king and led a third spade. The queen and jack fell together. Then, after ruffing the heart return, Arnie had his high trump with which to draw East's jack and a good spade with which to chalk up the little slam.

"Pretty lucky lie," he admitted afterwards. "I hope I get a few like that tomorrow." But by then it was already tomorrow. And, as just about everybody knows, he didn't. That game went to Nicklaus.

EXTRA TRICK
It doesn't hurt to occasionally be a bridge-playing Palmer and ignore the risks. If it accomplishes nothing else, it may lure your opponents into doubling many of your more conservative bids in the future.

ILLUSTRATION

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)