A chancy way to win

April 28, 1963

Tournament bridge players contend quite rightly that theirs is a game of skill. Toward the close of a major team championship, however, when only the most skillful have survived, the lucky bounce may decide who gets the silverware. Throughout the final rounds of the recent Vanderbilt Cup matches, Alvin Roth often gazed at the ceiling—but not to seek inspiration. He was beseeching the favors of fortune. His prayers were heard, for Roth's team—captained by Clifford Russell, with William Seamon, Harry Harkavy, Mrs. Edith Kemp and Albert Weiss—won this most historic of all bridge trophies in a playoff, and fortune helped on the hand below. It was played in a semifinal match against Sidney Silodor, Norman Kay, John Crawford and George Rapee.

In one room where the hand was being contested, Seamon watched the bidding move to six spades and then doubled. The contract was defeated by 500 points, but Seamon was quick to apologize to his partner for doubling. South might have decided to try six no trump, a contract that could have been defeated only by a club lead from West. So, the champions-to-be prospered in spite of the double at that table.

A little later, in another room, Russell and Harkavy had the offensive hands, and a quirk in the bidding led them to a successful slam. It went:

NORTH
(Russell)

PASS
2 N.T.
4 [Club]
6 [Diamond]

EAST
(Crawford)

PASS
PASS
DOUBLE
PASS

SOUTH
(Harkavy)

2 [Club*]
3 [Diamond]
4 [Diamond]
PASS

WEST
(Rapee)

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

*Artificial bid, forcing for one round

Because of the artificial opening bid, spades were—fortunately—never mentioned by North-South. Crawford's double asked Rapee to lead clubs, and accidentally steered West away from the leads that could set the contract, namely, the ace of spades, followed by a small spade. Nor did Rapee have the benefit of hearing spade bids from both North and South, bids that would have led him to discover the spade leads himself.

At six diamonds Harkavy won the opening club lead and pulled trumps. He then led the heart ace and crossed over to the dummy with the diamond jack. The king of hearts and the high club provided two discards for his two small spades, and a trick was conceded only to the ace of spades.

The score of 1,370 points, added to the 500 points gained in the other room, gave the Russell team 18 International Match Points. Its final winning margin over the Silodor team was only 12 IMPs. Thus, this hand, swinging as it did on South's willingness to open with the artificial two-club bid, enabled Russell's team to take the match and move on to its championship.

ILLUSTRATION

Both sides vulnerable North dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

NORTH
(Kay)

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

EAST
(Roth)

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

SOUTH
(Silodor)

1 [Diamond]
1 [Spade]
4 N.T.
6 [Club]
PASS

WEST
(Seamon)

PASS
PASS
PASS
DOUBLE

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)