Two kids and a pair of foxes

Robert Hamman and Don Krauss are young and Sam Stayman and Vic Mitchell often bluff, but the U.S. is counting on them in the Olympiad
April 20, 1964

When the U.S. team trials for next month's World Olympiad were held last November, all the experts (including yours truly) overlooked the young pair of Robert Hamman and Donald Krauss. After all, with such experienced players as Howard Schenken, Alvin Roth, Tobias Stone, B. Jay Becker and Lew Mathe in the field, Hamman, who is only 25, and Krauss, 26, did not seem to have a chance. Even after they took an early lead, none of us revised our predictions. It looked as though we were correct when, on the fourth day of the trials, the two kids blew all but nine points of their 40-point lead. But they showed guts as well as skill, steadying down like a pair of veterans to sail through their last five matches and finish first, well ahead of Sam Stayman-Vic Mitchell and Robert Jordan-Arthur Robinson (SI, April 13), the other two pairs who are on the U.S. team.

Hamman and Krauss are both from California. Hamman, the more serious of the two, is a math major at UCLA. He is a heavily built young man whose infrequent postmortem comments are usually very much to the point. Although he began playing bridge only six years ago, he is regarded as the better card-player of the two. His partner, Don Krauss, is a Stanford University graduate and, like several of our younger bridge stars, he is working in the electronics field as a computer programmer. Good-looking and good-humored, he is aggressive to the point of brashness with all opposing bridge players. He and Hamman proved that their victory in the trials was no fluke when, along with Lew Mathe, Eddie Kantar, Howard Schenken and Peter Leventritt, they won the Vanderbilt team event in the Spring Nationals last month.

Nevertheless, as the only pair on the U.S. team without international experience, both boys will be watched closely by Nonplaying Captain Frank Westcott when they come up against the likes of such foreign stars as Pietro Forquet, Terence Reese and Jean Besse in the Olympiad. Not that Hamman and Krauss have not had their share of big-league competition. Mathe, whom Westcott has appointed as their special coach, has seen to it that they have had plenty of practice matches these past weeks against the strongest players in the Los Angeles area. This hand, played in such a match at Mathe's home, shows the Hamman-Krauss style at its best.

"Notice the cunning way we bid it—from the makable side," said Krauss as he described this hand.

Californians are inclined to use cue bids in the opponents' suit more freely than players from other locales, but at least some of those diamond bids seem warranted. Hamman's cue bid of three diamonds was a force to game (as three spades would not have been). Krauss thought that his high-card strength warranted some optimism—and, besides, he rather preferred to hear Hamman's suit, so he bid four diamonds. Hamman, however, wanted to show that he really had diamonds controlled—which his first bid had not guaranteed. Hence his five-diamond bid. Krauss was finally forced to mention spades, his only four-card suit other than diamonds. Now Hamman got grand-slam ideas and tried to indicate these aspirations by cue-bidding diamonds for the third time. Krauss thought maybe his partner wanted to hear a heart bid, but Hamman, of course, returned to spades.

West's failure to open a diamond marked him with a void. Krauss won the club lead, drew trumps, cashed his other club, the ace of diamonds and the ace-king of hearts. Then he led the heart jack. When West covered with the queen he was allowed to hold the trick, and Krauss discarding a diamond from the dummy. Whatever West led now, Krauss would discard dummy's last diamond while trumping in his hand, making his small slam.

Krauss could not resist a gleeful dig at his coach. "Needless to say," he said, "Mathe played the same hand at four spades from the 'wrong' side of the table, got a diamond lead and could only make five."

As talented as Hamman and Krauss are, the key to U.S. chances in the Olympiad rests with our team's senior partnership, Sam Stayman and Vic Mitchell. I do not say this flatteringly or critically. It is simply my estimate that from Stayman-Mitchell will come the big point swings, both for and against the U.S., swings that will probably decide the fate of the team.

If a team could sit back and play precise, errorless bridge throughout a tournament, it could win on its opponents' mistakes alone. But under the mental and physical strain of a long championship, mistakes are inevitable on both sides of the table. Therefore it is necessary to attack, to put pressure on the opponents by obstructing their bidding whenever possible. Stayman and Mitchell are strong exponents of interference bidding and they have geared their somewhat complex system to it.

Stayman's international experience goes back to 1950, when he and I were teammates in the first World Championship. His team won again in 1953, lost in 1956 and finished fifth in the Olympiad in 1960, with Victor Mitchell also on that team. Although Sam is the oldest member of our team, he is only 54. Always a brilliant player, Stayman is considered a difficult partner—but only because of the complexity of his bidding system. When he plays rubber bridge, Stayman is inclined to be something of a fancy Dan and has on occasion confused some of the biggest names in bridge. "The best way to handle Sam," says Lee Hazen, "is to believe his bids and respond accordingly. Then it is up to Sam to get himself to the right contract. If he bids clubs, hearts and spades, I assume he has four of each suit. I'll admit it can be baffling if he next bids diamonds, but I just proceed on the assumption that Sam has been dealt an unusual 4-4-4-4 distribution."

Apart from his sometimes peculiar bidding, Stayman is an ideal partner. For example, in this year's Vanderbilt, Vic Mitchell developed a severe headache midway through a match. Solicitously, Sam asked, "Would it help if I played slower? Or perhaps quicker?" "No," moaned Vic, with his hand over one eye. "Only better."

Mitchell, 40, is a reserved man from whom such barbs come as a surprise to those who have seen only the smooth shell behind which hides a bundle of nerves. A great player in his own right, Mitchell is a good foil for Stayman, willing to adapt himself to the vagaries of a constantly expanding arsenal of conventions.

The simplest of these are two artificial opening bids: two clubs to show a hand of intermediate high-card strength, including eight or more playing tricks; two diamonds to show a high-card powerhouse. Thus, any opening bid of one in a suit is limited in strength and cannot include as many as 19 high-card points. This limitation leaves the opener's partner free to "operate" with a poor hand without danger that the opener will shoot for the moon.

Here is an example of a Stayman-Mitchell artificial bid from a recent practice match in Philadelphia.

In the other room, where teammates Robert Jordan and Arthur Robinson held the East-West cards, North passed the opening spade bid, East kept the bidding open with a double and East-West romped into four hearts, making five.

When Stayman-Mitchell played the hand from the North-South position, Mitchell, protected by the knowledge that Stayman could not have a near two-bid, psyched in the suit in which it was reasonable to suppose the opponents might make game. East had to expect that his partner was entirely busted and so made no move with his powerful hand.

The opponents' bidding led West to believe that his partner would be void in hearts. His opening of the heart ace, followed by imperfect defense, allowed Stayman to escape for down two, losing a club, two diamonds, one heart and one spade. The score of—200 represented a net gain of 450.

But psyching, even under the security that partner won't carry you too far, can be a two-edged sword. Suppose East had ventured a sporting double of the final contract? Suppose West had found the best defense—a trump opening? Unable to ruff a heart or to take two club finesses, South might have wound up with only five tricks for a 1,400 penalty. And against Italy, with an East named Pietro Forquet and a West named Benito Garozzo, that might well happen.

ILLUSTRATION

North-South vulnerable East dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

EAST

2 [Diamond]
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

SOUTH
(Krauss)

DOUBLE
4 [Diamond]
5 [Spade]
6 [Heart]
PASS

WEST

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Hamman)

3 [Diamond]
5 [Diamond]
6 [Diamond]
6 [Spades]

Opening lead: 2 of clubs

Both sides vulnerable South dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

SOUTH
(Stayman)

1 [Spade]
3 [Heart]
4 [Spade]

WEST

PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Mitchell)

2 [Heart!]
3 [Spade]
PASS

EAST

PASS
PASS
PASS

Opening lead: Ace of hearts

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)