A one-man team in a partnership game

January 18, 1965

His name is Lew Mathe, but in the world of bridge he is generally referred to, with some awe, as Big Lew. A rugged-looking man with iron-gray hair, Mathe is one of the country's top players, possessing both the self-confidence and the killer instinct so vital to success in topflight competition. Indeed, Big Lew has so much confidence and instinct that he is a difficult—some say impossible—partner. Over the years Mathe has run through partners like Kleenex. I'll take the next player who walks through that door and whip you," Mathe has been known to say in bridge clubs around the country. Big Lew is, in short, a one-man team.

But in the last big championship of 1964, the Blue Ribbon Pairs, Mathe found a partner who just may be able to catch anything Big Lew can throw. He is Bob Hamman, a young man who, with Don Krauss as a partner, had represented the U.S. in the Olympiad. Hamman is a low-key player of considerable talent, a hard man to rattle. Mathe-Hamman won the Blue Ribbon, coming from well behind on the final day. This week's hand, on which the two showed a combination of daring and barefaced fraud, helped them to victory.

East's takeout double, despite unfavorable vulnerability, was a typical Mathe maneuver against the Roth-Stone system employed by Jan Stone and William Passell. It was primarily intended to sow a few doubts in the opponents' minds as to who actually had the strength. It succeeded in misleading South as to the East-West distribution—thanks to a brilliant false-card by Hamman.

Declarer played a low heart from dummy on the first trick, and East won with the 9, returning the 7 of spades to the jack, queen and ace. Dummy's 10 of clubs was led, East played the 4, and South could have made the hand beyond peradventure if he had ducked. But he was understandably reluctant to lose a club trick to the jack—if West held it—and have another heart come through. So South went up with the king of clubs, on which West dropped the 8. Dummy was reentered with the diamond king, and a second club lead was taken by East's ace. At this point Mathe could insure the defeat of the contract by cashing the ace of hearts and leading the third club, relying upon West to have a card that would beat dummy's diamond 7. But this hand was played in the first session of the final, and Mathe and Hamman were shooting for the good scores that were to bring them a top for the session and boost them closer to the head of the field. Gambling on a bigger set than one trick, Mathe returned his 4 of spades.

South ruffed with the 10 of diamonds and cashed the diamond ace. Now had he continued with the diamond queen, South would have cleared trumps and brought home his contract. But Hamman made this play seem impossible by dropping the jack of diamonds under the ace.

Passell elected to play for down one, planning to lead good clubs until East ruffed. To his horror, however, Hamman trumped the high club with his 3 of diamonds. Dummy overruffed, and South saved something from the wreckage by trumping one of dummy's spades and leading a good club, forcing Mathe to trump and yield a trick to dummy's king of hearts. But dummy still had a spade to lose, and the contract was down two tricks for a near-top score for Mathe and Hamman.

ILLUSTRATION

East-West vulnerable North dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

[7 of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[Jack of Hearts]
[9 of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[Ace of Clubs]
[Jack of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]
[9 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]

NORTH
(Mrs. Stone)

PASS
1 [Spade]
2 [Spade]
3 NT
4 [Diamond]

EAST
(Mathe)

PASS
DOUBLE
PASS
PASS
PASS

SOUTH
(Passell)

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

WEST
(Hamman)

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

Opening lead: 3 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)