A nip-and-tuck finish to a long Trial

November 29, 1965

Never in the history of the Team Trials has there been as exciting a finish as there was at this year's competition, held last week in San Francisco, a city famous for its bridge. Of the 18 pairs battling for the three positions on the North American team, seven were still in contention going into the last of 17 rounds. Each pair had played 320 hands and then, for the seven contenders, everything depended on the final 20.

It had begun six days before, as 36 of the leading players in the U.S. and Canada engaged in a round-robin marathon. The early pairings were fratricidal—deliberately so. Friends were pitted against friends, neighbors against neighbors, so that later, when the matches became crucial, no pair out of contention could be accused of letting down against a pair of friends still fighting for a position on the team. So it was that Oswald Jacoby, playing with Albert Weiss, faced his son Jim in the second round. Son beat father 48-12 (there were 60 points to be divided in each match).

At the start Robert Jordan and Arthur Robinson, the Philadelphians who played so well for the U.S. in 1963 and 1964, won three matches to take an early lead. Veteran Lew Mathe and young Bob Hamman, both from the Los Angeles area, took over the lead after the fourth round but gave way to Canadians Eric Murray and Sammy Kehela, who moved into first after Round 7.

Six rounds later Mathe-Hamman had regained the lead from Murray-Kehela, who were second. Phil Feldesman, his onetime highly successful partnership with Ira Rubin restored, had moved into third place after Round 11, but
Jordan-Robinson retook the position immediately and then jumped into the lead by the 14th round by crushing Mathe-Hamman 56½ to 3½

In the next two rounds Feldesman-Rubin, winning big, clinched a position on the team. Not even a shutout in the final round could cost them third place. By a quirk of the draw, four of the other six pairs still in contention for the last two positions had to fight each other. The team of George Rapee and Boris Koytchou, which had leaped from the pack to take over second place, had to play its final match against Mathe-Hamman, the third-place team. Murray-Kehela, in fourth, were up against Jordan-Robinson, who were fifth. All four were packed together so tightly that the winners of these two matches seemed certain to make the team. Yet, if both scores were close, say 35-25, the sixth or seventh place team could slip by everyone with a 60-0 win.

Feldesman-Rubin lost their last match but gained enough points to finish first. Mathe-Hamman overpowered Rapee-Koytchou and wound up second. And in the most exciting match of the final round, Murray-Kehela beat Jordan-Robinson to take third, a duel that was not decided until the very last deal.

Feldesman-Rubin had served notice that they would be dangerous when they beat the seasoned pair of Alvin Roth-Tobias Stone in the eighth round, mostly on the strength of the hand at left, on which Rubin was the only one of nine declarers to make his game.

After Roth had collected the ace and king of hearts he shifted to a noncommittal 5 of clubs. The queen lost to West's king, and Stone moved to protect a possible trump trick in his partner's hand by making declarer a gift of a ruff and sluff. He led a third round of hearts, which Rubin ruffed in dummy, discarding a club. This play didn't really help declarer—he could always have ruffed that club in dummy—but it led him to wonder why Stone should be so helpful. He decided that Roth must have at least three spades and possibly four, so he led the 10 of spades and let it ride.

Armed with the news that he needed all of dummy's trumps to pick up East's queen, and that the diamond suit could not be established, Rubin continued trumps, then played the ace and king of diamonds and finally brought home the contract by taking a finesse against East's jack of clubs. The swing was 11 International Match Points.

Mathe had a similar triumph—he was the only declarer to make game at any of the nine tables—on the hand above, played against last year's nonplaying captain, John Gerber, partnered by Paul Hodge.

Most of the West players opened the bidding with one spade. North-South duly reached three no trump and could not make it when West shifted to a diamond after getting in with the club ace. But Gerber's unorthodox diamond bid kept Hamman out of no trump, and East's preemptive raise persuaded South to bid his four-card heart suit.

West's choice of a spade lead gave declarer problems in trying to diagnose the distribution but did not prevent him from making the hand. He tried to cash three rounds of spades and get rid of a losing diamond and was surprised when East ruffed. So was East when South overruffed. A club lead knocked out West's ace and a diamond shift came too late. South trumped the second diamond, crossed to dummy with a high heart and led another good spade. East could win only one more trump trick with his heart jack and Mathe made his touch-and-go game.

All this seemed merely to set the stage for the very last hand (below left) in the very last match to be completed, the important one between Jordan-Robinson and Murray-Kehela. This was, for each of them, the 340th hand of the week.

Jordan's contract of three no trump was reasonable, but fate and two of the best defenders in the world were against him. If he had made his contract, he and Robinson would have made the team. As it was...

West opened his partner's suit, and Jordan won with his ace. A spade play might have produced the contract if East had grabbed his king of spades and continued diamonds—as happened at two other tables. South would then have had time to cash his spades, get to his hand with the heart ace, then lead a heart to establish dummy's queen. West could take the king of hearts but could not lead a third diamond, and before East could do so South would have established his ninth trick, the king of clubs.

Instead, on winning the first diamond, Jordan elected to go all out for the heart suit. When he cashed the heart ace and discovered East's void, he might have made things more difficult for the defense by switching to spades, but it is doubtful if that would have helped him. Instead, when he continued hearts at the third trick, West was in with the king while he still had a second diamond to lead. Declarer could not set up his spades and his one club trick before East established his diamonds. With the fifth trick cashed by the defenders, Jordan-Robinson's hope of third place collapsed.

It would have been a good team either way. Good enough, perhaps, to beat Italy next April. The contest will be between North America and Italy. Three other teams will be in there trying—The Netherlands, and the champions of the Far East and of South America—but I don't think they will have a chance. If anybody is going to dethrone Italy, it will be the North American team that just qualified in San Francisco.

ILLUSTRATION

Neither side vulnerable North dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

NORTH
(Feldesman)

1 [Diamond]
PASS
4 [Spade]

EAST
(Roth)

DOUBLE
PASS
PASS

SOUTH
(Rubin)

REDOUBLE
3 [Spade]
PASS

WEST
(Stone)

3 [Heart]
PASS
PASS

Opening lead: jack of hearts

North-South vulnerable East dealer

NORTH

[Ace of Spades]
[Queen of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[9 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[King of Hearts]
[Queen of Hearts]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[10 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]
[Queen of Clubs]
[Jack of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

EAST
(Hodge)

PASS
3 [Diamond]
PASS

SOUTH
(Mathe)

PASS
3 [Heart]
PASS

WEST
(Gerber)

1 [Diamond]
PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Hamman)

DOUBLE
4 [Heart]

Opening lead: 4 of spades

Both sides vulnerable East dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

EAST
(Kehela)

1 [Diamond]
PASS
PASS

SOUTH
(Jordan)

PASS
2 N.T.
PASS

WEST
(Murray)

PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Robinson)

1 [Heart]
3 N.T.

pening lead: 9 of diamonds

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)