At the recent Blue Ribbon Pairs championship in New Orleans, which attracted 146 of the toughest pairs in the game, it was, once again, the old familiar names that wound up at the top. Kehela-Lebovic, Mathe-Feldesman, Stayman-Mitchell were the three leaders, and the list of finalists included, among others, Kaplan, Kay, Crane, Roth, Kantar, Hamman and Hayden. There were also two Beckers, and 24-year-old Mike—the youngest of the six Life Masters in that family—beat out his widely known old man, B. Jay. Mike finished in a tie for ninth. Later in the same week he and his partner, Steve Altman—a 24-year-old Long Islander from Forest Hills, who lives just a mile from Mike—also qualified for this year's North American Team Trials by finishing second in the six-session board-a-match team championship for the Reisinger Trophy. (Mike and Steve will be the youngest pair ever to play in the Trials.) The elder Becker's team did not even qualify for the finals in that event.
Then, with teammates Dan Rotman and Charles Peres of Chicago, the youngsters went on to win the first playoff for the Albert H. Morehead Trophy from a field that included the U.S. team we are counting on to win the '68 Olympiad. By the end of the tournament the old man was proudly but sheepishly introducing himself as "B. Jay Becker—Mike's father."
On this deal from the Blue Ribbon Pairs in New Orleans, Mike was one of only a handful of declarers to bid and make game.
In view of the vulnerability, Altman's jump raise to three spades was bold. A bid over a takeout double—especially a raise of partner's suit—promises no great strength, but the main drawback was that he held only three trumps. If South had only four, the spades might be stacked in East's hand. However, even players who open four-card major suits, as Becker does, are apt to have a five-suiter when they open with one spade, and Altman took the gamble. Becker's excellent distribution brought his count up to 17 points, including three points for his diamond void, and he had no hesitation in going on to game.
January 22, 1968
West opened the king of hearts, but one look at dummy was enough to dictate a trump shift. It was tempting for declarer to win this trick in his own hand so as to get started with heart ruffs, but Mike recognized the need to take care of his club losers in a hurry. He won the trick in dummy and led the king of diamonds, discarding a club. West took the diamond ace and continued trumps. This time Mike won in his hand and pushed the queen of hearts through West's marked ace, ruffing out that card with dummy's last trump.
Becker pitched his remaining low club on the queen of diamonds, crossed to his hand with the ace of clubs, drew East's last trump and faced up to the problem of playing the heart suit so that he would lose only one more trick.
Opening lead: king of hearts