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Goodby to a perfect partner

Sept. 22, 1969
Sept. 22, 1969

Table of Contents
Sept. 22, 1969

Yesterday
King Jackie
Bombs
Pro Football 1969
Pro Football
People
Horse Racing
College Football
Baseball's Week
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

Goodby to a perfect partner

With the death of Helen Sobel—I could never get used to calling her Mrs. Stanley Smith—I have lost my favorite partner, and the world has lost the greatest woman bridge player who ever lived. But Helen was far more than that; she was a great wit and an indomitable debater on any subject other than religion or politics—although we never had a real bridge argument, not because she followed my precepts but because she usually turned out to be right. She was the contradiction of the statement that at the top level of competition no woman can be a match for the best of the men. Helen won more national titles than I did, and at the time of her virtual retirement from tournament competition she had won more major open championships than any other players except Howard Schenken and John Crawford.

This is an article from the Sept. 22, 1969 issue Original Layout

We were often and inaccurately linked romantically, with the result that when her divorce from Al Sobel became public she was besieged by reporters who wanted to know if she and Charles Goren would marry. Even though we were in the midst of a tournament, Helen cracked, "We would in a moment—if anybody would have us."

Helen wore her honors with pride and grace. Once when we were playing as partners amid the usual horde of kibitzers, one gushing sycophant of mine asked her. "'How does it feel to play with a great expert?" Helen shrugged, nodded to me across the table and replied, "Ask him."

Outwitting the greatest players in the game was part of her fun, just as it was significant of her tremendous will to win. For instance, she treasured this hand in which she flimflammed one of the world's top stars.

Declarer covered Helen's opening lead of the queen of hearts with dummy's king. I won with the ace and returned the heart deuce. When she won the trick she returned the jack of clubs, won by dummy's ace. I showed out on declarer's trump lead, and after Helen won one of declarer's honors with the ace she got out by leading the 10 of clubs, won in dummy.

For Helen, it was no problem at all to see that declarer's only dilemma would be how to get back to his hand to draw trumps. Obviously he could not afford to ruff anything high, since that would set up Helen's 9 of spades. Since he could have at most one more minor-suit card and all the rest of his hand must be trumps, the only thing he needed to do was to avoid being overruffed in whichever minor suit he elected to play.

As declarer's first step in deciding the safest way back to his hand, he cashed dummy's diamond ace. Helen smoothly dropped the king! The great expert opposing us looked suspiciously at Helen. He knew better than to be taken in by what she herself called a gal who "looked like a dumb blonde." But he had to go with the odds that Helen's play of the king of diamonds was made because she had no other diamond to play. Therefore, he had to hope she had another club. Accordingly, he led a third club and ruffed with the 8. Helen produced the 9 of spades to win the setting trick and rubbed it in a bit by returning her remaining diamond.

It was a bit of gamesmanship that proved that Helen played as well as a man. But she always acted like a lady. The entire world of tournament bridge, I know, joins me in my mourning.

Neither side vulnerable South dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

SOUTH

4 [Spade]

WEST
(Helen)

PASS

NORTH

PASS

EAST
(Me)

PASS

Opening lead: queen of hearts