The best play was not the answer

April 20, 1970

When the Dallas Aces (SI, March 23) and Omar Sharif's Bridge Circus completed their tour of seven U.S. cities last month they had played a total of 840 deals—the longest team contest in bridge history. Since the Circus included three members of the Italian Blue Team—Giorgio Belladonna, Benito Garozzo and Pietro Forquet—the experience was invaluable for the Aces, who will represent us at the world championships in Sweden this June. This is true whether or not the Blues decide to skip Sweden, as announced; the competition they furnished cannot help but improve the Aces' chances.

The tour was an artistic success but a financial failure. Despite subsidies of more than $50,000 paid by two sponsors—the makers of Stancraft playing cards and Cosco bridge tables—and favorable arrangements with airlines and some hotels, gate receipts were a long way from meeting expenses. Huge crowds turned out to see Omar the actor at the various stores where he made personal appearances, but audiences at the matches were disappointingly small. Sharif could not understand why movie fans stood in line just for a glimpse of him, while bridge fans responded so poorly to the opportunity of seeing him and his European stars in action.

The Aces won the tour by 101 international match points. If the margin seems large, the fact is that, counting each session as a match, the Aces won by only 22 to 20. The Texans recovered from a jittery start to lead by three IMPs going into the final week's play in Philadelphia. There they won the first three sessions, two of them by huge margins, to build their lead to 160 IMPs, and while the Circus rallied, the effort was too little and late. On the hand shown, the Circus, instead of losing 17 IMPs, picked up 18, a swing that seems hardly justified. Mike Lawrence and Bob Hamman sat for the Aces in the closed room, Claude Delmouly and Belladonna for the Circus, and this was the bidding:

NORTH
(Delmouly)

PASS
3 [Heart]
4 [Spade]
6 [Spade]
PASS

EAST
(Lawrence)

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

SOUTH
(Belladonna)

2 [Diamond]
4 [Heart]
5 [Spade]
PASS
PASS

WEST
(Hamman)

2 [Heart]
PASS
PASS
DOUBLE

Opening lead: 7 of diamonds

Belladonna's opening bid showed a good three-suiter; Delmouly's cue bid asked opener to name his short suit. As a result, the slam was played by North, who could have been defeated by a club lead, which West would ruff. But East decided that partner's double asked for a lead of South's first suit—diamonds. After the diamond opening Delmouly had no trouble bringing home the slam. With the "showup" finesse against the jack of clubs, declarer lost only one heart trick.

When the audience watched the hand played via closed-circuit TV, the Aces, represented by Billy Eisenberg and Bob Goldman, bid so that the slam was played from the South seat, and the American rooters cheered. For once, Italian bidding methods seemed to have lost the lucky charm that always appeared to locate the contract in the "right" hand for them.

NORTH
(Eisenberg)

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

EAST
(Sharif)

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

SOUTH
(Goldman)

1 [Diamond]
2 [Heart]
2 [Spade]
4 N.T.
5 [Heart]
PASS

WEST
(Garozzo)

1 [Heart]
DOUBLE
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

Opening lead: ace of hearts

North's double was negative, not for penalties. It announced a fair hand with strength in the unbid suits. American cheering appeared premature when South's cue bid, in response—although eminently correct since it told partner he could support either black suit—apparently was on the way to making North declarer and jeopardizing the slam. However, West's double of this cue-bid gave North the chance to pass, so the spade slam was played from the South side after all.

Goldman, a wizard in mathematics, ruffed the second round of hearts and saw a chance to avoid any finesse or any reliance on dropping the jack of diamonds. He crossed to dummy's spade jack, ruffed dummy's last heart and laid down the spade king. There were still two chances to bring in the slam. Declarer could overtake the king, relying on a break in trumps, or he could cash two top diamonds and get to dummy by ruffing a third diamond. Instead, he went along with the odds and, after holding the trick with his king of spades, he tried to reach dummy with a low club lead.

Disaster! West had the remaining trump, and he did not have a club. As the cards lay, the Aces had bid the hand better than the Circus; as mathematics dictated, they had played it best. But the result was a swing that cost 35 IMPs—a doubled slam that could have been defeated, plus an undoubled slam that was apparently a sure thing from the South side.

North-South vulnerable North dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

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)