Hand of the man who invented contract

August 09, 1970

The late Harold S. Vanderbilt invented contract bridge back in 1925, and he loved the game he invented. The very name of Vanderbilt helped contract bridge to become so enormously popular that by the early '30s it had supplanted auction bridge as America's favorite card game and, very soon, the world's. Vanderbilt also created the first bidding system for the new game, was the inventor of the artificial and forcing one-club opening bid—later the basis of Italy's long reign as world bridge team champion—and of many other theories now standard in the game. He was also one of the game's slowest players. His principal rival in tortoise pace was his favorite partner, Waldemar von Zedtwitz, and playing against them was always a protracted as well as a fearsome ordeal. Vanderbilt was slow because he was thorough and because he hated to lose—qualities attributable to his Dutch ancestry as well as to the kind of mind that was able to devise the game's remarkably well-balanced scoring table.

Like several other bridge greats who gave little time to social pursuits, Vanderbilt remained a bachelor until comparatively late. He was 49 when he married. One evening in 1933 Vanderbilt looked at his watch and saw that it was approaching 2 a.m. He then looked at his fellow players and announced that this would have to be his last rubber. Everyone at the table was astonished at this atypical behavior—usually he was the last to quit. Vanderbilt felt called upon to explain. "You see," he said, "I'm getting married tomorrow." This may have been the first public announcement of the event.

In his own books on contract bridge Vanderbilt was modest. He rarely took credit for having played such hands as this one from his 1930 volume. If you would like to share Vanderbilt's problem, look only at the North and South hands and consider how you would play to make six spades.

Nowadays, South players responding to artificial-opening one-club bids have various ways to show the strength of their heart suit immediately. Vanderbilt's system required a one-diamond response with any hand that had less than an ace and a king in high cards. Vanderbilt himself later changed the theory which dictated that North should rebid two no-trump with such a strange shape. At any rate, South's four-heart bid was reasonably descriptive. North's four no-trump rebid simply indicated that hearts was his weak suit, and when South further showed his shape with a bid of five spades North raised to slam. There remained, however, the task of making it. How would you have played it?

A 3-2 spade break must be assumed, and since declarer cannot manage to establish his own heart suit by ruffing, he must play to set up dummy. The opening diamond lead was won in dummy, and Vanderbilt discarded his lone club! Then he ruffed a low club, went to dummy with a high spade, ruffed another low club and returned to dummy with a second high spade to run good clubs. East could ruff with the master trump any time he wished, after which declarer would still have a trump in his hand to ruff a diamond loser, the heart ace on which to discard dummy's other low diamond and a trump in dummy to get back to the good clubs.

Note that if Vanderbilt had failed to discard a club on the first diamond, necessitating the cashing of a high club first before beginning to ruff low clubs, West could have overruffed the third round of the suit and East would still have had a sure trump trick to stop the slam.

ILLUSTRATION

Both sides vulnerable North dealer

NORTH

[Ace of Spades]
[King of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[King of Diamonds]
[8 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]
[Ace of Clubs]
[King of Clubs]
[Jack of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

NORTH

1 [Club]
2 N.T.
4 N.T.
6 [Spade]

EAST

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

SOUTH

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

WEST

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

Opening lead: 3 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)