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Six Aces are hard to beat

April 12, 1971
April 12, 1971

Table of Contents
April 12, 1971

Yesterday
  • By Leonard Wibberly

    The Armstrong Siddeleys, Daimlers and Darracq something or others were wonderful, but the Riley supersport could outrun hedge sparrows

Pretenders
Steal The Stars
Toomey
Baseball 1971
People
Golf
Bridge
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

Six Aces are hard to beat

A runaway victory by the Dallas Aces in the finals of the Vanderbilt team championship, main event of the American Contract Bridge League's Spring National tournament in Atlanta, proved to be something of an anticlimax after earlier fireworks.

This is an article from the April 12, 1971 issue Original Layout

Two conventions—the impossible negative and the Precision two-diamond—were barred in the pair events following a hassle between the League's tournament and executive committees.

Two Vanderbilt teams were disqualified on technicalities—after they had won their matches.

Giorgio Belladonna and Benito Garozzo, formerly of Italy's famed Blue Team, became the first European duo ever to win an American national title (the Men's Pairs).

And immediately preceding the tournament the International Precision Team, for which Belladonna and Garozzo are currently starring (SI, March 15), wound up its six-city exhibition tour with five wins, one loss (to an American Bridge Association team in Washington) and a close call. The close call came in an additional match in Atlanta against the team led by nonplaying Captain Lee Hazen that, along with the Aces, will represent North America in the world championship in Taiwan next month. This was also an exhibition; the Precision team's offer to meet—and defeat—any challenger for its self-proclaimed title of world's best bridge team has yet to be accepted.

Despite all this, with their sweeping victory in the Vanderbilt finals Aces Jim Jacoby, Bobby Wolff, Billy Eisenberg, Bobby Goldman, Mike Lawrence and Bob Hamman quashed any feeling that they, as the reigning world titleholders, might have a few cracks around the feet of their graven image.

Followers of the game had been anticipating the Vanderbilt competition and a possible face-to-face final between Hazen's North American squad and the world champions. The Aces had posted an excellent record in American tournament competition, but they had won last year's world championship almost by default when Italy failed to send even one member of its Blue Team to defend the title. The Aces had also been guilty of an occasional bad performance, and many Americans thought that Hazen's team, which includes Lew Mathe, Don Krauss, Dick Walsh, John Swanson, Edgar Kaplan and Norman Kay, would win if the two were to meet.

In fact the Aces sweated a few easily spared pounds off their nonplaying captain and organizer, Texas millionaire Ira Corn, by winning a couple of squeakers on their way to the final. But they did make it. Hazen's team did not.

After a smooth ride to the semifinals the Hazen group faced a team headed by Ron Von Der Porten and including Ira Rubin, Chuck Burger, Kyle Larsen, Paul Soloway and Eddie Kantar. Their meeting was a ding-dong affair. With only a few deals left to play, the Hazen team held a slender lead, when along came the hand shown below, the first of three successive deals on which Von Der Porten rallied to win by 18 IMPs.

Von Der Porten won the opening lead with dummy's ace of spades and cashed the ace of diamonds. Warned by the fall of West's queen, he returned to his hand with the spade king to lead a second diamond toward dummy, rendering West helpless. If West discarded, dummy would score the king of diamonds. Declarer could then ruff a spade to his hand, ruff a club with dummy's 2 of hearts and cross ruff with high trumps for 11 tricks. West saved an overtrick when he ruffed the second diamond, but even if he had returned his last trump, dummy would have scored the king of diamonds and declarer would have cross ruffed for 10 tricks. When, instead, West continued spades, South ruffed and trumped a club with dummy's 2 of hearts. He made no attempt to cash dummy's diamond king but simply cross ruffed five high trumps for his contract.

At the other table West passed and Krauss opened the North hand with one diamond. Mathe responded with two clubs and eventually played at three no trump against the same queen of spades opening. He won in his hand and led a diamond. When West played the queen he ducked the trick in hopes of establishing the diamond suit while keeping East off the lead for a possibly dangerous club shift. West continued with the spade jack. Mathe could have made the hand as the cards lay by ducking this trick, winning the third spade, cashing two top diamonds and two hearts ending in dummy and then throwing West in with a fourth spade lead. This would have forced West to lead a club and give declarer his ninth trick with the club king. Instead, Mathe counted on establishing the diamond suit, with the added chance of East holding the ace of clubs. But the diamonds did not split, East eventually got in to lead a club and the contract failed. On the next deal a small pickup gave Von Der Porten the lead, and another gain on the last board merely iced the cake.

The bubble burst for Von Der Porten very early the following afternoon when the Aces put together the biggest score anybody remembers ever having been recorded in a single 18-deal quarter, 97 IMPs to 1. It would be hard to select the "crucial" hand from such a massacre, but Eisenberg, the wryest wit of the Aces, cited the one shown in the next diagram in which he made the winning play for the wrong reason.

Eisenberg-Hamman play limit (nonforcing) jump raises, and Hamman's two-no-trump bid was the equivalent of a strong double raise in spades.

When dummy came down Eisenberg saw a possible loser in each suit, so he planned to strip the hand in the hope of avoiding a heart loser by making the opponents lead the suit for him. He won the diamond lead with dummy's ace and led a club to his queen. West took the ace and continued with the queen of diamonds, under which East dropped the jack.

Von Der Porten thus knew that his partner held the diamond king and that declarer had no more diamonds, so he shifted to a club. South won with dummy's king, cashed the ace of spades and jack of clubs, then led a second spade, giving East the lead. Larsen returned the queen of hearts. Mathematically, when playing against top opponents, the textbook move would be to play as if each unseen hand had started with one of the missing honors, so normally South would have won the trick with the ace of hearts and finessed against West for the jack, which in this case would have failed. But Eisenberg, not knowing the distribution of the diamonds, read East's earlier play of the diamond jack as a signal for West to lead hearts. So he won the trick with dummy's king and successfully finessed the heart 10 on the way back, making his contract.

In the other room, four spades was reached on a much more complicated auction. Wolff, sitting West for the Aces, led the 7 of hearts, and he continued hearts when he regained the lead with his ace of clubs. Thus Kantar, the declarer, never had a chance for the end play and lost a trick in each suit for down one and a loss of 10 IMPs.

The Aces went on to win the Vanderbilt Cup by a thumping 156-point margin and in the process set at rest any doubts that they might not be ready to defend their world title when the firing starts in Taipei on May 6.

Both sides vulnerable West dealer

NORTH

[Ace of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[King of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[King of Diamonds]
[7 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]
— [Club]

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

WEST
(Kaplan)

1 [Club]
PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Larsen)

DOUBLE
3 [Diamond]
4 [Heart]

EAST
(Kay)

PASS
PASS
(All Pass)

SOUTH
(Van Der Porten)

2 [Heart]
3 NT

Opening lead: queen of spades

Neither side vulnerable East dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

[Jack of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[7 of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[8 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]
[Ace of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

EAST
(Larsen)

PASS
PASS
PASS

SOUTH
(Eisenberg)

1 [Spade]
3 N.T.
PASS

WEST
(Von Der Porten)

PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Hamman)

2 N.T.
4 [Club]

Opening lead: 6 of diamonds