By beating a squad of young Precision System experts led by Joel Stuart in the semifinal of the U.S. team playoffs in New York last month, Lew Mathe's team avenged an earlier defeat and moved a step closer to a repeat appearance in world title competition. The victory entitles Mathe, Don Krauss, Edgar Kaplan and Norman Kay to meet the world champion Aces Oct. 22-24 in New Orleans, the winner to be the U.S. representative in the 1972 World Team Olympiad.

While the triumph was gratifying, it did not come easily. The match was as close and hard-fought as the final of the Spingold Team Championship just three months before (SI, Aug. 9), in which the Mathe foursome suffered a narrow, seven-international-match-point defeat at the hands of these same youthful opponents—Stuart, Steve Alt-man, Peter Weichsel, Gene Neiger and Tom Smith. The semifinal playoff, however, was to be a 144-deal affair, as opposed to the 72 boards played in the Spingold, and Kaplan confidently offered his assessment of the older team's chances over the longer run. "Experience gives us the edge," he said just before the match began. "If we can get off to a flying start, we'll win by 200 I MPs or more. But if the kids get a big early lead, there's no certainty they'll be able to hold it."

As things turned out, one had to wonder whether Kaplan possessed a crystal ball. At the end of the first 36 deals, played Friday night, the "kids" led by a whopping 73 IMPs in spite of a three-IMP penalty assessed for slow play. The penalty was largely chargeable to Alt-man, whose customary glacial pace at times made even the deliberate Kay appear swift. But three I MPs were only pebbles in such a gigantic landslide. The keyed-up young leaders didn't get much sleep that night, while the veterans could only swallow their pride and their tranquilizers and prepare for the next day.

Kaplan and Kay had performed well during the first session (as they would continue to do throughout the playoff), while Mathe and Krauss had been off form. But when Mathe-Krauss found themselves on Saturday afternoon, the Vu-Graph audience at the session was treated to one of the more remarkable turnabouts in tournament bridge history. Where the first-quarter score had been 108-35, Stuart, the second-quarter tally read 103-39, Mathe. The Precision lead was now down to nine IMPS and the images that had appeared in Kaplan's crystal ball were beginning to take shape at the tables.

To its credit, the Stuart team held on through the third quarter, scoring 69 IMPS to Mathe's 69 and maintaining its precarious lead. But with the score this close and only 36 deals remaining to be played on Sunday afternoon, that three-point slow-play penalty began to loom very large indeed. What if it turned out to be the deciding factor in the match? How would the players—and the onlookers—react? It may be that the tournament officials tossed more restlessly than the players that night, and with good cause: at the halfway point of the final session on Sunday the Mathe team not only had gained the lead but was holding it by exactly three IMPs.

The crisis was short-lived. On the remaining 18 deals, Mathe's squad gradually increased its lead and, after staving off a last-minute rally by the Precisioners, eventually won by 11 IMPs.

The turning point in the match came on the 114th deal and put Mathe into the lead for the first time since the very early going. This was the layout:

North-South vulnerable North dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

[Ace of Spades]
[King of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[9 of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[3 of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]
[Jack of Clubs]
[9 of Clubs]

EAST

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

NORTH
(Mathe)

PASS
PASS
4 [Spade]
PASS

EAST
(Altman)

1 [Diamond]
PASS!
PASS
PASS

SOUTH
(Krauss)

2 [Spade]
3 [Spade]
PASS
PASS

WEST
(Kay)

3 [Club]
4 [Club]
DBL.

Opening lead: king of clubs

In the closed room, where the deal was first played, Kaplan and Kay had bid the East-West cards to a game in hearts on this auction:

NORTH
(Weichsel)

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

EAST
(Kaplan)

PASS
2 [Spade]
4 [Heart]

SOUTH
(Smith)

1 [Spade]
DBL.
PASS

WEST
(Kay)

2 [Club]
3 [Heart]
PASS

Opening lead: 6 of spades

Kaplan chose not to open the bidding but cue-bid at his next turn to show that his pass was maximum and to encourage Kay to bid hearts if he could.

Smith won the opening spade lead and continued the suit. Kay ruffed and played the heart king to force South's ace. After that, no matter how they played, the defenders could win only the queen of hearts. Plus 420 for the Mathe team.

The excitement mounted in the audience as the Vu-Graph showed the replay. Krauss' jump overcall showed a good hand, but Mathe did not have enough for a free raise. After Krauss took a second bid on his own, however, Mathe upgraded his sketchy values and continued to the spade game.

After his club king held at trick one, Stuart shifted to a trump, won by Krauss. Playing on the assumption that West did not hold a diamond, since East's opening bid would usually have shown a five-card suit, Krauss cashed a second spade, then played the ace and a low heart. He hoped that West would have to win the king of hearts and would be unable to return anything but another club or a heart, giving declarer a chance to discard a losing diamond on the heart queen. But West ducked and dummy's queen won the trick! This unexpected development left Krauss with only two diamonds to lose, and he scored 790 for making his doubled game. Of course, had West gone up with the heart king and shifted to a diamond, East would have taken the ace and king to defeat the contract.

Krauss could have made the hand legitimately as the cards lie. After the club lead and trump shift, declarer leads a diamond at trick three. If West is allowed to hold the queen, the best he can do is exit with a club, forcing dummy to ruff. Declarer then plays ace and another heart, and after taking the king, West must return either a heart or a club, enabling declarer to get rid of his second diamond. If East instead overtakes West's queen at trick three to cash his second high diamond, South's losing heart will eventually be discarded on dummy's diamond jack. Finally, if East, after overtaking the queen of diamonds, does not cash his second diamond but shifts to a heart, declarer can win and return a heart. West can make his king, but dummy's queen is established as before for a diamond discard.

For their part the defenders, on a different opening lead or shift at trick two, could have beaten the contract in more ways than the one actually presented to them, but as it was the double-game swing totaling 1,210 points gave Mathe's team 15 IMPs and the lead. Said Kaplan afterward, "Over the course of 216 deals (counting the 72 played in the Spingold) we trounced them by one IMP, discounting that penalty." The question now, Edgar, is what does your crystal ball show about this month's meeting with the Aces?

ILLUSTRATION
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)