A new empire is on the rise, but first an older one has to fall

Ira Corn's Aces will be playing to win at the Olympiad in June—and so will Italy's famous Blues
November 08, 1971

It takes more than two consecutive world championships to build a bridge dynasty, but in New Orleans late last month the world champion Aces laid another brick in the foundation when they thrashed a strong foursome led by Lew Mathe in the final of the U.S. team playoffs.

The triumph allows Jim Jacoby, Bobby Wolff, Bobby Goldman, Mike Lawrence, Bob Hamman and Paul Soloway to represent the U.S. in the 1972 World Team Olympiad in Miami Beach in June. It also gives the Aces a chance to win a third straight world title, although not a third Bermuda Bowl. The Olympiad, which takes the place of the Bermuda Bowl event during Olympic years, is open to teams from individual nations, whereas Bermuda Bowl competition is restricted to the winners of international zone playoffs. The Aces will automatically take part in the 1973 Bermuda Bowl as the defending champions.

The fact that the Aces won this year's U.S. playoff came as no real surprise. What was startling was the size of their victory margin—171 international match points on 160 boards. When these same two teams last met, in the semifinals of the Spingold team championship this past summer, Mathe, Don Krauss, Edgar Kaplan and Norman Kay scored a 29-IMP, come-from-behind upset.

In view of the lopsidedness of the New Orleans contest, onlookers soon turned their attention to the next big question: What player would be selected to replace Billy Eisenberg—who earlier this year left the Aces—and serve as Bob Hamman's partner in the Olympiad? The man the Aces wanted was Soloway, and when nonplaying Captain Lee Hazen agreed, they got him.

Paul, a 30-year-old star from Los Angeles, brings with him a record that includes two McKenney Trophies for winning the most master points in a year (1968 and '69) and a coveted victory in the Vanderbilt team championship in 1969 as well as a reputation for being a nice guy—an equally important requirement in the mind of Aces team builder Ira Corn.

In New Orleans, however, the Aces were forced to play without Soloway, the rules requiring that a team complete the qualifying rounds with members listed in the original lineup. But five Aces were obviously enough to secure the victory, which was brought about through a combination of superior slam bidding and defensive play. In this hand, a daring defensive coup by Bobby Wolff snatched an "impossible" gain from what had at first loomed as a certain loss.

In the other room, the Aces' North-South pair had bid and made a conservative two-heart contract for +110 points. The bidding of Kaplan-Kay for the Mathe team, however, was more aggressive, and they seemed sure to gain points on the deal when they landed in a no-trump game that appeared impregnable after Kaplan won the opening spade lead with his 10. At trick two he entered dummy with the king of diamonds to lead a club, passing his 10 to West's queen. If at this point Wolff had continued spades, he would have given declarer his ninth trick; if Wolff had instead shifted to the king of hearts, declarer would have been assured of a second heart trick; and if Wolff had exited with a club, he would have been end-played later on when he won a trick in hearts.

But Bobby calculated all of these possibilities and came up with the deceptive lead of a low heart, away from his king-queen! Kaplan, aware that Wolff could have opened the bidding in third seat holding the king of hearts but not the queen, was afraid to let the heart lead run around to his 10. (If East were able to win this trick, he could return a spade and set the contract at once.) So Kaplan, envisioning other chances for nine tricks, put up dummy's ace, cashed the queen and ace of diamonds, getting two spade discards from West, and then ran three good clubs. The last club lead produced a squeeze—but, alas, declarer felt the pinch before Wolff did. Kaplan could not afford to blank his king of spades, so he was forced to discard a heart. When he did, Wolff let go of the spade queen and took the rest of the tricks with his spade ace and his three remaining hearts. Down one for a total loss to the Mathe team of 210 points, or five IMPs.

Uncharacteristically, Kaplan missed a chance to recover after playing the ace of hearts. When he cashed the diamond queen and West discarded, he could have taken two top clubs but refrained from cashing the last one. Now a heart lead—either the jack or a lead up to it—would have put Wolff on lead with nothing to do but give declarer a trick in hearts or spades. Kaplan could then get to the long club in dummy with the ace of diamonds to score his ninth trick. The Mathe team would have gained 10 IMPs on the deal—not enough to influence the outcome of the match but still a considerable swing.

The overall lesson of the playoff match, however, was that even individual brilliance cannot compete successfully with disciplined team play. The spectacular grand-slam deal diagrammed here cost the Mathe team a whopping 20 IMPS, but, other than the malevolent gods of distribution, Lew had no one to blame but himself. The audience gasped when the bidding ended in a single round.

Mathe is a great tactician and he has magnificent table presence—which means that he usually knows what is going on. But he has always had to play the captain's role in any partnership. Perhaps in this case Lew felt that his immediate jump to the grand slam in diamonds might prevent a nonvulnerable sacrifice bid of seven spades by the opponents. Whatever the reason, for all Krauss knew, Mathe had all 13 diamonds, so he passed. When the diamonds failed to break and the grand slam went down one trick, he could only offer his condolences.

At the other table, Aces Goldman and Lawrence did considerably more exploring before reaching a contract of seven no trump with Goldman (North) as the declarer. Strangely enough, if the North hand had not contained the king of clubs, seven no trump would have gone down also. As it was, Goldman had one more trick than he needed, with only three of them in diamonds.

Will the Aces, reinforced by Soloway, win at Miami Beach and keep their world championship string intact? I would say yes—except for one thing. Italy's Blue Team, whose dynastic reign extended over 13 years and included 12 world titles, is coming out of retirement in an attempt to prove that it is still the best. The first clue as to which team really is best will come in a challenge match between the Blues and the Aces to be played Dec. 7-11 at the Hilton International in Las Vegas, where the prize will be cash ($15,000) as well as kudos.

I am reminded, too, that the Blue Team, even after three straight Bermuda Bowl wins, failed to make the finals of the 1960 Olympiad. So if you don't mind, I'll withhold my 1972 Olympiad prediction until next year.

Both sides vulnerable East dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

EAST
(Jacoby)

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

SOUTH
(Kaplan)

PASS

1 NT
3 [Heart]
PASS

WEST
(Wolff)

1 [Spade]
PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Kay)

DBL.
2 NT
3 NT

Opening lead: 5 of spades

North-South vulnerable West dealer

NORTH

[King of Spades]
[9 of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[King of Hearts]
[Queen of Hearts]
[Jack of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[8 of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
— [Diamond]
[King of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]

WEST

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

SOUTH

[Ace of Spades]
— [Heart]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[King of Diamonds]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[7 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]
[Ace of Clubs]
[Jack of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]

EAST

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

WEST
(Jacoby)

PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Krauss)

1 [Heart]
PASS

EAST
(Wolff)

PASS
PASS

SOUTH
(Mathe)

7 [Diamond]!

Opening lead: 3 of hearts

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)