Another bid for the title

December 18, 1972

Though the recent Trials to select an American team for the 1973 world championship were "buried" in Lancaster, Pa., I somehow feel that Ely Culbertson, that extravagant, authoritarian—and publicity-conscious—bridge expert of the '20s and '30s who turned the game into an internationally popular pastime, would have found a way to get the story on page one. Had Bobby Fischer been playing, the match might even have made network television. But Culbertson is long dead and Fischer's game is chess. So it still may be news to most of the millions of North American bridge players that they will be represented in South America next spring by a team whose average age is 37, despite the fact that its anchor man, B. Jay Becker, will be 69 and thus the oldest player ever to take part in the competition for the Bermuda Bowl.

The Becker squad won by vanquishing six seasoned stars—George Rapée, Bill Grieve, Lew Mathe, Don Krauss, Norman Kay and Edgar Kaplan—each of whom has previously played in world team competition. Collectively they have appeared 22 times, and although their average age is only 47, one of them, Rapée, the 5'5½" "little giant" of bridge, was on the team that won us the very first Bermuda Bowl back in 1950.

Becker, who played for the bowl as early as 1951, will now tie Rapée's total of six world-championship appearances. He will also become the first North American competitor to have his son as a member of his team. Twenty-nine-year-old Mike Becker will be making his international debut, as will 30-year-old Andy Bernstein, Mike's partner, and 31-year-old Jeff Rubens, who is paired with the senior Becker. Together, this New York-based foursome won the 1972 Spingold Trophy. But six players are required for world competition, so they added a pair of Californians, Paul Soloway, who played with the current Bermuda Bowl Champion Aces in the 1972 Olympiad, and 35-year-old John Swan-son, a veteran of the 1971 Bermuda Bowl campaign in Taiwan, in which he teamed with Mathe, Krauss, Kaplan, Kay and Dick Walsh.

The most dramatic pairing on the new team is that of B. Jay Becker and Rubens. Becker is an ultraconservative who has often refused to play even so widely accepted a convention as Stayman. Rubens, a math teacher, employs advanced ideas on everything from opening bids to opening leads. Expert selectors would have been hard-pressed to put together a less likely partnership. Yet from their base of operations in the closed room this pair kept sending through perfect results on hand after hand, a performance that even the vaunted Blue Team would have found difficult to top. Certainly their opponents in the Trials could not begin to match it.

Although the Rapée team had entered the final as an equal favorite, few observers retained that opinion after Becker's squad jumped off to a 53-IMP lead in the first of five scheduled 32-deal sessions. At the end of the third session that lead had soared to 128 points, and spectators were duly warned that the match might soon be over.

In the fourth session, however, the Rapée team, playing desperate catch-up bridge, recovered 56 IMPs to cut its deficit to a not insuperable 72. But that was all. With a stunning 68-3 performance in the first 16 of the final 32 deals, Becker's team skied its lead to 137 points and left the tournament committee happy to grant the losers' request to dispense with the last half of the session.

The victory was achieved almost entirely by superior bidding, so it would be difficult to cite a hand on which a large gain resulted from superior play. As a case in point, there was this hand, on which Mathe elected to open with a somewhat shaded artificial—and forcing—two-club bid but subsequently sold out on the two level. When Soloway overcalled in Mathe's best suit and North passed, Lew decided that his bid was not forcing upon the opener himself and elected to pass and play for a plus score.

Mathe ruffed his partner's spade opening, cashed the king of clubs and shifted to the 2 of diamonds. North won with the king and returned a club that Soloway ruffed. Soloway then decided that Mathe's unusual pass at his second turn marked him with all six missing hearts so he continued diamonds, enabling North to ruff with the 2 of hearts, and the contract went down three tricks for minus 150. The result in the other room, however, more than recouped this small loss. This was the bidding:

NORTH
(B.J. Becker)

PASS
1 [Spade]
2 [Spade]
4 [Club]
5 [Club]

EAST
(Kaplan)

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

SOUTH
(Rubens)

1 [Heart]
2 [Club]
3 [Club]
4 [Heart]
PASS

WEST
(Kay)

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

Opening lead: ace of diamonds

In contrast with Mathe, Rubens bid conservatively, but Becker's bidding was intrepid. And right! After leading the ace of diamonds, West shifted to a spade. Rubens ruffed, cashed his two top clubs, leaving the trump queen outstanding, then ruffed a diamond and a heart in dummy to make his game for a 600-point score and a net swing of 10 IMPs.

So we'll have two good teams in the world championship for '73. The Aces, without Paul Soloway, will be in there as defenders, and their top competition could come from Becker & Co. But let's not forget those pesky Italians. Although the Blue Team, as such, will be absent, Italy will be represented by a team that includes Giorgio Belladonna and Benito Garozzo, and any squad that stars these two Blues will be hard to beat.

North-South vulnerable North dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

[King of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[10 of Hearts]
[9 of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]
[9 of Clubs]

SOUTH

[— of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[King of Hearts]
[Queen of Hearts]
[Jack of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[6 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]
[Ace of Clubs]
[King of Clubs]
[Jack of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]

EAST

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

NORTH
(Krauss)

PASS
PASS

EAST
(Swanson)

PASS
PASS

SOUTH
(Mathe)

2 [Club]
PASS

WEST
(Soloway)

2 [Heart]

Opening lead: jack of spades

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)