In Maimi Beach this week some 2,000 of the country's top players are battling their opponents—and, in the natural course of bridge events, their partners, too—for trophies representing the American Contract Bridge League's top awards. Included among these are the famous gold cup, the trophy emblematic of the Masters' Pair Championship which donor Waldemar von Zedtwitz had to buy twice within five years, and the Spingold Cup once known as the World Championship Team trophy. That was in the palmy days of the '30s and '40s when the top American team automatically, if arrogantly, claimed to be the world's best—and readily made good that boast whenever they were challenged to do so.
Today, after four straight shellackings at the hands of Europe's champions, the question has been raised whether the United States champions should automatically qualify to meet Europe's top team without having first eliminated possible challengers from other nations in the Western Hemisphere. This Davis Cup type of zone competition is a matter which may come up for discussion in Oslo, from where I will be reporting the European Championship later this month.
Meanwhile, the Masters' Knockout team title this year will not automatically qualify its winners as our World Championship representatives unless it is captured by the same team that won the Vanderbilt—the team-of-four competition with which the Masters' has always shared top prestige. But Harry Fishbein, Sam Fry Jr., Lee Hazen, Len Harmon and Ivar Stakgold were in the nature of surprise victors in the Vanderbilt (SI, April 7); it would be somewhat of an upset if they won the Masters' as well. Should they fail to do so, they will meet the team that wins the Masters' in a playoff match late in October; the victors in that match will represent us in the 1959 World Championship, which will be played in the U.S.
Miami will see another departure from precedent with last year's winners split into two different teams. The schism, foreshadowed by events at Como where our stars failed to shine, ends a brief honeymoon. Last year, when most frequent Masters' title-winner Howard Schenken switched from their team to mine, Messrs. B. Jay Becker, John R. Crawford, George Rapee and Sidney Silodor added the well-practiced partnership of Alvin Roth and Tobias Stone. This week Roth and Stone will team with Victor Mitchell and Ira Rubin. In their place the main body of the defenders recruited only one player, Norman Kay, the young Merchantville, N.J. star who has been one of the mainstays of the Edgar Kaplan team.
Systemwise, both the new lineups are more nearly homogeneous. Roth and Stone have their own bidding method—notably more successful in match point than in rubber bridge or total-point team play; and the style of Mitchell and Rubin closely parallels their own.
One of the features of the Roth-Stone system is the "protected" psychic which permits a player to open on a very weak hand without getting into partner-created trouble. Experts seldom use psychic bids in total-point play, and Roth cites the following hand as the only psychic he and Stone employed during the entire 1957 Knockout event. This one, however, helped to defeat Oswald Jacoby's team, which finished second last year.
The six points in high cards in East's hand made Roth's opening one-heart bid a maximum-strength psychic. South's one no-trump overcall was normal, and West's pass on his strong hand was part of the pattern of protecting the possible psychic. Thereafter, over-optimism on North's part was responsible for getting his side to three no trump. But get there they did, and the fact is that South would have made the contract against any lead except the one indicated by East's psychic bid—the low heart.
Roth won the trick with the heart king and fired a club through South's ace-queen. The finesse lost to West's king, a club return knocked out the ace, and when South attempted to establish the spades, West ran in with the ace and cashed three more clubs and the ace of hearts, putting the contract down two.
But even the protected psychic can mislead your partner, as evidenced by this hand, which helped H. Sanford Brown and Martin J. Cohn capture the Life Masters' Pair title they are defending in Miami.
The pattern of the bidding was much the same as in the deal previously described because East and West were playing the "Roth-Stone" system. West passed to protect his partner's possible psychic opening bid. Brown's one no-trump response with the North hand and Cohn's jump to three no trump on the solid club suit helped to convince West that his partner had psyched, so North-South stole the contract without even being doubled.