There were plenty of thrills in the American Contract Bridge League's Summer National Championships, played in the sumptuous Americana Hotel in Miami Beach early this month.
A couple of girls performed a feat unprecedented in tournament history when Margaret Wagar of Atlanta and Kay Rhodes of New York won a national title—the Women's Pair championship—for the fourth consecutive time.
A new and widely domiciled American team (two Miamians, Robert Rothlein and Cyrus Nauman; two Californians, Paul Allinger and William Hanna; one player from New Orleans, Sidney Lazard) took the Knockout Team championship. In the course of doing so, they twice defeated the Vanderbilt Cup-winning Fishbein team to force a playoff meeting in October that will decide which of these two combinations will be our representatives in the 1959 World Championship. The winner will meet the team that wins the European Championship now being played in Oslo, from which city I will soon be reporting to you.
There were other exciting doings. Charges and countercharges in the case against Tobias Stone put championship bridge briefly and unpleasantly on the front pages. A dozen players became Life Masters, the top ranking of the American Contract Bridge League. A few won their first national titles.
But, with one possible exception, no one got a bigger thrill than I when, partnered by the magnificent Helen Sobel, I helped to repeat our 1942 victory in the most highly valued of all pair championships, the Life Masters Pair title, with which goes the prized Von Zedtwitz gold cup.
The exception is Helen herself, who went on to become the first woman ever to win the Sally Fishbein Memorial Trophy awarded to the player whose individual performance is best in all events in this summer championship meeting. Thanks to her third in the Women's Pairs and our team's tie for fifth in the Knockout, Helen won more master points (178) than any other player during the competitions in Miami.
Here is the first of two hands that helped us bring home the bacon in the Life Masters Pairs.
Strict point counters may charge that I lacked 1 point for my raise to three no trump with the North hand. According to the book, responder needs 10 and I had only 9. But if the author is not permitted to take a few liberties with his own creation, who is? In fact, I had two plus values that justified the jump to game. One was the presence of a few intermediate 10-spots and other top-ranking spot cards; the other was the fact that my partner was Helen, who proceeded to make my raise look good by superb play. The deal was important, since it was played against Alvin Roth and Tobias Stone who at the time were running us a close race for the Masters' crown.
Roth opened the club 4, and Helen allowed Stone's jack to hold the trick. She won the club continuation with her ace, played a spade to the queen and led a low one back to her 9, which Roth permitted to win. Now Helen had to drive out the ace of spades in order to remove West's entry to the long club, and she could not afford to lose a spade trick to the jack as well. Did West hold the blank ace or East the blank jack? She found the correct answer, playing the king to force the ace and fell the jack at the same time.
Dummy's club king won the next trick. South came to her hand with a heart, cashed the good spade and led a low diamond, finessing dummy's eight to drive out East's king. Making four no trump was a tremendous score for us. As Al Roth himself pointed out, he could have saved a trick by playing the jack on the first diamond lead. If dummy's ace were taken, Stone would duck the next diamond and shut out North's long diamond by holding up his king until South did not have another diamond to lead. It would have been a superb play and one of which Roth is quite capable; had he made it, the caption for this deal might have been "the battle of the jacks," with the jack of diamonds rising to retrieve the damage done by the fall of the jack of spades.