Details of the bidding are no longer recalled. Both teams bid to six no trump and both got the same opening lead of the heart 10.
Looking at all four hands, it is obvious that the slam can be made. Before deciding what to discard on North's fourth spade, declarer leads a diamond toward his king-queen. When West takes the ace, South's best hope of a 12th trick is the club finesse. It wins, and the slam comes home—exactly as happened when Rothlein's team held the North-South hands.
The difference when the Fishbein team held the slam hand was that Lazard saw no reason to force declarer to adopt the winning line of play. Thinking right along with declarer, he foresaw the diamond lead and played the deuce under the king without the slightest huddle or hesitation. Now, would you take the unproved club finesse or repeat the "successful" diamond lead from dummy? Declarer elected to play East for the ace of diamonds and Lazard cashed in on one of bridge's oldest axioms: If nothing else will serve, give the opponents a chance to make a mistake.
If I seem to be dwelling upon Rothlein successes and Fishbein failures, it is with good reason. I have already recorded here some of the brilliant exploits which enabled Lee Hazen, Len Harmon and Ivar Stakgold, along with Fry and Fishbein, to roll undefeated through every match to win the Vanderbilt championship last March. They continued that winning streak in the Masters' Knockout event until they had rolled up a string of 14 consecutive victories. Upset by Rothlein in their 15th match, they rallied to defeat Roth in the semifinal, only to bow to Rothlein again in the final.
To a considerable measure, this was due to partnership misunderstandings such as occurred in the following deal.
Hazen intended his two no-trump bid as "unusual"—that is, a conventional call for a minor suit. Fishbein read it as possibly a good club suit and a heart stopper.
All would still have been well if Rothlein had led a fourth-best heart. But after toying with that card several times he finally chose to lead the king. Result: down three at no trump with game ice-cold at either clubs or diamonds.
Does the one-sidedness of this report mean that I am picking Rothlein to win? The answer must be no. Because the team members live so far apart, they must suffer from unpracticed partnership among three of their five players.
The greater length of this playoff match gives the Fishbein veterans an advantage. So does the fact that four of them will be playing before a hometown audience, while their opponents will have traveled far. In the kind of close match I figure this to be, such matters can be decisive.
As the referee would say, may the better team win. And best of viewing to the kibitzers!