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Showdown for kibitzers
Charles Goren
October 20, 1958
Two great U.S. bridge teams—the Rothleins and the Fishbeins—must have it out for a crack at the world title
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October 20, 1958

Showdown For Kibitzers

Two great U.S. bridge teams—the Rothleins and the Fishbeins—must have it out for a crack at the world title

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Only three teams were left in the Masters' Knockout Team Championship at Miami Beach last August. Each had been defeated once. One more defeat meant curtains. Robert Rothlein's team had won the bye and was sitting it out while Alvin Roth's and Harry Fishbein's teams battled to see which would survive. Each of the two tables, remote at opposite ends of the Americana's Floridian Room, was ringed three deep with craning kibitzers.

In this tense situation, while defending against a doubled contract, Harry Fishbein reneged! If detected before either he or his partner, Sam Fry Jr., played to the next trick, the revoke could have been corrected. At least half of the gallery were ardent Fishbein rooters. Yet, to the everlasting credit of all members of that oft-maligned breed, the kibitzer, there wasn't a gasp or a murmur or a rustle of surprise that might have called attention to the error. The penalty for the revoke—two tricks—was just enough to let declarer make his doubled contract.

Next weekend, these exemplary kibitzers receive their reward—an opportunity to watch the playoff between the Vanderbilt Cup-winning Fishbein team and its two-time conquerors in the Masters' Knockout event, the Rothlein team. The match will decide which team will represent America (including Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the U.S.) in the February world championship meeting with Italy's European champions and the champions of South America, as yet undecided. The dates: Saturday and Sunday, October 25 and 26. The place: the Gold Ballroom of the Hotel Statler Hilton in New York City. The starting times: 1:30 each afternoon and 8:30 each evening. The best reward of all: the match can be viewed under conditions which impose no strain on the kibitzer's eyes or self-control. Indeed, he may cheer if he likes. He'll be able to hear the players, but they won't be able to hear him.

Two problems have stood in the way of making bridge a spectator sport: how to let a large audience actually see everything that goes on, and how to keep the players from being influenced by the reactions of the spectators. Thus far, the simplest and most easily followed technique is to show the hands in the kind of diagram familiar to bridge-column readers, to tune in on the playing room for the bidding and play, and to show the play by x-ing out the cards on the diagram, thrown on a large screen. This method, used successfully in the telecast of the world championship in 1957, will be used again to show the playoff.

With the players separated from the audience by a soundproof wall, kibitzers can indulge the luxury of cheering, groaning, speculating on the proper play, criticizing mistakes and listening to commentary by a group of experts, among them your reporter. The price of all this is a mere $1.50 per session.

It is exciting to think that 500 people, instead of only 15 or 20, may watch hands like this one, played in the final match at Miami.

Both Wests opened the king of diamonds. Both declarers won with dummy's ace, successfully finessed in spades and returned to dummy's king of hearts for another spade lead. The appearance of East's king was disappointing, but after a headachey analysis both expert declarers decided against cashing the ace of hearts. (Without going into the complex considerations involved, that decision would appear to be correct but for the six-two division in diamonds and the singleton honor in clubs.) Each South elected to cash the remaining high spade, discard dummy's diamond and hope that East would be the defender with three trumps. East ruffed the spade with the seven of hearts.

Thus far the play had been the same at both tables, but now came the parting of the ways. With Robert Rothlein and Cyrus Neuman of Miami defending, Neuman led back a low club. Rothlein won with the king and returned a spade, ruffed in dummy and overruffed by East's queen. A second club lead made it impossible for declarer to shut out West's heart jack.

At the other table, the Rothlein team had the North-South hands, with William Hanna of Los Angeles playing North and Paul Allinger of Alameda, Calif. South. Instead of leading back a low club after ruffing the third spade, East cashed the club ace. The fall of West's king alerted Allinger to his danger. If West could overruff the second club another spade play would doom the contract. In this difficult situation, Allinger guessed right. He trumped the second club with the ace and played a low trump, dropping the jack and queen together. Dummy's trumps and good clubs took care of South's remaining losers.

Both the Rothlein and the Fishbein entries are five-man teams. The Rothlein player you have not met thus far is Sidney Lazard of New Orleans, who distinguished himself as West in defense against this slam hand.

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