Plagiarizing itself as usual, history last month trotted out much the same script it used when the Spring National Contract Bridge Championships were played in Atlantic City early last year. This time the scene was the Fall Nationals, the place was Detroit and the cast of principal characters was changed. But, against a similar snowy background, a national meet was again dominated by the performance of a relatively unknown player—and once again this starring role fell to a woman.
She is Sylvia (Mrs. Harry) Stein, an attractive young Detroit wife and mother who has been playing serious bridge for less than six years. As recently as last August she would not even have been eligible to play for the big championship in which her victory capped her best-in-tourney performance in Detroit.
Mrs. Stein had gone to Miami last August for the Summer Nationals, snatching a brief bridge vacation from family duties because she was within a few master points of the 300 total which would qualify her as a Life Master, the highest tournament ranking of the American Contract Bridge League. But no major successes awaited her in this summer tournament. In fact, on the day she was scheduled to leave for home, she still lacked a fraction of a point of reaching her goal. More or less in desperation, she entered an open one-session side game, partnered with a complete stranger. They missed first place but did well enough to earn for Sylvia enough points to put her over the 300 mark. Her success with a strange partner may have been an omen.
In Detroit last month Sylvia's first appearance in the winners' circle was a modest one. She was a member of a team which tied for third place in the first national title to be decided—the Women's Team of Four event, won by Peggy Rotzell of Philadelphia, Carlyn Brail and Bea Gale of New York, and Sally Johnson of Westport, Conn. That was on the second day of the meet—the same Sunday night on which the Men's Team title was captured by a reunited group of sometime Clevelanders, including Elmer Schwartz and Arthur Goldsmith, who still live there, with Alvin Landy, now of New York, Jeff Glick, now of Miami, and Vic Zeve, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
On Wednesday night Mrs. Stein, partnered with fellow Detroiter Louis J. Cohen, finished second in the Mixed Pair championship, won by Carol (Mrs. Sherwin) Ross of Detroit with Edwin J. Smith Jr. of suburban Grosse Pointe. This time her performance created a ripple of excitement because, earlier that same day, Sylvia had taken a 15�-match-point lead after three sessions of the blue-ribbon Life Masters' Individual championship.
Just one session remained in that event, and on Thursday this vivacious blonde housewife, playing coolly and steadily, built her lead to a comfortable 32 points over runner-up John R. Crawford to become the second woman in history to win the Life Masters' Individual. (In the 27 previous battles for this title, the only victory by a woman was won by Elinor Murdoch of Birmingham in 1934.)
In that final session, this was one of the deals that helped her to victory.
In an individual event, instead of playing through with a partner of your own selection, you change partners more often than in a square dance, beginning with a new one on every round. In a four-session game, this means 52 different partners; to win you must be a superb partner as well as a fine player. Generally, good partnership consists of getting together on bidding, but in this deal defensive play was decisive.
With the East hand, Mrs. Stein won the first trick with her ace of diamonds. Hoping that her partner could ruff the next diamond, she returned the 9—an unnecessarily high card—to tell partner that her reentry was in the higher of the remaining side suits. Declarer let the lead run to dummy's 10, but West trumped and returned the queen of spades.
Trying to keep East from regaining the lead, declarer refused to cover with dummy's king. But, like the champion she was to prove herself, Sylvia overtook her partner's trick even though this established a high card in dummy. To warn partner against leading a club, she returned the diamond queen—again calling for a return of the higher suit. West trumped and led another spade.