Stakgold and Harmon could be called the "youngsters" of the U.S. team. Yet, though both are bridge prodigies, neither is an infant. Harmon, a New York insurance man who topped the tournament circuit in 1958 to capture the McKenney trophy, is 39. Stakgold, who partnered Harmon in many of his victories, is 33 and a specialist in logistics for the Office of Naval Research in Washington.
They play an unorthodox bidding system that will force the Italian players to cope with a few unfamiliar bidding gimmicks. Among these gimmicks is a weak no-trump bid with only 11 to 13 points—a dangerous device that twice cost Stakgold and Harmon 1,100 points in the playoff match in which our team was selected, but one that may be effective against players without considerable experience against it. The following hand illustrates a different feature of their partnership methods.
Harmon and Stakgold make it a practice to open many hands with a club or a diamond on holdings on which they have a perfectly adequate major suit bid. When a one no-trump response is made to the opening bid in a major they treat it as forcing, and the rebid by opener is frequently made in some non-biddable suit.
In this deal, for example, Harmon couldn't rebid spades so he chose to bid two clubs. Stakgold showed that he had a maximum kind of no-trump takeout by rebidding two no trump and Harmon raised to three.
Standard bidding methods would reach the same contract because South would respond two clubs and North would rebid two no trump, which South would raise to three. But with East opening a heart, the three no-trump contract might have been defeated when played from North's side of the table.
East won the diamond opening with the ace, and Stakgold won the continuation with the diamond queen. He led a club to dummy's king and returned the jack. East discarded a heart, and West won with the ace, continuing diamonds to knock out dummy's king. This ruled out any attempt by declarer to establish a long club; if West regained the lead with the 10 of clubs he would be able to cash enough diamonds to set the contract. Nevertheless, dummy's last club was led to declarer's queen, and the need to discard on this trick ruined East's hand. If he threw a heart, South's fourth heart would be good; when he threw a spade, it enabled Stakgold to establish dummy's spade suit.
He led the spade 9, covered by West's 10 and North's jack and won by East's queen. East returned a heart and Stakgold was careful to play the queen from his hand in order to save dummy's king as a reentry card. He led his last spade and surrendered a spade trick to East, but that was the defenders' last trick. Dummy's spades were now high, and the king of hearts was the card that let dummy get the lead to cash them.
In recent wins over American teams, it always seemed that the Italians' artificial bidding methods threw the contract into the hand from which, by the luck of the deal, it could not be defeated. Perhaps, in this triumph by Stakgold and Harmon in placing the final contract in the "right" hand, there is an omen. Let's hope so.
The key to successful dummy play is counting the opponents' hands. When the play revealed that West held four clubs and five diamonds, South knew that a third club play would force East into a ruinous discard.