In the World's Bridge Team Championship, starting at the Barbizon-Plaza Hotel in New York on February 10, we have pinned our hopes on a smooth blend of youth and experience. The opposition will consist of Italy, the present titleholder, Great Britain, and Argentina, and the battle will require nine days.
Toronto's Eric Murray, a seasoned internationalist at 33, has 30-year-old Charles Coon of Boston as partner. The Texans, Bobby Nail and Mervin Key of Houston, are 37 and 32, respectively. The baby of the team, at 25, Ron Von Der Porten of Oakland, Calif., who has played bridge for only eight years, is anchored by 46-year-old Lew Mathe of Los Angeles, veteran of three world bridge competitions. Mathe picks the youngster as his favorite partner today and cites this hand from the Team Trials as one reason.
At five of the eight tables, North opened the bidding with one diamond. At two tables, North chose to open with one spade. This is at variance with my own practice, in which a four-card major suit must contain at least four high-card points to qualify as biddable. All seven pairs reached four spades, a reasonable final contract inasmuch as the combined values (including two points for distribution) amount to 28 points. However, against an unfortunate trump break, four spades went down to defeat.
Mathe elected to open with an unorthodox bid of one heart. My own choice would have been an old-fashioned one no trump. Yet Mathe's somewhat fancy call had the effect of leading the partnership to a final three-no-trump contract played by Von Der Porten. It required careful play to bring home nine tricks—and the only plus score. After winning the first diamond trick, West shifted to the jack of hearts. Dummy ducked, and East overtook with the queen to lead a second round of the suit. Dummy won and declarer took a finesse to the spade jack, won by West's king. With no more hearts to lead, West shifted to a club, taken by dummy's queen.
When dummy led the diamond queen to force West's ace, declarer could count nine tricks if the spade suit broke. But Von Der Porten did not place all his reliance on a good break. After winning West's return of the diamond 10 with his jack, declarer crossed to dummy's club king and cashed dummy's heart ace, discarding a spade from his hand. West's club discard only postponed the inevitable. Returning to his hand with the spade ace, Von Der Porten led the ace of clubs and West was in a hopeless pinch. Discarding a spade would allow dummy to win the last two tricks with the spade queen and 7. Throwing a diamond would set up the ninth trick in that suit.
This hand—indeed every hand they played—was vital to Mathe and Von Der Porten. They came into the last round needing to shut out their final opponents 10-0 in order to make the team. In a Frank Merriwell finish, they succeeded in doing just that.
Sometimes a competitor must pay the price for overscientific treatment. For example, opposite an opening bid of one no trump, South would be tempted to use the two-club convention, and a four-spade contract would be the inevitable result. Conclusion: the most successful battalions have luck working on their side.