The world of tournament players is a continent-wide expanse of narrow enclaves linked by a most remarkably active grapevine. In recent weeks the grapevine has been humming with news of new lineups for the Summer National Championships, which begin in Minneapolis on July 28.
Most startling, perhaps, is the word that Marshall Miles of San Bernardino, Calif., who won the two top events of this tournament last year, will be defending both titles with a new partner. It is no secret that the spectacularly successful combination of Miles and Philip Feldesman of New York—winners of the Life Masters Pair event the first time they ever played together—fizzled in the World Pair Olympiad in Cannes, for which their U.S. victory had qualified them. While each warmly praises the other as a great player, both are reverting with relief to more familiar partners. Feldesman will play with Ira Rubin of Fairlawn, N.J., with whom he will also defend his Men's Pair title won last year. Miles will play with Edwin Kantar of Los Angeles, his most frequent partner, with whom he—along with Andrew Gabrilovitch of Silver Spring, Md. and William Root of New York—won the Spingold Trophy for the Life Masters Knockout Team championship.
With Harold Ogust and Boris Koytchou unable to play in Minneapolis in their accustomed places on my team, I have taken advantage of the availability of Bill Root and of my good friend John Gerber of Houston, who has agreed to come out of virtual retirement. Root and Gerber will pair up to join Howard Schenken, Peter Leventritt, Helen Sobel and me. Oddly enough, Johnny has never won a major national championship, in spite of such brilliance as he displayed in this deal (left) defending against South's four-spade contract.
It looked to Gerber (West) as if somebody had rung in a pinochle deck. (The fact was, of course, that South had overbid.) Gerber realized that his partner held very little, if anything.
After winning the club king, Gerber shifted to a trump, and East's jack went to South's queen. Declarer returned a trump and daringly finessed dummy's 8. When this won, he returned a low heart, and the jack felled West's 10. Before rushing over to dummy with another trump, declarer saw the possible need for a second reentry, so he laid down the king of diamonds. If Gerber had taken the trick, the hand would have been made, but Johnny realized that the reentry value of dummy's diamond queen was more important than its trick-winning value. He ducked the king, playing the ace on declarer's diamond continuation.
Gerber led a trump and declarer was in dummy for the last time. He could discard a heart on the established queen of diamonds, but this didn't help him. East covered the lead of the heart queen to force South's ace, and declarer ended up with two losing hearts.
Had Gerber taken the first diamond, declarer could have reached dummy with the queen for another heart lead to his 8, and East would have been held to a single heart trick.
Almost always it pays to capture a high card with an ace rather than concede that trick and permit a lead toward another high card, but that phrase, "almost always," is well worth remembering.