A few years ago the team-of-four event was the big noise of each of the national bridge tournaments. The team championship is still the most important, but it is no longer restricted to a team "of four." Nowadays, with larger fields and the new double-elimination rule, the event has become a much longer grind. Most teams take advantage of the new regulation allowing a fifth and even a sixth member. These alternates can give weary teammates a chance to rest.
Last year, however, both the national knockout team events were won by four-man units that successfully performed as ironmen. When it came time to defend their Vanderbilt Cup championship in Lexington, Ky. this spring, the team of Eric Murray, Charles Coon, Robert Jordan and Arthur Robinson elected to reinforce their squad, choosing the young West Coast pair of Edwin Kantar and Marshall Miles. Result: they were eliminated early, bench strength and all. That could be one reason why the Kantar-Miles pair will have only two teammates—Leonard Harmon of New York and Ivar Stakgold of Chicago—when they defend their Masters Knockout Team title in the Summer Nationals in Minneapolis next week.
A four-man team may, in the long run, prove best, because a surprising amount of understanding is needed, not only between partners but between pairs. Each pair should have confidence that the other half will be performing well at the other table. When this is the case, a pair having a none-too-encouraging score can bide their time until very late in what appears to be a losing match; then, if they resort to a desperate gamble, the whole team will understand that the risk was necessary. Andy Gabrilovitch saved a match and the Spingold Masters Knockout Team title in just such a situation last year in the hand at right.
Why did Gabrilovitch double five hearts? His team had gone into the second half of this match 26 International Match Points behind and had picked up little since. It was late in the game, so the usually conservative Gabrilovitch doubled purely to create a big point swing one way or the other.
At the other table, the opening bid of four spades by the opponents had been doubled by North and passed by South, with Kantar and Miles collecting a 500-point penalty. This could have been more than offset had South made his contract of five hearts. But the double completely misled South as to the opponents' distribution.
Dummy ruffed the opening spade lead. Declarer cashed two top clubs, South discarding a spade, and led a third club, ruffed by South and overruffed with West's queen. West returned a spade, and dummy's 7 was overruffed by East's 9. Back came a high club, ruffed by declarer. Of course, West couldn't overruff with the 2 of hearts so he discarded his lone diamond. Declarer was convinced by the double that East surely must have begun with three trumps, for the earlier bidding indicated trump strength was about all East could have, so South tried to reach dummy with a diamond lead. West ruffed, gave his partner an overruff of dummy with another spade lead and declarer still had to give up a trick to East's king of diamonds.
The double caused a line of play that led North-South to disaster. The hand was down 800, a total swing of 1,300 on the deal, worth 17 IMPs. The Gabrilovitch team took this match by 13 IMPs to stay in the tournament—and eventually win it.