There were 600 spectators looking on and television cameras peeping about to catch the nuances of each coup last week when the American International Team made its competitive debut at the Chase-Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis, and what observers saw was almost a debut to rue. Nonplaying Captain John Gerber had arranged the 80 deal exhibition match against a St. Louis team as part of the training for his squad, which will represent the U.S. at the World Championships in Italy this June. What Gerber's men got was a match and a half.
Playing on the U.S. team were its three top pairs: G. Robert Nail and Jim Jacoby, Robert Jordan and Arthur Robinson, Howard Schenken and Peter Leventritt, plus the alternate pair, David Carter and Gerald Michaud. Against them, St. Louis marshaled its defending Vanderbilt champions, Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Levitt, Larry Kolker, George De Runtz and Garrett Nash, plus Charles Wiley, James Epstein, Phil Feldacker and Al Mariam, with John Simon as both captain and player.
Early in the play, the Internationals had much the best of it, as had been expected. At the conclusion of the third 20-board session, the North American squad held a lead of 30 International Match Points, 13 of which were picked up by Howard Schenken's masterful play of a game bid (hand A, below).
At both tables South played a four-spade contract. When St. Louis held the North-South hands, West's opening lead of the diamond jack gave South no chance, the way the cards happened to lie. But when the U.S. team was North-South, Schenken took full advantage of the opportunity afforded by West's opening lead of the heart 8. He finessed with dummy's jack, losing to the king. Mrs. Levitt made the only return that could give trouble—a diamond, knocking out dummy's ace. Had Schenken attempted to get two immediate diamond discards on the hearts, or had he first drawn two rounds of trumps, he could not have made the contract. Instead, he led a low heart and trumped it, then played the ace and king ol spades. It didn't matter that West's doubleton included the queen, for Schenken could now make the hand anyway. He cashed two good hearts, discarding diamonds, then led another heart, ruffed by East and over-ruffed by declarer. A club was conceded, and a diamond return ruffed. Dummy remained with one trump to ruff a club, and a good heart. Declarer cheerfully gave up the last diamond trick.
But the competition that started like a practice romp for the U.S. team eventually developed into a tense duel.
The 78th deal of the match (hand B), saw St. Louis gain 14 IMPs and pull within five points of the U.S. team.
Jordan's raise to four hearts was partly meant as a trap for a four-spade bid. South fell into it, but when the trap was sprung it was Jordan who got caught.
South trumped the second heart lead with the 6 of spades, led a diamond to dummy and returned a club. East played low, and South won with the king. The lead of the jack of clubs put East in for a third heart lead, forcing South to ruff. With the 5-spot in dummy, all declarer's low cards were equals, so he false-carded again by ruffing with the 7, thus setting the stage for a curious finale.
South cashed the diamond ace, trumped a club in dummy, led North's remaining high diamond and overruffed with his queen when East ruffed with the spade 10. Another club ruff in dummy was followed by a diamond. East ruffed with the jack to force South's ace. Dummy's ruff of the fifth club was overtrumped by East's king and now East's return of the spade 2 (actually the first time trumps had been led) saw the 2, 3 and 4 of trumps played on the last trick, with South's 4-spot winning the contract.
It was a triumph that brought a roar from the crowd, but this was to be St. Louis' final big effort. The last two boards were swing-proof. Thus the U.S. team won its first training match, but it worked up a healthy sweat doing it.