Playing cards until 4 a.m. may be fine for college boys, but it is hardly the appointed hour for settling one of the most important bridge events in the country. Yet at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles last week that was about the time when the final hands were contested in one of the closest of all masters' team championships. By persevering until that improbable hour, a team composed of Clifford Russell, Harold Harkavy, Mrs. Edith Kemp, Russell Arnold, William Seamon and Alvin Roth was able to come from behind and capture the masters' title. My own squad, by the way, almost got into the eventual three-way playoff. We finished fourth.
I am often asked what I think of unusual bids and complex conventions, and I always say that I am doubtful about them unless the player is an expert. Sometimes I am dubious even then. In a major tournament, for example, fatigue is a serious factor. The man who has a lot of conventions to remember is obviously the man most likely to forget one at a critical point. Here are two hands from the final stages of the playoff in Los Angeles last week that show what I mean.
The first is a small example of how a common but slightly dangerous bid can cause serious trouble. It occurred when Sidney Lazard and Edgar Kaplan, members of Samuel Stayman's team, faced Waldemar von Zedtwitz and Richard Kahn, of Tobias Stone's team.
Repeated disasters have caused almost everybody to avoid the weak no trump—a bid based on a balanced hand of 12 to 14 points—when vulnerable against non-vulnerable opponents. But the bid has its supporters in other situations.
With a weak hand, the partner of the weak no-trump bidder must show a suit, and the usual escape hatch is a bid of two clubs. South's double showed that he had the balance of power as well as a good defense against clubs, but North did not like his own defense against that suit, so he shifted to two diamonds. Thereafter, the bidding explored for the right spot, and Von Zedtwitz and Kahn found it at three no trump. After winning the club ace, declarer knocked out the diamond ace. The defenders won three club tricks, and declarer had the rest. The weak no-trump opening had led to a bidding sequence that let North-South reach game.
In the other room West did not open. Stayman, sitting North, opened with one diamond, South bid one heart, North showed the spades and South bid two clubs. North's two-diamond rebid ended the auction. Though Stayman made 11 tricks, the Stone team ended up with a net plus of 250 points, worth 6 International Match Points.
In the final hours it became obvious that the Stayman team was suffering from lack of rest. Stayman and Victor Mitchell had to carry not only the burden of continuous play—the other teams were using substitutes—but the added load imposed by the need to remember their own highly complex system, which has literally dozens of bidding conventions. What resulted was a big example of the hazard of artificial bidding. Playing against the Russell team, Mitchell and Stayman had the hand shown below. They were missing all four aces, but they still ended up at slam because Mitchell used a preemptive bid that didn't mean what it was supposed to.
The opening bid of four clubs—which would be the normal call with the South hand—actually means in the Stayman system that the player has a strong preemptive four-heart bid. (A four-heart opening is a weaker sort of preempt.) Unfortunately, Mitchell forgot the convention. He opened four clubs. Stayman may have been suspicious because of the power of his own heart suit, but he had to make some move in case South's bid did mean he had hearts. When South had to go on to six clubs the error was obvious.
Russell figured out his partner's deceptive lead of the spade jack and ducked the trick, yet this did not much affect the result. South ruffed and led his heart. But try as he might, he had to lose to the three aces, going down 200 points.
Strangely enough, on this deal the Stayman team did not lose anything more than a chance for a big gain. In the other room Seamon, playing all out to make a five-club contract, went down three and his team lost 3 IMPs.