While I am not superstitious—not about cards, in any case—I have noticed that the good cards sometimes seem to favor one side of the table. This phenomenon once prompted the late George Kaufman to suggest that a well-run bridge club should post daily information on which way the cards are running, North-South or East-West.
Choice of seats was a deciding factor in the recent North American Rubber Bridge Championship, whose $2,500 first prize makes it the richest event in contract bridge. In a 60-deal final match played at New York's famed Regency Club," Mr. and Mrs. Burton Howe of Sioux City, Iowa defeated Martin Phillips and Ira Trivers of Chattanooga by 1,380 points, as the cards ran overwhelmingly North-South. The match was close right down to the wire, however; 700 points were tossed away by the runners-up on the very last deal in a neck-or-nothing slam bid that was their only hope of overcoming the Howes's 680-point lead.
In a rubber bridge event, players cut for seats at the end of each rubber; the losers here (Phillips-Trivers) won the cut before each of the last two rubbers but elected to stay put. Had they changed either time, they would have won. With exactly 10 hands to be played, Phillips-Trivers held a 1,300-point lead and won the cut for the next rubber. They chose to remain East-West. Two hands later, the Howes had won a rubber with a small slam bid; they were 520 ahead and they stayed ahead.
The bridge throughout was sound. Except for their last-ditch gamble, the Chattanoogans were never set more than 200 points on any deal. But the Howes ran into a major disaster when, for the only time in the match, they overbid. This came on the 36th deal, shown at left.
The part-score situation, combined with favorable vulnerability, caused both Howes to cast aside the commendable caution they had displayed throughout the match. North's double was open to two-way criticism: not sufficient strength and questionable action with a two-suited hand. A simple two-club or two-heart overcall would have been ample. East preempted against an expected heart bid, and Mrs. Howe tried to save the rubber with insufficient values.
A crossruff by the defenders proved devastating. After winning the king of spades, West shifted to his singleton club. Before giving partner a ruff, East returned his singleton heart. West took the ace and returned a heart for East to ruff. West ruffed the club return, gave East a second heart ruff and trumped the third round of clubs. Next, West forced dummy to trump by leading the spade ace. The king of diamonds was captured by East's ace and a fourth round of clubs insured that West's jack of diamonds would win the defenders' ninth trick.
The "save" turned out to be doubly expensive because, three hands later, East-West made the rubber anyway, bidding a vulnerable slam to boot.
Paying even 500 points to save a rubber, when not vulnerable, is a losing proposition because the vulnerable side remains a heavy favorite to win the rubber later anyway.