Sailing across the Pacific en route to the Orient, I have been thinking about Far Eastern bridge and the important part it is bound to play in world championships of the future. On our Orient cruise last year a team from our ship was lucky to escape defeat in a challenge match we played against a strong Tokyo foursome. So it did not surprise me that the teams from the Philippines, the Republic of China and Thailand did so well in the World Olympiad.
Bridge is a game well suited to the Oriental mind. Already players from the Far East are experimenting with new and highly complex bidding systems that make the Italian artificialities seem like child's play. In my opinion it is only lack of frequent competition with topflight opponents that has prevented the Far Eastern teams from gaining a high place in international bridge. To a great extent, the problem is one of distance and finance.
The team from tiny Thailand finished a commendable 17th in a field of 29 nations in the Olympiad in New York. Asked how his team had been selected, Kovit Sucharitkul replied with delightful modesty: "Oh, we are not the best players. We were the only six who could afford the fare."
The Far Eastern zone also includes Australia, which finished sixth in the Olympiad. If the logistics problems can somehow be overcome, it seems to me only a matter of time before the annual competition for the Bermuda Bowl will include, in addition to the European, South American and North American champions, a team representing the Eastern and South Pacific zone.
On the final day of the Olympiad round robin, the team from Thailand was spotlighted on Bridge-O-Rama in a match against Switzerland, which was lighting to qualify for the semifinals. The hand at left is one of the more exciting from that match.
In the closed room the Swiss North-South pair had played at four hearts, with South the declarer through use of a transfer bid. This kept South's five-card spade suit concealed and enabled the Swiss declarer to set up his spade suit for club discards in dummy and make a game that might have been defeated.
Sucharitkul for Thailand let the opening club lead run to the queen in his hand. A trump lead was taken by West's king, and the club continuation was won by dummy's jack. East ducked the next spade lead and now, because trumps did not break, the contract was in danger. South had to abandon his plan of running dummy's hearts after trumps had been drawn; instead, he cashed his own top hearts, returned to dummy with the ace of clubs and led a good heart. East ruffed and South overruffed.
Now came the key play. Declarer led the diamond king, pinning the lead in the West hand. West had nothing left to lead but diamonds. Dummy ruffed and led a good heart, and South discarded his last diamond, while East trumped with his ace of spades.
Note that if South had led a low diamond, East could have won the trick and taken out dummy's last trump, leaving South with two diamond losers that would have cost him a two-trick set.
It was, as one of the commentators punned, "an exciting way for the deal to end in a Thai."