Lew Mathe is not a big man, but to the very good players of southern California, who rarely have the pleasure of beating him, he is Big Lew, the boss. A fortnight ago the boss and the best of his Los Angeles playing mates were in Toronto to defend their intercity title and the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED trophy. Their match preceded the first national championship ever staged by the American Contract Bridge League outside the U.S. The Californians retained the cup, 185 to 138, but not before they had faced some pretty interesting problems set up by another boss, Eric R. Murray, the 6-foot 2-inch Toronto barrister-solicitor who, had he been a Californian rather than a Canadian, might have been called "Big Eric."
The exciting match was closer than the score suggests, and the home-town audience hurrahed and groaned with the seesawing fortunes of its team. Probably its happiest moments came when Murray mauled Mathe with a trump lead that prevented a small-slam contract. Mathe took 20 minutes to play the hand but nothing could help him, and eventually he went down two tricks. Bruce Elliott, playing the same slam bid for Toronto in the closed room, received a helpful nontrump lead and made his contract. On the combined result at the two tables, Toronto gained 14 International Match Points.
But even the partisan crowd appreciated Mathe's and Edwin Kantar's brilliant defense on a deal (below left) in which both sides were vulnerable and South the dealer. The teams, incidentally, reached game with the same bidding.
In the closed room the Los Angeles declarer got an opening lead of the club 7 and had an easy romp. But in the other room Mathe opened a diamond for the West hand. He knew that his partner must be short in diamonds, and he hoped that, with the aid of his ace of hearts as a reentry and a possible trump stopper in his partner's hand, he could give Kantar a ruff that might set the contract. Perhaps declarer should have seen the way to forestall the danger—after winning the diamond, lead a heart at once and cut the defenders' communications. No matter what happened. South would lose only one heart and two trump tricks this way. Instead, he tried to avoid the danger by winning the diamond and playing the ace and another spade. Kantar made his brilliant play here: he refused to win the king. Declarer continued trumps. East took his king, put his partner in with the heart ace, got his diamond ruff and cashed the king of hearts for the setting trick. Had Kantar won the second spade, dummy could have guarded the second round of hearts with his trump, and the defenders would have taken only three tricks in spite of Mathe's devastating lead.