In the dozen battles for the Bermuda Bowl since the World Bridge Team Championship was inaugurated in 1950 only one woman has ever played. That was Helen Sobel, who was my partner in 1957 (the match, alas, that started Italy's run of six consecutive victories). But when the Trials to select our 1965 team begin in Dallas later this month two of the 36 candidates will be women, and both of them will have their fingernails sharpened.
Helen Portugal will be playing with her husband, Morris. In 1960 this Los Angeles couple became the first and only husband-and-wife partnership to win the Life Masters Pairs event. They qualified for the Trials by finishing second in this year's Vanderbilt Cup team championship.
On that same team was Dorothy Hay-den of Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., playing in a highly successful partnership with B. Jay Becker of New York. This couple's other big wins in the past year include the Blue Ribbon Pairs played last fall in Miami Beach and the Life Masters Pairs this summer in Toronto. Either of these victories would have qualified them for the coming Trials.
What are the chances that one of these ladies can win a place on our 1965 international team? Before I answer this, let me cite this week's hand, which contributed to their team's success in the Vanderbilt, as an example of how brilliantly these women play.
The bidding was highly aggressive, but it was late in the match and Mrs. Hayden and Becker felt they were in need of a swing. It required high-level ratiocination to turn the swing into a favorable one.
Dummy's 10 of diamonds was played, and East flickered momentarily before covering with the jack, won by Mrs. Hayden with the king. Stock-taking revealed slim prospects of bringing home the contract. With losers in clubs and diamonds, it appeared essential for declarer to limit losses to one trump trick and avoid any loser in spades. Apparently this meant playing East for the ace of hearts. But if East held the heart ace, he would not need to wonder whether partner had led a singleton or a doubleton diamond. He could afford to win the first diamond trick and return the suit, knowing that he could win the first trump lead and play a third round of diamonds to give partner a ruff. On this excellent reasoning, Mrs. Hayden decided that West must have the ace of trumps and that another play for the contract would have to be discovered. She found it by promptly returning a diamond, knocking out East's ace. East could have defeated the contract by leading the king of clubs before playing a third diamond, but South's powerful bidding led East to place her with the ace of clubs, and he returned a third diamond. South discarded the jack of clubs, and West had to trump with the jack of hearts. Declarer gained the lead by ruffing the club return and led a low trump. West had to play the ace, and the defense was kaput. South's king of hearts would draw the last trump, and dummy's king of spades remained as an entry to the good diamonds.
Few men would have bid the hand as aggressively or played it as wisely as Mrs. Hayden. Nevertheless, I don't think either lady will finish in the top three in the coming Trials. Against them both is the exhaustive nature of the Trials—six days in length—and in such a marathon test women tend to tire before men. In my next column I'll predict which pairs will make the team.