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Like any good fight, this one began with an argument. One side insisted that the best way to bid a bridge hand was naturally—that is, calling a spade a spade. The other side favored a more obscure approach, using artificial bids to convey special meanings. This disagreement, which has been brewing among bridge experts for years, was brought to a boil two weeks ago in New York when 12 of the leading players in the country, six on a side, competed in a three-day 180-board showdown.
The rules were simple. The natural bidders, called Traditionalists for the match, were allowed to use only the simplest of bidding conventions, such as Blackwood, Gerber and Stayman. The artificial bidders, called Scientists, were free to use any or all of the mystery bids they favor, bids with such colorful names as Astro, reverse Astro, Sputnik, Ripstra, Texas transfer, Michaels' cue bids and a whole host of others virtually unknown to the average player.
The Scientists were slight betting favorites (and there was considerable betting among the kibitzers), not because of their complicated systems, but because most people thought they had the stronger players, namely, Arthur Robinson and Robert Jordan, Tobias Stone and Alvin Roth, and Sam Stayman and Vic Mitchell. But during the first day of play, the Traditionalists—B. Jay Becker and Dorothy Hayden, Eric Murray and Sammy Kehela, and Lew Mathe and Meyer Schleifer—built up a huge lead which they increased early on the second day. Those who have long deplored the use of highly complicated bids could hardly conceal their glee. Soon after the halfway point the Traditionalists led by 108 IMPs. Everyone agreed that this was an impregnable lead. But in an amazing reversal of form the Scientists stormed back. In one hectic 30-deal session the Scientists wiped away all but 33 IMPs. Shaken, the Traditionalists blew the remainder of their lead in the next 15 deals, and at the end the Scientists won going away, 367-314.
The turning of the tide that had run so strongly in favor of the natural bidders was marked by a slam swing on the 102nd deal. This was one of the comparatively few deals on which bidding gave a clear-cut advantage to the scientific approach, though observers felt that the natural bidders should have reached the slam on pure power.
Jordan and Robinson's bidding was conventional but not artificial. The cue bids they used were available to Mathe and Schleifer, who held the North-South cards at the other table. But the bid that set the cue bids in motion was peculiar to the Jordan-Robinson style. They do not open four-card majors, and they do not respond at the two level without a good hand. Therefore, having already shown a strong hand, North's rebid of only two spades was forcing and set the stage for cue-bidding at a low level. Thereafter North's rebids showed the ace and king of diamonds; Jordan's rebids showed the shape of his hand—at least three clubs—and the tops in hearts. After learning, through the five-heart response to four no trump, that North held both missing aces, South used six diamonds to express interest in a grand slam if North's spade holding was suitable.
South won the opening diamond lead in his hand and tested out the club finesse before deciding how to play the spades. If the finesse won, declarer could afford a safety play in spades. When it lost, he had to be able to bring the spade suit in without a loser. Jordan was resigned to taking a double finesse against East, but this proved unnecessary when that player turned up with the unguarded honors.
Mathe made the same 12 tricks at no trump, playing from the North side after rebidding three no trump over South's two-heart rebid. Schleifer clearly held much more than he had shown by his one-spade opening and simple rebid in hearts, but he elected to take the conservative course and pass. Perhaps this decision was influenced by the score of the match at that stage; if so, it was unsound. The side with a good lead usually should bid its cards to the hilt on the theory that the side that is trying to make up ground is pretty sure to be doing likewise. Bidding and making the slam gained 750 points, worth 13 IMPs to the Scientists.
Both teams were frequently hampered by their own bidding methods, and occasionally this happened on the same hand.
Becker-Hayden do not use the Stayman convention, asking the opening one-no-trump bidder to show a four-card major suit, so Mrs. Hayden passed Becker's no-trump bid. Vic Mitchell, sitting East, wanted to bid two clubs with his hand, but that would have been Landy, requesting partner to choose between the majors. So he bid three clubs, a contract that would have been set 300 points, had the opponents doubled. However, Mrs. Hayden bid three diamonds—which she barely made.
At the other table Roth-Stone, using the Stayman convention, bid four spades. East won the club lead and shifted to hearts. Roth, sitting South, had no option except to play for the queen to be right. He lost only one heart, one club and one diamond trick, making game for a score of 420, a gain of seven IMPs.