I lost a good friend two weeks ago in Olive Peterson, who died in Philadelphia at the age of 66. In the often cutthroat world of tournament bridge, Olive was one person who never made an enemy or lost a friend. She was a good player, winner of 13 national championships during a career that spanned two games—auction and contract—and three eras. She was closely associated with Milton Work, winning many championships as his partner and teaching his auction methods around Philadelphia. All through Culbertson's bridge reign she remained Philadelphia's leading teacher. And for me, she rendered invaluable service at my teachers' conventions.
In recent years Olive had dropped out of tournament competition. One of her last public competitive appearances was on my TV show, and the hand I have selected this week was from that show. It had an excitement created by the special conditions that govern the matches played on camera.
As you can see, there is an excellent play for six hearts and an even better one for six clubs. Had this been the usual rubber or duplicate game I feel sure that George Foerstner and Harry Harkavy would have reached one or the other of these contracts. But in my TV competition, a sort of sudden-death affair, the prize is won by the pair that is ahead at the end of four deals. Coming up to this fourth deal of the match, Mrs. Peterson and Alvin Landy, executive secretary of the American Contract Bridge League, had a 450-point lead. Counting the premium of 300 points for bidding and making a game on an unfinished rubber, Harkavy and Foerstner had to score only five no trump—or 160—to nose out their opponents by 10 points.
Harkavy had no doubt that slam was within easy reach, but there remained the attractive question: Why play in a contract that required making six, when the match could be won by scoring 11 tricks at no trump?
East signaled enthusiasm on the spade lead, dropping her 7. Harkavy won and led a club to the jack, which lost to East's queen. Back came a low spade, won by South's last stopper, and when West followed low on the second lead of clubs, Harkavy faced the crucial decision: Should he take another finesse or play to drop the missing honor?
In ordinary rubber bridge, the question would not arise. South, able to win nine tricks with a break in hearts, would not jeopardize the game. But, although TV bridge is played on rubber rules, the need to make at least five-odd was the decisive factor—plus the fact that percentages favor taking two finesses with the club combination.
But fine players sometimes go against the percentage when instinct tells them that they should do so. Harkavy considered long and finally decided on one more factor that seemed to favor the finesse: nine players in 10 would automatically play the king the first time if they held king-queen alone. Harkavy, a comparatively young man, simply did not realize that he was playing against a deceptively cunning lady. He took the finesse, lost the hand and with it the difference between the $1,000 first prize and the $500 to the losing pair. I must add here a few words that do not appear on the record. They are Olive's.
"I'm sorry, Harry," she said—and meant it. "You made the right play." Olive Peterson was like that.