When James Wisemiller, a 21-year-old Ohio State University sophomore, finished first in the Open Pairs event in this year's Spring Nationals he became the youngest player ever to win a major national championship. His more experienced partner, also from Columbus, was John Biddle, a 36-year-old CPA with more than 2,600 master points to his credit. It was also Biddle's first national championship win.
Wisemiller has been playing bridge since he was 16, but took up the tournament game only a little more than two years ago. So rapid was his success that Jim, a marketing student, became a Life Master just two months after his 19th birthday, making him one of the youngest ever to achieve that highest player-ranking of the American Contract Bridge League.
But Life Master ranking, especially when it is achieved without experience in national competition, is by no means a guarantee of strong performance against top level opposition. And so, when the scores of the Open Pairs were announced, Wisemiller seemed incredulous. He and Biddle had performed a remarkable feat, winning the title from a field of 756 pairs—the biggest such event ever played. What is more, in a tight three-way finish they had nosed out such formidable opposition as Ivan Erdos-Tobias Stone, the runners-up, and Sam Stayman-Victor Mitchell, who finished third.
Jim behaved like a seasoned performer defending with the West hand in this deal, which contributed to their victory.
Jim's decision to pass the opening spade bid was wise; he felt that a penalty represented his side's best chance to show a profit. Sure enough, the opponents did climb to game as the result of some overbidding by both partners, but when they got there, Wisemiller revised his original idea and decided not to double. Setting the contract undoubted would be good enough for a big score, while a double might help declarer gauge the winning play.
West opened the ace of trumps to cut down dummy's ruffing power. When he saw dummy, he was tempted to under-lead the club ace but decided that this tactic would have better success if the play were made after he had already shown up with two aces. So he continued with trumps.
Declarer won and led a diamond up to the king, the right play to make first since the only chance to avert two diamond losers was to find the ace with West. Jim climbed up with his ace of diamonds and now, having revealed that he began with two aces, he decided it was time for the deceptive underlead of the ace of clubs.
South glared suspiciously at Jim but could not credit him with keeping silent on a three-ace hand. So he put in dummy's jack of clubs, losing to the queen. Biddle returned a club, and Jim cashed his ace for the setting trick.
Biddle and Wisemiller's victory gave them five out of six qualifying points for the International Team Trials in San Francisco in November. Jim will be the youngest candidate in the Trials if he and Biddle can do well in the Summer National Championships to be played in Chicago this August and pick up that one necessary point.