Attention, please!" roared the loudspeaker at Dodgertown in Vero Beach. "After today's game there will be a bridge match: Manager Walt Alston, Coach Jim Gilliam, First Baseman Wes Parker and the celebrated bridge expert, Charles Goren. Nice to have Mr. Goren with us. He's seated behind the Dodger dugout. If you'll forgive the pun, let's give him a big hand." (I'd have forgiven the pun if only they'd given me that big hand a little later in the proceedings.)
It was a fine baseball day in Florida, and I watched the Dodgers—vitalized, perhaps, by the day's news that Koufax and Drysdale had ended their holdout—shut out the Cincinnati Reds 4 to 0. After the game we repaired to the pressroom, where a table was set up to accommodate the players and kibitzers.
My partner was the manager, and Walt proved to be just as deplorable a cardholder that day as I was. The result was that we wound up on the short end of a blitz at the hands of Gilliam and young Parker, who, incidentally, is a member of the American Contract Bridge League and the proud owner of a small bundle of master points, many of them won with his father as his partner.
Our opponents' bidding technique was not exactly of championship caliber, but they weren't a bit flustered playing against their manager and me and before an audience that included National League President Warren Giles and Duke Snider. They usually managed to end up in the right contract, and then they played their hands beautifully.
Parker's opening two-spade bid (diagram) does not exactly carry my warm approval. It is two points short of the requirements for a demand bid, with a trump suit that is full of holes. If partner cannot muster up a bid in response to a one-spade opening, it is hardly likely that a game will be missed. Gilliam was happy to make a positive response, showing his club suit. Parker might have considered three no trump as his next bid, if only as a warning that his opening bid was light, but he persisted with his spades. Gilliam was concerned with the absence of a diamond stopper to fully justify a no-trump bid and he paid Parker the delicate compliment of raising him to game with a singleton trump.
Alston made the normal opening lead of the queen of hearts, and Wes paused to consider prospects before making the "natural" play of winning the heart trick in his hand. He could see the possibility of three spade losers and one or two diamond losers if all the suits broke badly. However, if the club suit was divided 3-3, or if the 10 fell doubleton and was in the hand with the short trump holding, the contract could be brought home—provided his right-hand opponent was not allowed to attack the diamond suit too early.
In order to prevent me from winning a trick and making the lethal diamond shift, Parker won the opening heart lead with dummy's ace and played the 7 of spades. When I played low, Parker let the lead ride around to Alston's 10. Walt continued hearts, won by declarer with the king. He cashed the ace of spades and continued trumps. Walt signaled with the 9 of diamonds, so when I won with the spade jack I shifted to diamonds as requested. But Parker had fended off the shift just long enough. He jumped up with the diamond ace, cashed the club ace and overtook his club queen with dummy's king. The jack of clubs gave South one diamond discard, and when the suit split, a fourth club lead let him discard the last diamond while I was using my high trump.
So they clobbered us. But nothing bothered Walt. He had just been handed a couple of pitching aces, and he wasn't about to mourn the absence of the other kind.