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Five teams are playing in the World Contract Bridge Team Championship at St. Vincent, Italy this week, but only two are thought to have any real chance of winning. One is our North American team. It is the strongest in the last decade and should have an excellent chance of defeating Italy's famous Blue Team—the defending champions who are out to win their ninth victory before they disband and retire. Thailand, Holland and Venezuela, the new champion of South America, are expected to wage a private battle for third place.
The star of the American squad is 50-year-old Lew Mathe, a graybeard when compared to his partner, Robert Ham-man, who is 22 years his junior. Old Mathe, as his teammates disrespectfully call him, brings both imagination and remorseless logic to his bridge, and his presence much enhances the American hopes. Consider this deal, played in the recent Vanderbilt Cup matches. To get the full effect, cover the East-West hands in the diagram below and play along with Lew.
Excellent bidding brought the contract to five clubs. It is rare to find a game bid with a four-four fit in a minor suit. But when Mathe showed his club suit before raising spades, it was obvious to Hamman that South held only three-card support and that the need to ruff diamonds in the South hand would make a spade contract uncomfortable.
The diamond lead was taken by South's ace and declarer led the ace and another heart. West won and continued diamonds. East overtook partner's jack with the king and South ruffed. A heart ruff in dummy established that suit. By this time it was apparent that West had started with three hearts and at least six diamonds, and Mathe had to consider the possibility that the trumps might break viciously. Accordingly, he led dummy's last diamond. East showed out, discarding the two of spades! Mathe ruffed, cashed the king and queen of clubs and when West followed to both leads the count of West's hand was established: seven diamonds, three hearts, at least two clubs. Thus he could not hold more than a singleton spade.
Some more figuring by Mathe took into account several possibilities. If he led a low spade toward dummy and West held the lone king, a diamond continuation would establish East's club jack as the setting trick. If West were void of spades, East could win the trick and continue spades and West would win the setting trick via a ruff. Mathe elected to lead a good heart and discarded a spade from dummy. East ruffed and was compelled to lead a spade in the end play that Mathe had planned for. If East held the king, the contract was made. But West produced the king. "Oh, no," Mathe moaned. "A singleton king!"
"You couldn't have dropped it," consoled West. "I had it guarded." "Impossible," Mathe said. "You must have had 14 cards: seven diamonds, three hearts, two clubs and two spades."
Finally they sorted it out. East had confused Mathe, and everybody else, when he accidentally failed to follow on the third round of diamonds. Mathe's thorough play exposed the error. The penalty for the revoke was two tricks, so the contract was made with an overtrick instead of going down one.
It was an interesting hand. Now if only the Italians make a few mistakes like that.