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Sixteen pairs of collegians are now meeting at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. to decide the intercollegiate championship for 1966. They won their way into the finals from a field of more than 2,100 players representing 202 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada—an alltime high that bodes well for the growth of other tournaments as these youngsters mature.
The face-to-face finals are played on an entirely different basis from that used in the qualifying rounds. The hands the collegians played at home were par deals, stacked to illustrate some fine points of play, whereas the finals will be played duplicate style. The contestants were on notice that there was something tricky to watch out for on every deal. They bid the hands as they normally would and earned bidding par points for reaching proper contracts. No matter how they bid, however, before the play began they were told what the official bidding was and assigned a contract to play in. The opening lead was directed by the par setters, not selected at the table.
Actually, being alerted to look out for something tricky should not have any effect on what the players do. The fact is that any declarer who has reached a good contract, in any kind of bridge game, should be on the lookout for the best way to guard against possible disaster; and any defender must try to find the best avenue to defeat his opponents.
The players who topped the qualifying round were from tiny Bethany College in West Virginia: Roger O'Brien and a young, bearded Moslem from Teheran named Abdullah Hatefi. When Abdul is at home with his family—one of the richest in Iran—he lives next door to the Shah. I first "met" this young man through the bridge column written for the Wheeling (W. Va.) News-Register by Blanche Neff, the human dynamo who has made herself personally responsible for the success of every bridge club in her area.
The Bethany pair did best of all the collegians against the par hands. To see the kind of problems they had to tackle, cover the East-West cards and play the hand as South, the declarer.
Sometimes it is difficult to get the players to the desired contract and sometimes it is difficult to bid a hand like North's facing an opening two-bid. At any rate, you're in a good six-no-trump contract and it's up to you to make it. Having been given a free finesse in hearts, declarer has 13 tricks if the diamonds break. But in a par contest, you can be sure they won't. How do you solve the problem, which is that you need to cash all three club tricks in order to get rid of a heart loser and still be prepared to lose a trick in diamonds?
If you cash the club king and queen, go over to the diamond ace, then cash the club ace and discard the heart 2, you are pinning your faith on a diamond break or on the hope that the player with four diamonds doesn't have another club. But such good luck never occurs in a par game. The solution is to cash two top clubs, lead a low diamond and let an opponent win. No return can hurt you. You can get back to dummy with the diamond ace, cash the club ace, discard your heart loser and come back to your hand to run the rest of the diamonds, making six no trump.