Bridge is a partnership game, they say, but one of the intriguing things about big-time tournament bridge in the U.S. is that rarely does a partnership remain one for very long. That, at least, is what the pairings suggested last week in Seattle, where the Vanderbilt Cup, the most esteemed team competition in this country, and several other national championships were being competed for by some surprising combinations of players.
For example, at one point during the Men's Team event I could have been seen playing two boards as the partner of Oswald Jacoby. For years Ossie and I barely said hello. And who was the unlikely Jacoby partner for whom I subbed for those two deals? None other than Tobias Stone. So where was Alvin Roth, the star with whom Stone had written a book called Bridge Is a Partnership Game? Well, Stone and Roth's partnership had broken up almost before the last copies of the book trickled off the presses. And what had happened to last year's Vanderbilt Cup winners? Every one of the five members of that squad was now playing on a different team. This diffusion meant that the odds were that one of them would win the Vanderbilt again—but which one?
Perhaps the answer should have been expected, for the sole repeat winner turned out to be Lew Mathe of Los Angeles, gruff, unpredictable and able as ever, who had surrounded himself with a fine team of Westerners: Ron Von der Porten, Michael Lawrence and Lew Stansby from the San Francisco area, Jim Jacoby of Dallas and G. Robert Nail of Houston.
Mathe and his crew had played superior bridge going into the final, and they continued to do so to the very end, defeating in the 72-deal last session an experienced team headed by George Rapee, though by a mere 16 international match points.
Every match as close as this one produces its might-have-been hands—and situations. This Vanderbilt final was no exception. The cup was decidedly still on the line with the last set of 18 hands about to begin, when an intense discussion arose as to which of Rapee's five players would be benched for the crucial deals.
Howard Schenken and Peter Leventritt, using their Big Club convention in a well-established partnership, had played throughout. Rapee and Sidney Lazard had been very effective for their team and Rapee thought that they should continue. But Paul Levitt, a fine young player, needed to play the last session in order to qualify for the International Team Trials next fall. Schenken appeared a bit weary—understandably, since he is 63—but Rapee had to wonder if it was wise to bench a man who had won more Vanderbilts than any other player and who would ordinarily be considered the team's top star. After much thought Rapee decided to ask Schenken to sit it out. But Schenken protested, and to resolve the dilemma Rapee finally concluded it would be best to bench himself.
One result of this was that when a potential big swing hand came (below left) Leventritt was in the action seat. He made a lead that no one could fault—but a different one would have won the cup.
Levitt and Lazard, for the Rapee team, reached the same contract in the other room. It was not doubled, the diamond jack was opened and the result of plus 620 seemed to be routine.
Schenken's double was not lead-directing; it was made because he expected to beat the hand—and so he would have with any reasonable lead other than a diamond. Declarer would then have to lose one club, one heart and two spade tricks. But the normal lead of the jack of diamonds gave declarer a finesse he could not have taken for himself. Two of dummy's spades were discarded on declarer's two diamond tricks. Stansby lost only one spade, by leading toward his king, one club and one trump. He scored 790 for a five-IMP gain. Had the contract been defeated 200 points, the 820-point gain by Rapee would have been worth 13 IMPs, for a net swing of 18 on the deal.
The other big turning points in the match were two slams bid by Mathe and Von der Porten, who were easily the star performers of the winning team. On one of these deals, which came early, the swing hinged on a misunderstanding between Lazard and Rapee over the always dangerous maneuver of cue-bidding in partner's suit.