A successful bridge player has much in common with a good detective, and this is the year when an interest in detective work is helping win the McKenney Trophy for Barry Crane of Hollywood. The McKenney is annually awarded to the player who wins the greatest number of master points over a 12-month period ending with the Fall Nationals. Crane won it in 1952, and in five of the last six years he led the trophy race most of the way, only to be beaten in the final weeks. Twice he was defeated by players who scored the majority of their points while playing as his partner—Hermine Baron in 1964 and Peter Rankin 1965.
This year, however, he went into the last days of the race with a long lead and a determination that nobody would catch him.
An ability to sleep on planes is one of the key factors in Crane's success. His career as a television producer keeps him busy weekdays, so his master-point hunting is confined to weekends, when he may travel as much as 5,000 miles to play in a single event in a regional championship. Currently he is associate producer of the CBS-Paramount TV series, Mannix, about a private eye. Seeking background material, Crane has frequently played with Gunther Polak and Lou Gurvich, private investigators in Chicago and in New Orleans, respectively, who are top-rank bridge players. Crane has profited by getting a lot of tips on the private-eye business and a lot of points playing with them. But his favorite partner is still Peter Rank, a deputy district attorney of Contra Costa County, Calif. Crane was playing with Rank when the following hand gave the pair a top score after Crane capitalized on a bad break that menaced the contract.
Crane's two-no-trump bid with the South hand is a trifle unorthodox. He lacked a sure stopper in spades and he held only 20 points in high cards, but the latter defect was made up by his holding a five-card diamond suit, and the lack of a seemingly necessary spade stopper was overcome by Crane's skillful use of the unfortunate distribution that he encountered in diamonds.
After the opening lead, South could count 11 tricks if the diamonds broke. Winning a 12th trick depended on picking up the queen of clubs or being able to take two tricks in the spade suit. But when Crane won the first heart in his hand and cashed the ace and queen of diamonds he learned that he would have to lose a diamond trick and would therefore need both the third trick in clubs and the second trick in spades.
The extra trick in clubs materialized with no problem. When the ace of clubs was cashed and a second club led, East obligingly produced the queen. Crane's next task was to make the diamond break work to his advantage. He cashed the third club and both his remaining good hearts, stripping East of all his cards in these suits. Now East was in the trap. Crane cashed the king of diamonds and threw East in with his diamond trick.
East had to lead a spade. Crane put up his queen to win the trick, cashed his fifth diamond and made the 12th trick and his slam with dummy's ace of spades. "Routine detective work," observed Crane. "Seal up all the escape avenues but one and wait there to grab your prize."