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Firing on the contract bridge front began a full week before the opening of the Spring National Championships in New-York City this month. Canada's Olympiad bridge team invaded Manhattan for a four-session practice match against the U.S. Olympiad squad and, while the players played hard and the spectators rooted hard, this was one time in an international competition when American Contract Bridge League officials didn't care who won.
The reason: organization of this year's world championship, the Olympiad, is different from other years. Instead of the four zonal champions from Europe, South America, North America and the Far East seeking to dethrone Italy, the defending champs, some 30 nations are expected to take part, and four of these—Mexico and Bermuda as well as Canada and the U.S.—will be representing the ACBL. The chances for the first two are rather remote, but the Canadian showing against the U.S. squad was a cause for jubilation rather than concern. The outcome of the practice sessions was that these two teams played well: each appears to have an excellent chance to bring the Olympiad trophy to this side of the Atlantic for the first time.
The Canadians started off as strongly as they had when they defeated the U.S. in a qualifying round match in the 1964 Olympiad This time, at the end of 64 deals—the customary length for an Olympiad finals match—the Canadians were 24 international match points ahead. But in this practice match that was only the halfway point. The U.S. team went on a rampage in the next 16 deals, outscoring its rivals by 45 IMPs to take a 21-point lead of its own. Then Canada staged a mild rally, cutting the U.S. lead to 16—a highly inconclusive margin with 22 deals yet to be played.
In the opinion of many observers this was the deal that finally decided the way the match would go. By coincidence, the North-South pairs for both sides had been on their country's teams in 1964: for Canada, Eric Murray and Sammy Kehela of Toronto; for the U.S., Arthur Robinson and Robert Jordan of Philadelphia. The bidding was the same at both tables:
The opening lead at both tables was a top club. Both West players then shifted to a diamond, with dummy's jack covered by the queen and won by South's ace.
Murray led a heart to dummy's king and on the heart return from dummy, when East played the 7 declarer elected to take a safety play against the possibility that East had begun with four hearts to the queen-jack. His play of the 10 of hearts proved totally unsafe, however, when Roth won with the jack and returned a low club for Root to ruff with the heart queen. Root got out with a diamond, won the setting trick when declarer continued by leading the ace and another spade, and set the stage for a two-trick set by continuing with a third round of diamonds. Usually it is costly for a defender to allow declarer to ruff in one hand and discard in the other, but in this case it wasn't. Murray could not avoid losing another trick.
At the other table Jordan—who makes a specialty of bringing in well-nigh impossible contracts—put Sheardown to the test by leading a second round of clubs immediately after winning the ace of diamonds. It was obvious to Shear-down that his partner could ruff-this trick. But it also appeared likely that a ruff by East would be at the expense of a trump trick—else why had declarer not drawn trumps before leading the club? Sheardown went up with the club ace and shifted to his singleton spade, won by dummy's ace. Then came a surprise success for exactly the same play in trumps as had been made at the other table—but with a considerable difference in timing.
First, Jordan led the three good clubs from dummy, tempting East to ruff and thus give up his trump trick. But Elliott was having none of that. Having discarded two spades and his remaining diamond, Jordan next cashed dummy's diamond king, discarding a third spade. Then he cashed the heart king and led a heart to the 10, losing to West's jack. West had to return a diamond, letting dummy discard its losing spade while declarer ruffed. Jordan then collected Elliott's queen of hearts and ruffed his remaining spade in dummy to make the contract. The pickup was just 10 IMPs, but it came at a most significant time.
Earlier the Canadians had the honor, and the pleasure, of achieving the biggest single swing of the 128 deals when they made game both ways of the table on these cards.
Having passed initially, East's double and his bid of four no trump were clearly based on a distributional hand. After West rescued to five clubs, East's run to five diamonds left partner with a choice between the diamond and heart suits. West preferred diamonds, so he passed.