Of the six major championships decided at the Spring Nationals in New York two weeks ago, none was the subject of more widespread interest than the battle for the Vanderbilt Cup, won by the U.S. Open team—Robert Jordan-Arthur Robinson, Edgar Kaplan-Norman Kay and Alvin Roth-Bill Root—that will participate in France in the Olympiad this June. It was not an easy victory. After its first-round match, non-playing Captain Julius Rosenblum's squad always seemed to be in trouble. The third-round match against a young team led by Dick Fleischman appeared to be the end of the line, since the U.S. team was down 19 international match points with only 16 deals remaining. On the very last board of the match Jordan managed to make an overtrick on a part-score contract for a 1 IMP gain that put the match into a flat tie and forced an eight-board playoff.
On the first deal of the playoff Jordan brought home a game contract that turned out to be the difference between being eliminated from the Vanderbilt and going on to the quarter-final round.
Jordan won the first trick with dummy's ace of diamonds, led a club and guessed right when East ducked, winning with the club king. East had to spend his ace on the low-club return. South won a diamond continuation with the king and trumped a club with dummy's 9. East overruffed with the king and exited with a trump, won by Jordan's ace. The fourth round of clubs was ruffed with dummy's 7 of hearts. East couldn't overruff, and though he eventually won a trick with the spade ace, the optimistic game came rolling in.
It wouldn't have been made had East returned a trump when in with the ace of clubs. Even if South finessed the queen, when East overruffed the third round of clubs with the king he would have been able to lead another trump, leaving declarer with a club loser.
In the other room Edgar Kaplan (East) opened the bidding with one spade and the Fleischman team stopped in three hearts. Kaplan won the spade opening and shifted to a low trump. Declarer lost a finesse to the heart jack and after a trump continuation wound up down one. The U.S. team won the playoff by 12 IMPs, but if four hearts had been set at Jordan's table and three hearts made at the other, the Fleischman team would have won.
The final against a team led by Eddie Kantar was what observers felt was the best-played match of the event, with the U.S. squad winning by 30 IMPs. Kantar's team also included a man who had the strongest additional reason for wanting to win—Ira Rubin, one of the pair whom Rosenblum had bypassed in order to select Kaplan and Kay to his 1968 squad. And most players agreed that Rubin played the best bridge of any of the 10 players in the 72-deal final. His team led by 5 at the three-quarter mark—which was the moment for an event unprecedented in bridge history. Alvin Roth, who with Root had played well in the preceding quarter, offered to stand down for the last quarter, pointing out that the others had been "lucky" in previous final quarters when the Roth-Root duo sat out. Although shaken by this change of habit from the man who makes no secret that he considers himself the world's best player, Rosenblum accepted the suggestion.
The second deal of the last half saw Rubin triumph over Roth in a battle of wits in which both starred.
Although it appears that the spade lead helped Rubin, in fact it created a problem. With a diamond or heart lead, assuming the spade king is marked off-side by West's double, declarer would take a heart finesse, a club finesse and, later, a second heart finesse to make his contract. Given the opportunity to ruff his spade loser, Rubin did so and then led a club for a finesse. This won, but the king failed to drop under the ace and declarer put Roth (East) into the lead with the king of clubs.
After some deliberation, Roth under-led the ace of diamonds—giving Rubin credit for a void as part of the material for his slam bid, Rubin gazed suspiciously at Roth, ruffed the trick and went through the rest of the hand muttering, "I know you have the ace of diamonds." After Rubin had reeled off all of his clubs, the opponents' remaining six cards were four hearts including the queen, the ace of diamonds and a spade (West had discarded a heart). On the last club lead, Rubin had discarded the king of diamonds from dummy, keeping the ace-jack-10 of hearts. That left Roth free to discard his ace of diamonds if he wished to—but of course he held that card because its absence left Rubin with a guess. If West held it along with two hearts then the queen in East's hand must drop. Or did East have nothing left but three hearts, leaving West with a spade, the ace of diamonds and a heart?
Rubin was still muttering to Roth, "I know you have the ace of diamonds," and he played accordingly. He cashed the heart king, led a second heart and finessed dummy's jack to bring in the slam.