The Summer National Championships in Minneapolis were the last to drag on for nearly two weeks, and no one, not even the winners of the final event, will be sorry. Competition started on a Friday and ran for 13 days and 800 boards before George Rap�e's team defeated B. Jay Becker's squad in the Spingold finals. Beginning next year the Nationals will end on the second Sunday, alleviating the exhaustion in evidence at Minneapolis.
Young players made their presence felt in the Spingold as never before. Mike Becker and Steve Altman, both 24 and members of the Becker team, were the youngest pair ever to reach the final, and Milt Rosenberg of Chicago, who reached the semifinal, is a year younger. Five of the others in the semifinal were around the 30 mark and, with only Becker and Rap�e in the elder statesman category, the average age of the last four teams was the lowest ever.
Rosenberg's team found the experience of the Rap�e squad too much to handle in the semifinal, losing by 92 points, but one of the losers had the satisfaction of making a slam that needed good bidding and skillful play.
Dick Walsh of Los Angeles bid his way up to six clubs by an unorthodox route. After the one-no-trump rebid, North's bid of two diamonds would be weak in standard methods, but it was forcing in the style of this partnership and made a careful slam exploration possible.
West led a trump against six clubs and Walsh had a difficult planning problem. The obvious route was to ruff two hearts in dummy, but Walsh was short of entries to the closed hand and would run into an overruff when he tried to ruff the third round of spades low in his hand.
The natural play was to win the first trick in dummy, but South won in his hand. This was a slight error, but it nevertheless gave him the opportunity to make a spectacular play at the second trick. He led the diamond 10 away from his ace, spurning the diamond finesse, with the idea of forcing out the diamond king immediately and keeping control of the hand.
West took his diamond king and returned the club eight, leaving dummy with only one trump for ruffing purposes. But one ruff was enough for the declarer. He won the trump lead with dummy's jack, cashed the heart and spade aces and ruffed a low spade. A heart was ruffed with dummy's remaining trump, and the closed hand was reentered with the diamond ace.
Walsh drew the missing trumps and claimed his slam, announcing that he would discard the two remaining heart losers on the diamond and spade winners in dummy. He made, in all, five trump tricks in his hand, one ruff in dummy, one heart, two spades and three diamonds for a total of 12 tricks.
During the next deal Kehela was dummy and began to wonder whether he would have beaten the slam by refusing to take his diamond king at the second trick. Analysis showed that he would not, for South would then have discarded a diamond on the second round of spades and crossruffed in the red suits. By careful timing he could discard his fourth heart on the fourth diamond in dummy and West would make the defense's only trick by ruffing.
Three days later, the analysts pointed out that Kehela would have beaten the slam by winning the diamond king and returning a diamond, forcing South to use a diamond entry prematurely. But, the contract could always be made by winning the first trick in dummy, cashing the heart ace and leading to the diamond 10.