"There will be some notable absentees when play begins in Atlantic City October 25 to select the North American team for the 1969 World Championship. Robert Jordan and Arthur Robinson, considered by many to have the best record of any pair on recent American teams, will be sitting out this year because Jordan's new job won't permit his taking the time. Qualifying for the team, practicing and then playing in the world event demand at least six weeks that Bobby can't spare this year. Eric Murray of Toronto is in the same fix, with the result that his perennial partner, Sammy Kehela, will be trying for the team paired with Baron Wolf Lebovic. Lew Mathe isn't playing because—so he says—he doesn't care for Atlantic City in general, but most observers think there are other, unstated reasons.
Nevertheless, the field will be a strong one, with such pairs as Edgar Kaplan-Norman Kay, Alvin Roth-Bill Root, B. Jay Becker-Dorothy Hayden, Tobias Stone-John Crawford among those with plenty of experience against the Italians. Also long experienced is George Rap�e—five world championships, including three wins—partnered by Sidney Lazard, who played in his sole world championship by the unanimous invitation of his five teammates.
I am not about to argue with the philosopher who first comforted a loser with, "You can't win 'em all." But I wish I could explain why Lazard, who is rated among the world's greatest card-players, should have won, comparatively speaking, so few. Of course, the 37-year-old New Orleans oilman does not play in all the tournaments. In fact, last time I saw him at a tournament I almost failed to recognize him. In the interim, while he missed a couple of Nationals, he had taken off 50 pounds. Lazard is a gentle-mannered man who looks forbidding. He cheerfully admits that he didn't do too well against the Italians when he played on the American team in 1959. "But I worried them a lot," he adds.
Lazard always plays spectacularly—possibly because as an aggressive bidder he more often needs to conjure an extra trick out of nowhere than to come up with a safety play that insures a comfortable contract. Naturally this endears him to the kibitzers; nobody in the audience that watched him play for New Orleans in a winning intercity match against Dallas-Houston late last fall would have agreed with Sid's own estimate—that he was not playing quite as well as he had a year before. This was the kind of hand with which he gave the audience a treat:
North and South were playing limit raises so, although North's two-no-trump bid looked normal, it was in fact the equivalent of a strong double raise in spades. Had Lazard rebid only three spades, it would have indicated a weakish third-hand opening and North could have passed.
In the other room, against the same contract, West had opened a diamond, ducked in dummy and ruffed by South. Declarer led a trump, and when East won he shifted to the 9 of hearts, taken by dummy's ace. The ace of diamonds was cashed, declarer discarding a club. Dummy's last diamond was ruffed and South exited with a second trump. East won and returned another heart. South went up with the king and exited with a heart. If hearts had been evenly divided, with West originally holding three to the queen, that player would have been forced to lead a club or else give declarer a ruff in dummy while he discarded a second club. As it was, West was able to win with the 10 of hearts and exit with the queen, forcing dummy to ruff. The club finesse was off, and the contract went down one.
Lazard had to cope with the far less helpful opening lead of a trump. But one slight slip in the defense—East's failure to cash his second high trump at once—left the tiny chink through which Lazard pulled home his contract. East figured that it might be necessary to lead twice in order to keep his partner out of an end play. As a result, East himself became the end-play victim. When he won the trump lead he shifted to the 9 of hearts. As was the case in the other room, Lazard did not take the "free" finesse by playing the heart jack. He won the trick in his hand with the king and made the essential and brilliant play of returning a low club!
His reasoning? East was marked with the ace-king of spades. He must also have at least one honor in diamonds, since West presumably would have led that suit with a solid holding. Therefore, since East had passed initially, he was most unlikely to hold the king of clubs, so it would not pay to waste a vital entry to dummy to take a losing finesse.
In addition to putting the "right" opponent on lead, the low club return set a mild trap for West. If he ducked, South could discard his remaining low club on the ace of diamonds after winning the trick in dummy. But West didn't fall. He went up with the king and exited with a club. Dummy's queen won, and Lazard cashed dummy's ace of diamonds—discarding a heart—ruffed a diamond and returned to dummy with the ace of hearts, extracting East's last card in that suit. Dummy's last diamond was ruffed, the ace of clubs was cashed and East was put on lead with his high trump. With nothing left but diamonds, East had to allow Lazard to discard his last heart while dummy ruffed—and the gallery applauded loud and long.