In Rio this week five teams start playing for the World Bridge Team Championship, with Italy's Blues once again the favorite to keep the Bermuda Bowl. This would be their 10th straight win, not including their two World Olympiad victories in 1964 and 1968. Monotonous, isn't it?
Well, Italy hasn't won it yet. Nationalist China, a team with a new system, might spring a few surprises. Brazil, which won the South American championship after giving up playing an Italian system, would love to show the decision was the right one by defeating the Italians. France, with a team rated stronger than the one that looked as if it would beat the Americans in 1967 in Miami Beach, is a genuine threat. And North America, perennial runner-up, has a young group to back up its veteran pair of George Rap�e and Sidney Lazard. But one question bugs many expert observers. How will American chances be affected by the lame-duck status of the partnership of Bob Hamman and Eddie Kantar?
Hamman and Kantar have no personal feud; far from it. They played very well and wound up extremely pleased with each other when they won their place on the American team at the Team Trials in Atlantic City last fall. Later in the year, however, Industrialist Ira Corn of Dallas signed up Hamman to play on his Dallas Aces; with them Bob has become the partner of Mike Lawrence, like him a young ex-Californian. In Dallas the six members of Corn's subsidized aggregation eat, sleep, talk and play bridge, and in the course of this regimen Hamman has been hammering out a solid partnership with Lawrence. It wasn't until a week before leaving for Rio that Kantar went to Dallas to brush up his partnership with Hamman.
American pairs have long operated on the theory that they do not need much partnership practice, which contrasts sharply with the Italian philosophy. Now the question is whether the effectiveness of the Kantar-Hamman partnership is threatened not only by lack of recent practice but also by the knowledge that their appearance in Rio may well be their last together.
Hamman has twice played in World Championships and Kantar has twice coached American teams in international play. Eddie is one of the most popular of the game's younger stars. An example of his skill is the handling of this deal during the competition at Atlantic City that put him into the action in Rio.
West collected two diamond tricks and shifted to a trump, won by dummy's king. A second trump lead was taken by Kantar with his ace, and West discarded a diamond. Declarer trumped his last diamond in dummy, cashed his ace-king of spades and ruffed a third spade with dummy's queen. Now all he had to do was to avoid losing two club tricks. And East still had a trump that Kantar had to keep in mind.
The remaining cards are shown at right. Kantar, of course, could not be sure of this distribution. He knew West probably had the king of clubs to justify his overcall, but he could not be sure that each opponent did not have a spade and three clubs remaining. Eddie worked out the surest possible combination to make the hand, which meant refusing to draw East's last trump at this time. Instead, he led a low club from dummy and, when East played low, put on the 9. West won with the 10 of clubs. He knew that a club return would be fatal, so he led the queen of diamonds. Kantar ruffed with dummy's 10 and East was hooked. If he threw a spade, declarer could discard his second club, cash the ace and be left only with high trumps. So East threw away the jack of clubs.
Now if Kantar had let dummy hold the trick while he took a club discard, the contract would be defeated. East would ruff dummy's forced club lead for the setting trick. Kantar, however, had another string to his bow. He over-ruffed dummy's 10 of hearts with his jack and drew East's last trump. Then he led the queen of clubs through for the marked finesse, and the club 8 became declarer's 10th trick.