A blistering hot September weekend melted the mettle of 11 bridge hot-shots and destroyed their hopes of being on the team that will join with the Dallas Aces to represent North America in the 1971 world championship. A series of playoffs is being held to determine this team, and the winners of the semifinals in New York last month were the local four-man team of Phil Feldesman, Bill Grieve, Ira Rubin and Jeff Westheimer and the Los Angeles foursome of Lew Mathe, Don Krauss, Richard Walsh and John Swanson. The Feldesman and Mathe teams will meet in New York on Oct. 30 for the final playoff.
For two of the losers, however, all dreams for 1971 may not be lost. Since the remaining teams consist of only four players each, a third pair will have to be chosen to round out the winning squad to the required six. I don't believe that either of the finalists would gratefully embrace a pair from the other. Also, there is already some muttering in European circles over the fact that both North American teams might be made up of all U.S. players. Therefore, it is reasonable to speculate that the X—for extra—factor on the final team will be a pair of Canadians, Eric Murray and Sammy Kehela, who were among the sixsome that lost to the Mathe team in the semifinals.
The X factor in this deal from the semifinals was a spot card. Although sometimes dismissed as "AJxxx" in bridge diagrams, spot cards often make the difference between success and failure. Richard Walsh, who was on the spot here, had to play very well in order to avoid a big loss after Murray and Kehela, sitting North-South at the other table, had bid and made a game in no trump.
The North hand falls in the twilight zone between a one-no-trump opening (18 points maximum) and two no trump (opened with a 21- or 22-point minimum), and both North players chose to open with one club. Kehela responded with one diamond and then raised Murray's two-no-trump rebid to game. However, the Walsh-Swanson pair does not open four-card majors, so Walsh was obliged to show his major at the first opportunity. He responded one heart and Swanson leaped to four.
Walsh's big problem was a lack of entries to his hand. After winning the diamond lead in dummy he led a low heart and finessed his 8. West won with the 10 and, realizing that a spade trick was probably essential to the defense, shifted to the 2 of that suit, East's queen falling to South's king. Walsh used this opportunity to lead the jack of clubs, which was covered by the king and won with the ace. Dummy's diamond king and club queen were then cashed and a third club was ruffed in the closed hand with the deuce. The jack of diamonds, covered by West's queen, was ruffed in dummy with the 5. Now Walsh led the fourth club from dummy and ruffed it with his 7 of hearts.
West was uncomfortable, unhappy and unable to avert what was going to happen next. If he refused to overruff with the ace, South would lead his good diamond and discard dummy's spade loser while East trumped with his king. If West overruffed and led a spade, South would let the lead run to his 10. West finally decided to put South to a guess by overruffing with the ace and leading his last heart to East's king.
East had nothing left but spades, and his 9 was the crucial "x." Leading it would make South's play easy. Under-leading it made South guess, but he guessed correctly and allowed the lead to go to dummy's ace-8. West had to play the jack, setting up South's 10 as the game-winning trick.