Two trends in the game are creating widening waves of interest. One is reflected in a seeming proliferation of exhibition matches involving star players—and, occasionally, high stakes—at which the bridge-playing public is given an opportunity to see the experts perform. The other is evidenced by the increasing popularity and success of systems based on a forcing one-club opening bid.
The strong one club can hardly be hailed as an innovation inasmuch as Harold S. Vanderbilt, when he invented contract bridge, also introduced a forcing one club with a negative one-diamond response. ( Vanderbilt's logic, on this point at least, fell on deaf ears, and the masses instead followed Ely Culbertson and his strong opening two bid, as a majority of players continue to do.) But enough of today's experts have swung toward a forcing one club to raise the question: Which of the many one-club systems is best? On the basis of simplicity as well as effectiveness, I would have to say that the Precision Club, designed by C.C. Wei of New York, has the edge. In fact, I have written a book about it to be published by Doubleday in May.
In the meantime, Wei has put his system on exhibition, thus taking advantage of both new trends. His International Precision Team is currently engaged in a two-week, six-city "charity" tour ($1,000 to the charity named by any local squad that can beat his team). By the end of this week audiences in Cincinnati, Wilmington, New York, Washington, Greenville, S.C. and Atlanta will have had a chance to observe not only the workings of the Precision Club but also the skills of some of the best—if not the best—players in action.
Although the tour ends in Atlanta immediately preceding the Spring Nationals, Wei's team will not compete as a unit in the knockout team championship for the Vanderbilt Cup, where it would be likely to meet the defending world champion Dallas Aces, among other leading North American squads. Instead, the Precision masters have posted an independent claim to the title "World's Best Bridge Team," a claim that Wei is prepared to back—stakes unlimited—against all comers.
No team is rushing to accept the challenge, which is not totally surprising in view of the sobering fact that the Precision group includes what is almost certainly the world's best pair, Giorgio Belladonna and Benito Garozzo of the old Italian Blue Team, in addition to American international experts Robert Jordan and Arthur Robinson of Philadelphia, supported by Peter Leventritt and Victor Mitchell of New York.
The Precision players fully expect that their boast will not be allowed to stand uncontested, and they are sharpening their competitive edge by constantly experimenting with their still new and unfamiliar system. The deal shown below, from a recent practice session, illustrates a few of the features of the system, plus scintillating play by Garozzo, who was holding the South hand.
The Precision system employs a weak (13 to 15 points) no trump, and a two-way Stayman response: two clubs with a weak hand asking for a major, and two diamonds with a strong hand. North's three-diamond rebid showed no four-card major but two four-card minors. Thereafter, North indicated that he preferred spades to hearts and, in response to South's Blackwood query, that he held two aces. South then contracted for slam in clubs, the first time that suit had been mentioned, but the spot toward which South had been aiming after North's second bid.
East overtook his partner's king of diamonds in order to shift to a trump and declarer was not entirely pleased to find dummy's eight-spot winning the trick as West showed out. The fact that all five outstanding trumps were in one hand created a problem, but Garozzo managed to overcome it. He ruffed a diamond, crossed to dummy's heart king to trump another diamond and cashed two spades, ending in dummy. Then came the crucial decision. Should he try to cash a third spade—a play doomed to failure because East would ruff—or take the heart finesse? The odds, as well as Benito's "nose," favored the finesse. When it succeeded, dummy's last spade was discarded on the ace of hearts and the rest of the tricks were made via a crossruff of high trumps. The system had led to a good contract but, as so often happens, it was the player's skill that brought it home.
A more unusual feature of Wei's system is a bid known as the "impossible negative." It draws its name from the fact that a one-diamond response to an opening club bid (which, in Precision, shows 16 points or more) would normally be negative, announcing a weak hand with fewer than eight points. However, because the Precision system requires a responder with eight points or more to bid only five-card or longer suits over one club and because no trump cannot be bid with a singleton, the impossible negative comes into play on strong hands with 4-4-4-1 distribution. The convention helped keep Belladonna and Garozzo out of trouble in the hand shown on page 69.
Garozzo (South) opened one club and Belladonna responded with one diamond. If South had next rebid in one of North's suits (or in no trump, as he actually did), North would have been required to jump in diamonds to show his 4-4-1-4 pattern and his count of eight points or more. On the other hand, if South had rebid in diamonds, North would have jumped in no trump to show his singleton diamond. Thus, when South rebid one no trump, showing the 16- to 18-point equivalent of a Standard American no-trump opening, North accordingly showed his distribution and good hand by jumping in his short suit. The logic of this bid is clear, surprising as it may appear. How could North have a weak hand—fewer than eight points—and suddenly be strong enough to make a jump bid? Impossible: hence South must conclude that his partner is holding the values for a positive response but the wrong distribution to be able to make one.