Contract bridge returned to network television earlier this spring with a match between the world champion Aces and a Goren team of which I was the nonplaying captain. For those who missed it, the Aces won. It was a nip-and-tuck affair, however, in which my cohorts gave an excellent accounting of themselves. In fact, I am almost tempted to use the alibi the Houston Astros sometimes flash on their scoreboard after losing a close one: "They wuz lucky."
Those who saw the CBS show can probably decide for themselves how close the contest really was, although bridge is a difficult sport to fit to the TV medium and I am not sure that even this latest effort hit the right formula. Some viewers complained that the attempt to condense 11 hands into a single hour was overzealous, resulting in sequences of play that were too abbreviated to follow. Nevertheless, the match itself was exciting, and the result was in doubt right up to the last deal, which is shown below.
The North player for the Goren team chose, correctly I think, to pass initially and to reopen the bidding with one no trump after East's opening diamond bid had passed around to him. North made eight tricks for plus 120, including the 50-point part-score bonus, which meant that my team now was leading the match by 140 points. Since it was the last hand of the match, the Aces had to out-score us by more than that amount or we would have wound up the winners.
Of course, neither team knew the actual score at this point, but I think it likely that the Aces felt they were behind and this no doubt influenced Bobby Wolff's and Jim Jacoby's bidding of the North-South hands. Wolff had the skinniest of minimum opening bids, with the prospect of rebidding headaches if South responded two hearts to his one spade. When Jacoby doubled Bill Grieve's two-diamond overcall, it was for takeout, not for penalty, and Wolff had no choice except to rebid his spindly spade suit. Jacoby then slightly overbid the South hand with his optimistic three-no-trump call, and there they were, resting comfortably (but uncomfortably when South first saw the dummy) in a "cold" game contract that required two minor miracles: East had to have no more than two hearts, blocking the suit even if West chose to open it, and the jack of spades had to drop as part of a doubleton.
Harold Ogust opened the club 10, which was won by dummy's queen, and declarer led a spade to his queen and followed up with the king. East ducked both spade leads, but his effort was futile. South crossed to dummy with the king of clubs and led the 10 of spades to force out East's ace. With the queen of diamonds as an entry to the South hand, 10 tricks were there for the taking; East could make only two aces and a heart trick.
The outcome would have been different if East had held a small heart along with his king-queen. Then a shift to that suit after East had won his ace of spades would have left declarer high and dry. Jacoby would still have won four spade tricks, but when he tried to come to his hand with the queen of diamonds in order to cash his two club winners, East would have stepped in with the ace of diamonds and the defenders would have scored three heart tricks for down one.
As it was, the Aces' aggressiveness paid off. They scored 430 points—130 for tricks plus 300 bonus for the non-vulnerable game. After deducting our 120 score they netted 310 points, to win the match by 290—a margin small enough so that, hopefully, the bridge-playing public would enjoy a rematch.