The Summer National Championships in Chicago ended last week on a note of high excitement and utter confusion.
Joel Stuart's Precision System team (with Peter Weichsel, Steve Altman, Gene Neiger and Tom Smith), the defending champions in the important Spingold event that concluded the tournament, retained its title. The Lew Mathe team, which lost to Precision in the finals, had already qualified for the playoff that will determine the U.S. team for the 1972 World Olympiad team event in Miami. So they couldn't lose, even though they didn't win.
The world champion Dallas Aces were knocked out in the semifinals of the Spin-gold by the Mathe team, a team the Aces had thrashed in the Bermuda Bowl event in Taiwan last May. In beating the Aces here, Mathe & Co. ( Don Krauss, Edgar Kaplan and Norman Kay) had to overcome a 31 International Match Point deficit at halftime. They should have been exhausted because their quarterfinal match the preceding day against Ira Rubin's team, prolonged by two interminable squabbles, did not end until 5 a.m.
The central figure in all this turmoil may have been Broadway Billy Eisenberg, the little man who wasn't there. He had been severed from the Aces shortly before the Chicago doings and then, by a technical ruling, denied the opportunity to play as a sixth man on the Precision team. So, whatever happened, Billy couldn't win and, whatever happened in the finals, the Mathe team could not lose its place in the Olympiad playoff. And, unless it won the Spingold, the Precision team would not make the playoff.
Perhaps the only nonconfusing result of the summer championships was that Barbara Rappaport, playing with Alvin Roth, became the sixth woman ever to win the Von Zedtwitz Gold Cup for the Life Master Pairs Championship. (It has actually been won seven times by women. My regular partner, the late great Helen Sobel, won it twice.) Barbara, often considered the Trilby to Svengali Roth, proved otherwise by winning the giant 382-table Charity Pairs event with Gail Moss, and the Women's Pairs title with Roberta Epstein, thereby capturing the Fishbein trophy as top master-point winner of the tournament.
The Spingold final between Precision and Mathe was a magnificent battle, as evidenced by the low final score, 97-90, each side holding the other to a total that would ordinarily be good enough to handily win a 72-deal match. At the halfway point, Mathe led by seven IMPs and grimly hung onto that lead when both teams scored 23 IMPs in the third quarter, despite the fact that Norman Kay of the Mathe team was set 1,400 points at the unusual contract of one club doubled.
With just two deals to play, Mathe still held a four-IMP advantage when along came this deal that decided the match.
At the other table, Mathe's teammates played the hand at four hearts, bid directly by Kay over Tom Smith's opening two-spade bid. But Altman's more conservative three-heart call gave his partner room to cue-bid spades and eventually, via the Blackwood route, Altman played the slam.
Dummy won the spade lead and declarer did not make the mistake of trying for an immediate diamond discard. Instead, he cashed dummy's 10 of hearts and led a club. East ducked—it would have done no good to win the ace and return a spade because declarer would ruff with a high heart—and South's club king won. Dummy was re-entered with the 9 of hearts for a second club lead. East took his ace and the slam was in the bag. The Stuart team gained 11 IMPs to take a seven-IMP lead, and held it to win the match when the last board found both teams bidding four spades and making five.
The Stuart squad will meet Mathe's foursome all over again in the first round of the Olympiad playoff in September. Then in October the winners will meet the Aces, who collected a bye when they won two playoff points by reaching the semifinal of the Spin-gold. Hopefully that will clear up the whole situation.