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It takes more than two consecutive world championships to build a bridge dynasty, but in New Orleans late last month the world champion Aces laid another brick in the foundation when they thrashed a strong foursome led by Lew Mathe in the final of the U.S. team playoffs.
The triumph allows Jim Jacoby, Bobby Wolff, Bobby Goldman, Mike Lawrence, Bob Hamman and Paul Soloway to represent the U.S. in the 1972 World Team Olympiad in Miami Beach in June. It also gives the Aces a chance to win a third straight world title, although not a third Bermuda Bowl. The Olympiad, which takes the place of the Bermuda Bowl event during Olympic years, is open to teams from individual nations, whereas Bermuda Bowl competition is restricted to the winners of international zone playoffs. The Aces will automatically take part in the 1973 Bermuda Bowl as the defending champions.
The fact that the Aces won this year's U.S. playoff came as no real surprise. What was startling was the size of their victory margin—171 international match points on 160 boards. When these same two teams last met, in the semifinals of the Spingold team championship this past summer, Mathe, Don Krauss, Edgar Kaplan and Norman Kay scored a 29-IMP, come-from-behind upset.
In view of the lopsidedness of the New Orleans contest, onlookers soon turned their attention to the next big question: What player would be selected to replace Billy Eisenberg—who earlier this year left the Aces—and serve as Bob Hamman's partner in the Olympiad? The man the Aces wanted was Soloway, and when nonplaying Captain Lee Hazen agreed, they got him.
Paul, a 30-year-old star from Los Angeles, brings with him a record that includes two McKenney Trophies for winning the most master points in a year (1968 and '69) and a coveted victory in the Vanderbilt team championship in 1969 as well as a reputation for being a nice guy—an equally important requirement in the mind of Aces team builder Ira Corn.
In New Orleans, however, the Aces were forced to play without Soloway, the rules requiring that a team complete the qualifying rounds with members listed in the original lineup. But five Aces were obviously enough to secure the victory, which was brought about through a combination of superior slam bidding and defensive play. In this hand, a daring defensive coup by Bobby Wolff snatched an "impossible" gain from what had at first loomed as a certain loss.
In the other room, the Aces' North-South pair had bid and made a conservative two-heart contract for +110 points. The bidding of Kaplan-Kay for the Mathe team, however, was more aggressive, and they seemed sure to gain points on the deal when they landed in a no-trump game that appeared impregnable after Kaplan won the opening spade lead with his 10. At trick two he entered dummy with the king of diamonds to lead a club, passing his 10 to West's queen. If at this point Wolff had continued spades, he would have given declarer his ninth trick; if Wolff had instead shifted to the king of hearts, declarer would have been assured of a second heart trick; and if Wolff had exited with a club, he would have been end-played later on when he won a trick in hearts.
But Bobby calculated all of these possibilities and came up with the deceptive lead of a low heart, away from his king-queen! Kaplan, aware that Wolff could have opened the bidding in third seat holding the king of hearts but not the queen, was afraid to let the heart lead run around to his 10. (If East were able to win this trick, he could return a spade and set the contract at once.) So Kaplan, envisioning other chances for nine tricks, put up dummy's ace, cashed the queen and ace of diamonds, getting two spade discards from West, and then ran three good clubs. The last club lead produced a squeeze—but, alas, declarer felt the pinch before Wolff did. Kaplan could not afford to blank his king of spades, so he was forced to discard a heart. When he did, Wolff let go of the spade queen and took the rest of the tricks with his spade ace and his three remaining hearts. Down one for a total loss to the Mathe team of 210 points, or five IMPs.
Uncharacteristically, Kaplan missed a chance to recover after playing the ace of hearts. When he cashed the diamond queen and West discarded, he could have taken two top clubs but refrained from cashing the last one. Now a heart lead—either the jack or a lead up to it—would have put Wolff on lead with nothing to do but give declarer a trick in hearts or spades. Kaplan could then get to the long club in dummy with the ace of diamonds to score his ninth trick. The Mathe team would have gained 10 IMPs on the deal—not enough to influence the outcome of the match but still a considerable swing.
The overall lesson of the playoff match, however, was that even individual brilliance cannot compete successfully with disciplined team play. The spectacular grand-slam deal diagrammed here cost the Mathe team a whopping 20 IMPS, but, other than the malevolent gods of distribution, Lew had no one to blame but himself. The audience gasped when the bidding ended in a single round.