It was not the big money prize that persuaded me to enter a team of Goren all-stars in the knockout team tournament in Las Vegas last December. It was the caliber of the competition. I have never been very happy about the idea of awarding money to winners of bridge events, even though cash prizes are quite usual in Europe. I must admit, however, that the success on television of golf and tennis coincided with the advent of large purses, and I do favor anything that will tear the American bridge player away from his own game long enough to watch someone else play it better.
The $30,000 purse put up by the Las Vegas Hilton for the knockout event had. lured Italy's retired world champion Blue Team back into competition against a field that included the current world champion Aces as well as 22 other top teams from around the world. Frankly, I did not have high hopes of my stars' beating the Blues, who remain, in my estimation, the greatest aggregation of experts ever to play the game (SI, Jan. 3). But I was curious to see how a team of oldtimers (average age, 56), playing methods they had followed for years, would fare against other, younger stars and their myriad "modern" bidding gadgets. So I selected three time-tested partnerships consisting of veteran players with whom I had won national championships in the past: Howard Schenken-Peter Leventritt, Bill Root-Billy Seamon and Harold Ogust-Boris Koytchou. Actually, only Ogust-Koytchou played straight " Goren." Nonetheless, I think it is fair for me to report—and I do not attribute this merely to the "system"—that this pair turned in the most consistently good performance.
How well did my oldtimers do? Alas, they did not beat the Blue Team, which walked off with the $15,000 first prize. But my stars did come in second, winning $6,000 and losing only to the Blues. On the way, in an exciting 64-board semifinal match, they defeated no less a team than the Aces.
The semifinal victory came on the last 10 boards, on which my team, trailing the Aces by 29 IMPs, rallied to take the lead and finally won by 15 IMPs. Seven of those points were earned on this 61st deal (the positions have been turned for reading convenience) when Ogust dared to jump to three hearts in the face of an opposing no-trump opening that could have been either weak or strong. Koytchou raised to game, which was not bid at the other table where South contented himself with a reopening bid of only two hearts, making three.
After leading the ace of hearts (to take a look at dummy), Wolff cashed his ace of diamonds, got an encouraging 6 from his partner and led a second diamond to East's king. Jacoby shifted to a low spade, and Ogust had to decide whether this was a daring and dangerous underlead from the spade king or whether, as was more likely, West had the king of spades, in which case making the contract was going to be a problem.
Harold found the answer. He climbed up with his spade ace, then cashed his six remaining hearts, squeezing West. On the last heart, Wolff" could not let go of his king of spades, so he had to blank his king-jack of clubs. When he did, Ogust threw away dummy's queen of spades and made the last three tricks with dummy's ace-queen-10 of clubs after taking the winning finesse.
Yes, there was a way to beat the squeeze. After winning the king of diamonds, Jacoby could have led a club into the teeth of dummy's strong holding. But—honestly now—would you have found this play?