While the open team competition for the world title will hold the spotlight at the World Bridge Olympiad beginning this week in Miami Beach (SI, June 5), insiders looking for the best chance for a U.S. victory are pinning their hopes on the Ladies' Team Championship. Of the 17 countries that will he trying to dethrone Sweden, whose team won the previous women's world championship in Deauville, France in 1968, the U.S. appears to present by far the strongest challenge.
In 1968 the U.S. entry was also ranked on paper as the pretournament favorite. But, in the end, it crumpled like paper under the pressure of internal dissension and the disadvantages of a built-in match-point-play philosophy. Most American tournaments, especially those in which women play as partners, are match-point or board-a-match games, in which the minuscule values of part scores and extra tricks may count as heavily as large bonuses for games or slams. All world championship team events, however, are scored in international match points (IMPs). Results at the two tables are compared and, while a small difference in total points can gain or lose as little as one IMP, a large difference can produce as much as a 24-IMP swing.
Late in 1968 the American Contract Bridge League changed its Olympiad selection formula to encourage women's teams to enter the major national championship;—especially the Vanderbilt and Spingold knockout events, which are also scored in IMPs—by rewarding them for even modest success with generous helpings of Olympiad qualification points.
Until 1969, our leading women players rarely teamed up in these events, preferring to play with male stars as their partners or teammates. But the new system has brought about a noticeable change. When they joined forces in the 1969 Spingold, all six of our current Olympiad representatives—Mary Jane Farell of Beverly Hills, Marilyn Johnson of Houston, Peggy Solomon of Philadelphia, Emma Jean Hawes of Fort Worth, and the two New Yorkers, Jacqui Mitchell and Dorothy Hayden (now Mrs. Alan Truscott; she married The New York Times bridge editor in April)—promptly demonstrated that they knew their IMPs. They set a record for a women's team by reaching the quarterfinals. And in this year's competition for the Vanderbilt Cup, which Mrs. Solomon and Miss Johnson chose to skip since their team had already qualified to play for the U.S., the remaining four got to the semifinals.
As for the Olympiad, the 1972 U.S. team enjoys two further advantages. First, instead of playing as three pairs in the usual fashion, the six have split into two threesomes—Farell, Johnson and Solomon; Hawes, Mitchell and Truscott—with the result that illness, fatigue or an off day on the part of one member will not automatically sideline her partner and throw the burden on only four players. Second, Great Britain, whose women are among the best in the world and whose representatives won in 1964, has decided not to enter a team this year. Thus, another possible stumbling block has been removed from the path to a U.S. victory. Nonetheless, the U.S. team will still face strong opposition from the Italians, who won the European women's championship last year, and from the defending Swedish team.
Two of our 1972 entrants, Emma Jean Hawes and Dorothy Hayden Truscott, also played as partners on the ill-fated 1968 team. However, Dorothy's expert handling of this deal, taken from the Deauville matches, so impressed her Israeli opponents that they commented on it earlier this year, long after its heroine had forgotten the details.
Reaching the four-heart game was easy. Making it was quite another matter. Judging that West had not led from king-jack-10 of spades, Dorothy resisted the temptation to play dummy's queen on the jack. She won with the ace and led a heart, finessing the 9 when East played low. Elation over the success of the finesse was tempered by the discovery that East held all of the trumps, but declarer found the winning line. She crossed to dummy's king of clubs and led another trump, won by East's ace. The club continuation was won in dummy and a club was ruffed, East discarding a diamond. Dorothy next cashed the ace and king of diamonds and reached this position, with the lead in dummy and three more tricks needed to win the contract.
On the lead of the club 6, East could have discarded a spade. Declarer would then have ruffed and led a spade, forcing East to win and lead trumps, giving declarer two tricks with the king and jack. Instead, East trumped with the 8, forcing South to overruff with the jack. But this only served to transfer the end-play from hearts to spades. Dorothy cashed the king of hearts, then threw East in by leading the 7 of hearts. The queen of spades, so carefully preserved at the first trick, thus came into its own on the last.
Just one more reason why I predict that this year our U.S. queens, so often picked to win before, will at last be crowned.