Topsy-turvy is the only way to describe the 1972 Summer National Contract Bridge Championships held recently in Denver. Virtually nothing went according to form. For example, in 43 previous years of competition for the Von Zedtwitz Gold Cup, the prize awarded to the winners of the Life Masters Pair Championship, no pair had ever successfully defended the title. That curious record disappeared when Alvin Roth and Barbara Rappaport, hailed as surprise winners in 1971, repeated in Denver. But this was only the beginning.
Followers of the Spingold Knockout Team event saw even more unexpected developments. For one, members of the Olympiad runner-up Aces played on two different teams, neither of which got past the quarterfinals. But then, none of the other nine top-seeded teams did either. The defending champion Precision team, winner of the last two Spingolds, muffed its chance to become the first to win three straight. It beat only two teams before losing to the eventual winners, a foursome headed by B. Jay Becker of New York, by the merciless margin of 149 international match points.
In that same round, just prior to the quarterfinals, four of the Aces—Bob Hamman. Bobby Wolff, Bobby Goldman and Mike Lawrence—supported by Peter Pender and Grant Baze, were nudged out by the tiny margin of two IMPs on the very last deal. The other two Aces, Jim Jacoby and Paul Soloway, who had signed on to play with Dallas oil and insurance man Malcolm Brachman, his wife Minda and John Swanson of Culver City, Calif., out-lasted their customary teammates, making it to the quarterfinals before bowing to a team that was originally seeded 60th in a 103-team field.
All of which paved the way for a couple of fellows named Smith to play leading roles in the semifinals. Ron Smith of St. Louis, a member of that 60th seed, became the first black player ever to go so far in the Spingold. And Curtis Smith of Houston, heading a 19th-ranked entry, squeaked all the way into the final by knocking out still another highly rated team, a 10th-ranked foursome led by Eddie Kantar of Los Angeles.
Kantar and his partner, Marshall Miles, had until the last moment been scheduled to play as a third pair on the 16th-ranked Becker squad. Instead, the two Californians had teamed up with two British stars, Jonathan Cansino and Robert Sheehan, who, in turn, had threatened to become the first players outside of North America to win the Spingold title.
But the Kantar team did not make the final, and the Curtis Smith team, which did make it, did not win. The victors were the 68-year-old Becker, his 28-year-old son Mike (the first father and son combination ever to win the trophy) and their teammates, Jeff Rubens and Andy Bernstein of New York, both in their early 30s. The four compiled a phenomenal scoring record, winning all but one of their matches by 57 IMPs or more.
In the first 18 deals of the 72-deal final, the Becker team took an insuperable lead of 75 IMPs against the Smith squad, and from there coasted to an 81-IMP win. The tournament, fittingly, marked the 40th anniversary of the senior Becker's initial entry into national bridge competition. He did not win anything in the 1932 Summer Nationals, but since then he has won seven Spingolds and seven Vanderbilts among some 40 national titles.
With such a profusion of upsets to choose from, it would be hard to select a "crucial" hand in the 1972 Summer Nationals. So here is one that will let you choose, if you can, the killing opening lead against a doubled slam contract. Don't peek at any hand except West's until you have mulled over the auction and decided what you would open against six spades. And just to let you know what is at stake, I will tell you that when George Rap�e played the West hand for his second-seeded Spingold team in an early match against Cansino and Sheehan of the Kantar foursome, he was faced with the same problem and made the wrong decision. It cost his team 19 IMPs.
As Rap�e and his partner, Bill Grieve, played the double of six spades, East was announcing one sure trick against the slam. It was then up to West to decide whether he had a defensive trick of his own, in which case he should pass, or whether he should go on to seven diamonds Rap�e decided that he had a trick—but then he had to pick the right opening lead.
After long thought, he elected to open his singleton club, since if East held either the club ace or the spade ace, a club ruff could be obtained and would ensure defeat of the contract. But East's defensive trick was, unfortunately, in hearts (he could not count the ace of diamonds, of course). So declarer won with the club jack, played two high trumps, dropping the queen, and made an over-trick when the club suit furnished five heart discards.