Just about the time I was learning to play bridge at McGill University (I was virtually shamed into studying the game after making a poor showing in my first rubber with a group of coeds), a bridge-playing member of ASCAP named George Meyer wrote the music for a popular song called Down Among the Sleepy Hills of Tennessee. Since then the game has grown, and last month those hills were anything but sleepy. On the campus of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville 16 pairs—the finalists from an original field of more than 1,200 entries representing 150 colleges and universities—were competing for the national intercollegiate bridge championship, an annual event that I sponsor in cooperation with the Association of College Unions-International.
College bridge players traditionally are gadget-minded and this year's representatives proved no exception. They used the most complicated of modern bidding weapons, ranging from souped-up Standard American to the highly artificial Roman Club, which even the Italians no longer play. Only after considerable experience in the upper echelons of the game do most young experts learn to scrap some of their innovations and settle into a style more likely to succeed.
This is not to say that today's collegiate stars are all that inexperienced. The 1973 entrants ranged in age from 18 to a 45-year-old law student and included a number of players who are already familiar with tournament bridge, most notably 33-year-old Advanced Senior Master Ann Hubmaier and 28-year-old Life Master Bob Dennard, two University of Alabama grad students who finished second. The winners were a pair of West Coast brothers, 26-year-old William and 21-year-old Michael Schreiber, accounting majors at Loyola University of Los Angeles. Bill and Mike are Life Masters and in this tournament they had to fight for their life. Although they took the lead at the start and never were headed, they won the title by the narrow margin of only seven match points. This hand, on which they defended against a pair from Indiana State, was one that helped them to victory.
The Schreibers use a Roman-type two-diamond opening that shows a three-suiter with 11 to 14 points when vulnerable. With a good hand, partner responds two no trump, and opener then completes the picture of his holding by bidding his short suit. With his weak hand and a suspicion that Bill's length would be in clubs, Mike elected to make the cheapest response: two hearts, which was intended as a sign-off. North, knowing the opponents were weak, tried a takeout double, but South's response landed his side in three clubs doubled against Mike's six-card suit. It was a massacre.
Dummy's queen won the spade lead, but when declarer led dummy's king of clubs, the defenders took the next five tricks: ace of clubs, king of diamonds, two more diamonds won by East as West pitched his last spade, then a spade ruff. Mike's heart shift was won by dummy's ace, and declarer did his best by ditching the queen of hearts on the good 10 of diamonds, which West ruffed. Declarer won his third trick by trumping the heart return, but he could take only one of the remaining tricks and his minus-900 disaster provided the Schreiber brothers with a top score on the hand. What North got was a lesson in how not to monkey with a Roman two-bid.
A few more hands like this and it will be tougher than ever to convince the youngsters that they would be better off without quite so many gadgets.