No other player in the annals of bridge comes close to matching the remarkable record of Waldemar von Zedtwitz of New York, who at the age of 77 recently added a third Eastern States Knockout Team championship to his glittering list of titles. In the course of a bridge career that spans half a century, beginning with auction tournaments in 1923, he has played and won with more different systems and more varied partners than anyone else in the game. To mention a few, there were Harold S. Vanderbilt, Ely Culbertson, P. Hal Sims, Eddie Van Vleck (the onetime Yale pitcher who turned bridge topsy-turvy with the idea of a weak opening two bid), S. Garton Churchill, the Four Aces (who introduced a number of principles still followed today and two of whose members, Howard Schenken and Oswald Jacoby, later presented methods of their own) and Tobias Stone, not to mention myself.
But adaptability is only one of many things of which von Zedtwitz is justly proud. He brushes aside such claims to fame as the fact that he donated the only gold cup in American bridge competition—the von Zedtwitz trophy for the Life Masters Pairs event, the 44th running of which will be an important feature of the Summer National championships beginning this weekend in Washington, D.C. What makes him happy is not only that he was the first to win the cup (with Sims) in 1930, but that many say he is playing at least as well—if not better—today, despite failing eyesight. He can, with difficulty, make out his own hand, but the cards in the dummy and each card played by the others at the table must often be called aloud.
In a less gifted man such a performance would be astonishing, but von Zedtwitz' memory is extraordinary. He can recite the contract, the result and the spot cards in all four hands of virtually every noteworthy deal of his entire career. This one, for example, helped him to win a world title at the age of 74. His partner was Barbara Brier of Miami Beach, and their victory in the 1970 Olympiad Mixed Pairs in Stockholm also enabled the U.S. to capture the Charles Solomon Trophy for the top all-round performance by any country.
Playing in six clubs, von Zedtwitz was able to overcome the bad spade break that defeats a slam (after a diamond lead) in that suit. He won the first trick with the ace of diamonds, ruffed a diamond in dummy and cashed the king of clubs. Next came the ace of hearts, a heart ruff and a second diamond ruff with dummy's queen of clubs.
Von Zedtwitz had noted the fall of the jack on the second heart lead, so he returned to his hand safely with the ace of spades, and the fall of the spade 8 on that trick confirmed his suspicion of the distribution. Consequently, after drawing the remaining trumps, von Zedtwitz led a spade toward dummy and when West put in the queen, von Zedtwitz allowed him to hold the trick! Von Zedtwitz then ruffed West's diamond exit with his last trump and took the proven finesse against the jack of spades to win the last two tricks with dummy's king-10 and bring home the slam.
Ducking West's queen of spades was the essential play. If declarer instead wins in dummy and comes to his hand by ruffing a heart, West can counter by discarding his 9 of spades. Now when a spade is led, West wins and has a good diamond to lead for the setting trick. But not against the old master.