The 1973 Summer Nationals in Washington, D.C. turned out to be the largest bridge tournament ever held. Eager competitors occupied 16,044 tables, some 1,500 more than the previous record of 14,511 set in 1965 in Chicago. But amid this pleasing evidence of the continuing growth of the game came less welcome indications of creeping commercialism among those at the top of the sport. It could cost a world championship. The results of the Spingold Knockout Team event spotlighted the problem: professionalism as it applies to the paid sponsorship of teams by playing "captains," i.e., good but not exceptional players who pay handsomely to organize and compete on a team of superstars in order to gain bridge glory and master points.
The Spingold, prestigious in its own right, also served to qualify one of the four teams that will compete later this month in Milwaukee to decide which of them will represent North America in the 1974 world championship. As it happened, both Spingold finalists were captained by sponsors: A. E. (Bud) Reinhold of Highland Park, Ill. and Malcolm K. Brachman of Dallas. In the end Reinhold's squad (Billy Eisenberg, Eddie Kantar, Larry Cohen and Richard Katz) defeated Brachman's team ( Jim Jacoby, Paul Soloway, Sidney Lazard and John Swanson) to earn a spot in the playoffs.
There is nothing in principle wrong with sponsored teams. American Contract Bridge League regulations permit any player to pay any price to surround himself with sufficient talent to win a major national championship. And, indeed, since ACBL rules forbid big cash prizes such as those offered by golf and tennis—or even European bridge tournaments—there is no other way American bridge stars can be financially rewarded for their skills. But the question is: Could such a team, assuming it won the Milwaukee playoffs, give us any real chance to regain the world title? In my opinion we cannot afford to have even one player on our championship squad who is less than a superstar if we are to beat competition of the caliber of the Italian Blue Team.
As an illustration, put yourself in Brachman's seat (East) on this deal from the Spingold final, and be forewarned that you will cost your team 12 international match points if you do not defeat three no trump.
South covers the spade 5 with dummy's 9 and captures your jack with his ace. Next comes a diamond to dummy's 9. You win with the 10 and return a spade. Do you go along with the play so far? If so, you have lost the 12 IMPs, as Brachman did.
It is virtually certain from the play to the first trick that South began with ace-king of spades. If you realize that South has a second spade trick, you also should realize that declarer can win six diamonds, two spades and at least one heart to make his game. Your only hope therefore is to find your partner with four clubs to the king. So you should shift at once to a club, collecting four club tricks in addition to the diamond already in hand.
Why then, when he held no stopper in clubs, did the experienced Katz not finesse dummy's diamond queen on the second trick as his only legitimate chance to make the hand? He chose not to do it because he was so confident Brachman would make the "automatic"—and unimaginative—spade return that he could even afford to take insurance against the possibility that East might have the lone king of diamonds!