New York area players, who anted up more than $90,000 as their share of the $125,000 pot put up to host this year's Summer Nationals, confidently expected that the record of 16,043 tables established last summer in Washington, D.C. would be broken. For 10 days a torrent of 7,500 players ebbed and flowed across the acres of playing space provided by the Americana and Hilton hotels. The daily crowds were so vast that some players hailing from the same town never did catch sight of one another until they got back home. But the total number of tables was 733 short of the record, leaving the New York event as only the second-largest tournament ever played.
Whatever it lacked in numbers, however, the Summer Nationals more than made up for in excitement, particularly in the Spingold Knockout Team championship, which produced upsets for some of the country's leading bridge stars and provided some surprising new contenders for North America's team in the 1975 world championship scheduled for Bermuda in January.
Just which team and which players will represent us in Bermuda will not be decided until the North American playoffs are held over the Labor Day weekend. But one thing is certain. For the first time in six years, the Aces, the professional team organized in 1968 by Texas tycoon Ira Corn, which won the world championship in 1970 and 1971 and has been runner-up to Italy's Blue Team ever since, will not be on hand—at least not as we once knew them.
Corn's Aces failed to win the Spingold, which serves as the fourth and final qualifying event for the playoffs. The story of what happened and what almost happened in the Spingold—to the Aces and to a lot of other strong teams—is one that few scriptwriters could have imagined. Nor could there have been a more exquisitely gripping ending.
But first consider the beginning. The competition ended very early for the second-seeded Edgar Kaplan team, the seventh-seeded Cliff Russell team and a highly regarded all-woman team headed by Dorothy Hayden Truscott, all of which were upset in the first full session of play. Many other giants came tumbling after them. The Aces, or, more correctly, the three-man remnant—Bobby Wolff, Bob Hamman and Eric Murray were joined by Bruce Elliott, John Swanson and Don Krauss—were knocked out in the next round. And three other teams boasting former Aces followed shortly thereafter. But there was one more former Ace. Billy Eisenberg played on Bud Reinhold's squad, which lost by one international match point in what certainly has to be the most exciting semifinal in the history of the national knockouts.
In the other semifinal match, a team of young Georgians captained by Steve Goldberg predictably walloped an aggregation captained by Al Rand of New York. But the clash between the Rein-hold team, the defending Spingold champion, and a squad captained by Lew Mathe of Los Angeles was thought by most observers to be the decisive battle.
Mathe, Art Waldmann, Harry Stappenbeck, Bill Root, Peter Pender and Harlow Lewis took an early lead, lost some of it in the second quarter, then built it up to 35 IMPs with only 16 boards to go. The Reinhold team rallied to within 12 IMPs, and on the final hand its Dr. Richard Katz and Larry Cohen bid and made a grand slam, while the Mathe team stopped at six. But it was not quite enough. Since the slam was a nonvulnerable one, the difference between a small slam and a grand slam was 500 points, so Reinhold gained only 11 IMPs, leaving Mathe & Co. the victors by one IMP. Had the slam been vulnerable, the difference of 750 points would have been worth 13 IMPs and Reinhold would have triumphed by one.
In the course of the 64-deal match there were many hands that might have affected the outcome. The deal shown was one where Lewis found the play to make four spades while four hearts was going down at the other table. See if you can spot it.
When Reinhold held the North hand, he showed his hearts in response to Eisenberg's weak two-spade opening. Eisenberg raised to four hearts, but that contract was defeated when East led his singleton spade. West took the ace, gave East a ruff, got back in with the diamond ace and led a third spade for East to ruff, producing the setting trick.
At the other table, Lewis also opened two spades, was raised by Pender to four and received the singleton heart opening from West. East properly refused to cover dummy's queen and Lewis' problem was to avoid having his heart ace ruffed while taking care of enough of his club losers to bring home the game. He led a diamond to his jack, West ducked, won the diamond continuation and returned a club. Had Lewis ruffed with the king of spades, he could have made the contract in straightforward fashion but, playing as safe as possible, he ruffed the club with dummy's spade deuce. Now, can you see how Lewis escaped with the loss of only two more tricks?