Bridge is a sedate game and its deeply serious followers are generally as demonstrative as opium smokers in the transports of euphoria. But last week in Minneapolis a very unsedate and very packed gallery whooped and hollered and carried on as if the Twins' Bob Allison had just hit a homer to beat the Indians—which, in fact, he had. The object of their huzzahs, however, was not the Cleveland ball game but the Minneapolis-St. Paul bridge team which had gone ahead of Houston in the inter-city match for the title of Bridge Capital of the United States. It was a skinny advantage that the Minnesotans enjoyed, but it came in the 75th deal of their 80-deal match and, as the home-town crowd of 600 sat by expectantly, the Texans, themselves upset winners of the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED title from Los Angeles eight months ago, slid into defeat.
From the beginning the audience eschewed the usual (and often stultifying) decorum and cheered its team of good steady players as it piled up a first-day lead of 45 International Match Points (roughly equivalent to 2,250 total points) over the Houstonians, who were playing somewhat erratically. Still, among the visiting experts, there was a feeling that the well-inflated balloon had to burst. Despite the brave show of Minneapolis' iron man, Dave Clarren, who played throughout, and his teammates, Morris Freier, Newton Dockman, Farrell Green, Julien Philippy, Herschel Wolpert, Donald Horwitz and Norman Justice, Houston picked up 14 IMPs on one important hand in the second day, added another 15 when a Twin Cities pair bid an impossible slam, and then in the third session came through with a sensational defensive play (see Hand 1), engineered by Curtis Smith on the 52nd deal. It was not the biggest swing of the tournament, but it was by far the best-earned one.
The bidding is unimportant, since both teams reached a four-spade contract, played by South.
The devastating opening lead of the club 10 was found by Smith, playing West. Dummy's jack was taken by the queen, and the king of clubs returned to force the ace. Declarer trumped the third round of clubs with the spade 5 and was overruffed with the 6. A spade return was won by the declarer, who rejoiced in having his trump-suit guess resolved. Unfortunately, he elected to cash the spade jack next. The heart queen was covered and won by dummy's ace. Back came a low heart to the 9, and Smith made the essential but extremely difficult play. He let South's 9 win the trick. With only the spade ace as entry to dummy, declarer couldn't bring home the heart suit. He did his best by leading a low diamond toward dummy's queen, but East took that card with the king and returned a diamond. Declarer could avoid losing another diamond only if he trumped one with the spade ace, and by so doing established West's 10-spot. No matter how he played he had to lose another trick in addition to the club, diamond and club ruff already in the opponent's book. Going down one cost a combined loss of 750 points, worth 13 IMPs to Houston.
For the rest of the third session, things for the Twins went from bad to worse. Houston scored a phenomenal 87 IMPs while holding the Twin Cities to 20. Thus, when the final session opened, the Minnesotans faced a deficit of 22 IMPs where they had led by 45 only 20 boards earlier.
Their recovery began with the introduction of General Alfred M. Gruenther, a St. Thomas School boy from St. Paul who made good and thought the Twins should too. They did. The crusher came on the 78th deal, when the Twin Cities combination bid a slam which, by an odd sequence, resulted in the declarer playing a six-bid at a suit in which he himself held only three cards (see Hand 2).
In the closed room, where the deal was played first with the Texans sitting North-South, South surprised by declining to open the bidding. This gave West a chance to open with a weak two-spade bid and made it difficult for North-South thereafter. North jumped to four hearts and when East bid four spades, South raised to five hearts. The ace of spades was the only trick the defenders could collect.
In the Bridge-O-Rama room the tense audience heard this bidding: