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Baseball's spring headlines go to the sluggers who massacre preseason pitching or phenoms whose fast balls threaten to set new strikeout records. However, the knowing baseball reporter rarely relies on these early performances when he tries to pick the pennant winners, and neither will this all-too-experienced bridge reporter. Nonetheless, the six-man team that will represent North America in the World Championship in Miami Beach late next month looked very good recently in its first training session when it defeated an earnest Seattle squad by an impressive 203-68 score.
Especially encouraging was the solid play of Edgar Kaplan and Norman Kay, who, I would say, put on the best performance of the three pairs in Seattle. Eric Murray and Sammy Kehela, considering their previous World Championship performances, figure to keep their opponents off balance. Alvin Roth and Bill Root will fare well, especially if the right hands come up for their system. And now it seems-clear that Kay and Kaplan are ready to produce the kind of play that might beat the Italians. Here is a hand that shows their careful, much practiced bidding at its best. Because Kay and Kaplan play that a responder's rebid of two no trump cannot be passed, they were able to exchange important extra information about the distribution.
At the first table, with Seattle holding the North-South cards, a contract of three no trump was reached through a jump bid to that contract by North, and it went down one.
But when Kay and Kaplan held the North-South cards they were able to conduct a better auction. As they play it, North's two-no-trump bid is absolutely forcing, so it was not necessary for Kay to jump to three no-trump as his Seattle counterpart had done. This gave Kaplan a chance to depict his distribution by rebidding hearts. North's doubleton spade and three cards in hearts made his hand suitable for a heart raise.
The four-heart contract seemed a reasonable venture, and Kaplan played the hand in a way that would give him several options. He won the first trick with the diamond ace and led a club to the jack. West took the ace and returned a club, which dummy won. A low heart lead was taken by East's king, and East returned a club. Kaplan had no difficulty shutting out West's trumps, even though East was able to repeat the attempt at giving partner an overruff by leading a fourth club when he got in with the ace of hearts.
However, the aggressive defense had made matters extremely difficult for declarer. He could not afford to ruff a spade with dummy's last trump, because he would then have no reentry to his hand to draw West's remaining trump. And he had only one club winner left—not enough to discard both his low spades.
Kaplan solved the problem by giving himself the extra chance that overcame the unfriendly break in the spade suit. He trumped the fourth round of clubs with his queen of hearts. Thus, when he led the third round of trumps, dummy was in with the heart jack. Now when dummy's good club was cashed, West was in trouble. He had to hold the king of diamonds or let North win a trick with the diamond queen. So he discarded a spade. This meant declarer's fourth spade won the game-making trick. The result was a substantial success for the North American team.