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Corn's Aces prove they're really pros
Charles Goren
September 15, 1969
Bucking a trend, the first team of professionals played up to form
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September 15, 1969

Corn's Aces Prove They're Really Pros

Bucking a trend, the first team of professionals played up to form

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Before the Summer Nationals began in Los Angeles last month most students of form were agreed about the outcome of the various events. When it was over the past performance records had proved as unreliable as they often do at the racetrack.

In the team championship for the Spin-gold Cup—a good example—form dictated that the semifinals would come down to four favorites: a powerful Eastern squad led by Ira Rubin; a brash young sixsome that had become the first professional team in bridge and called itself the U.S. Aces, although everyone else called it the Dallas Aces; the four young Californians, led by Richard Walsh, who had won the Vanderbilt Open Team Championship in Cleveland this spring; and, of course, the defending champions. So the defenders were one of the 76 teams in the record field of 140 that didn't even make it to the first knockout round. George Rapée, Sidney Lazard, Edgar Kaplan, Norman Kay, Eric Murray and Sammy Kehela were ousted in the two-session qualifying stage, failing even to break average, though for Murray and Kehela there was consolation later in the week as they became the first Canadian pair ever to win the Life Masters Pair Championship. Then the Walsh team failed to survive the third knockout round.

Another early victim was the strong team led by Alvin Roth, who was reunited with his partner of many winning, bygone years, Tobias Stone. Roth was beaten by a team whose total master-point holding, 4,375, was little more than half of Roth's own personal hoard of 8,300. The Roth team total was over 19,500 master points.

Meanwhile Rubin's favored Easterners were playing very erratically. They trailed in the early stages of several matches and had to rally to win. Indeed, in the quarter-finals, they had a four-IMP squeaker against an all-female team captained by Dorothy Hayden.

As the event wore on, however, it was the six young men from Dallas who became the center of attraction. Bobby Wolff, formerly of San Antonio, James Jacoby, the only original Dallasite, William Eisenberg, formerly of New York, Robert Goldman, formerly of Philadelphia, Robert Hamman, formerly of Los Angeles, and Michael Lawrence, formerly of Berkeley, Calif., are members of the first all-pro team, sponsored by Dallas financier Ira Corn. Three of them—Hamman, Eisenberg and Goldman—had been on the team that represented North America in the 1969 World Championship; Jacoby had represented North America in 1963, the year we came closest to beating the Blue Team. But Corn is not the kind of patron who is content with anything but a winner, and the rumor in L.A. was that the Aces would have to win, or else.

And they did. Corn's Aces breezed through to the finals, winning their knockouts by an average of more than 100 IMPs per match. At no time, however, had they been challenged by a top-class team. In the finals they faced the power and experience of the Rubin team, which included Jeff Westheimer, Sam Stayman, Vic Mitchell, Phil Feldesman and Bill Grieve. As early as the second board of the 72-deal match, the Aces showed they were as fresh as when the event had begun a week earlier.

When the Rubin team bought the contract the ace of diamonds won the first trick, and West shifted to the jack of spades, taken by dummy's king. Apparently mesmerized by the opening lead, declarer led a diamond to his queen. West took the king and played ace and another spade. Though this gave the declarer two spade tricks, his total came to only seven as West later got in with the ace of clubs to make, in all, three spades, two diamonds and a club.

When the Aces played the same contract, West led the jack of spades. Bob Hamman realized that he would need at least three fast tricks in the minor suits and that only the club suit offered him any chance for that number. West almost surely had the ace of clubs, for East would probably have made a response on the first round of bidding if he had held that card.

So at trick two, after winning the spade lead with dummy's king, Hamman crossed to the ace of hearts and led a low club to the queen. When this held, a finesse of the club 10 set up three tricks in the suit. West was in with the ace, but if he attacked spades or diamonds he would give declarer his fulfilling trick. If he simply exited with a heart, declarer could play diamonds himself to make the contract. The result was worth six IMPs to the Aces.

The Dallas team led by 29 IMPs at the quarter, by 39 at the half. The third quarter brought them another five IMPs and, as Rubin pressed to try to recover in the fourth quarter, the Aces picked up 49 more to win by 93 IMPs.

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