Over the Halloween weekend, at Del Webb's Towne House in Phoenix, two top contract-bridge teams will duel for the right to represent America in the World Championship for the Bermuda Bowl, to be held in Stockholm next June. Since Italy will be defending without her great Blue Team, which won the bowl 10 times running (only two of the old Blues, Belladonna and Garozzo, are expected to play for the defenders), the Americans will go to Stockholm as favorites. It is true that any team which includes Belladonna and Garozzo must be considered a contender, but the cognoscenti believe that Italy will not win with Forquet, D'Alelio, Pabis-Ticci and Avarelli out of action.
In any event, in the Phoenix playoff—a six-session, 180-deal duel—the four-man team from Los Angeles, which is headed by Richard Walsh and which won the Vanderbilt Cup in the Spring Nationals in Cleveland, meets Ira Corn's Dallas Aces, who won the Spingold, the other big knockout team championship, at the Summer Nationals in Los Angeles. Walsh's team is young—average age under 30. It includes John Swanson, Jerry Hallee and last year's leading master-point winner, Paul Soloway. The Aces, a frankly professional team put together by Industrial Magnate Corn, include Jim Jacoby, Bobby Wolff, Bill Eisenberg, Bobby Goldman, Mike Lawrence and, the most recent addition, Bob Hamman. Until the team recruited Ham-man, Corn himself played an occasional session, but he is too good a player to kid himself that he might make the Stockholm scene on his own table skill. In fact, asked to describe one of his Aces' good hands, Corn preferred to cite this one in which, as he put it, "A couple of slickers from Canada named Eric Murray and Sammy Kehela, did a little expert Corn-shucking."
The vulnerability favored preemptive tactics by South, but Corn's four-spade bid was a trifle overexuberant; two spades or three spades would have been better, especially against the Canadians' impeccable defense. Kehela led the ace of clubs—this pair leads ace from ace-king—and Murray dropped the jack, the automatic high-low to give the count rather than to demand a continuation of the suit. Kehela shifted to his singleton heart. Murray collected two heart tricks and gave his partner a third-round heart ruff. At this point most defenders would go wrong either by trying to cash a second club or by leading a low diamond. In the latter case, when East won the diamond shift the defenders could no longer both cash a second diamond trick and gain an overruff position for West in hearts. Should East lead a fourth heart after winning the diamond ace, South could simply discard his second diamond. Kehela did not fall into this trap. He milked the hand of its ultimate trick by leading the king of diamonds before putting partner in with the ace. Now, on the fourth round of hearts, declarer had his choice of ways to lose an extra trick. He could ruff high and lose two spade tricks to East. Or he could ruff low, get overruffed with West's queen and still lose a trump trick to East's jack. The defenders had eight tricks, and declarer was minus 900.
If the Walsh team advances to Stockholm, Walsh and Swanson will be employing asking-bid and relay-bid weapons to overcome the advantage that the Italians have long enjoyed in the accuracy of their slam bidding. Above is a sample from Walsh's final-round Vanderbilt win.
Aside from the opening two-no-trump bid, the auction needs considerable explanation. South's first response was, for the moment at least, a transfer bid commanding North to bid three hearts. South might have had a weak hand. But when he bid three spades it was a relay (cheapest possible bid) announcing a long minor suit and slam interest. North's three-no-trump rebid was forced; South finally revealed his diamond suit, and North then used four spades as a waiting bid, showing better spades than hearts. South's four no trump was natural and might have been passed, but North's points were in top cards and his leap to six diamonds indicated suitable grand-slam material. However, South had already given his all.
The slam was better than 50-50. It would always make with the ace of hearts onside. Even with the ace offside (which it was not when the hand was played) South would have additional chances, such as the one shown here. After winning the spade lead in dummy South would cash two top diamonds, overtaking the second, lead a third round, discarding a club from dummy, and lead toward dummy's heart honors. Assuming that East ducks smoothly—his best play—South cashes dummy's spade ace and ruffs a spade to his hand in order to lead another heart. East can win dummy's remaining heart honor, but cannot save partner from a squeeze in the black suits, even with a club return; South simply wins with the king and leads out his remaining trumps.