By winning the world bridge championship for the U.S. for the second successive year, the Aces may have produced the final argument that will coax Italy's famous Blue Team out of retirement—the Blues might want to prove that they are still the greatest. But judging by the Aces' performance in the 18th Bermuda Bowl event—they beat a powerful French team 243-181 in the finals—even the Blue Team would have to be at its alltime best to regain the title.
Last week's triumph in Taipei was no walkover, however. To take the crown, the Aces had to top the first six-team field in the history of the championship—Australia was the new entry representing the South Pacific zone of the World Bridge Federation. They also had to whip a French team that put up a bitter fight—sometimes among themselves—right to the end.
Still, perhaps because of the language barrier, this seemed to be the lowest-keyed world championship in years. Two of the Chinese players were from the Philippines, so, except for the other four, no contestant spoke Chinese beyond "sheh sheh," which is about as close as anyone came to pronouncing "'thank you." The waiters and other employees at the Mandarin Hotel, where the event was held, spoke something less than pidgin English. Players would order the same breakfast each morning, receive a smiling "yes" and then await the day's adventure of seeing what was brought other than the anticipated juice, toast and coffee.
The Mandarin has a beautiful garden, three dining rooms and a swimming pool that was—so sorry—under repair during the tournament. The result: not only no swimming but no pool-side backgammon and no place for informal socializing.
Taiwan's National Palace museum is one of the world's finest. It contains treasures hustled from the mainland when the Communist take-over became inevitable. After seeing the museum, the temples and the lovely countryside, the wives of the players and other accompanying members of the various teams were taken to a pottery factory, where visitors were allowed to buy at wholesale prices. It was not until the same shoppers discovered Hagglers' Alley—appropriately named, you may be sure—that they found the same things could be bought for even less.
There were political overtones to the championship from the moment the Chinese Ambassador to the U.N. spoke at the farewell dinner for those leaving from New York. "In Taiwan we do not invite the Americans to play Ping-Pong," he said. "We invite the world to play the greatest championship of the most intellectual of all games, contract bridge." Taipei's Mayor Kao opened the proceedings there with a similar reference. Then he went on to mention that Taipei had no student riots, that the people were all happy and that citizens need not fear to go anywhere in town at any hour of the day or night.
Nevertheless, Mayor Kao's speech caused a bit of concern to France's JeanMichel Boulenger and Jean-Louis Stoppa and to Ace Mike Lawrence, all of whom sport mod hairdos. Long hair is frowned upon by the government and short hair is enforced by the police to the extent that each station house has a barbershop where male tresses are clipped to an appropriate Chinese length. This applies also to girls for as long as they are in high school; their hair may never conceal the lobe of the ear. You can guess the age of most of Taiwan's young ladies by their hair length. Almost universally, they let their hair grow the moment they can show a high school diploma. The long-haired bridge players were reassured when told that these measures do not apply to foreigners. Should police cut a foreigner's hair, it would only be an unfortunate mistake.
Though they occasionally made mistakes themselves, the Aces performed throughout like the seasoned pros they are. Carefully kept statistics on the play in the qualifying round showed Jim Jacoby-Bobby Wolff to be the top pair, Bob Goldman-Lawrence next most effective and Bob Hamman-Bill Eisenberg third. Occasionally teammates disagreed, but nothing really daunted the serenity of the Aces, not even this hand, the most distinctive one of the whole championship, in which the opponents bid and made a small slam in spades without the Chinese West even mentioning his nine-card diamond suit.
Elmer Hsiao's first-round double was conventional, showing at least five points in response to the forcing club opening. He never did find precisely the proper moment to introduce his diamonds, but it was just as well since Eisenberg, not quite visualizing West's distribution, led a trump. After that, declarer easily made all the tricks. Had Eisenberg had any notion of what was to appear in dummy, he might have led a heart, which would have rendered declarer helpless. Forced to trump in dummy prematurely, Conrad Cheng would not have been able to draw the outstanding trumps and still get back to it to make use of the diamond suit, so he would have gone down at least two tricks.
At the other table, the Chinese South, M. F. Tai, sacrificed at six hearts over West's six diamond bid on the following auction:
The doubled contract went down only two tricks to give Tai and Patrick Huang a big plus and the Chinese a net gain of 680 points or 12 IMPS.
But this happened late in the qualifying triple round-robin, when the Aces were playing for exercise and the Chinese were fighting to gain their fourth-place finish. The final standings in the qualifying round were: