Victor Mitchell can play cards and he also possesses a quality that the experts rate highest, but far too many bridge fans barely know of him.
The trouble with being Sam Stayman’s partner is that to the general public your name, is bound to be overshadowed by that of the man who invented one of the best-known conventions in world bridge. Thus I frequently hear a surprised opponent of Victor Mitchell—Stayman’s regular partner—say, «Mitchell is a much underrated player.»
Wrong! Victor most certainly is not underrated by his colleagues. He is a bridge player’s bridge player, possessing to a rare degree the attribute that experts value highest. They call it table presence; it means, simply, the utmost awareness of what is going on in the minds of the other three players at the table. Without it, the highest technical skill is unavailing. With it, and the kind of skill that Mitchell possesses, you have a lifesaving partner and a deadly opponent.
The Stayman team won its way to the finals of the Vanderbilt team event in Cleveland earlier this spring, when it defeated a team led by Alvin Roth. The margin of victory was 79 points, so this deal was hardly the crux of the match, but it involved an extremely rare kind of play—a «one-suit squeeze.» And it was executed by Victor Mitchell.
South Dealer, Neither side vulnerable
Opening Lead: 4
Stayman’s double of the one-spade overcall was not for penalties. It was a negative double turned against its originator, Alvin Roth. The double showed a hand of limited strength, seven to 11 points, with support for the unbid suits. It did not promise support for hearts, although in this instance North had this support and his showing of it ended a fine competitive auction. East-West can make two or three spades; Mitchell managed to find a way to make three hearts.
A low diamond was opened by West, Paul Trent, who comes as close to being the shortest of the bridge stars as Roth’s recent partner, Bill Root, is among the tallest. Mitchell won with dummy’s ace, then ruffed a diamond on which West dropped the king. Always ready to credit his opponents with superplays, Mitchell suspected, from the auction and the play thus far, that West just might have underled a doubleton king of diamonds in order to get East in for a spade lead. Mitchell also considered it quite likely that West had a six-card spade suit.
On the next lead to dummy’s heart king, Roth held up the ace. Mitchell countered by returning a low heart, and Roth won this and continued a trump in order to prevent South from eventually ruffing his third spade in dummy. On the third round of hearts, West discarded the 10 of spades, retaining the 6 so that if South later led a low spade from his hand, East could win the trick and return a spade through declarer’s king. Having won the heart return in dummy, Mitchell cashed the ace and king of clubs and led a third round, throwing West in with the queen of clubs. Mitchell was hoping that West at this point would be holding nothing but spades and would thus be forced to yield a trick to South’s king. But West got out by producing another diamond.
The appearance of this last diamond was a disappointment to Mitchell, who now knew that had he ruffed a third diamond before leading clubs he could have engineered the end play that would have forced West to lead the spade suit. But when South ruffed the diamond return with his last trump and led a club toward dummy’s jack he engineered an even more elegant play—a squeeze in one suit.
This was the situation:
| 7 2
| A Q J 6
|| 9 5 4
| K 8 3
No matter what spade West discarded he was hooked.
If West let go his 6 of spades, declarer would lead a spade from dummy and duck. West would be forced to win and surrender a trick to the spade king. But when West discarded the jack of spades he was no better off. On the spade return from dummy, East had to put up the 9 in order to try to keep partner out of the end play. South covered with the king and made his ninth trick with the 8-spot.
As the cards were placed, this may not have been the easiest way to play the hand, but it turned out to be the most resourceful.