Expectations ran high ahead of the semifinals of the Crime Writers Association annual knockout team tournament and the fans were not to be disappointed. 

The fourth-seeded Chandler team was pitted against the defending champions, the top-seeded Hammett team. Dashiell Hammett fielded his award-winning line-up from “The Maltese Falcon”: He partnered Mary Astor in the open room, while Humphrey Bogart and Sam Spade started in the closed room. Raymond Chandler, too, chose to partner up with his femme fatale, Lauren Bacall and, despite the seeding, many favored his team to win on the strength of the fine showing in the quarter finals of his in-form second pair, actor Robert Mitchum and sleuth Philip Marlowe.

Neither team gave an inch. One hand, in particular, demonstrated the excellent play of both the contesting sides: Mary Astor, in the open room, and Philip Marlowe, in the closed, sitting South, found themselves as declarers in 4 Hearts.

 

    North

 

 

 J 10 5 4

 

 

© J 7 5 3 2

 

      West

¨ A Q

      East

  7 6

§ 10 5

 K Q 9 8

© Q 10 4

 

© -  

¨ K J 9

     South

¨ 10 7 6 4 2

§ J 7 6 4 2

 A 3 2

§ K Q9 8

 

© A K 9 8 6

 

 

¨  8 5 3

 

 

§ A 3

 

Astor received the lead of the §4 from Chandler. She ducked Bacall’s §Q and won the §K continuation.  The play of the ©A revealed the bad trump break. With one trick already lost in clubs, a certain trump loser and two potential losers in spades, she realized the only hope of bringing in the contract was through an endplay. At trick four, she led a small diamond towards dummy, successfully finessing with the ¨Q. Next she cashed dummy’s ¨A, re-entered her hand with the ©K and trumped her last diamond in dummy. The J from dummy was covered by Bacall with the Q. Astor ducked and Bacall found herself on lead in the following situation: 

 

    Hammett

 

 

 10 5 4

 

 

© J 7

 

    Chandler

¨ -

    Bacall

  7

§ -

 K 9 8

© 

 

© -

¨ -

    Astor

¨ 10

§ J 7 6

 A 3

§

 

© 9 8 6

 

 

¨  -

 

 

§ -

 

 Bacall was well and truly endplayed. A lead of a spade would give Astor 2 spade tricks while the lead of a diamond or a club would allow Astor to discard her loosing spade from hand and ruff in dummy (a “ruff and sluff”).

Marlowe received the lead of the 7 which he correctly suspected as being the higher card of a doubleton. He played dummy’s J and when Bogart in the East seat covered with the Q, he ducked. Bogart now played the §K which Marlowe again ducked.  Marlowe won the §Q continuation and then proceeded very much as Astor had done in the open room: ©A, diamond finesse, ¨A, ©K, diamond ruff. He then cashed the A leaving the following position:

 

    Mitchum

 

 

 10 5

 

 

© J 7

 

      Spade

¨ -

    Bogart

  -

§ -

 K 9

© 

 

© -

¨ -

   Marlowe

¨ 10  

§ J 7 6

  3 

§ 9

 

© 9 8 6

 

 

¨  -

 

 

§ -

 

A small heart from the closed hand went to Spade’s ©Q. This throw-in play left Spade on lead with only clubs left in his hand. He was now forced to concede a ruff and sluff whereby declarer was able to get rid of the losing spade.

With one hand to play in the 32-board match, scores were even.  So down to the wire on board 32:

 

    North

 

 

  A 5

 

 

©  -

 

      West

¨ Q 9 8 3

      East

K Q J 9 8 7 6 3 2

§ A K J 9 6 4 3

 10 4

© -

 

© J 10 7 6 4

¨ J 6

     South

¨ 10 7 4 2

§ Q 10

 -

§ 8 5

 

© A K Q 9 8 5 3 2

 

 

¨ A K 5

 

 

§ 7 2

 

West dealt and opened the bidding with 4S.  North overcalled with 5C, passed round to South who bid 6H.  At both tables, East injudiciously doubled.  Hammett converted to 7C in the open room and Mitchum to 7NT in the closed room. Both grand slams were made with ease when clubs broke evenly but the difference of 80 points in the scores was enough to give the Chandler team the narrowest of narrow victories. It was a pity that either team had to lose such a well-fought contest but it was a case of “Out with the Falcon”.

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About the author

Alan Caplan

Alan Caplan was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was an active member of Bnei Zion and, subsequently, Habonim following the merger of the two movements. The year after high school ...
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