As was the custom, the final of the Crime Writers’ Association annual knockout teams tournament was held over two sixteen-board, two-and-a–half hour sessions on the first Sunday in May. The afternoon session started at the respectable time of 4:00 PM, after tea of course. The evening session followed a fine dinner. This year, the affair was held in the stately rooms of Beaufort Manor, Old Windsor, settings that would, appropriately, have made a fine backdrop for a good, old-fashioned, “whodunit”.

Expectations ran high.  The competition had thus far produced excellent play and some very close and hard-fought matches. Indeed, both semifinal matches had gone down to the last board. In the first match, the fourth seeds, Raymond Chandler’s team, had beaten the defending champions, Dashiell Hammett’s top-seeded “Maltese Falcons”, by a mere 2 IMPs, while the second semifinal had been equally close with Dame Agatha Christie’s third-seeded team edging out the second seeds captained by Mickey Spillane.

Both captains chose to keep their pairings unchanged in the finals: In the first session, Dame Agatha played North-South with Hercule Poirot against Chandler and Lauren Bacall in the open room. The closed room saw the in-form pair of actor Robert Mitchum and sleuth Philip Marlowe sitting North-South against Jane Marple and Geraldine McEwan.

It would have been difficult to predict that the match would be as close as the semis had been, but the authors and stars combined to produce a thriller worthy of their calling. From the very outset of the match, the two teams traded blow for veritable blow. In the first session, for example, the lead changed hands 5 times with neither side being ahead by more than 11 IMPs, the margin by which the Chandler team was leading going into board 16. West, dealer at unfavorable vulnerability, passed in both rooms:

 

    North

 

 

6

 

 

© K 9 8 3

 

      West

¨ A J 10 6 5 2

      East

  A Q 10 2

§5 2

 K 7 5 4

© 6 2 

 

© A Q J 7 4 

¨ K 9 8 4

     South

¨ 7

§8 7 4

 J 9 8 3

§A Q 9

 

© 10 5

 

 

¨ Q 3

 

 

§K J 10 6 3

 

In the open room, Dame Agatha, with a 4-card heart suit along with her 6 diamonds, chose not to pre-empt with a weak 2¨ bid. Bacall opened 1©, the opponents remained silent and the bidding finally ended with Chandler, West, as declarer in 4. Dame Agatha led the §5 and although Chandler played well by inserting dummy’s §9, he had no clues as to the distribution and failed by one trick.

In the closed room, Mitchum pre-empted with 2¨, despite his heart holding and Geraldine McEwan, East, overcalled with 2©. After Miss Marple bid 2NT, she bid 3 which Miss Marple raised to 4.   Marlowe led the ¨Q.  Geraldine ducked and ruffed the diamond continuation in hand. A small spade to dummy’s Q was followed by the successful finesse of the ©J.   She re-entered dummy with Q – she didn’t want to risk Mitchum having the doubleton J - and repeated the heart finesse. On the play of a small heart from her hand, Marlow discarded a club. Geraldine knew from the bidding he was also out of diamonds and was thus now down to 2 spades and 4 clubs. She trumped the heart in dummy, played her last spade to her ªK, leaving this position:

 

    Mitchum

 

 

 -

 

 

© K 9

 

Marple

¨ A J 

      McEwan

  -

§5

 -

© 

 

© A 7  

¨ K 9 

     Marlowe

¨ -

§8 7 4

 J 

§A Q 9

 

© -

 

 

¨ -

 

 

§K J 10 6

 

She now cashed her high hearts. Irrespective of whether Marlowe ruffed or not, he could not prevent McEwan making 3 tricks and the contract – two hearts and a club or one heart and two clubs. “Quite, quite brilliant, my dear”, quipped Miss Marple. How right she was!

The combined score of 720 - 620 for the vulnerable spade game plus the 100 earned in the open room – was worth 12 IMPs and gave the Christie team a one IMP lead going into the second session.

The Christie team remained in their places for the second session while the Chandler pairs swapped rooms. Dinner had turned out to be more a banquet than not, with Burgundy and Bordeaux in abundance, and both teams were in fine spirits, so to speak, for the second half.  However their cold-sober play over the last 16 boards betrayed the fact.  Neither side gave an inch. Play finished in the closed room first and with the Christie team leading by 10 IMPs with one board to go, the fans awaited the final board with bated breath.

Board 32. West dealer.  East-West vulnerable:  

 

    Christie

 

 

  K J  9 2

 

 

©  Q J 10 9 

 

Mitchum

¨ 10 8

      Marlow

 10 6 5 4

§8 7 2 

 8 7 3

© K 8 3

 

© 6 5

¨ A J 6 5 4

     Poirot

¨ Q 9 3

§A

 A Q

§ 10 6 5 4 3

 

© A 7 4 2

 

 

¨ K 7 2

 

 

§K Q J 9

 

Mitchum opened the bidding with 1¨, which was passed around the redoubtable Hercule Poirot. The Belgian doubled for take-out. Dame Agatha answered with 2¨, giving him a choice of the majors. Poirot bid game in Hearts, the same contract as Lauren Bacall had brought home with aplomb in the closed room. 

Mitchum led the §A and stopped to survey dummy before continuing.  He was aware of his team’s deficit and realized desperate measures were called for. He could see three tricks in is hand and he had to find a way to reach his partner to give him a club ruff and the setting trick.  He could see no other way than through diamonds. He also realized that if declarer had the singleton ¨K, under leading the ¨A would give declarer an overtrick, but if so, the contract could not be defeated anyway and the overtrick would not influence the outcome of the match.  So he led the ¨J at trick 2. Poirot had no choice but to win the trick with his ¨K. In desperation he played the ©A, followed by a small heart, hoping that Mitchum had started with the doubleton ©K but Mitchum won the trick, played a small diamond to Marlow’s ¨Q and ruffed the club return with his last heart. One down, 50 points, plus the 420 earned in the closed room was worth ... yes, you guessed it … 10 IMPs.  The Match had ended in a tie.

The final curtain fell with the two captains jointly holding aloft the fine silver trophy. What could have been more equitable for two such deserving teams?

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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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