Bridge in Protest Days
In the late 1960s the University of Wisconsin Madison was one of the most turbulent college campuses in the country. From the first major disturbance in October of 1967 protesting Dow Chemical (makers of napalm) recruiting on campus, through the riots following the invasion of Cambodia, the killing of four college students at Kent State by Ohio National Guard troops, and the City of Madison not granting a permit for a block party on Mifflin Street, it was not unusual for the Wisconsin National Guard to be on campus, and the smell of tear gas to be in the air. The major anti Vietnam War protests in Madison ended in August of 1970 when Karleton and Dwight Armstrong, Leo Burt, and David Fine parked a van containing a 55 gallon drum liquid fertilizer type bomb outside Sterling Hall (which contained the Army Math Research Center) at 3:45 AM on a Monday morning. The resulting explosion resulted in the tragic death of post doctoral physicist Robert Fassnacht.
I lived three blocks from Sterling Hall at that time, and frequently walked past it late at night on my way home from the Memorial Union, after another day and night of playing bridge. Sheepshead and hearts were the games of choice in the dorms at that time, but our house fellow my freshman year played bridge. And over the semester break in January 1967 he taught some of the guys who had stayed on campus over the break how to play. Within weeks all of the regular card players had switched games. The quality of card play was not very good and was exceeded only by the poor bidding. However, we all worked hard (if we had only devoted so much effort to our studies) to improve, so that we could win more frequently in our tenth of a cent games in the lounge.
As we did improve, we graduated from the dorms to the games in the Rathskeller in the Memorial Union. The stakes remained the same, but the quality of play improved immensely, as this was where the good players congregated. Larry Cohen and Dick Katz were still on campus, and Henry Bethe and Michael Ledeen had just left, to name but a few of the many excellent players that were making their way through the University of Wisconsin campus at that time.
Sometimes the protesting occurring on campus infringed on the games. One evening the Memorial Union was being closed early because tear gas fumes had made their way into the building. The last ten people to leave, and having to be urged to leave by the remaining staff, were eight players and two kibitzers.
There were duplicate games in Madison most nights of the week. One Friday evening when driving to the Friday night duplicate game at the SoupCon Restaurant just off the Capitol Square, we had to go negotiate a National Guard checkpoint at the corner of State Street and the Capitol Square. Fortunately it did not result in us being late for the game.
The favorite duplicate game of the students, by far, was the Sunday night game in the Memorial Union. With the exception of the club championship games, the players from the city left this game pretty much to the eager students in pursuit of masterpoints.
One exception was Ron Anderson, who lived in Madison at the time. When not at a tournament, Ron played on Sunday nights with some of the better student players, and alternately entertained and intimidated the rest of us. One evening as we sat down to play against him, in about the sixth round I believe, he announced that “We don’t have a minus score yet!”
Another evening Ron and his partner were east-west. After the last hand of the round, Ron made some comment on my bidding (It was probably more deserving of derisive laughter) and my partner decided to have some fun. He called the director, and complained loudly that he had paid his entry fee ($0.50 if I remember correctly) and that did not include having to hear his partner’s bidding ridiculed. Ron did not know how to respond to that, so said nothing more. We were the highest table in the game and at the end of the row of tables, so Ron had to walk to the other end of the room to table one when the move was called. In a peace offering, he traversed the length of the room again to bring the new boards to our table. At which point my partner said loudly, “Thanks, let me see if I have any change.”
We had to score points against Ron that way, because I don’t think I ever scored any matchpoints against him, with one notable exception.
West North East South
Two Spades Double Pass Two Notrump
Three Clubs Pass Three Spades Three Notrump
Four Clubs Pass Four Spades Four Notrump
Pass Pass Pass
My partner and I had just started playing weak two bids, and since you wouldn’t open three clubs with a side five card major, my partner selected two spades for his opening bid. Anderson’s partner doubled. I did not know that a raise to three spades was probably best with these cards, so I passed. Anderson bid two notrump. My partner now introduced his seven card club suit at the three level, I preferred back to spades, and Anderson bid three notrump. Since repetition is the best type of practice, we repeated the same scenario at the four level. Nobody chose to venture forth at the five level, so the auction mercifully concluded, with the nine card heart fit never mentioned.
My partner led his fourth best spade and it went ten-jack-queen. A diamond revealed that there were only three tricks available there, so Anderson won in dummy and immediately led the jack of hearts. Cover an honor with an honor --- I had my hand on the queen of hearts when I realized that couldn’t be right, and played the four. Partner won his singleton king (with Anderson noting to his kibitzers that he almost induced a cover from me) and returned the nine of spades. Anderson won the ace and led a club. He had given up on this hand, and was willing to let my partner win the club ace and cash his (presumed) four spades. That would result in seven tricks and down three, -150.
When partner produced a small club, Anderson paused for the first time during the play. He stared at my partner for some time, and then called for the KING! I won the ace, and returned the jack. My partner didn’t even overtake. He waited for me to produce a third spade, which he did overtake. He was now content to cash winners, but Anderson was already through with this hand. He put his cards back in the board and informed my partner that “You are the only person at the table with black cards left. All you have left are black cards. You couldn’t get off lead even if you wanted to.”
I refer to this as the hand of threes. Anderson started with six tricks, and ended up with three. However, if I had covered the jack of hearts, he would have ended up with nine.
As Anderson was scoring up four notrump, -7, 350 for east-west, one of his kibitzers stated that he should put a notation by the score on the traveler indicating that it was correct. Otherwise everybody would be questioning it. Director Kenny Grafton said, “Don’t bother, everybody will question it anyway.”