Meckstroth’s opportunism

  • Plumping for Meckstroth: Jeff Meckstroth and Robert Hartman at the American Contract Bridge League Fall meet in 2012 (Photograph by Peggy Kaplan/NABC)
  • Chart 1: Dealer West E/W Vul
  • Figure 2: Meckstroth discards a heart

As we all saw last week, the Bermuda Bridge Club is now closed until further notice due to the coronavirus issue, clearly the right decision, as play takes place in a fairly confined space and the membership clearly falls into the high-risk area, given the average age at the club.

So, it is a tough time for the average, obsessed bridge player but, hopefully, this will pass and, again hopefully, ahead of the time-frame that people are predicting.

In the meantime, it allows you to do some bridge reading and perhaps even go online, with your partner, on Fun Bridge or Bridge Base Online, which is a great way to play the game and to learn. I have just seen that the ever energetic and inventive Bill Pollett has endeavoured to set up an Online Tournament on Fun Bridge, for those of you who are suffering from withdrawal symptoms.

Go onto Fun Bridge and you can find it under:

— “Get Started/Practice” [middle orange button]

— “Exclusive Tournaments” [at the bottom]

— then search for “Bermuda Bridge Club 24 Boards MP”.

Bill plans to send the top three names to me for this column.

What I want to do in today’s column is pay homage to an international bridge player, the likes of whom we have probably never seen before, and that player is Jeff Meckstroth of the United States.

Top of the list of my bridge heroes have always been Gabriel Chagas of Brazil, Benito Garozzo from Italy and Bob Hamman from Texas, who was the top-ranked player in the world for ten years and has become a good friend.

However, if I was forced to choose a Best Ever Player, I might plump for Meckstroth.

There is not enough space here to chronicle his achievements and if you look inside the February ACBL Bulletin you will learn a lot about him, but here are a few stats.

Meckstroth has 62 North American titles, ten World Championships, including five Bermuda Bowls, 11 Barry Crane Top 500 wins and is the all time Masterpoint winner, with an outstanding 90,000 master points!

In 1990, the ACBL started awarding Platinum Points for National Events and in 2000 awarded Jeff the “Player of the Decade” title; astoundingly Meckstroth then followed up by winning that award in 2010 and then again in 2020, so his is the only name on the trophy.

Add to all this, the fact he is an exemplary human being, mentor and role model and you have something very special.

I would be remiss in not mentioning here, his partner and near equal, Eric Rodwell with whom he formed the feared “Meckwell” juggernaut.

Eric himself is special and with them back in partnership as part of the Levine team, more success surely lies ahead.

Here is a perfect Meckstroth hand, where he makes an “impossible” contract; the hand came up in The Cavendish Invitational, perhaps the strongest pair tournament in the world.

The annual event which, unlike most elite bridge tournaments, awards substantial cash prizes to the top finishers, customarily numbers many of the world’s best players among its 40 pair field.

It was Meckstroth, with characteristic opportunism, who took advantage of a couple of harmless-looking defensive slips by his opponents to bring in a seemingly hopeless four Spade contract. See Figure 1

West opened a weak two Hearts, North doubled and Jeff had an easy jump to four Spades.

He was no doubt a bit surprised when dummy produced a balanced 12-count for his takeout double of West’s weak two Heart opening.

Given the lie of the opposing Hearts and Diamonds, declarer appeared destined to go down one, losing two Hearts, a Diamond and a Club.

Meckstroth played low from dummy on the opening Diamond lead and won East’s nine with the Ace. The A-K-J of Spades were cashed, East discarding a supposedly useless Club on the third round.

Meckstroth then led the innocent-looking Heart 6 from his hand.

West gave this a hard look and decided to play low, no doubt fearing East might have the singleton King. When dummy’s Jack held, nothing appeared to have been lost, since West still had two Heart tricks coming.

However, Meckstroth had a different idea. A low Club was led from dummy, with East winning with the Jack. East’s Club return was covered by the King and Ace, and dummy’s third Club was led to East’s Queen, on which Meckstroth discarded a Heart.

This was now the position with the defence having won two Club tricks: See Figure 2

When East, continued with his last Club, Meckstroth discarded Hearts from both hands!

It was here that East’s earlier club discard came back to haunt him.

Left on lead with nothing but Diamonds, he was forced to return one into dummy’s K-J, and the “impossible” contract was home.

Pure magic!