A caption in yesterday's Style section incorrectly identified a member of the congressional bridge team competing in London. Pictured with the Duke of Atholl was Rep. Arlan Stangeland (R-Minn.).
She was a beautifully coiffed redhead who had carefully watched the first 27 hands. But the 28th pushed her over the edge.
As Rep. Gerald Solomon (R-N.Y.) finished taking nine tricks on a hand where he could have taken 12, the beautiful spectator rose from her chair and called out, "I'm going home! I can't stand it anymore!" And out she stalked, into the throng of shoppers along Piccadilly.
Great Britain beat America here today in the second annual Congress-versus-Parliament charity bridge match, 17,160 points to 14,370. The diplomacy and camaraderie among the two squads were high level throughout. But as the fed-up redhead discovered, the bridge was not.
The Americans allowed the British six games that should have been defeated. On eight other occasions, the Americans went down themselves when they shouldn't have. The luckless Solomon even allowed the British a small slam in spades when he accidentally dropped the queen of diamonds on the table. "We were out to lunch," summarized one American player, former representative Roger Zion (R-Ind.).
The event, sponsored by American Express and Trans World Airlines, was a rematch of one played last year in Washington. Parliament won that, too, by 4,040 points. "At least we cut the deficit in half," said nonplaying coach Jo Morse, of Silver Spring. "We're getting there," added Rep. Arlan Stangeland (R-Minn.). "But I guess we still have pretty far to get."
Free from Capitol Hill after weeks of budget battles, the congressional squad received much the same sort of reception that a certain royal couple had enjoyed in Washington two weeks earlier.
There was a private tour of Blenheim Palace, Winston Churchill's birthplace. There was a chance to sit in on a session of Parliament ("They talked about energy. I couldn't hear much," said Rep. Thomas Petri [R-Wis.]. There was a tea at the newly refurbished American Embassy and a reception at Admiralty House thrown by the British Foreign Office.
Bridge players live by omens, not canape's, however. And it was hard to mistake which way the wind was blowing when Carol Price, wife of American Ambassador Charles H. Price II, took the floor in the embassy ballroom to offer a toast.
"I'd like to offer the American team a welm warcome," she said, before hastening to correct herself.
Meanwhile, British confidence was abundant -- and well it should have been.
For the past 11 years, a bridge team from the House of Commons has done annual battle against a team from the House of Lords. Each of the 13 rotating members of today's British squad was a veteran of the Commons-Lords matches.
The Americans, on the other hand, were what Zion called "a combination of inexperience and inexperience." Petri had not touched a card since last year's Washington match. Rep. Lynn Martin (R-Ill.) had played only twice. Rep. Howard Nielson (R-Utah) used to be a statistics professor and play once a week, but the demands of political life have ground his bridge playing to a near halt.
The anchor American pair -- Virginia House of Delegates member C. Jefferson Stafford and National Labor Relations Board Judge Melvin Welles -- are regulars on the American tournament circuit. But even a string of excellent results by Stafford-Welles could not offset the bloodshed at the other three tables.
The call for transfusions began on the second hand of the scheduled 32, all of them predealt by an Oxford University computer.
Two American pairs bid and made three no-trump. Bidding the same cards, however, the British pair of Lord Lever and Lord Dufferin reached six diamonds easily, and made it even more easily.
The resulting bonus for a successful slam vaulted the British to a lead of more than 1,000 points. The Americans drew to within 220 points after the 22nd hand. But four hands later, the British lead had grown to more than 2,000 points. The rest was academic. The redhead's dramatic exit only added an exclamation point.
As the match opened, the two teams were welcomed to the Oak Room of the Park Lane Hotel by Roger Bramble, lord mayor of Westminster. He declared that "bridge, women and champagne are of enduring social usefulness."
In return, U.S. captain Stangeland boasted that "we allowed you to win last year. This year it will be different." Then, to a bagpipe serenade by Jimmy McGinn, the personal piper to the British captain, the Duke of Atholl, the players marched single file to the playing rooms -- and their respective fates.
The Americans might have thought twice about showing up if they had realized how seriously their opponents were taking the match.
British coach Rixi Markus ordered sheets placed over a mirror in one playing room so that players could not crib reflected glances at an opponent's hand. She benched a longtime member of her squad, Lord Grimthorpe, for poor play last year against the Americans. When Lord Lever arrived 30 minutes late, and a spectator remarked that "Rixi gave him an extra half hour's sleep," no one was certain it was a joke.
The match ended with an exchange of smiles and gifts (British to each American: a bottle of scotch and a crystal goblet; Americans to each Briton: a blue, white and gold dinner plate bearing the American Eagle). What about next year?
"So long as we lose," said Stangeland, "I think the matches will continue." Based on today's play, there is little danger he'll be disappointed.