Eddie Kantar: an all-time bridge great who will be sorely missed
Before I get to the column, The Mens and Ladies Pairs Championships will take place on Saturday May 21, with two sessions held morning and afternoon. The entry so far is pretty low, and the Bridge Club is looking for more pairs to sign up – lunch will be provided and celebratory drinks are usually provided by the winners so it should be an enjoyable day. Sign up at the Club or e-mail Wendy Gray at email@example.com.
It is with a heavy heart that I report that one of the greatest personalities to ever grace our game, Eddie Kantar, passed away on April 8. I was lucky enough to get to know Eddie, play bridge against him and also take him on in a great game of table tennis, a sport in which he also excelled. Eddie was talented, incredibly funny, a wonderful communicator and teacher, and one of the kindest men in the game – he was universally loved and respected.
I can do no better than reproduce here an Obituary prepared by Jon Carruthers of Canada with assistance from the ACBL Hall of Fame, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, the 1975 World Championship book and Wikipedia.
With a profound sense of bereavement and loss, I regret to acknowledge that the great Eddie Kantar passed away this morning at the age of 89. Eddie, I can’t find adequate words. You were simply the best.
Eddie Kantar lost no time in moving from frigid Minneapolis to balmy Venice Beach in southern California after graduating from the University of Minnesota. He found the beaches along the Pacific Ocean much more pleasant than the 10,000 frozen lakes of Minnesota. As well as being one of the all-time great bridge players, Eddie was an accomplished table tennis, racquetball and paddle tennis player.
To date, he is the only person to have competed in the World Bridge Championships and the World Table Tennis Championship. He had considerably better results at the bridge World Championships. He was inducted into the ACBL Bridge Hall of Fame in 1996, the same year he was inducted into the Minnesota State Table Tennis Hall of Fame. In 2018 he was also inducted into the National Paddle Tennis Hall of Fame. Other accomplishments were the Sidney Lazard Sportsmanship Award and the Precision Award for Best Article about a Convention or System.
Eddie’s wins are too numerous to list: there were 17 North American Bridge Championships, with multiple wins in each of the Vanderbilt, Spingold and Reisinger, the top three ACBL events, three USBF Trials wins and two Bermuda Bowl wins. He also won a Pan-Am Games gold in 1977 and the Maccabiah Games in 1981. Eddie was arguably the greatest player/writer/ teacher of all time.
Others may equal him as a player and/or as a writer, but not for all three categories. He was beloved for his self-deprecating humour and many of his 35 books are classics, especially Kantar’s Complete Defensive Play. He was a regular in many bidding forums, the ACBL Bulletin and other bridge magazines. He was for years the bridge editor of Sports Illustrated magazine when that weekly periodical had a bridge column.
Kantar studied languages at the University of Minnesota and was fluent in French and Spanish, with a working knowledge of a few others. He was in constant demand as a bridge lecturer/teacher all over the world. During a stint in the US Army, Eddie was teaching bridge to a class in Germany, so he taught in German. “Even though the students spoke only German, by the end of the class they were begging me to teach in English,” Eddie recalled.
Eddie had successful bridge partnerships with Marshall Miles, Bob Hamman, Billy Eisenberg and Alan Sontag. His partnership with Hamman resulted in the finest piece ever to appear in the ACBL Bulletin, entitled Robert’s Rules. This had nothing to do with Robert’s Rules of Order (Henry M. Robert, 1876), but with the rules Robert’s partners had to follow when they played with him. The rules attest to Kantar’s wonderful sense of humour.
Rule 1: If you have a choice of bids and one of the choices is three no-trump, bid three no-trump.
Rule 2: Do not play me for the perfect hand; I never have it.
Rule 3: If everyone at the table seems to be bidding his head off, trust them, not me.
Rule 4: When contemplating a slam, always subtract a king from what it sounds like I have before bidding the slam.
Rule 5: Be practical.
Rule 6: Do the right thing.
Kantar pointed out that the rules offered no guidelines about what to do when they were in conflict with one another. If he went four down in a ridiculous three no-trump contract, Eddie would have been accused of violating any or all of the other rules, especially the catchall Rule 6. Kantar and Hamman dissolved their partnership after failing to come first or second in the 1969 Bermuda Bowl, the first time a North American representative team had ever failed to do so at that time.
It is unusual for a great player’s most-famous deal to be a disaster, but such was the case with Eddie. It occurred in the 1975 Bermuda Bowl final, on Board 92 of 96, with Italy leading North America 195-183. The North Americans had begun the set up by 25 IMPs, but were down 12 at that point. Here is the infamous deal in Figure 1.
(Ezekiel: This may well be the most famous hand ever played in bridge history – I had just arrived on the island in 1975 and watched it live on Vugraph at the Southampton Princess, where the tension was on a knife-edge throughout the match – the bidding is long and complex but it all added to the drama.)
For the bidding, see Figure 2.
1. Precision: 11-15, 6+ clubs or 5+ clubs and a 4- card major
2. Relay: asking bid
3. 4-card spade suit
4. 5+ hearts, forcing to game
5. An offer to play
6. Club slam try
7. Diamond control, certainly the King or Ace, given the 3NT bid
8. Declarative-interrogative, shows two aces and further interest
9. Confirms first-round diamond control, in this case the Ace, and shows interest in a grand slam 10. Heart control.
11. First-round heart control.
12. Usually a control; here, Garozzo deemed his holding to be worthy.
13. Grand-slam try.
When Garozzo bid seven clubs, Kantar thought, “God is not an Italian after all” as he expected the club Ace to be on his right. Kantar led a heart and then came the shock of seeing Garozzo’s dummy. Belladonna ruffed the heart, led a club to the queen, cashed the club ace and claimed plus 2140 and 12 IMPs. Incredibly lucky as the Clubs had to be exactly Kx with East.
There was bedlam after this hand and a ton of analysis – What would have happened if Kantar had played the king of clubs on the first round of the suit (which he admitted never occurred to him)? Belladonna, when asked what he would have done, said afterwards, “The North Americans would be World Champions today.”
Belladonna would have played to trump coup Eisenberg out of the ten-fourth of clubs, eventually losing a trick to Kantar’s ten of trumps. That would have won 17 IMPs for North America, a 29-IMP swing and would have been one of the greatest defensive deals of all time. The final score of the match was Italy 214 – North America 189, a margin of 25 IMPs.
Great write-up by JC – we ended with a bridge hand which in a way is fine, but on some levels isn’t, as Eddie’s stature in the game came from so many other places. His book on defence is a classic and everything he wrote had a distinctive “Kantar” flavour. He will be hugely missed personally and in the world of bridge.
BRIDGE CLUB RESULTS
Friday, May 6
1. Molly Taussig – John Glynn
2. Marge Way – Jane Smith
3. Judy Bussell – Charles Hall
Monday, May 9
1. Molly Taussig – Charles Hall
2. Diana Diel – Dorry Lusher
3. Marge Way – Gill Butterfield
Tuesday, May 10
1. Malcolm Moseley – Mark Stevens
2. Rosemary Smith – Jean Schilling
3. Sarah Bowers – Stuart Clare
Wednesday, May 11
1. Joyce Pearson – Joe Wakefield
2. Tracy Nash – Des Nash
3/4. Lynanne Bolton – Peter Donnellan
3/4.Molly Taussig – Tony Saunders
Thursday, May 12
1. Elizabeth McKee – Linda Pollett
2. Jane Smith – Peter Donnellan
3. Martha Ferguson – Judy King