Has it really been ten years?
Yes, it was exactly ten years ago that bridge players arrived at the Summer NABC in Las Vegas asking one another -- "Isn't it dreadful about Barry? What really happened? Have you heard anything?..." For a decade now the bridge world has waited for news as to who did it and why. On July 5, 1985, Barry Crane's body was discovered by his housekeeper in the basement garage of his Studio City home in California. He had been bludgeoned to death. He had played in Bridge Week in Pasadena during the previous week and had led his knockout team into the final which was set for Saturday morning, July 6. The bridge world was stunned and saddened by the astonishing news as word of his brutal murder spread from tournament to tournament during that holiday weekend. It was absolutely shocking that this shining luminary of the bridge world, who was also a celebrated producer and director of television and film, had been slain. A pall of sadness and horror filled the ballrooms when word of the mystifing tragedy reached the players. Many of them were Crane's friends and acquaintances who had come to know him over the years. Others had read of his exploits in the BULLETIN and knew him as the top masterpoint holder in ACBL and probably as the top matchpoint player in the world. He couldn't be gone. Murdered. What had happened?
In Crane's memory, The Top 500 which he had won so many times as the McKenney became the Barry Crane Top 500. In March he was inducted into the ACBL Bridge Hall of Fame. He will not be forgotten. The tournaments go on, but they are not the same -- will never be the same. It seems fitting in this tenth anniversary remembrance to summon up a few classic Crane hands and recognize some of his major triumphs -- especially those in which New Orleans played a part.
Crane won his first McKenney in 1952 with the then unbelievable total of 604 points. This record stood until 1956 when Toby Stone won 791. Edgar Kaplan broke that record the next year with 808. A hand Crane played in the Master Mixed Pairs at the
Fall NABC in Miami Beach that December was widely publicized. Alfred Sheinwold wrote it up in Bridge World Magazine. More than 30 years later Frank Vine resurrected it as a classic for another Bridge World article.
Dlr: West S J983
Vul: N-S H J3
S QT2 S AK7
H 97 H K854
D 9754 D QT2
C KQ75 C JT9
West North East South
Bickel Crane Herman
Pass Pass 1H Pass
1NT Pass Pass Dbl
As North-South can make 1H or 2H, Crane realized that he needed 300 points for a good score, so it was important that they beat 1NT doubled by two tricks. The opening spade lead was won in dummy and declarer (Freddy Bickel of Atlantic City) went to work on the clubs by leading the CJ. It held the trick. He led the CT. It held the trick. He led the C9 to his queen. Barry ducked again!
At this point Bickel knew he could cash out for down one with six tricks in the black suits, but he saw a chance to make his contract. He went for it. He played a low diamond to the 10 and South's ace. Barry's partner, Sally Herman, returned a spade. Bickel won in the West hand to lead another diamond toward dummy. Now Barry came alive. He grabbed the DK and finally produced the CA. Look what that did to dummy at this position:
S T S A
H 97 H K854
D 97 D Q
C K C --
East was caught in a continuing squeeze. If a heart was discarded, Barry would lead the HJ and South would take the last five tricks with the entire heart suit. If the SA was discarded, Barry could cash the SJ9, followed by the rest of the tricks with the heart suit. If the DQ was discarded, Barry could cash the DJ, squeezing dummy again. So Barry collected his 300 points, landed in the money in the final ranking of the Master Mixed Pairs and clinched the 1952 McKenney Trophy. (The
race ended with the Fall Nationals in those days.) Sheinwold pointed out that it took a lot to make this hand one that he especially liked. West had to be a good player, one who would go out for the contract instead of being satisfied with six tricks. South had to be a good player, one who would never discard a heart or falter in her faith that her partner would eventually get around to the heart suit.
And Barry had to find the magic play of ducking the third round of clubs in order to squeeze dummy with the fourth round of clubs. Bickel was so impressed with the play that he went around the tournament telling the story even though he was the victim. Crane was barely 25 years old.
In 1967, 15 years after winning his first McKenney, Crane brought home his second. Here is one of the deals that contributed to that victory.
Dlr: North S Q85
Vul: Both H A852
S T9 S J643
H KT763 H QJ4
D J83 D 7
C Q72 C JT543
West North East South
1C Pass 1D
Pass 1H Pass 2S
Pass 3D Pass 4C
Pass 4S Pass 4NT
Pass 5H Pass 5NT
Pass 6D Pass 7D
Crane accurately read his partner's responses as showing a spade feature in addition to the two aces and one king revealed by Blackwood. He also figured that North's king was in diamonds -- there was the 3D bid as well as partner's failure to cuebid 4H over 4C. When Crane bid the grand slam he probably expected it to be a laydown. It would have been easy if diamonds had split evenly. But when diamonds split 3-1 and he had to develop another trick, Barry found it by reading West's ST 9 as a doubleton and by taking a third round spade finesse against East's jack.
If West played two small spades on the ace and queen, declarer, having ruffed a heart early, would ruff a second heart and cash his other top spade. When the spades do not split, he would try for a double squeeze by playing his last trump at this position:
S -- S J
H K H --
D -- D --
C Q72 C JT5
West would have to part with the HK or a club guard and East in turn would be squeezed out of his SJ or a club guard.
Crane won his third McKenney in 1971 when he broke the record Paul Soloway had established in 1969. Crane also had
record-breaking years when he won in 1971 amd 1973. In 1975, on his way to winning his fifth McKenney, Crane scored a thousand points in the first six months and finished the year with a bang when he and Shuman won the NABC Mixed Pairs in New Orleans in November. In the final session of that Mixed Pairs Crane/Shuman had a huge score -- 525 on a 378 average for 69.44%. There was always plenty of action at Crane's table even when it wasn't Barry who was being active. Witness this deal from that final session.
Dlr: North S 973
Vul: E-W H 543
S AQ42 S T85
H K2 H Q9876
D T83 D QJ7
C JT86 C AQ
West North East South
Pass 1H Pass
1S Pass 2S Pass
Pass Dbl (!) Pass 3C
Dbl All Pass
Shuman led the HK and took note of the shocking dummy. This was one opponent who wasn't going to let Crane and Shuman steal anything! But North paid a price of 700 points to keep the winners honest.
Crane won his sixth (and last) McKenney trophy in 1978. Only Charles Goren, who won the race eight times between 1937 and 1951, won more. In June 1978 at the World Championships in New Orleans, Barry and Kerri won the World Mixed Pairs title.
It was a monumental victory. They piled up a score of 9150.92 which figures to 61.9% over four sessions. They finished more than 500 points ahead of Jim Jacoby and Heitie Noland who were second. Since top on a board was 142, Barry and Kerri actually had more than a 3.5-board edge on the field.
This World Mixed Pairs drew the largest field in history -- a total of 316 pairs. Even without the 122 U.S. pairs, it would still have been the largest World Mixed Pair field ever. Altogether 33 countries participated. France had 37 pairs, Canada 32 and Mexico and the Netherlands 17 each. Italy had 12 and Australia 10. Some of the top players in the world were Crane-Shuman victims during the contest. European observers were amazed at the defensive skill, bidding wizardry and declarer play of Barry and Kerri.
One British writer who watched Crane-Shuman until he was dizzy, wrote, "With benign smiles and gentle and courteous demeanor, they tore into the opposition with a style akin to a combine harvester." He cited hand after hand where they destroyed one pair after another --some of Bermuda Bowl stature and some highly regarded European internationalists.
This was the first world title for Crane-Shuman – but it was also their first try. Barry was slated to compete in Las Palmas in 1974, but he was directing The Streets of San Francisco at the time and had to cancel. He qualified for the Open Pairs in 1978, but he was shooting Hawaii Five-O and had to leave New Orleans right after the Mixed Pairs. In mid-1978 Crane was in the midst of his best bridge year. He had won 26 regional titles and so many points that it seemed he would break the McKenney record set the year before by Ron Andersen. However, Barry said in an interview, "I'm not going to break any records this year. In fact, I'm not even going to win the McKenney. My heavy television work has started and I'm booked solid through Dec. 27."
Some of his other commitments in this time frame included How the West Was Won, Dallas, then in its second year, and four segments of Chips.
Crane led his team to victory in the North American Men's Swiss Teams in New Orleans in the summer of 1983. Crane, playing in partnership with Grant Baze, put together an impromptu team that included Mike Albert and Ira Rubin. Here's a hand from the next-to-last round where Crane took advantage of a bad trump split to score a doubled partscore with an overtrick.
Dlr:South H KJT8
Vul:E-W D A4
S AK63 S 85
H 754 H AQ962
D J9732 D 65
C 4 C AK73
West North East South
Pass 1H Pass 1S
Pass Pass 2H 2S
3H Dbl All Pass
The opening spade lead went to dummy's ace and Crane cashed the C AK and ruffed a club. He then cashed the SK and led the H7 from dummy as North covered with the 10 and East won the queen. The C7 was ruffed with dummy's last trump. Declarer
scored a spade ruff with a low trump as North threw a club (it does him no good to ruff). East had eight tricks turned
his way and was all set to score two of the last five for an overtrick.
Crane got out with a diamond, covered by the 8 and 9 and won by North's ace. North played his other diamond to South's queen, setting up this situation at trick 11: North held the H KJ8 and Crane was behind him with the A96. When South led the DK, North had to ruff and chose the HJ. Barry underruffed with the H6 and then scored the last two tricks with the A-9 over the K-8. Of course if North had ruffed with the H8, Crane would have scored the 9 immediately. +930.
At the other table Rubin and Albert were allowed to play a peaceful 2S down two for -100, but that was 830 net or 13 IMPs to CRANE who won the match and the event. In 1980 at the Summer NABCs in Chicago Barry and Kerri won the NABC Master Mixed Teams with their friends from Mexico, the jai alai champion Jose Hamui, Laura Mariscal and Elias Konstantinosky.
In 1982 at the Fall NABCs in Minneapolis Barry and Kerri won another Mixed Pairs title. The victory was a convincing one -- they were 36.5 points ahead of runners-up Mike and Nancy Passell.
Barry was very busy in the fall of '82. He had finished episodes of Trapper John, and was doing Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Next was to be Simon and Simon or The Powers of Matthew Star. And he was scheduled to direct The Devlin Connection with Rock Hudson. It is ironic that fewer than three years later Crane was murdered in the same week that the world learned that Hudson was dying of AIDS.