It was only a year ago, as the more dedicated bridge disciples will recall, that a team of Italian players landed on our shores and gave us a close look at their complex new system of bidding. I might even—without much fear of contradiction—call it the most complex system now in vogue among the leading players. Lest anyone should doubt its powers, let it be remembered that the Italians made off with the world bridge championship.

During the next couple of weeks we are going to get more of the same as the eighth World Championship Contract Bridge Team Match opens in Lake Como, Italy on January 25th, with three competing teams and one foregone conclusion.

The three teams: Europe, again represented by last year's world title winners, Italy; the United States, represented by the winners of last year's National Masters' Team title; and, for the first time in the history of the world event, South America, represented by its champions from Argentina.

The foregone conclusion: During this next week, most Americans who read reports on the world tourney in their daily newspapers will be tearing their hair.

Let me hasten to say that this is not a prediction of disaster for the strong lineup that won the right to play for the United States by taking the round-robin event in Pittsburgh last summer: B. Jay Becker, John R. Crawford, George Rapee, Alvin Roth, Sidney Silodor and Tobias Stone. I am counting on them to break a streak of three straight wins by the European champions and bring us our fifth leg on the Bermuda Bowl, the world title trophy that has gone back to Europe for the past three years. And I have not forgotten that, to do this, they must whip the identical Italian powerhouse that handed me and my teammates such a tremendous thumping in taking the '57 world championship.

What is bound to tousle the topknots of American readers and make them wonder if the players or the linotypers have gone berserk is the weird-seeming Italian bidding. All of the Italian players use highly artificial bids and, to add further complication, each of the three Italian pairs follows an entirely different system.

Eugenio Chiaradia and Massimo d'Alelio of Naples use "natural" bidding that comes closest to American methods. Walter Avarelli and Giorgio Belladonna of Rome play the Roman Club. Pietro Forquet and Guglielmo Siniscalco, of Naples, use still another highly artificial method known as the Neapolitan Club.

I have just completed work on a book about this system (shortly to be published here by Doubleday) and I will try to explain how it differs in important ways from the methods with which you are familiar. But first a word about the Argentine players, who must be rated as the dark-horse entry in this event.

Only once in the past have three teams met for the world championship title. That was in 1950 in Bermuda—the first running of the event—when we were victors in a three-cornered match among the champions of Continental Europe, Great Britain and the United States. For the next six years, it was a two-team battle between champions of Europe and the United States.

This year, in further justification of the "world" scope of the event, South America was invited to send its champions to compete in another three-cornered match. In a tourney reduced to six nations when political unrest caused the withdrawal of Venezuela's entry, Argentina scored an upset victory over Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. Thus, South America's representatives in Lake Como will be six gentlemen from Buenos Aires: Alejandro Castro (captain), Alejandro Olmedo, Hector Cramer, Marcelo Lerner, Carlos Cabane and Alberto J. Blousson.

If only because little is known about them in world tournament circles, experts rate this team as outsiders. Thrown into competition against two of the strongest teams in the bridge world, they are figured to be defeated in both their matches, leaving the title hanging on the result of the 144-board clash between the United States and Italy.

In the two previous world title meetings of these contenders, each holds one victory. In Naples, in 1951, an Italian team that included three of the present members—Chiaradia, Forquet and Siniscalco—was defeated by an American entry which also included three of our present team: Becker, Crawford and Rapee. Last year, the present Italian lineup, right down to nonplaying captain Carl Alberto Perroux, won by a wide margin in New York.

However, it is difficult to rate the contenders on past performance. Today's Italian team is far stronger than the group that lost in '51. Our present United States team does not include a single player from the lineup the Italians beat last year.

Will it be a battle of systems, of partnerships, or of individual players? Since my point-count method of valuation is now used by almost all systems, I think I qualify as an impartial observer. I predict that, although a highly artificial bidding style may sometimes upset even the most skillful opponents, differences in system will prove to be not as important as they seemed to be last year, when we so often fell victim to swings like the one in this deal:

East-West vulnerable West deals

NORTH

[Ace of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[10 of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[Jack of Clubs]
[King of Diamonds]
[10 of Diamonds]
[8 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]

WEST

[Queen of Spades]
[10 of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[Jack of Hearts]
[9 of Hearts]
[8 of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[10 of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]
[3 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

[King of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[King of Hearts]
[Queen of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[Ace of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[7 of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]

EAST

[9 of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[King of Clubs]
[Queen of Clubs]
[9 of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]

At the table with U.S. playing North-South, the bidding:

WEST

Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass

NORTH

Pass
2 [Club]
3 [Spade]
3 no trump

EAST

Pass
Double
Pass
Pass

SOUTH

1 no trump
2 [Heart]
2 no trump
Pass

At the table with Italy playing North-South, the bidding:

WEST

Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass

NORTH

Pass
2 [Club]
3 [Diamond]
4 [Spade]
5 [Club]
5 [Diamond]

EAST

Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass
Double
Pass

SOUTH

1 [Club]
2 [Heart]
4 [Diamond]
4 no trump
Redouble
Pass

The United States pair used only one artificial bid with this deal—the conventional response of two clubs, asking the no-trump bidder to show a four-card major. All of their other bids are clearly understandable—with one possible exception, the final contract. East's double of the two-club bid served fair warning that a club would be opened against three no trump. This might have suggested that South mention the diamonds instead of bidding two no trump, or persuaded North of the wisdom of bidding three diamonds instead of three no trump.

It didn't. The club was opened. And, although nine tricks could be made with a successful spade finesse, South took note that East had discarded two spades on the run of diamonds and elected to play to drop the queen. Result: 50 points to Italy.

Now we come to the Italian bidding of this same hand by Forquet (North) and Siniscalco (South). To understand why South bid one club with a three-card suit and why North "raised" clubs with only a singleton, you will need to refer to the summary of the Neapolitan Club system.

The club bid announces at least a 17-point hand; South actually had 18. The two-club response announced four controls; in addition to his ace and king, Forquet evidently took the liberty of counting one for his singleton. Thereafter, the bidding was normal for a while. South showed his hearts, North bid his diamonds, South raised and North then showed his second suit.

South's four-no-trump bid is another Neapolitan special. A four-no-trump bid later than the third round of bidding is not a Blackwood call for aces; it merely invites partner to bid a slam or to show where some added values may lie. North's five-club bid suggested that he could control the suit after the first round; after East doubled, South redoubled to tell his partner that he held the club ace. As a result, both North and South toyed with the idea of getting to six diamonds and, with a bit of good luck in hearts and spades, six was actually made, so Italy added another 420 points' profit to the 50 they had scored at the other table.

I have said before that the performance of the Italians last year was perfectly magnificent. Never has a team more richly deserved its laurels, but I have never been persuaded that their system was a great factor in their success. Sizable swings that were system-created owed at least an assist to Lady Luck. For example:

East-West vulnerable East deals

NORTH

[9 of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[10 of Hearts]
[8 of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[Queen of Clubs]
[10 of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[10 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]

WEST

[Ace of Hearts]
[Queen of Hearts]
[Jack of Hearts]
[9 of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[Jack of Spades]
[10 of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[8 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

[King of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[King of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[King of Clubs]
[9 of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]
[King of Diamonds]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[7 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]

EAST

[Ace of Spades]
[Queen of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[4 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[Ace of Clubs]
[Jack of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]
[2 of Diamonds]

When the United States team played the East-West side of this hand, East opened with one club. South doubled, West bid hearts and North interfered with a one-no-trump bid. East passed, South bid diamonds, West rebid two hearts and North's three-diamond bid again prevented East from showing his spade suit without making a free bid that would have suggested a stronger hand than he had. Thus, Italy bought the hand for three diamonds, which was made, for a plus of 110 points.

At the other table, with Italy playing East-West, Siniscalco was unable to bid one club—the artificial bid—with his hand, so he opened with one spade. East and West thus had no difficulty in reaching four spades, which they made with an overtrick for an additional 650 gain.

More than once, Italian bidding style chanced to put the contract into the hand that would not ordinarily have first bid that suit, and from that side of the table it could not be defeated. The largest audience ever to watch a tournament saw this happen when part of the final session was telecast and this hand occurred:

East-West vulnerable North deals

NORTH

[3 of Spades]
[Queen of Hearts]
[Jack of Hearts]
[Ace of Clubs]
[King of Clubs]
[10 of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[King of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[7 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]

WEST

[Ace of Spades]
[9 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[King of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[8 of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[7 of Clubs]
[8 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

[Jack of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[Jack of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[10 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]

EAST

[King of Spades]
[Queen of Spades]
[10 of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[9 of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[Queen of Clubs]
[9 of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]
[Jack of Diamonds]

The Italians bid the North and South cards to five clubs—a contract that could easily have been defeated if played by North. East would make the normal opening of the spade king and shift to a heart. Even if declarer did not take and lose an immediate finesse, when East got in again with the club queen the defense would win a heart trick.

However, this defense never came off because South was the first player to mention clubs on that anemic 4 to the jack. Thus, West had the lead, and after his normal opening of the ace of spades he could not shift to a heart without losing a trick. Any other lead gave declarer time to get two heart discards on North's long diamonds.

I have no fault to find with the axiom that a team makes its own breaks—but a system cannot do so. Nor can system be credited with being a deciding factor when the winning team actually plays three different systems.

However, support is given to the European view in the matter of partnerships. American teams have been proud of their flexibility. Often they boasted that any player could partner any other member of the team. Meanwhile, European teams have stressed the fixed partnership; in tough matches they had reasonable assurance against the loss of points due to partnership misunderstanding.

The present American team comes closer to filling the European specifications than any we have previously entered in this competition. Roth and Stone are not only a long-experienced partnership of superb players, they play a highly specialized system which is just as unorthodox as the Italian methods, although not quite as artificial. The other four have played together so often that they can pair up in almost any fashion and present a formidable side at both tables. In a long match, where a player from each of two pairs may grow weary, ill or stale, this flexibility can be a telling advantage.

That is why, when the teams line up before the Bridge-O-Rama—the equipment borrowed from Selfridge's of London that will let hundreds of spectators watch the proceedings at Lake Como's Casino where the eighth world championship will be staged—I think that our American team will be more than a match for Europe's fine Italian hands.

Extra tricks: European scoring, governing this year's play, awards International Match Points for the net difference in score on each deal, ranging from one IMP for 20 to 60 points up to a maximum of 15 IMPs for a difference of 4,000 points or more. This lessens the effect of a single disaster.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION PHOTOWORLD CHAMPION Italian team present their cards to Alvin Landy of the American Contract Bridge League: at top (left to right) Massimo d'Alelio, Carl Alberto Perroux, nonplaying captain, and Walter Avarelli; seated (left to right) Eugenio Chiaradia, Guglielmo Siniscalco, Giorgio Belladonna and Pietro Forquet.

Highlights of the Neapolitan Club system

OPENING BID OF ONE CLUB: Artificial: does not indicate a club suit. Strong: Promises at least 17 points in high cards or powerful distribution. Forcing: Partner must respond.

RESPONSES are artificial "stepladder" bids (similar to responses to Blackwood four no trump) and show the number of "controls": king equals one control; ace equals two controls. Thus: One diamond shows none; one heart, 1; one spade, 2; one no trump, 3; two clubs, 4; two diamonds, 5. With 6 or more, the response is two no trump. The two-heart and two-spade responses are natural; they indicate a real suit without any controls.

OPENING BID OF ONE IN ANY OTHER SUIT: Normal bid, indicating 12-17 points and at least four cards in the suit named.

RESPONSES: Responder's first bid need not necessarily indicate his real suit, especially if his second bid names a suit that is higher-ranking. This second suit, however, must be playable.

OPENING BID OF ONE NO TRUMP: Shows a normal 12-17 point hand with clubs the only long suit.

RESPONSE of two clubs announces a weak hand, including at least two cards in clubs.

OPENING BID OF TWO CLUBS: Same strength as above, but showing at least five clubs and may include a second biddable suit.

RESPONSE of two diamonds is weak.

ALL OTHER OPENING SUIT TWO-BIDS: Usually a weakish two-suiter (12-13 points).

RESPONSE of two no trump asks for second suit to be shown.

This summary covers only a few of the basic artificial bids. In order to cope with intervening bids following an opening of one club, there is a highly complex chain of responses, differing with each of many possible overcalls.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)