Those Italians do it again

The cast was new, the setting was different, but the plot had a familiar ring as Italy, showing only occasional lapses, ran off with another European Championship
December 07, 1959

This year's European Bridge Championship was played on a new stage. It presented a new cast of characters and a brand-new script. But it turned out to have the same familiar plot with the same old ending.

The setting was Palermo, and Sicily provided its usual perfect September weather. The makeup of all three of the principal contenders' teams had been altered from last year. Both France and Great Britain were confident that their teams had been strengthened, while Italy was defying the cardinal axiom of competitive sport: Never disturb a winning lineup. But at the end, it was the Italians who once again were in the lead.

No American tournament is conducted in quite the same way as the European Championship.

The Vanderbilt and the Masters, generally considered the most important U.S. team championships, are played on a knockout basis. Session-long matches are fought team-against-team, and a team can lose only twice before it is out of the tournament. It takes about a dozen sessions to conclude these events.

The more leisurely European tournament is a round-robin affair. Each team meets every other team for a full session of 40 deals, scoring two points for each match won and one for a tie. Another difference: in Europe, a match won by fewer than six International Match Points is a tie.

Many expert observers believe that Europe's plan gives the best team the best chance to win, and I am inclined to agree. And Europe's best continues to be Italy.

The resignation of Guglielmo Siniscalco and Massimo D'Alelio represented more than the loss of two players to the Italian champions; it broke up two of Italy's three fixed partnerships. Fortunately for Italy, Eugenio Chiaradia and Pietro Forquet speedily developed a partnership that seems to be at least as strong as either of the two it replaced. Both men played brilliantly.

We are so accustomed to reporting exactly how bright the Italian play can be that it is a refreshing change to describe a hand in which Forquet demonstrated that even he can sometimes err. There is hope yet for the United States teams which will meet the Italians in the spring.

This was the deal, played during the match between Great Britain and Italy. And although Italy eventually won by a huge score, it was only the sixth board of the match—too early for anybody on either side to relax.

Except that failure to open the bidding with one club limits the strength of the opening bid, this Neapolitan pair bids in almost standard fashion after an opening bid of one in any othersuit. Thus, Forquet's jump to two no trump after a pass indicated just about what he had—11 or 12 points in high cards and the unbid suits well stopped. Having opened an absolute minimum, Chiaradia wasn't even tempted to go further.

South opened the 9 of spades, covered by dummy's 10, and North's king forced declarer's ace. Of course Forquet immediately tackled the clubs, leading the jack from his hand. But when South followed with the 7, Forquet committed the indiscretion of letting the jack ride. North won with the king and returned a spade, killing East's immediate re-entry while the high clubs remained in dummy to block the run of that suit. Before Forquet could get back to his hand, the defenders were able to win two hearts, two spades and the king of diamonds; added to the king of clubs, that was enough to set the hand one trick.

There was nothing wrong with leading the jack of clubs; even a finesse would have been permissible if the suit had been unblocked by covering the jack with the queen. The defenders then would be unable to keep East from regaining the lead in time to run four clubs, two spades and, with a successful finesse, two diamond tricks. Making the contract would have scored 120, holding a tie in IMPs against the 130 which Great Britain scored by making four clubs at the other table. Going down one trick, however, cost a total swing of 230, worth four IMPs.

It turned out Italy could well afford the loss. The English, who had played superbly earlier, fell sadly apart against Italy and France. While no one member of the English team was to blame, Boris Schapiro, suffering from the effects of a severe attack of turista, was far off form, especially by comparison with the magnificent display which he and Terence Reese had put on in the early rounds, when Great Britain won her first 10 matches.

A healthy Schapiro would never have been guilty of the error which Boris Schapiro made in the following deal from the match against France, placing that country second ahead of Great Britain. I cite the deal because it includes a simple point all players should consider.

The bidding was identical at both tables, and so was the opening lead of the king of spades.

In the other room declarer simply held up the ace of spades until the third round of the suit, then led a low club to dummy's queen. East took his ace and the defenders got another spade, but declarer then had nine tricks. When Schapiro played it, however, he took the second spade trick; then, fearing that the opener might hold five spades, he tried to run nine tricks by winning a heart finesse. When this lost, he was down one for a total point loss of 700, or 6 IMPs.

Why did the French declarer play the club to establish his ninth trick rather than rely on the heart finesse? True, he would have lost the contract if West had had the ace of clubs and five spades—but he could not win it under these conditions unless West also had the king of hearts. Since West had passed initially, this was entirely impossible; in fact, the ace of clubs was pretty well marked in East's hand, making the contract a laydown as long as South held off the spades until the third round.

At least one match every day was shown on the Bridge-O-Rama—an electrically operated device for letting large audiences follow the bidding and play. The exhibitions were well attended and I have reason to know that the audience had no trouble following the play as shown on the board. I was invited to serve as commentator after the first few matches. Since I spoke only in English—and I frequently have trouble describing the exotic French and Italian systems even in my own language—obviously the fact that I was urged to continue through the meet must be credited in large part to the excellent portrayal of events provided by the Bridge-O-Rama itself.

One of the hands I described during the match between Great Britain and Italy illustrates the fact that both the Neapolitan Club and the Roman Club can, upon occasion, operate less than flawlessly. Unfortunately, the British did not take full advantage of their opportunity.

Two of the Italian pairs—Giorgio Belladonna and Walter Avarelli, and the new pair, Roberto Bianchi and Giancarlo Manca—play the Roman Club. This method calls for an opening bid of one club on any of three different types of hand: a balanced hand of 12-16 points or 21-26 points, or an unbalanced hand that is the equivalent of our strong two-bid. The opener's first rebid clarifies the nature of his strength. In this case, of course, Belladonna's club opening was the scratchiest of minimums.

Reese's double was a conventional bid for a take-out, showing a good hand. With eight points, Avarelli was compelled to ignore the intervening double and, with a choice of suits, to prefer his four-card major. East's raise to two hearts announced both that he had four-card support and a minimum hand.

Reese now jumped to three spades and, though Schapiro huddled for quite a long time, he eventually decided to pass. My own feeling is that the spade king and the doubleton queen of hearts justified his taking some action, and that action could not be anything but a raise to four spades. As I play, the double followed by a jump bid is a request to carry on unless partner's hand is entirely worthless, which Schapiro's was not.

In the other room, the bidding also stopped short.

EAST
(Konstam)

PASS
DOUBLE
PASS
PASS

SOUTH
(Forquet)

1 [Spade]
2 [Spade]
3 [Spade]

WEST
(Meredith)

PASS
3 [Club]
PASS

NORTH
(Chiaradia)

PASS
PASS
PASS

Here, the Italian North-South pair was using the Neapolitan Club, so that any bid other than a club indicated a hand of fewer than 17 high-card points. Distributional points are not counted in measuring for a club bid, so South's opening bid of one spade didn't begin to reveal the power of his hand nor, in my opinion, did his rebid of a mere two spades over East's double. Anyway, on this kind of auction there could be no question of North's making a bid. So both sides played at three spades and, with the heart finesse succeeding, both were able to make five.

Although the tourney finished very much in accordance with the experts' selections—Italy, France, Britain and Sweden, in that order—there were some upsets and several close calls before the final results were in. They added spice to a tournament which, despite its predictability, was never at any time dull.

Sweden was the only team to defeat Italy, but Egypt—the architect of last year's upsets when it walloped France—threw a healthy scare into the world champions when the half-time score showed them leading by 21 IMPs. Italy managed to recover, and the shock so unnerved the Egyptians it impaired their effectiveness for the rest of the tourney.

The French team had huge ups and downs, defeating Britain by a colossal 58 IMPs and then losing to Italy by an even wider margin, 84 to 17. The French match against Belgium, played on the Bridge-O-Rama was a most exciting one. After four-fifths of the deals had been played France led by a mere 2 IMPs, 38 to 36, when along came a hand on which France bid and made a small slam while Belgium stopped at a mere game contract.

What of the future?

I did not have much opportunity to observe the performance of the newcomers to Italy's team, since that wily campaigner, Carl'Alberto Perroux, Italy's nonplaying captain, kept his four seasoned veterans in operation before the Bridge-O-Rama but, on results, I should say that the Italian team is as strong as ever and again it will be the team to beat in the forthcoming World Bridge Olympiad.

Both France and Great Britain will probably change their lineups once more, and the U.S. will have no fewer than four teams in action. But whether any of these can beat the Italians is in the lap of the Olympic gods.

PHOTOSMILING IN SICILY, Goren and half of present Italian team gather around hand. From left, Walter Avarelli, Giorgio Belladonna, Goren, Massimo D'Alelio (no longer a member) and Eugenio Chiaradia.

East-West vulnerable East dealer

NORTH

[King of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[7 of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[5 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]
[King of Club]
[8 of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]

WEST

[10 of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[Queen of Hearts]
[9 of Hearts]
[8 of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[8 of Diamonds]
[Ace of Clubs]
[Queen of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

EAST
(Forquet)

PASS
2 N.T.

SOUTH

PASS
PASS

WEST
(Chiaradia)

1 [HEART]
PASS

NORTH

PASS
PASS

North-South vulnerable East dealer

NORTH

[8 of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[King of Diamonds]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[10 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]
[Queen of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]

WEST

[King of Spades]
[Queen of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[10 of Spades]
[8 of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[7 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]
[Jack of Clubs]
[10 of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

EAST

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

SOUTH
(Schapiro)

PASS
1 [Heart]
3 N.T.

WEST

PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Reese)

1 [Diamond]
3 [Diamond]
PASS

East-West vulnerable East dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

[10 of Spades]
[10 of Hearts]
[8 of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[10 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]
[Queens of Clubs]
[Jack of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

EAST
(Belladonna)

1 [Club]
2 [Heart]
PASS

SOUTH
(Reese)

DOUBLE
3 [Spades]

WEST
(Avarelli)

1 [Heart]
PASS

NORTH
(Schapiro)

PASS
PASS

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)