FRENCH FOOD FOR THOUGHT

The world bridge champions won with straightforward bids—and some exotic 'canapés'
June 19, 1960

It would be exciting to report that behind the French victory in the World Bridge Team Olympiad at Turin last month (SI, May 16) was a marvelous new system of bidding that was so clever in its conception, so precise in its signals that the whole game of bridge had been revolutionized—and for the better. It is true that two of the French players, René Bacherich and Pierre Ghestem, did operate with a totally different kind of bidding, but their method was so detailed (see box) that even they had a hard time keeping track of it. It is also true that the other French pairs employed the felicitous and in many ways delightful bidding wrinkle known as Canapé. But neither of these departures played a dominant role in the outcome.

The French—Bacherich and Ghestem, Pierre Ja√Øs, Roger Trézel, Gérard Bourchtoff and Claude Delmouly and their nonplaying captain, Baron Robert de Nexon—simply outgeneraled and outplayed the top stars of 24 other countries, including the four teams representing the U.S. And, in doing it, they exploded the myth that today only a complex bidding system can win the world title. Indeed, if there were one essential point to be made about the Olympiad, it would be that teams that stuck closest to natural bidding did the best.

The real surprise in the tournament was the collapse of the Italians. Using the same intricate "supersystems" that had brought them the world title three years running, the Italians won only one of five matches in the finals and finished sixth. One reason, I think, is obvious. They missed the leadership of their non-playing captain, Carl' Alberto Per-roux, who was taken ill on the eve of the finals. The Italians fielded their two strongest pairs session after session until one of them, through sheer exhaustion, played badly. Perroux, I am almost certain, would have substituted more freely and Italy would have done better.

The same might be said of the Americans. They had been convinced that only the Italians stood between them and the world championship. It came as a shock, therefore, that the French and the British topped them. But by the final rounds the Americans were weary and disorganized, too. Although our teams also were led by nonplaying captains, in no case did the captain wield the same sort of absolute authority given to the Europeans. It may be that before a U.S. team does finally win a world title again it will have to adopt the European idea.

Baron de Nexon, in fact, may have won the Olympiad for the Frenchmen by effectively juggling his lineup so as to rest the pair he thought was showing signs of wear. One point is certain. In studying the hands played in the Olympiad, I observed few cases where the exotic bidding method of Bacherich and Ghestem provided any substantial return for the brain-busting effort of memorizing the cryptograms in which they encoded each bid. Remember—in tournament play no pair can have secrets. The opponents need only ask a question to get the full import of every bid, and often this extra information helps them to defend.

The Ja√Øs-Trézel and Bourchtoff-Delmouly pairs, by contrast, used a style in which most of their bids meant exactly what they seemed to say. The principal difference between their methods and those followed by most experts were these: 1) in combination with the artificial two-club opening, which they employed as a game force on very big hands, they used opening two-bids in the other three suits to show hands not quite powerful enough to insist on partner keeping the bidding open even with a bust; and 2) in bidding strong hands they used the canapé method created by the late Pierre Albarran.

Canapé gets its name from the small tidbits served before the main course. In the Canapé bidding style, the shorter suit is mentioned before the longer and stronger one. This method has two main virtues: 1) it tells partner he can safely pass the second bid if he has a weak hand, 2) if responder makes a further bid, it indicates some real values. Nonusers of Canapé sometimes get overboard because responder, with equal strength (or equal weakness), goes back to the opener's first suit. Sometimes the opener's first suit isn't as good as his second; sometimes the opener is unduly encouraged by this "preference" and makes the one further bid that takes his side too high.

Occasionally, in order to make use of their canapé method, the French players first bid a three-card suit in preference to a good five-carder or even a six-carder. In the following deal from the crucial match against the hitherto undefeated English, the French hors d'oeuvre style served them well.

The deal also serves to illustrate another point in international team competition: a part-score deal will frequently create a substantial swing when reckoned in International Match Points.

Both sides vulnerable East dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

With France playing East-West, the bidding went:

EAST
(Trézel)

1 [Spade]
2 [Heart]

SOUTH
(Rose)

PASS
PASS

WEST
(Jaïs)

1 N.T.
PASS

NORTH
(Gardener)

PASS
PASS

Opening lead: heart 7

East's opening spade bid cannot be considered psychic. Trézel was using the canapé method. When he bid hearts, his real suit, West knew that East had a good hand as well as good hearts. But the spade bid stole that suit from the opponents.

The opening lead of the heart, plus the fortuitous club distribution which prevented the defenders from blocking that suit, let East make four-odd. He won the first lead with dummy's heart jack and led a club. South won the club king with the ace and continued by leading ace and another trump, aiming to prevent dummy from ruffing a spade. But East got rid of two spades on dummy's long clubs and surrendered only the trump ace, the club ace and one trick in diamonds. Making four-odd was worth 170 points to France, counting the bonus of 50 for making a part score.

Should East have gone to four hearts? Perhaps so. If he had, North-South might have sacrificed at four spades, down one. Then too, against a spade opening followed by perfect defense, four hearts might have been beyond declarer's reach.

The bidding in the other room, with France playing the North-South cards, was keenly competitive:

EAST
(Schapiro)

1 [Spade]
DBL
PASS
PASS

SOUTH
(Ghestem)

1 [Spade]
REDBL.
3 [Spade]

WEST
(Reese)

PASS
3 [Heart]
PASS

NORTH
(Bacherich)

2 [Spade]
PASS
PASS

Opening lead: heart queen

There was no problem in the play. South lost a trick in each suit, exactly making his contract for a score for the French of 140.

This gave the French a total of 310 on the combined result at the two tables for a gain of 4 IMPs.

Where canapé served the French well in the previous deal, it proved a disadvantage in the following one against my team, the only one to beat the French in the round-robin finals. Because Trézel and Ja√Øs used canapé, it robbed them of the chance to make the same profitable penalty double to which Bourchtoff and Delmouly fell victim at the other table against Mrs. Sobel and Schenken.

North-South vulnerable Went dealer

NORTH

[8 of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[9 of Hearts]
[8 of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[King of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[5 of Clubs]

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

When Bourchtoff and Delmouly held the North-South hands, the bidding went:

WEST
(Schenken)

1 [Spade]
DBL.

NORTH
(Bourchtoff)

2 [Heart]
PASS

EAST
(Mrs. Sobel)

DBL.
PASS

SOUTH
(Delmouly)

3 [Club]
PASS

Opening lead: spade king

Mrs. Sobel played the 3 on the opening lead and Schenken shifted to the king of hearts, won by dummy's ace. The club 5 was led from dummy, and when East ducked, South's jack won the trick. A club continuation was won by East's 9. The queen of spades was overtaken by West's ace and the diamond 3 was returned. Dummy played low and East's 9 was taken by South's 10.

Declarer led another club, hoping the suit would break. But East made two top trumps and South remained with three losing diamonds. He made only five tricks at a contract for nine, and went down 1,100 points.

In the other room France held the East-West cards.

WEST
(Trézel)

1 [Diamond]
3 [Spade]
PASS

NORTH
(Allinger)

1 [Heart]
PASS
PASS

EAST
(Jaïs)

2 [Club]
4 [Spade]

SOUTH
(Malhe)

PASS
PASS

Opening lead: club 5

Because West's canapé opening was one diamond, North was able to come in at one heart instead of the two-heart call which was required at the other table. East did not find a double of a mere one-bid attractive, so North-South were taken off the hook.

Dummy's club queen was finessed on the opening lead, and South took the king. He returned the 3 of hearts, not knowing that his partner held a seven-card suit and that West, too, had a singleton. When West played the heart king, North let that card hold rather than establish three good hearts in dummy.

West cashed the spade ace and led a second round of trumps to dummy's queen. Next he led dummy's queen of hearts. When South discarded a club, West trumped and drew the last trump with his king. He led to dummy's ace of clubs and passed the jack of hearts to North's hand, discarding a diamond. North was end-played. A heart return would have given West another diamond discard. Instead, North gambled that his partner would hold good diamonds and led his diamond king. West made two top diamonds and in the end conceded a diamond trick, exactly making his contract. But his score of 420 was a net loss of 680 (6 IMPs) on the result at the two tables.

Since we won the match finally by exactly 8 IMPs, just enough to give us a clear win (anything less than 8 under International Match Point rules would have been calculated as a draw), the 6 IMPs France lost on this deal because of canapé could have cost them the Olympiad.

But France rallied to win the remainder of her matches, while in the last two rounds Britain collapsed through the sheer weariness of an overplayed Reese and Schapiro.

Which leads me to what I think should be the obvious conclusion: in the final analysis, championships are won or lost by the players and the way they are juggled by their captains. Minus Perroux, the Italians were not the indomitable team they had been. Had England's nonplaying captain, Louis Tarlo, not been hospitalized for a few days with a damaged rib, perhaps he would have insisted that Reese and Schapiro get more time off in the earlier rounds when it wasn't so important to win them all. France, unlike England and Italy, did not come into the finals undefeated. But she did come in comparatively well rested, and so, in the finals, when every loss counted against her, was able to line up her three equally proficient pairs in any way that the discerning eye of Captain de Nexon decided. Perhaps, though he never played a card, it was Nexon who did most to win the championship.

PHOTOJAIS AND TREZEL (LEFT, RIGHT) PLAY U.S.'S SAM STAYMAN (TOP), MORTON RUBINOW PHOTOBARON DE NEXON, France's nonplaying captain, was strong leader at Olympiad. PHOTORENE BACHERICH, worked on bidding system with Ghestem for seven years. PHOTOPIERRE GHESTEM, and fellow businessman Bacherich won over U.S. in 1956.

HOW THE BACHERICH-GHESTEM BIDDING SYSTEM WORKS

Even when they read the details of the system played by Bacherich-Ghestem, their opponents didn't feel they understood it—and no wonder. One of the basic principles is the "relay" bid, which doesn't mean anything except a request for more information from partner. Most often, the relay bid as used by the responder consists of a bid in the suit just above the opener's suit.

Opening bids of one club and two clubs are artificial; one club is semiforcing, two clubs forcing to game. But while two diamonds is a strong bid, two hearts and two spades are weak. One no trump is strong—18 to 21 points—but three no trump is weak and shows a long minor suit.

No-trump responses give some idea of this system's complexity: any response but two clubs or four clubs is a transfer bid, requiring opener to rebid in the next higher suit. Four clubs asks for aces; two clubs asks for a five-card suit. Without a five-card suit, opener bids two diamonds and if responder then makes a new relay bid of two hearts, opener bids his four-card suit or suits thus: Two spades shows four spades; three hearts shows four hearts; three spades or three no trump shows four of each major; three clubs shows four clubs and four hearts; three diamonds shows four diamonds and four hearts. Having dutifully shown four-card suits, if responder makes a new relay—cheapest possible bid in next suit—opener bids his shortest suit!

There are further refinements of the method, each step more bewildering than the last. I think we can be grateful that, for the most part, the French relied on natural bidding to win. Bridge is complicated enough—there is no need to make it inexplicable.

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)