Success at a French snail's pace

November 05, 1962

When the French won the European Championships in Beirut recently they not only qualified for the World Championships next June, they gave clear warning that fantastic bidding systems are going to be commonplace in the play for the big title. So complex, and so slow, was the French bidding in Beirut that it took six and a half hours to play a 40-hand match against the Italians—who had not sent their strongest team because they were already eligible for the world event as defending champions. The Italians were also using artificial bids and each team was eventually penalized a meaningless half point for slow play. An idea of what was going on can be seen in this deal.

When the Italians were North-South with this hand they reached six diamonds, played by North. This reasonable contract would have been easy without a spade lead, or in any case if the diamonds were two-two. However, East had an automatic spade opening, the trumps failed to fall in two rounds, and North was thus reduced to the faint hope that East, the player with three trumps, would also hold four clubs, enabling South to discard a spade and ruff North's loser in that suit. When this forlorn hope failed, Italy went down two.

But when Pierre Ghestem and René Bacherich were North-South against Italy's Benito Bianchi and Gianbattista Brogi it took the French 16 bids to reach a slam contract, and a poor one at that.

I will try to translate the bidding briefly, (a) The opening bid showed 10 to 17 points and, since it was a major, a five-card suit, (b) A relay response. It tells nothing but asks for information, (c) No second suit; no extra length in hearts, (d) Another relay: "Tell me more." (e) Better than a minimum, (f) A kind of Blackwood bid, asking about aces, (g) Roman Blackwoodian response, showing two aces of the same rank, that is, minor suits, (h) What about kings? (i) Showing either one or four kings. North's hand tells him this means only one. (j) Queens? (k) Again, one or four. If you think it sounds a bit absurd, I can't blame you.

From this point on the bidding was fairly normal, although it seems to me that, knowing his partner held the diamond ace, North might have made some effort to play at six diamonds, a safer-looking contract.

Bianchi, with the West hand, could have been excused for failing to find the spade opening, but he knew enough about the relay system to realize that spades was the opponent's vulnerable point. Bacherich won the opening lead with dummy's spade ace and bravely attempted to sneak home a heart trick to add to the 11 he could see. Had he taken these 11 tricks, he would actually have gained 2 International Match Points, since the Italians had been set at six diamonds. But Bacherich played for his slam. As a result he lost the heart ace and four more spade tricks, a defeat that cost 3 IMPs.

EXTRA TRICK
Note that if the diamond suit had split evenly, a bid of six diamonds would have been a laydown but that six no trump would still have had no play. When you have a good combined trump suit, playing a trump contract will often produce an additional trick—or at least a good chance for one.

ILLUSTRATION

Neither side vulnerable North dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

SOUTH
(Bacherich)

1 [Heart] (a)
1 N.T. (c)
2 N.T. (e)
3 [Spade] (g)
4 [Diamond] (i)
5 [Club] (k)
5 [Heart]
6 [Heart]
PASS

WEST
(Bianchi)

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Ghestem)

1 [Spade] (b)
2 [Club] (d)
3 [Club] (f)
4 [Club] (h)
4 N.T. (j)
5 [Diamond]
5 N.T.
6 N.T.

EAST
(Brogi)

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

Opening lead: 4 of spades

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)