Just when our hopes were up the Italians set us down

After days of being behind, the North Americans made their move, but then two key hands insured another world title for the Blue Team
May 29, 1966

From the outset it was clear that the World Bridge Team Championship in St. Vincent would be decided by the match between North America and Italy. Inexperienced Thailand threw a few scares but won no matches. Holland waged a close duel with Italy for the first half of their match, but in the end beat no one but Thailand. Venezuela took two matches—the South American champions finished third. North America started disastrously against Italy's famous Blue Team, rallied bravely but briefly, could not recover lost ground and once more finished in second place as Italy won its 8th straight world title (SI, May 23).

Giorgio Belladonna and Walter Avarelli turned out to be the best Italian pair, far ahead of Benito Garozzo and a decidedly off-form Pietro Forquet. Our Canadians, Eric Murray and Sammy Kehela, were the best non-Italian pair, but after losing points to Italy in each of the first four sessions, the non-playing captain, Julius Rosenblum, replaced them with Phil Feldesman and Ira Rubin in the hope of gaining some significant swings.

This go-for-broke strategy seemed to work, and it certainly led to the most exciting moments of the Championship for North American supporters. In the fifth session, with Lew Mathe and Bob Hamman giving a particularly fine performance, we cut the Italian margin almost in half, from 90 International Match Points to 46. And in the first half of the next session, with the same lineup, we recouped another 10 IMPs. By this point the crowd watching the Bridge-O-Rama—mostly Italian rooters, of course—was stirring uneasily. Then came Board 112, and suddenly what had been a strong American tide turned into an Italian tidal wave.

Below is Board 112, in which Mathe and Hamman were punished severely for reaching a slightly inferior contract.

Garozzo's singleton spade lead made American rooters groan. In the other room, when Belladonna held the South hand, East stuck in a spade overcall, and although Belladonna knew about the 4-4 fit in hearts, he wisely insisted on playing at no trump, making 10 tricks.

Here, dummy's ace won Garozzo's spade opening, and Mathe led a heart to the king. He was now in a position to lose only one trump trick—except for the fact that he could not prevent the killing ruff. West won with the heart ace and led to East's club ace. The spade return was trumped, and West got out with another club. It did not matter that Mathe did not guess to finesse for the jack of hearts. After taking dummy's club queen, Mathe stripped the hands of clubs and spades. When West was put in with the heart jack he had to lead a diamond, saving declarer a diamond loser. But the contract was down one, and in a single hand Italy had recovered the 10 IMPs lost in the first 11 deals.

A few hands later the reeling Americans were killed off for good.

The cumbersome Roman bidding method had to be twice revised during this tournament in order to cope with some new obstructive bids—baby psychics that upset the Italians' bidding rhythm—but there is no doubt that the Roman system offers all of the tools needed to bid grand slams.

North's heart response was genuine—the Romans prefer to show a four-card major before a longer minor. The three-heart bid confirmed the suit and asked its quality. Assured about the heart king, South next asked in diamonds and later in spades. North's answers plugged every gap, and South unhesitatingly bid the laydown grand slam.

Now it was up to the North Americans to match that result. It seems to me that they should have had no difficulty reaching the grand slam in their own way after Mathe opened the South hand with a strong artificial two-club bid. But they stopped in six spades—the poorest of the available slam contracts. This gave the Italians 13 IMPs, and at that moment the World Championship was over. On the last nine hands of the session Italy shut out the Americans while scoring 41 IMPs, and once again our slogan was "Wait till next year."

East-West vulnerable South dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

SOUTH
(Mathe)

1 N.T.
2 [Heart]
PASS

WEST
(Garozzo)

PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Hamman)

2 [Club]
4 [Heart]

EAST
(Forquet)

PASS
PASS

Opening lead: 10 of spades

Both vulnerable South dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

[Ace of Spades]
[Queen of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[10 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[Queen of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]
[— of Clubs]

East

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

SOUTH
(Belladonna)

1 [Club]
3 [Heart]
4 [Diamond]
5 [Spade]
7 [Heart]

WEST
(Rubin)

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Avarelli)

1 [Heart]
4 [Club]
4 N.T.
6 [Club]
PASS

EAST
(Feldesman)

PASS
DOUBLE
PASS
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)