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Sing no sad songs for the Blues

June 11, 1973
June 11, 1973

Table of Contents
June 11, 1973

Lacrosse
  • By Peter Carry

    In the NCAA lacrosse championship, a stall by underdog Johns Hopkins held mighty Maryland for a while. But a cluster of All-Americas and a hot-shooting freshman named Urso saved the day in overtime

Fire And Rain
Out Of The Cage
People
Baseball
Wrestling
Bridge
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

Sing no sad songs for the Blues

On a balmy Brazilian isle Italy's world-championship entry, which included three members of the fabled Blue Team, once again breezed to the title, leaving the hopes of the U.S.—and the rest of the world—at sea

Down in Guarujà, Brazil, a tropical island resort some 40 miles southeast of Sao Paulo, the U.S. Aces, holders of the Bermuda Bowl, symbol of the world bridge championship, finally were forced to face a fact that has haunted other competitors for 16 years: the Italian Blue Team—even half of the Italian Blue Team—is virtually unbeatable. Although the Aces scored a moral victory by finishing on top in the qualifying rounds, Giorgio Belladonna, Benito Gross and Pietro Forquet, all true Blues, combined with newcomers Benito Bianchi, Giuseppe Garabello and Vito Pittala to crush the Aces 333 international match points to 205 and sail off with the trophy.

This is an article from the June 11, 1973 issue Original Layout

Organized and subsidized in 1968 by Dallas millionaire Ira G. Corn Jr. for the specific purpose of bringing the Bermuda Bowl back to the U.S. (we had last won it in 1954), the Aces had accomplished Corn's objective by winning the world title in Oslo in 1970 and repeating in 1971 in Taiwan. But those victories had a hollow ring since the Blue Team had "permanently" retired in 1969 following its 10th straight win. In order to convince the world that they really were the top team in bridge, Corn and his Aces felt that they had to beat the Blues, and late in 1971 dollar diplomacy succeeded in luring the Italians out of their self-imposed exile. Corn, backed by the Hilton International Hotel, dangled a bait of some $30,000 in prize money for two separate team competitions in Las Vegas, and all six of the Blues, including Walter Avarelli, Mimmo d'Alelio and Camillo Pabis Ticci, agreed to compete for the pot of gold.

Alas, they took the pot in the challenge match against the Aces, and they won the open-team competition, too. Then, six months later, they came back to defeat the Aces in the finals of the 1972 World Team Olympiad in Miami for their third successive victory in that quadrennial event. Frustrated but still custodians of the Bermuda Bowl, the Aces welcomed one more whack at even the half-Blue team that was to represent Italy in Guarujà.

Although three other squads—Brazil, the host team and winner of the 1972 South American championship; a North American entry headed by B. Jay Becker, who had starred on U.S. sixsomes that won the bowl way back in 1951 and 1953; and Indonesia, the Far East champion and a newcomer to world events—were listed as contenders, the prohibitive pre-tournament favorites were the Aces and Blues. The only suspense elements were the new members of these teams.

The Aces were not the same group that had won in Taiwan. Paul Soloway, who had replaced Billy Eisenberg on the roster for Miami, had in turn resigned and been replaced by Mark Blumenthal, a young Philadelphian who never had played in world competition. (Soloway, meanwhile, joined the Becker team.) In his role as nonplaying captain, Corn held Blumenthal out of most of the tougher matches. Corn also benched Jim Jacoby, the most internationally experienced Ace of all, during the crucial going because Jim had taken a great deal of time off from the team to fulfill more lucrative professional playing dates. All of which left the burden on the shoulders of Bobby Wolff, Bob Hamman, Bobby Goldman and Mike Lawrence.

The potential of Italy's new lineup posed an even more puzzling question. There was no doubt about Belladonna and Garozzo either as individual stars or as partners—they had played together before—but how would the redoubtable Forquet team with Bianchi? As for the young pair, Garabello and Pittala had been cleaning up in Italian tournaments but were totally untried at this level of competition. And they, too, were benched whenever a match was critical.

In the qualifying round robin, during which each team met every other team in three short matches, the Blues and Bianchi soon ran up a commanding lead, including an opening 13-7 victory-point win against the Aces. Then came a turnabout. In the second round the Aces eked out a four-IMP, 11-9 victory over Italy, thanks in part to a Belladonna revoke.

For a player who is ranked as the world's top Grand Master (1,333 points to Forquet's second-place 1,300). Belladonna is surprisingly prone to what is always thought of as a duffer's error. In Las Vegas a double revoke by Belladonna resulted, in the end, in a profit to the Blue Team at the expense of the Aces—a most unusual situation. On this deal the result was less fortuitous for Italy:

Both sides vulnerable East dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

EAST
(Garozzo)

PASS
PASS

SOUTH
(Lawrence)

1 [Spade]
PASS

WEST
(Belladonna)

PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Goldman)

2 [Spade]

Opening lead: 10 of hearts

Playing at the same two-spade contract in the closed room, Forquet was set one trick when the Aces collected two spades, two hearts and two diamonds for +100. Thus spectators watching on Vu-Graph expected the same result when Belladonna and Garozzo defended against Lawrence. But Belladonna surprised them by revoking while trying to create an illusion that he hoped would produce a two-trick set.

Lawrence won the first trick with the ace of hearts, successfully finessed dummy's queen of clubs and lost a spade finesse to Belladonna who, instead of continuing hearts and thus helping declarer toward a fourth-round heart ruff in dummy, led the king of clubs. On winning with dummy's club ace, Lawrence led a diamond to his king. Belladonna won with the ace and returned the jack of clubs. South ruffed and led a heart, playing low from dummy in hopes that East's king would fall on air. Garozzo won and cashed the king of hearts, on which Belladonna threw the 5 of diamonds. Next came the queen of diamonds and Belladonna dropped the jack. He hoped that Lawrence would ruff the next diamond high and somehow lose two more trump tricks, instead of just one.

The deception worked, all right. Lawrence did trump high on the next diamond, but Belladonna, who by now had fooled even himself, overruffed with the king! Garozzo screamed, "No diamonds?" But before the words were out Belladonna had his next lead on the table, and the revoke was established. Lawrence finished down one, but the penalty for the revoke gave him his contract and the Aces five IMPs, just enough to swing the match.

There was no uncertainty about the Aces' 17-3 victory over Italy in their third round-robin meeting and, for the first time since they had begun their winning ways, the Italians failed to finish the qualifying round in the top spot, relinquishing that honor to the Aces.

Not that the relative positions mattered, except to the Brazilians, who had to settle for third place, and to Becker's squad and the Indonesians, who followed in fourth and fifth. The first and second finishers were automatically in the finals, and only the result of the last 128 deals would count. Indeed, the Italians had seemed to relax once they were assured of a berth, but observers began to wonder if the Aces' strong finish might not be a portent of good things.

Those wonders were soon to cease. The Italians, with Garozzo and Belladonna pounding away in the closed room and Forquet and Bianchi performing exquisite surgery on closed-circuit TV, scored 65 I MPs to the Aces' four in the first 16 deals, then went on in the next 16 to collect another 59 IMPs to the Aces' two. The score was 124-6, and the match was as good as over.

How do the Italians go on winning? As a member of the team that absorbed the worst drubbing ever administered at the hands of the Blues, I am in no better position to answer than anyone else, yet no team ever has been more closely observed in an effort to fathom its secret of success.

Early on we were told that it was the Blues' bidding system—but they once used three different systems, and today four of their present team, including Bianchi, have switched over to Precision. Their record in slam bidding is far better than their opponents', but we have usually outbid them in competitive part-score hands and held our own in the game-bidding department. Superb players? Surely it would be difficult to find any team with three members to equal Belladonna, Forquet and Garozzo, but through the years the Blues" personnel and partnerships have changed, and still they keep winning. A great captain? That was true in the days of Carlo Alberto Per-roux, who molded the team and built it, but Perroux has not been the captain since 1966. Luck? Good teams make their own. Yet consider the straw that broke the Aces' back on Board 15 of the finals.

Both Garozzo and Hamman are aggressive bidders, but in this deal Bianchi's Precision Club opening gave Ham-man a chance to come in at the one level.

Warned by the diamond overcall, Bianchi played accordingly. He won the spade lead and returned a spade to West's 9. Hamman shifted to the 7 of diamonds, taken by South's king. A spade was ruffed in dummy, and when East ducked the 10 of hearts lead, Bianchi was not tempted to take a deep finesse, realizing that if he lost the trick to Hamman he would probably lose a diamond ruff as well. He finessed the queen of hearts, cashed the heart ace and cheerfully bore the loss of two more tricks to the ace of clubs and the high heart, making his contract for +620. In the other room Goldman's opening bid was one heart, and Garozzo (West), unwilling to come in at the two level on such a shabby diamond suit, restrained his normal desire for action and passed. Lawrence responded one no trump, then raised to game when Goldman jump-rebid in hearts.

Goldman won the king of spades opening lead with his ace and led the king of clubs. Garozzo took the ace and continued with the jack of clubs, won by dummy's queen. Since it would be dangerous to give up a spade to East and get a club return, declarer took the finesse of the heart queen. The finesse held, and Goldman was pleased to find both opponents following to the heart ace. With only the high trump now out, he cashed the king of diamonds and led toward dummy's queen. If this held, he would be able to discard one spade on the diamond ace and make his contract; and he would make an overtrick if the diamond jack dropped on the third round, allowing him to throw his last spade on dummy's good 10.

There was only one thing amiss. Belladonna was able to ruff the second diamond, and the defenders cashed two spade tricks. Down one for the Aces and a swing of 12 IMPs to Italy on the combined result, with nobody having done anything really wrong at either table.

So once again the Italian national anthem was played first at the victory banquet, with Italy's supermen applauded by their hosts and most of the members of the opposing teams. Three were absent: Corn, called away by a previous business appointment; Wolff, who returned with him; and B. Jay Becker, who continued what has been a luckless year. After surviving a near-fatal illness and subsequent surgery this winter—not to mention the shellacking his team took in Guarujà—B. Jay was struck by a bus while getting into a cab on his way to the banquet. He is home now, recovering from a severely lacerated leg and fractures of the collarbone and ankles. Poor B. Jay. He even looks like a man who has been steamrollered by the Blues.

North-South vulnerable South dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

SOUTH
(Bianchi)

1 [Club]
1 [Heart]
2 [Heart]
3 [Spade]
PASS

WEST
(Hamman)

1 [Diamond]
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH
(Forquet)

DBL.
2 [Club]
3 [Diamond]
4 [Heart]

EAST
(Wolff)

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

Opening lead: king of spades