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No giveaways in Miami

A couple of weeks from now two official, undefeated world champion bridge teams—Italy's famous Blues and America's Aces—will be competing in the World Bridge Olympiad for sole claim to the world title. A paradox? Not really. Let me explain.

Every fourth year, beginning in 1960 in Turin, Italy, the battle for the world team championship of contract bridge has been waged under rules that are different from those of other years, when four or five zonal champions collide in head-to-head competition against the defending world champion and each other for the Bermuda Bowl. Instead, in Olympic years any country belonging to the World Bridge Federation may send a team to the World Olympiad. The Aces, Bermuda Bowl winners in 1970 and '71, won the right to represent the U.S. in this year's Olympiad (SI, Nov. 8). The Blues, defending Olympiad champions (they won in 1968 and in 1964) as well as 10-time Bermuda Bowl victors before they retired unbeaten in 1969, were, of course, the automatic choice to uphold Italy's honor.

The 1972 Olympiad—so-called because bridge is not an Olympic sport—will be held at the Americana of Bal Harbour Hotel in Miami Beach June 9-24. It will be the biggest ever. In addition to the U.S. and Italy, 38 other nations and territories will be represented. The previous record of 33 countries was set in Deauville, France in 1968, in spite of a general strike that kept two teams from getting there at all.

Miami's record-breaking entry will also mean that the pigeons will be tossed into the same pit with the hawks, for a complete round robin of 20-deal matches—three sessions a day for 13 exhausting days—will have to be played before the four eventual leaders can get down to the real business of settling the world championship. On Thursday, June 22, the 14th day without a breather, the four top teams will at last pair off (the leading team will get to choose its opponent) in a one-day, two-session semifinal of 64 deals. The two winners will then commence a three-session 88-deal final: two more 32-deal sessions on Friday followed by 24 boards on Saturday afternoon, immediately preceding the victory banquet that will bring this bridge marathon to a close.

No one is forcing me to climb out on a limb, but I would venture to say that the two finalists will be the Blue Team and the Aces. Which two of the other teams make it to the semifinals will depend on how devastatingly some of the hawks pluck the chickens in the opening 13-day scramble.

Thus, in the early going at least, every match will be worth watching. And a spectator wandering into the vast Open Room, the ballroom of the Americana, will find 28 tables to choose from—nine from the women's team championship, which will be contested simultaneously, and 19 of the 20 open tables from the main event. There will be one stipulation, however. Spectators wishing to watch at tableside will have to be seated before play begins, since the same 20 deals will be used in each of the matches. Doings at the 20th open table, which will be located in a room by itself, will be shown on closed-circuit television, accompanied by expert commentary and rear-screen projection of all four hands, in a theater-style setting for several hundred kibitzers who may enter at any time.

In previous Olympiads one could judge the importance of a particular match by the size of the gallery. This was not always true in Deauville, however, where Omar Sharif, playing on Egypt's team, was the biggest draw. His imposing crowd of kibitzers was not limited entirely to bridge enthusiasts. Two young ladies, who for hours had adored every move the actor made, afterward approached an official with a surprising question: "Tell us, sir, what game is Omar playing?"

But Omar will not be playing in Miami. Egypt's entry was canceled at the last moment when Sharif decided to remain in France to attend to his racing stable, the only sporting activity that can, for Omar, take precedence over bridge. This leaves Lebanon as the one Arab team that will, by political necessity, be forced to forfeit its match to Israel. In 1964, and again in 1968, both the Lebanese and U.A.R. teams sat out their matches against the Israelis, although in Deauville Omar expressed his differing personal view by playing one board with members of the Israeli team. Sharif's unmistakable gesture nonetheless failed to appease some of the Israeli sympathizers. About a year later the convention manager of Grossinger's was offered the attraction of an appearance at that Catskill Mountain resort by Omar and his Bridge Circus, which included members of the Blue Team. The manager's reply was swift and brief: "I think that first we would close the hotel."

This year's tournament is also scheduled to make strange political tablefellows. During the wheeling and dealing to have Morocco accepted as a new member of the World Bridge Federation and an entrant in the Olympiad, it was reportedly agreed that the Moroccan team would play all scheduled opponents, including Israel. Whether or not this proves to be true, Lebanon for sure will be conferring an advantage on Israel—at least 12 victory points for the forfeited match. Far more important, Israel will enjoy the enormous benefit of a bye round in a schedule that makes physical endurance a prime factor in determining the four eventual survivors.

My picks for the semifinals aside from the Aces and the Blues? Let's look at the Olympiad record. In 1960, when France won to break Italy's otherwise uninterrupted skein of world titles between 1957 and 1969, the other finalists were Great Britain and three teams from the U.S. (Thereafter, the rules were changed and entries limited to one team per country.) In 1964 the finalists were Italy, Great Britain, Canada and the U.S. In 1968 this cast had a single change: Britain sent no team to Deauville and The Netherlands finished fourth. But Switzerland and Australia came within an eyelash of getting into the semifinals, as they had in 1964, while Belgium finished a surprising seventh in the qualifying round and France wound up a disappointing eighth.

Selecting from these previous high finishers, I would have to say that Belgium's chances can be discounted. The Dutch are sure to find life less rosy without their winning optimist, Cornelius Slavenburg; and Australia may surprise, but the team does not seem to be quite as strong as it was in '68. The French? Not with their two outstanding pairs—Pierre Ja√Øs-Roger Trézel and Henri Svarc-Jean-Michel Boulenger—sitting this one out in Paris. Which brings me down to Britain, Canada and Switzerland and, possibly, the Republic of China on the strength of its international showing since adopting the Precision System three years ago. Britain finished second to Italy in the most recent European Championship; Canada has Eric Murray and Sammy Kehela, backed by a strong foursome; and Switzerland has Jean Besse and Pietro Bernasconi, surely two of the world's most formidable players. Any two of these four countries might make it.

One thing seems virtually certain: regardless of which team it plays in the semifinals, the reunited Italian Blue Team—Giorgio Belladonna, Walter Avarelli, Pietro Forquet, Benito Garozzo, Mimmo d'Alelio and Camillo Pabis Ticci—will get to the finals. And its opponent is most likely to be the twice-world-champion Aces. Who will win? Setting patriotism aside, how can anyone bet against the Blues, even if one discounts their victory in their only previous meeting with the Aces—the $15,000 challenge match recently played in Las Vegas (SI, Jan. 3)? Admittedly the Aces were still adjusting to the shake-up in which Paul Soloway replaced Billy Eisenberg, joining Jim Jacoby, Bobby Wolff, Mike Lawrence, Bobby Goldman and Bob Hamman. But by the same token, the Blues were still rusty from their long absence from competition as a team and still they won, leaving the impression that they would always play just well enough to win.

One of the most discussed deals from the Las Vegas clash was this one in which Belladonna revoked not just once—as he has also done in world title play—but twice, an unprecedented occurrence with far-reaching consequences.

Soloway's jump-shift response after he had passed initially was greatly influenced by Hamman's opening heart bid, of course. Thereafter, all of Soloway's rebids were minimums, but South drove to the slam anyway, expecting North to furnish more in the trump suit.

The only legitimate chance for the slam was the slim one that East held precisely the singleton jack of hearts and that the spade suit would behave favorably. (The only alternative—playing West for the singleton king of trumps and East for J, 6, 4, 2—would not help declarer on this layout, since he has to ruff at least one spade in his hand and could not then pick up East's trumps.) So after East won the first trick with the spade ace and returned a club, declarer took the ace and laid down the queen of hearts. Belladonna covered with the king, dummy's ace was played and South's hopes faded when the jack failed to drop.

Dummy's 10 of spades was led, East threw a club and South trumped with the 10 of hearts. South then led a second trump and Belladonna, whose 6 of hearts was hidden somewhere in his hand, discarded a diamond—a revoke that, once established, would incur a two-trick penalty, enough to give declarer his slam. But Hamman did not know Belladonna had revoked and naturally assumed that East must have started with four trumps—an assumption that was reinforced when East won with the jack of hearts and returned a third trump on which Belladonna again discarded. With only one trump now left in dummy and none in his hand, the 6 of hearts still outstanding and the spade suit still one trick from being established, declarer went on to lose two more tricks, putting the contract down three—until the two revokes were discovered. Alas, the slam was still lost. Although there is a two-trick penalty for the first revoke, there is, according to present law, no additional penalty for a second revoke in the same suit. So even with two tricks restored for the revoke penalty, the slam was still one trick shy of being made.

Of course, had Belladonna found the 6 of hearts in time to avert his second revoke, South would have made his slam, giving up the jack of spades but adding two penalty tricks to the 10 he could have collected. Thus, the first revoke gave away the slam but the second defeated it again. Just or unjust? However you may feel, the law is clear, and the Italians were plus 100. Adding this to their teammates' result of making five hearts on a four-heart contract in the other room, the net gain was plus 750 for the Blues instead of minus 780, a substantial swing in their favor. Coming as it did at the exact halfway mark in the 140-deal Las Vegas match, which had been very close up to that point, such a gain made a tremendous difference.

Belladonna is not likely to be so careless again in Miami.

Both sides vulnerable North dealer


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


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


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


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


2 [Spade]
3 [Heart]
4 [Heart]
5 [Heart]




1 [Heart]
3 [Diamond]
3 NT
5 [Club]
6 [Heart]



Opening lead: 7 of spades