Not that there was any doubt, but the Italians proved again that they are almost invincible at the bridge table, winning the recent European Championship in Ostend, Belgium. More, they did it with the second string—of the famous Blue Team, only Georgio Belladonna played—and still they won convincingly.
Even before the matches began, the bigwigs of bridge had something to talk about. Because of ill health, Baron Robert de Nexon decided to resign as president of the European Bridge League after a reign of 15 years. I use the regal term advisedly. The baron was a benevolent despot; his aim was to build a strong European Bridge League and he accomplished it with foresight, diplomacy and a firm hand. It distressed him when a feud with Pierre Ja�s and Roger Tr�zel cost his French team its best pair, but he would not retreat from a stand he felt was right. A world bridge federation was one of his dreams, and he helped to form it and was its first president.
His career as a bridge statesman caused many to lose sight of the fact that De Nexon is a well-rounded success at many things: chief executive of Coty, owner of a great racing stable and a great bridge player in his own right. He was a favorite partner of Pierre Albarran, one of France's bridge giants. He played with him on the team that won the European Championship in 1935 and came to this country to play against the American champions, the Four Aces, in a match part of which was staged in Madison Square Garden. An empty Garden, I might add, for this was before the advent of Bridge-O-Rama, and since the cards were represented rather confusingly by 52 grown men parading around with placards, spectating was difficult.
De Nexon and Albarran had modern ideas even in those days. Here is a hand played in rubber bridge 25 years ago in which Albarran introduced a cue bid in response to a takeout cue bid.
The opening lead attests the vintage of this deal; it was before the modern "low from three to an honor in partner's suit." At first sight, it appeared that the cue bid had prevented North-South from reaching their best combined suit—either hearts or clubs. But six clubs is defeated by diamond forces when the clubs don't split and six hearts requires a phenomenal guess in hearts. Six spades, as De Nexon played it, was ice cold.
Forced to ruff the opening diamond, declarer made an asset of an apparent liability. If trumps did not split, he could not make the hand, so he used the trumps in his own hand for ruffing, leaving dummy's to draw trumps. But he needed three entry cards to dummy and he chose the right way to get them. His first lead was a low heart to the queen. When it held, he trumped a diamond, went back to dummy with a club and ruffed dummy's last diamond. Only then did he touch trumps, leading his king and overtaking with dummy's ace.
While the 10 and 9 of spades drew the adverse trumps, declarer had the unusual experience of discarding on dummy's short trump suit. His two heart discards left him with only one heart and he was able to run four more clubs to bring home the slam.