The French won the recent European Championship in Warsaw, Poland, but once again it was the Italians who made the news. This time Italy, which is accustomed to finishing first, came in eighth in a field of 17 teams, to the disbelief of the opposition. "If they had been racehorses, you'd have demanded a dope test," said one player. One reason for this decline and fall is that Italy did not send its entire Blue Team, since the event is a qualification round for the World Championship in Miami next May and Italy had already qualified as the defending champion. Nonetheless, the Italians should have done much better, and it is no wonder that there is talk that the Blue Team, which was going to disband, may not break up after all.
No matter who the Italians send to Miami, they, along with the North American, South American and Far Eastern teams, are going to have trouble with the French.
The victorious squad in Warsaw was made up of Dr. Jacques Pariente and Jean-Marc Roudinesco, Jacques Stetten and Leon Tintner and Jean-Michel Boulenger and Henri Svarc, all of whom are experienced in international play and much esteemed in European bridge circles. Leading as they went into the final day, the French faltered but held on to win as the Dutch came from behind to take second place by passing Norway.
One of the pleasures of seeing this French team in action is that two of its pairs use reasonably natural bidding. I am sure they will attract much attention from the crowds at the World Championship, if only because their bidding is comparatively easy to understand.
The team also has a man that bears close watching, because he has a reputation for correctly analyzing unusually difficult hands. He is Henri Svarc, who played this hand against Lebanon in the European Championship.
It is an extremely interesting hand since there are so many ways to try for 12 tricks. Declarer can play for a spade finesse, with the chance that if it loses the suit will break favorably enough to get sufficient discards of his heart losers. Or he can play to ruff out all his hearts except the ace, hoping that the trumps will drop in two leads or that the spade finesse will work. Or he can hope to establish dummy's fifth diamond. Then, having ruffed out a couple of hearts, he does not need to worry if the spade finesse wins or if the spades break evenly.
As the cards lie, most of these methods fail. In different distributions one or the other might succeed, but how is South to decide which of the various lines to follow?
Svarc worked out a procedure that was almost sure to succeed. He won the first trick with the ace of diamonds. Then he led a club to his king and played the queen of hearts, discarding a spade from dummy when West played low, but the finesse failed. When he regained the lead and played a trump to the ace, he found the club suit did not break. Nevertheless, South did not need to rely on a spade finesse. Instead, he was able to discard three more of dummy's spades on the heart suit. He then could cash his spade ace, come to his hand, lead his jack of spades and trump it on the board. Svarc's strategy would have enabled him to make the slam against almost any likely distribution.