I was prepared not so long ago to make a rash move and predict that somebody would beat the Italian Blue Team in the World Championship that is beginning this week in Miami Beach. If the victor was not to be North America—and we have not been able to win for more than a decade with teams that were perhaps the equal of our present one—I wondered if the French team, which was good enough to win the European Championship last year, might not catch the Italians feeling jaded and surprise them.
But all that was before the old Blues repaired to Cannes last month to bask in the sun and practice for a few days against two French teams. One of these was made up of young French stars, whom the Italians, not surprisingly, crushed. The other was composed of the finest pair France has to offer, Pierre Ja�s and Roger Tr�zel, and George Th�ron and G�rard Desrousseaux, who are an experienced tournament partnership. The Italians treated them just as they had the youngsters, winning an 80-board match hands down.
Spectators could find little fault with the Blue Team's bidding or play, but the Italians are their own sternest critics and during the day in Cannes they could be found at poolside hard at work analyzing the results of the previous evening's session. One of the deals that came in for extensive discussion was this one from the match against the young French experts. Giorgio Belladonna figured as both the goat and the hero of the hand—but before reading on, decide whether you would rather be declarer at a contract of five clubs or defend against it. And then prepare to follow closely.
Because of the Italian bidding system, Walter Avarelli could not open the North hand with one club, which would have been conventional. And Belladonna did not double three diamonds, because he felt that Avarelli would take him out of the double anyway. So he bid three no trump, which would have been easy to make. But Avarelli, feeling that this was too dangerous in view of his meager diamonds, returned to clubs, and Belladonna carried on to game.
Belladonna won the first trick with the ace of hearts and lost a spade finesse to East's queen. East cashed the king of diamonds and exited with a spade to the king and ace. Belladonna crossed to his hand with a high trump, ruffed a diamond on the table and discarded a heart on the high spade. But only 10 tricks could now be made because West held all four trumps.
The next morning at poolside the Italians reconsidered the hand. "You went wrong at the first trick," Benito Garozzo told Belladonna. "Win the first trick with dummy's heart king and lead a diamond. When East wins, any red suit return gives away a trick so East must lead a spade, and the king loses to dummy's ace. Now put East back on lead with the spade queen and his best return is another spade. You pitch a heart, come to the ace of hearts, ruff a diamond, ruff a spade with a high trump and ruff another diamond on the table. You can ruff dummy's last heart high and dummy has three top trumps for the rest."
"Allow me to be East," said Belladonna. "I win the second trick with the king of diamonds and I lead the jack of hearts!" Now South cannot afford to give up a spade trick to East because a heart return would allow West to score the setting trick via a ruff.
"But," continued Belladonna, "for a small wager I shall consent to be declarer, and this time I won't go down." Nobody took Belladonna up on that one, and wisely, for he pointed out the following line of play:
Win the heart opening in dummy, cross to the trump king and lose a spade finesse to the queen. East returns a spade and dummy leads a diamond to East's king. East's best exit is another spade and South makes the unexpected play—a ruff. Now he runs all the trumps and ends up with the good spade and two hearts in dummy and the ace and 5 of hearts and queen of diamonds in his hand. South leads the good spade and East has to let go of the high diamond or unguard the hearts. After a slight pause for effect, Belladonna continued: "Of course, if East returns a low heart after winning the queen of spades, I win with dummy's 10, come to my hand with the ace of clubs for a second spade finesse, ruff a spade and make my contract. And the return of the jack of hearts similarly presents no problem."
It was a brilliant analysis, and I am afraid that the poolside conversation in Miami Beach will have the same flavor—just more variations on Italian coups. The Blue Team has won eight straight world championships, and now it looks better than ever.