It was 3 o'clock on Saturday morning and the audience had dwindled down to a sleepy but significant few as the first round of the 1967 World Bridge Championship neared its end at the Americana Hotel in Miami Beach. France was playing Italy, and observing closely was the North American team, which had drawn a first-round bye and had every reason to assume that if it got to the finals a week hence it was going to have to face one of the two teams it was watching. Neither of the other two contenders for the world title, Venezuela and Thailand, figured to be in serious contention, though the South Americans did startle the Italians in one early match, beating them 47-46.
What the North Americans saw was in part encouraging. There was, for example, the occasion when the Italians went to a slam with two aces outstanding as losers. "When you bid a slam off two aces it's time to rest," said Italian star Pietro Forquet, who promptly benched himself and his partner, Benito Garozzo, before the second half of the evening session began.
But what was less heartening to the North American cause was the fine showing of the French. After quickly falling behind, they rallied to press the Italians furiously. They did not falter and finally lose the match until the 27th deal of the 32 played. The crucial hand was played by Jean-Michel Boulenger and Henri Svarc for France against Mimmo d'Alelio and Camillo Pabis Ticci.
When East could produce nothing more dynamic than a single raise of partner's spade opening, West decided that D'Alelio and Pabis Ticci might be able to make game in hearts. He also decided that the best way to shut them out was by means of a psychic bid in the heart suit.
But the Italians brushed this aside in the manner of eight-time world champions and reached a game that they would surely have missed had West simply bid three spades over South's bid of three clubs. North could not then have had a free opportunity to show strength in hearts and could hardly have afforded to bid hearts for the first time at the four level opposite a partner who had shown no support for the suit. The bidding would probably have stopped at three spades, just as it did in the other room, where the Italians went down one trick for a minus-50 score.
After the automatic opening lead of a high club against the four-heart contract, an immediate shift to a diamond would have beaten the game. The French got halfway there when East made the fine play of refusing to signal on the opening lead, playing his 8 instead of the jack. Unfortunately, West could not recognize the play of the 8 as East's lowest card, especially when declarer false-carded by dropping the 6 on the first trick.
Thinking the 8 was encouraging, West cashed a second club, and now the defense was hopeless. On the third round of clubs, declarer ruffed with dummy's ace of hearts and claimed his contract when trumps fell in two leads.
Helped by the big swing on the hand, Italy went on to beat the French 80-74. But the French had shown their mettle, and the next day they riddled the North Americans 90-45. When the Italians followed up by beating the North Americans on Sunday 66-36, the best that one could say was that, although there was a week of play still to go, the auspices for the home team were not good.