A Miami newspaper columnist, unhampered by intimate knowledge of the game at the World Championship level, recently annoyed the cognoscenti among his readers—but no doubt entertained nonbridge players—by professing astonishment that so sedentary an occupation should require six players on a team. He was quite correct that only four play at one time, but he was quite wrong in the assumption that championship bridge is not an exhausting game, as the victorious Italians themselves made clear while en route to the world title in June. Toward the end of that 10-day grind, Giorgio Belladonna revoked (it didn't cost much), Benito Garozzo bid seven hearts when he meant to say seven spades (he was allowed to correct this, but his partner was barred from any further bid) and Pietro Forquet made three errors in the same hand, including the failure to execute an automatic unblocking play (this one turned out to be expensive).
The French really suffered, and because of weariness may well have lost their chance to reach the finals. It was not that they were short of players—they had six. But one of their three pairs, Jean-Michel Boulenger and Henri Svarc, were playing much better than the other two. As a consequence, Boulenger and Svarc were used almost constantly in the toughest matches. It is my guess that this had much to do with the French winding up a poor third after setting the early pace. They ran out of steam.
Jean-Michel Boulenger is tall, handsome and young enough to make his long hair and sideburns look appropriate. Henri Svarc is thin, sharp-featured, not very tall and in Miami was still hobbling on the crutches he acquired via a skiing accident in Switzerland earlier this year. They have a fine partnership, play a system that is close to Standard American and I am sure will be one of the pairs chosen to play for France in the European Championship in Dublin this fall. What the French will now try to do is bolster the rest of their team so that Svarc and Boulenger need not play so much. But even then a French captain will be tempted, for this pair can come up with the kind of brilliance shown in this hand, which occurred in the French team trials.
The initial bids were routine, and Boulenger's three-diamond offering was merely a catchall cue bid, trying to get more information from Svarc. When Svarc later showed the ace of diamonds, Boulenger carried on to slam.
Svarc was not the only declarer to reach six spades, but he was the only one to make it. He played dummy's jack on the first diamond, won the queen with the ace and cashed the king and ace of spades. The losing diamond and a small club were pitched on the two top hearts. Here was where most declarers parted company with Svarc. After a club to the king lost to the ace, they later took a finesse for the jack of clubs and went down one.
Svarc had a better play. He led a third round of hearts and ruffed it, discovering that West had started with two spades and at least three hearts. So he led a club toward dummy and put on the queen, which won. Then he led a low club and ducked it to West's now blank ace.
The play Svarc used, sometimes called the Obligatory Finesse, seems to fall in the category of the coup en blanc—"shot in the dark." But Svarc could see well, because West's bid, combined with the cards he had already played, illuminated the situation. With a diamond suit that lacked the ace, queen and jack, West figured to have the ace of clubs and six diamonds for his overcall. The count on West's hand indicated that he had started with two clubs at most. So when West played the club 2 and dummy's club queen held, the club ace now had to be blank. I know: it didn't have to be. But it figured to be. Svarc's shot wasn't lucky, it was aimed.