A prophet," the Bible says, "is not without honor, save in his own country." I have long observed the wisdom of this counsel and refrained from making rash predictions. Nevertheless, I am prepared to offer two forecasts about this month's World Bridge Olympiad. First and perhaps safest is that the French team will not win; second, an American team will.
For this prognostication, I'm counting on a psychological edge and a semantic hedge. The last time the Italian Blue Team was defeated in a World Championship was by France in the Olympiad of 1960. The U.S. team nearly did it in the '64 Olympiad. This year we know the Italian Blues are older and we firmly believe our team is stronger. Instead of going into the championship with a sneaky subconscious feeling that Italy is invincible, our players have a feeling of supreme confidence. I, too, think they'll do it.
But even if our team comes a cropper, North America has a second string to its bow—a powerful Canadian team that should reach the semifinals as it did in 1964. My final hedge involves the separate women's World Olympiad championship, for which our gals were strong favorites even before the defending ladies from Great Britain withdrew in a quixotic gesture of support for the British reversal of the World Bridge Federation's cheating verdict against Terence Reese and Boris Schapiro.
To beat Italy this year we've added Bobby Jordan and Arthur Robinson of Philadelphia to the team that bowed in the '67 World Championship in Miami Beach, replacing Eric Murray and Sammy Kehela of Toronto, who will be playing for Canada. Jordan and Robinson shared the top-pair rating with Pietro Forquet and Benito Garozzo of Italy in the 1964 Olympiad. Edgar Kaplan and Norman Kay were rated as the best American pair in the 1967 World Championship; and the third pair—daring Alvin Roth, with his excellent foil, steady and sure Bill Root—goes into this year's affair with far more knowledge of the players and systems to be faced.
As to why the French will lose, the answer lies in part with their Team Trials. The French won in 1960 with Ja�s-Tr�zel, Bourchtoff-Delmouly and Ghestem-Bacherich. Ja�s-Tr�zel, probably the best French pair, couldn't spare the time for Trials play and didn't think they should have to. Bourchtoff-Delmouly, whose partnership was broken up for quite a while, are back in action and made the present team. Ghestem didn't play in the Trials at all; Bacherich played with another partner and didn't make it.
This year's Olympiad imposes drastic penalties for failure to complete a match in the allotted time, so perhaps the old Ghestem-Bacherich combination, which had earned a well-deserved reputation as "the snails" because they play the time-consuming "Relay" system, would be a liability to the present team. Ghestem, who originated the Relay system, admitted they were slow. But he said it was because they had something to think about.
The system allows extremely light opening bids with safety and permits opener's partner to take complete control as long as he makes a "relay"—in most cases, the lowest possible bid over partner's last. When the right hand does come along, Relay permits an extremely accurate exchange of information. Here is the system in tortoiselike action.
It took nine rounds of bidding but when it was over, North, whose every bid but the last was a demand for more information, had an exact picture of South's hand. North's first four bids were relays.
South's spade opening showed at least a five-card suit. His diamond rebid showed a second suit. His spade rebid was what the French call a coup de frein, a putting on of the brakes, announcing a weak opening bid. His club bid showed a three-card fragment, and North now could place 12 of South's 13 cards. The 13th became clear—a sixth spade—when South's three-heart bid showed a void.
Having ascertained the exact distribution of South's hand, North began to call for a showing of the high cards by his ace-asking bid of four clubs. Four hearts showed one ace, and when North then asked again, five diamonds announced one king. Five hearts, another relay, asked for queens, and six clubs showed two. Since South's bidding had announced a void in hearts, his king could only be the king of spades and his queens must be in the minor suits. North's seven-spade bid risked only that South did not have the spade jack and that trumps would split badly. This was the case, but it was no problem for a player of international caliber.