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If the American bridge team fails in its last chance to whip the famed Italian Blue Team in Rio de Janeiro this May, it won't be the fault of the coach. Edgar Kaplan has written a book about the Italian systems, has coached two American world championship squads and twice played against the Italians. But the proof positive came when, after the 1968 Olympiad in Deauville, Kaplan played on a team with Blue Team members Giorgio Belladonna, Benito Garozzo and three other Italians.
After having been the victim of the Italian methods at Deauville, Kaplan had great fun playing the Roman Club with Giorgio and the Blue Team Club with Benito. Both partnerships operated on the assumption that Kaplan knew all the latest wrinkles of each system and the American star managed to get through the whole tournament without making a systemic error. Typically, Belladonna bubbled with pleasure at finding an American who knew his system so well, while Garozzo, doing his utmost to make Kaplan blunder, would sometimes go out of his way to produce complicated sequences and would even try to persuade Kaplan to do the wrong thing by his tone and mannerisms. Put yourself in Kaplan's place with the South cards of this deal, as Benito's partner.
Garozzo's opening no-trump bid showed either a strong 16-17 point no-trumper or a weak 13-15 point hand with long clubs but no other suit of four cards or more. Kaplan's two-club response was not a Stayman inquiry for the majors; rather it promised 8 to 12 points and asked which kind of opening North had. Garozzo's two-spade rebid was completely artificial, showing 16 or 17 points. Now South's two no-trump bid asked about the majors. Garozzo replied with three no trump in a tone of finality, at the same time putting his hand face down on the table.
Kaplan had been sure of himself up to this point, but the three no-trump bid puzzled him. To deny either major, Garozzo would have bid three clubs. If he had a four-card major he would have shown it. So what was three no trump? Kaplan nearly passed—partly with the feeling that a man ought to know what he was doing in his own system, and partly because Garozzo was behaving for all the world like a man making the last bid of the auction.
But something about Benito's attitude didn't ring true. Casting desperately back in his memory—and helped a little bit because he knows that Benito is one of the most ethical players in the world—Kaplan recalled that three no trump described a holding of both four-card majors with three cards in clubs and two in diamonds; with the other distribution in the minors, Benito would have bid three diamonds. Triumphantly, Kaplan bid four hearts, purposely selecting the shorter trump fit so that he might discard North's second diamond on his fifth spade and thus avoid a possible diamond loser. Garozzo shook his head dolefully; then, after West led the jack of clubs, he put down exactly the dummy Kaplan had expected.
Having surmounted the bidding hurdle, Kaplan did not make the mistake of covering the jack of clubs. East would win and return a diamond and declarer would have a loser in each suit. Instead, he ducked. When West continued clubs, East's ace was ruffed out.
Neither did Kaplan make the mistake of taking a heart finesse into the dangerous hand. Instead, he cashed the ace and king of hearts and took the spade finesse. It lost, but the contract was safe. There was no way for the opponents to get their diamond trick before dummy's second diamond could be discarded on declarer's long spade.
At the other table, the opponents went down in four spades, which had no chance as the cards lay.