Down in Guarujá, Brazil, a tropical island resort some 40 miles southeast of Sao Paulo, the U.S. Aces, holders of the Bermuda Bowl, symbol of the world bridge championship, finally were forced to face a fact that has haunted other competitors for 16 years: the Italian Blue Team—even half of the Italian Blue Team—is virtually unbeatable. Although the Aces scored a moral victory by finishing on top in the qualifying rounds, Giorgio Belladonna, Benito Gross and Pietro Forquet, all true Blues, combined with newcomers Benito Bianchi, Giuseppe Garabello and Vito Pittala to crush the Aces 333 international match points to 205 and sail off with the trophy.
Organized and subsidized in 1968 by Dallas millionaire Ira G. Corn Jr. for the specific purpose of bringing the Bermuda Bowl back to the U.S. (we had last won it in 1954), the Aces had accomplished Corn's objective by winning the world title in Oslo in 1970 and repeating in 1971 in Taiwan. But those victories had a hollow ring since the Blue Team had "permanently" retired in 1969 following its 10th straight win. In order to convince the world that they really were the top team in bridge, Corn and his Aces felt that they had to beat the Blues, and late in 1971 dollar diplomacy succeeded in luring the Italians out of their self-imposed exile. Corn, backed by the Hilton International Hotel, dangled a bait of some $30,000 in prize money for two separate team competitions in Las Vegas, and all six of the Blues, including Walter Avarelli, Mimmo d'Alelio and Camillo Pabis Ticci, agreed to compete for the pot of gold.
Alas, they took the pot in the challenge match against the Aces, and they won the open-team competition, too. Then, six months later, they came back to defeat the Aces in the finals of the 1972 World Team Olympiad in Miami for their third successive victory in that quadrennial event. Frustrated but still custodians of the Bermuda Bowl, the Aces welcomed one more whack at even the half-Blue team that was to represent Italy in Guarujá.
Although three other squads—Brazil, the host team and winner of the 1972 South American championship; a North American entry headed by B. Jay Becker, who had starred on U.S. sixsomes that won the bowl way back in 1951 and 1953; and Indonesia, the Far East champion and a newcomer to world events—were listed as contenders, the prohibitive pre-tournament favorites were the Aces and Blues. The only suspense elements were the new members of these teams.
The Aces were not the same group that had won in Taiwan. Paul Soloway, who had replaced Billy Eisenberg on the roster for Miami, had in turn resigned and been replaced by Mark Blumenthal, a young Philadelphian who never had played in world competition. (Soloway, meanwhile, joined the Becker team.) In his role as nonplaying captain, Corn held Blumenthal out of most of the tougher matches. Corn also benched Jim Jacoby, the most internationally experienced Ace of all, during the crucial going because Jim had taken a great deal of time off from the team to fulfill more lucrative professional playing dates. All of which left the burden on the shoulders of Bobby Wolff, Bob Hamman, Bobby Goldman and Mike Lawrence.
The potential of Italy's new lineup posed an even more puzzling question. There was no doubt about Belladonna and Garozzo either as individual stars or as partners—they had played together before—but how would the redoubtable Forquet team with Bianchi? As for the young pair, Garabello and Pittala had been cleaning up in Italian tournaments but were totally untried at this level of competition. And they, too, were benched whenever a match was critical.
In the qualifying round robin, during which each team met every other team in three short matches, the Blues and Bianchi soon ran up a commanding lead, including an opening 13-7 victory-point win against the Aces. Then came a turnabout. In the second round the Aces eked out a four-IMP, 11-9 victory over Italy, thanks in part to a Belladonna revoke.
For a player who is ranked as the world's top Grand Master (1,333 points to Forquet's second-place 1,300). Belladonna is surprisingly prone to what is always thought of as a duffer's error. In Las Vegas a double revoke by Belladonna resulted, in the end, in a profit to the Blue Team at the expense of the Aces—a most unusual situation. On this deal the result was less fortuitous for Italy:
Both sides vulnerable East dealer