Ever since Italy's bridge juggernaut ground to its third world title, bridge circles have rocked with disputes about the virtues of "the Italian system."
It might be difficult to argue with success except for one glaring flaw in the major premise: there is no Italian system. Italy's team plays two different systems which are diametrically opposed in principle. Each uses an opening bid of one club artificially. But the Roman Club, used by Avarelli and Belladonna, is primarily designed to exchange distributional information, while the Neapolitan Club, employed by the others, deals exclusively with high-card strength. If the Italians themselves can't agree, then neither method would seem to be the royal road to success.
No pretense of infallibility has ever been made for our methods either. In the following hand from this World Championship match it is obvious that bidding skill is evaluated by what happens in the play.
In the other room, with Italy holding the North-South cards, Belladonna overcalled with two clubs but passed Avarelli's two-spade call—a decision that seemed justified when Avarelli made three-odd for a score of 140, counting the 50-point bonus for the part score.
Incidentally it should be observed that South's two-spade bid was well calculated, although his spade suit was none too strong. Lazard recognized it as a forward-going bid, and his raise to three spades, though rather enterprising, evoked our admiration.
Thus encouraged, Sam Fry properly carried on to game, but when the dummy was spread, it appeared that the United States pair had not made a sound investment. Even allowing for a winning diamond finesse, declarer faced the loss of a club trick and the possible loss of three tricks in trumps.
Because communication problems were acute, declarer immediately led the spade 6 from dummy in the vague hope that "something would happen." It should be mentioned here that Fry played extremely well during the championship matches, but with this gesture he abandoned the contract. East's 9 forced South's 10 and West's king. The jack and queen dropped under West's ace, but West's 8-spot was good for a third trump trick and the ace of clubs was the setting card.
I won't mind if you wish to charge to system-failure the lack of the spade jack, which would have provided a reasonable chance for the contract. Yet the fact is that the actual combination of cards, properly handled, affords a valid play for the contract. Declarer must hope to find West with A-J, K-J or A-K-x in spades.
After winning the opening lead with the queen of hearts, he should lead a low club. East wins with the 10 and returns a heart, won in dummy. Declarer ruffs a low club as the ace drops from West. Now a low spade is led toward dummy, and West wins with the king. No matter what he returns, the queen of spades will now crash the missing honors. And, since West has the king of diamonds, he cannot avoid putting declarer into his own hand to draw the last trump. South makes four-odd for a plus of 420 instead of a minus of 50.
International match-point scoring used in world championship play exaggerates the value of small swings. Systems primarily designed for this form of competition are not nearly so effective in rubber bridge, where you can afford to bid a game on considerably less than a 50-50 chance—especially if you can play the cards for all they are worth.