Preparing to meet the Italian team again, I have been restudying the hands played in last year's world championship matches.
Analysts have blamed the U.S. defeat on inferior slam bidding (true), on loose understanding between partners (true), on the superiority of the Italian systems (highly doubtful), and on the failure of "standard" American methods (nonsense). Team matches are rarely won; they are usually lost by the team that makes the most mistakes. This last world championship was no exception.
Yet it is not possible to eliminate luck entirely. In the following deal, for example, both teams blundered. I will not attempt to decide which blunder was the more egregious, but the American was punished while the Italian was not.
The one-club opening showed a balanced 12-to-16-point hand; the one-spade response showed eight high-card points or more. As is customary, North bid the shorter of his suits first. For some reason—perhaps because he feared that too much of his high-card strength was in the suits in which North must be short—South never raised spades and the Italian pair got to an inferior no-trump game.
West led the diamond 4. East's queen was captured by declarer's ace. Declarer finessed the club 10, and East made the good play of ducking with the queen. But South shifted to spades, establishing two winners in that suit, and brought home his nine tricks—three in clubs, three in hearts, two in spades, one in diamonds. With the club queen offside, however, the no-trump contract would have been defeated if East had held a small diamond, whereas four spades was unbeatable.
The American North-South pair got to a spade contract—but, alas, they failed to apply the brakes in time. Their bidding, with Sam Fry Jr., North, and Sidney Lazard, South, could hardly be called standard.