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There was an interesting bidding problem posted by Debbie Rosenberg. Two passes to a 3rd seat unfavorable 2 opening and you hold:

AQ K KT753 AQ653

The thread and votes can be found at

While some other options were more popular, thus far, there are 18 votes for 3. Jan Lagerman noted that this was Belladonna’s choice with a similar shaped hand, different start. This was the hand and situation for Giorgio Belladonna & Howard Schenken sitting East at the Bermuda Bowl in St Vincent, 1963


Schenken opted to bid 2, Belladonna bid 2. Jan Lagerman - offering no opinion, just stating facts - also noted “his opps were not happy...”.

Italy reached 5 making, America defended 3 for down one at Schenken’s table. Truscott claimed Belladonna’s call was “a decidedly odd decision.” Truscott went on to write: “Two diamonds would allow for the possibility of introducing clubs later. Two clubs may have been a lucky guess, but it fitted West’s his partner’s hand. The Italians had a habit of making lucky guesses.”

This might seem surprising to some, but bidding 2 still allows for the possibility of introducing diamonds later. At a lower level over a penalty double, since  entering the auction vulnerable versus not in sandwich position and can be dangerous.

Additionally, comments such as “The Italians had a habit of making lucky guesses” would not be accepted as evidence in a court of law - except to establish bias on the part of the speaker.

Italian methods sometimes seemed strange to many Americans of the era. Perhaps because not many made an effort to learn. Walter Bingham, writing for Sports Illustrated, June 30, 1963 reported: “The U.S. team spent most of its time before the matches began studying the complicated Italian and French bidding systems. Captain John Gerber had mailed the systems to all his players, but when the team gathered in New York, it was obvious no one had bothered to study them.”

The American bridge team might think they are smarter than football players, but the NFL guys know enough to watch tape. You know, just in case knowing your opponent’s tendencies might be of value.

One tendency Belladonna had was Roman jump overcalls. He and Walter invented the system and the two-suited overcalls. In 1963, Avarelli was not available and Belladonna played with Eugenio Chiaradia. But it would be worthwhile to know whether Belladonna had a 3 call available for the minors. Truscott (actually Truscotts, since Dorothy was co-author) did not write this hand up until publishing The New York Times Bridge Book in 2004; nine years after Belladonna died and 41 years after the hand was played.

That is a little late to investigate, although apparently never too late to insinuate. If a 3 call was available for the minors - and likely was - that bid would be a standout if one knew partner had club support. You would be safe at level and simultaneously prevent an easy 2 rebid by opener. If 3 was not available, surely partner could field 2NT by a passed hand.  The Italians played 2-suited overcalls, even if it was not common in America in those days.

But why let facts get in the way of assertions like: “The Italians had a habit of making lucky guesses”?

Speaking of facts and watching tape, this was not the first time Belladonna bid the lower ranking of two five-card suits. In 1959, after P-1-P-2; ? Giorgio bid 2 with Jxxxx / xx / KQJxx / x. So you are never getting in the spades when they bid 3, are you? Oh, for the record, partner held just two diamonds. Yes the situation is slightly different. But if you concede that the situation is more important than following preconceived rules, then score another one for Giorgio and get over it.

Here is the deal from St Vincent:

3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

Italy picked up 11 imps. Truscott: “American critics blamed Nail for his decision to pass throughout, although they could not agree about what he should have done.... The majority of the critics though that Nail should have bid three hearts over two hearts, although that cue might seem to imply a fit for diamonds.”

Wow. 15 high-card points.  Partner came in with a vulnerable 2-level overcall. Stoppers in the opponent’s suits and they “could not agree what he should have done”? That could be true if the argument was whether West should bid 2NT or 3NT. But Truscott - and apparently those critics - never even put the world’s most obvious choices on the menu.

Suppose E-W was Meckwell. They would certainly open the East hand, so lets make South dealer and give Jeff or Eric the West hand.  Bar a 1NT overcall and impose a 2 overcall by East.  Is there any chance on earth Meckwell sell to 3? E-W can make game in notrump and slam in clubs and the 1963 American pair - more accurately, the pairing for the session - managed to go plus 50 defending a part score.

Yet Truscott wrote: “It is understandable that he (Nail) chose to be passive, with both opponents bidding and his partner, who had passed originally, having apparently, nothing but diamonds.”

No. Passing is not understandable. The only things that is understandable is knowing why America wins Bermuda Bowls with players like Jeff & Eric and why we lost in 1963 (et al).

Additionally, the assertion of “...having apparently, nothing but diamonds” is not true. That hand preempts. Back in the 1960s, players tended towards sound openers. The East hand was passed at BOTH tables, which would never happen today. Back then, the whole world more or less expects East has a near opening bid for coming in.  It may be a diamond one-suiter, but it will be a near opening.  That is how America bid back then. Badly when they bid and apparently worse when they didn’t. If East is weak with diamonds, Ax / x / KJ10xxx / xxxx is still 9 tricks in clubs and 8 tricks in hearts.  If East has xx / x / KJ109xxx / xxx they probably make game and we are from 8-10 tricks in diamonds.

However, in my view, there is some context for Nail’s actions.


St Vincent in 1963 was the year America almost won. In fact, our team was handily ahead at the start, outplaying Italy. But Italy, like Freddy Kruger, just could not be put away. Needing to swing to stay in the match, Italy bid three grand slams, none of which were certain, and they landed each one.

Things started going sideways for team-USA. Jordan-Robinson declared 3NT with a heart stopper of three small opposite a void. The Americans started to crack under the pressure. “When they bid that grandy, Schenken's shoulders seemed to sag”, said Leventritt. Schenken doubled Forquet in a 3NT contract that would have failed. Forquet ran to 4. Schenken doubled that, but it made. Jordan-Robinson stopped in five clubs, Garozzo-Forquet bid and made six. The Americans were in 3 down four when spades was cold for nine tricks.

Schenken would later write about Gerber’s “inexplicable” decision to change up partnerships. But perhaps fisticuffs seemed normal to the players. I believe Gerber was just trying to change the team chemistry which had gone so sour.

Walter Bingham reported: “The session had left the U.S. team in nervous shape. Gerber heatedly called a team meeting and ordered his players to lay off the beer and wine at meals. Players gibed at each other. Leventritt couldn't understand why Schenken had doubled four diamonds. When Robinson explained a bid, saying he just wanted to take a shot at it, Bobby Nail said sharply: "Let's not be taking any shots." One of the players' wives complained openly about the way Gerber was handling her husband. "Those wives," Gerber had said earlier. "I don't want them here. They bicker and ruin a team's morale." The morale of the team that night certainly was all but ruined.”

And that is why Nail was partnering with Schenken. The American team was melting down as the lead withered.  So Gerber tried to mix things up  to right the ship. The pairings turned out to be disastrous, losing the lead in just one set.

Attitude Counts

In bridge, as with any sport or game, performance is directly linked to mental attitude. When someone is worried about winning, they usually find a way to lose. If you are out on a date and say to yourself: “This person is amazing, I hope I don’t say anything silly”, it is going to rain stupid now.

If you are the 2019 New England Patriots and cannot seem to get the offense in gear, the solution is not for Gisele to show up at a players’ meeting and complain to Bill Belichick: “I think you should let my Tommy call the plays.”

The 1963 American Bermuda Bowl team was trying to find a way to lose. We can scapegoat Gerber for the pairings switch with three sets to go. But that supposes that America was going to hold a 21 imp lead with the team in disarray and a day and a half of bridge remaining. After they lost the lead with the disastrous set, the team actually woke up. But there is no reason to believe things could not have slipped away had the pairings not been changed. When players get nervous - and they were - they make mistakes. Had the third set been a marginal loss, there was simply going to be more nerves - not a wake up call.

It is amazing to me that all these years later people miss the obvious. Contrast our 1963 team morale and ask yourself, did Hamman score up 106.25 PPs because Bob went sideways with the going got tough?

Yet so many focused on a bid Belladonna made, which for the record, our National Recorder recorded basically the same option (3 not 3 with 5-5) on Debbie’s problem. BTW, this isn’t all on Nail. The team was jittery and all were making mistakes.

In Debbie’s problem, the doublers are pretty much 3 bidders who think the hand is too strong not to start with double. But the plan is pull 2 to 3. But freaking out about 2 by Belladonna is like every turkey at the club complaining about “getting fixed” while glossing over their mistakes.

The Once and Future Theory

A great many conspiracy hypotheses - as well as real crime solutions - are derived in a reverse time progression. We have a bullet. We trace the wounds and bullet trajectory. We might draw conclusions about the location of the shot. Who might have been at that location, etc.

Scientific method requires a hypothesis to be tested. Any theory must be plausible when played forward, else it is falsified. Most conspiracy theories neglect this process. Lets look at the Belladonna Two Club Bid Conspiracy Theory. The case Truscott hypothesizes was produced by a reverse observational sequence that went something like this:

  • Italy got a big swing.
  • An odd (or asserted as odd) action helped produce the result.
  • Something is fishy.

The apparent true-time sequence: cheating -> weird action -> favorable result seems to work. But it fails upon actual examination.

Lets assume that something is foul. Either the pair is collusively cheating, or the 2 bidder has UI. On the hand in question, UI is a great start. I doubt most club players could pass (or bid 1NT these days) in tempo on this unbalanced 15 HCP hand over P-(1)-?

If one is collusively cheating, what information do you want to pass to partner in the bidding? Relative strength for the action as this is the most valuable information during the auction. It is also impossible to prove without evidence of signaling and a code break. Bidding card spacing was popular with the cheats. I believe F/N used to place CCs and what not on side tables visible to partner to signal the range on their otherwise random two-bids. Don Oakie notes support that Reese/Schapiro were using height of hands at Turin to suggest relative strength. 

What Does the UI/Conniving Collusive Cheating Info Suggest?

Once East knows partner has values, it suggests that the hand can be developed in a completely normal fashion. The whole point to starting with the higher ranking suit is to have a prepared rebid. Two diamonds is the glass half-full bid. Since we expect partner is going to act, the UI/CCCI tells us that we can safely offer both our suits.

The two clubs bid is the glass half-empty bid.  It is the bid one makes when worried partner might be broke.  Neither UI nor illicit signaling would cause East to select an abnormal option, it would only confirm normal actions (2) or aggressive actions (2NT/3) would be fine.

180 Degrees Wrong

On this one, the Truscotts are off not by magnetic declination, but reverse polarization.  If one were to look at the just the table results - without benefit of player names or event, the one that might be a bit of a stinker is the E-W pair defending 3.  Not the pair that bid 5.

Also, when later told that East-West pair was Schenken-Nail, I would assume that it was Rusty Nail & Gertrude Schenken screwing up another easy one at the club. 

South opens 1 and Rusty goes into to the tank.  He makes a bunch of facial gestures to indicate thought and finally passes.  When Gertie climbs in with two diamonds and South rebids 2, Rusty assumes partner has nothing and was just responding to his take-out hesitation.  Rusty does not fit diamonds.  So he passes, confident that his tank sufficiently expressed his values.

Because that is how the hesitators handle these hands at the club.  And I would assume that had to have happened at the club.  Players good enough to make the Bermuda Bowl play at least 3NT, vul with 25 combined and stoppers all around.  (Right?)

The reason N/S get to play 3 at the club is Bernie Garozzo as South remembered my IMPORTANT TIP!

My BOLS Tip: 

When the opponent tanks and passes and his partner bids, do not call the TD.

I understand that the laws now say one needs to get the opponents to stipulate to the hesitation or call the TD.  Apparently, this is because TDs were tired of hearing ex-post factor arguments as to whether there was a tank.  (Not that it should matter, but that is for another time.)  So they want that issue resolved beforehand.  The problem is that if you do, you will be screwed.  This is because our lawmakers either do not have a clue when they make these changes, or they are just trying to destroy our game.  (I am going with the alternative conspiracy theory, it seems to make more sense.)

If you mention the tank, the BITers are now 100% to work out the auction. This is because when the BIT is brought up, West will say something, usually like:  "I did not tank".  And now partner can announce:  "It does not matter, I HAVE MY BID".  Ironically, this information will not be considered unauthorized.  How can you ask the BITer to proceed assuming partner did not have his bid?   But when "I have it" is announced, Rusty now knows to bid 2 or 3NT.  When BITer's partner remains silent, he now knows not to make a bid.  Getting them to stipulate allows them to clarify how to continue when there would otherwise be doubt.  Thanks Lawmakers, for making BIT situations even worse.

This came up just recently at the club.  

1 - (P) - 1NT - (P*)    (* slow, DSIP pass)


The pass was really slow.  I might have removed to 2.  But I was willing to play 3.  So I passed.  LHO balanced with double and my partner argued the tank.  RHO started to argue and LHO declared:  "it does not matter, I have my bid".  Well, now that there was no uncertainty for my opponents, the auction continued: X - P - 2S; 3D - P - P -THREE SPADES.

We got stuck with that result because LHO was probably supposed to double 1.  The authorized UI was enough that RHHesitator knew not to sell.  My partner wanted to know later "why don't you ever call when they hesitate?".  I explained that you are far better off relying on the bridge gods for justice than the lawmakers.  When you let the X and 2 call go, they never bid over 3 because they otherwise do not trust partner's actions were not motivated by the UI.

In any event, the American E-W auction on this hand is eerily similar to situations that arise at the club when pairs attempt to take advantage of UI.  Had it not been Bobby & Howard, I would have assumed that was what happened.  But I am sure all that happened is our players were thinking:  "don't bid anything stupid" on their first date.

Truscott was usually pretty good.  But this write-up was just horrible nonsense.

Finally, if E-W had a wire, they would have bid SIX CLUBS.  (Duh).

To Complete The Record

Nine days of 864 boards in all the matches is going the generate a lot of brilliance and blunders for the gist mill. The final margin of 19 imps in 1963 was narrow enough that everyone can point somewhere.

Regarding the Italian grand slams, “two were pretty good contracts”. The third was even money. Had any one of these contracts failed, America would been victorious.

Schenken wrote about the awards banquet in St Vincent:

“After many speeches and toast the Italians were presented with their winner’s trophies. When this occurred they made a gesture so magnificent that it is without parallel in bridge history. They gave their winning trophies to us and took our second-place prizes! They told us that they had been lucky that we deserved to win and so here were the winning trophies. The Italians have always been gallant sportsmen but this token of friendship touched us deeply. This was one of the high spots of my long bridge career and I shall always treasure this trophy above all others.”

I think schenken means “give” in German. I am glad Howard got something, he was a heck of a player. But it seems the rest of America never did learn much in losing. Becoming obsessed with a 2 bid by Belladonna while failing to mention the missed obvious notrump bid is what perennial losers do. (OTOH, it is nice to know players at the world-class level have the same bad habits as the rest of us.)  Howard Schenken said it best: “I believe the story of the Bermuda Bowl strongly points out the flaws in American bidding.”

Final note: Howard Schenken was the oldest American player on our 1963 team at 59 years old. Arthur Robinson was just 27. Jordan was 35. Bobby Nail was 38. Jim Jacoby 40, Peter Leventritt was 47. For Italy, Chiaradia was the oldest player for Italy at the ripe old age of 52.

Bridge was really different back then.

Well, except for the complaining.

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