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Prelude to Bermuda Bowl-1959
(Page of 15)

Life was different:

https://imgur.com/AegqkIz

For some reason, the image is not being imported -  you may need to click this link:

https://imgur.com/AegqkIz

This is one of the goofiest bridge pictures I have ever seen.  Not because Belladonna looks like he is playing Indian poker with his hand turned around wrong.  I find it stupefying that bridge was once played by young, handsome, nattily attired players in a crowed room full of interested spectators.

 

Author's note:  I am hoping to have a more detailed and better formatted version of BB-1959 than what I threw together on BB-1957.  (When that happens, I have no idea.  Haven't even had a chance to read comments on my previous article.)  I was also hoping to go over all of  the 1958 hands as there was controversy.  Alas, I could only find a few hands and a lot of scuttlebutt.  I hope the reader will find the following facts and opinions interesting.  Yours, truly - the world's worst editor.

 

In The Beginning

The first Bermuda Bowl was organized by Mr Norman Bach and his associates at the Bermuda Bridge Club. The event was held in Hamilton, Bermuda in 1950 and featured a round robin competition of three teams. One from the United States, a team from Europe and another from Great Britain. (Which, I suppose, was not Europe as this predates Brentrance.)

The team from Europe might have been called the Vikings. It consisted of two Swedish pairs and one Icelandic pair. Team USA, consisting of John Crawford, Charles Goren, George Rapée, Howard Schenken, Sidney Silodor and Sam Stayman won the Bermuda Bowl trophy which would become the symbol of bridge supremacy.

The next six events would be run as a head-to-head match between America and Europe. In 1958, it would become a 3-way match with the inclusion of the South American champion.

The European entry was the EBL champion team. The American entry for the Bermuda Bowl was determined by winning the Spingold the previous summer. Although the press at the time did refer to the event with the older name of Master Team of Four Championship.  For a while, as the Spingold doubled as the ITT, it was organized into a double KO format.  In 1956 the Spingold/Master Team of 4 ended in a 3-way tie; not possible in a double KO.  I am guessing it was a VP format in 1956. Goren’s team defeated the Roth-Stone and the Apfel team in a playoff to determine the 1957 Bermuda Bowl entry.  

Our Bermuda Bowl teams are often referred to as United States, despite the fact that Canada and Mexico are part of the ACBL. When the ACBL team did include Canadians - Eric Murray in 1962, Kehala/Murray in 1966 and 1967 - the team was more properly referred to as “North America”. My Canadian and Mexican sources advise me that they have no problem with the USA designation granting us in the US full credit for those other results. USA is also easier to type.

USA won the first four events in 1950, 1951, 1953 and 1954. Through the first decade of competition, the venue alternated between New York City and Europe. The second Bermuda Bowl was held in late 1951 and subsequently scheduled towards the beginning of the calendar year, so there was no Bowl in 1952.

In 1954, the European champion was Great Britain. Their team of Leslie Dodds, Kenneth Konstam, Adam Meredith, Jordanis Pavlides, Terence Reese & Boris Schapiro produced the first European winner of the Bermuda Bowl trophy in 1955

In 1955, the European champion was France. René Bacherich, Pierre Ghestem, Pierre Jaïs, Robert Lattès, Bertrand Romanet and Roger Trézel produced a second consecutive Bermuda Bowl victory for Europe in 1956.

In 1956, the European champion was Italy. The Italians defeated France by the narrowest of margins in the EBL Championship. The teams were tied on VP and the tiebreaker and title went to Italy for winning the head-to-head match. 1957 was the third consecutive Bowl win for Europe and the first of many for Italy. However, it was not Italy’s first Bermuda Bowl appearance.

Squadra Azzurra

The story of the Blue Team starts at the beginning of the 1950s when the Italian “blue” team defeated the “red” team for the right to represent Italy at the European Championships. The coach, non-playing captain and engaging, colorful dictator of the Blue Team was Carl'Alberto Perroux until his retirement in 1966.

Italy was the European champion and the EBL representative for the second edition of the Bermuda Bowl, contested in Naples during November of 1951. Forquet wrote:

“I was young, relatively inexperienced, and quite apprehensive about encountering the vaunted American team, whose fame had preceded it across the Atlantic.

My fears were more than justified. The Americans, B. Jay Becker, John R. Crawford, George Rapee and Samuel Stayman as well as (Howard) Shenken, proceeded to defeat us by the overwhelming margin of 116 IMPs. (Old scale)

...the Americans had great success with preemptive bids, which they used with great abandon. Their bidding was optimistic, and sometimes they reached unsound contracts, which were often made, due to expert card play, coupled with poor defense on our part.

As for our bidding, it was then in the experimental stage. In fact, one of our pairs used a system called “Marmic,” which consisted mostly of passing strong hands and opening weak ones. The Americans capitalized in the fullest against this bidding system.”

 

Marmic was one of the first forcing pass systems. It was named for the inventors, Mario Franco and Michele Giovine. Franco was on the 1951 Italian team. Howard Shenken decided to trap-pass big balanced hands at favorable, forcing the Marmic pair to open a fert. The Americans then doubled for blood. The Americans also psyched after forcing pass auctions. On one such deal, Italy played a cold grand slam in 3NT.

In 1957, three of the original members of the 1951 edition - Eugenio Chiaradia, Pietro Forquet and Guglielmo Siniscalco - along with Walter Avarelli, Giorgio Belladonna and Massimo "Mimmo" D'Alelio - as the EBL representative, scored the first of what was to be many Italian Bermuda Bowl victories in New York City.

Italy needed to win the EBL Championships for 1957 to qualify as the European representative to the Bermuda Bowl 1958. Italy prevailed with Austria in second place. The 1958 edition of the Bermuda Bowl was held in Lake Como. And why not Lake Como?

Lake Como, 1958

The event was once again a three-way affair for the first time since its inception. The South American champion was a 5-man team from Argentina: Alberto Blousson, Carlos Cabanne, Ricardo Calvente, Alejandro Castro and Marcelo Lerner.

The press at the time was that the Argentine players were quite good but not as experienced as their North American and European counterparts in international play. Argentina lost both their matches during the ten day event.

The American team, winners of the 1957 Spingold consisted of B. Jay Becker, John R. Crawford, George Rapée, Alvin Roth, Sidney Silodor and Tobias Stone. This was Stone’s only Bermuda Bowl appearance. Roth played on the 1955 team that lost to Britain. The Spingold winners that year were five-handed and filled out their roster for the Bermuda Bowl with the addition of Roth. Roth would also play in 1967, partnering with Bill Root.

At Lake Como, Italy defeated USA by a score of 211-174 on the old 15-IMP scale and the Blue Team claimed their second Bowl victory.

The match was not without controversy. 

The 1958 edition might be one of the more interesting events to analyze board by board. The Americans had a pair on their team that was actually what we today would consider a real partnership. It would be interesting to see how Al & Tobias fared relative to the other American pairs.  If anyone knows where those hands might be found, that information would be appreciated.

Looking for Reasons

As North America - or just the USA, for those from North and South of our border - started losing to Europe, explanations were sought to explain our losses. Going into the 1958 match, these losses were not seen as USA vs The Invincible Blues. This was, at the time, three consecutive losses to Europe. First Britain, then France and then Italy.

There were several very obvious differences between the European approach and the American approach to the game.

  • Partnerships
  • Bidding Systems 
  • Team selection methods

Partnerships

The European teams employed established partnerships. On this side of the pond, our concept of rugged individualism coupled with the influence of rubber bridge held that a good bridge player was someone who could - and did - partner with anyone. Bidding systems were very basic. Players routinely interchanged partners - often during matches.

By today’s understanding of the game, this is wrong.  I have never seen Nickell or Lavazza change their pairings in a match. Imagine if Coach Kokish pulled the team aside and said: “hey guys, we need to get things going here, so for this session Eric is going to play with Steve. Steve used to play Precision with Fred. And Nick will play with Bobby this round.” Everyone would be stunned and say: “wow, they legalize that stuff in Canada and this is what happens.”

However, for a long time, this is exactly how Americans approached these matches. In 1957, I counted eight different pairings of the US players. In 1963, a change in partnerships would be responsible for the disasters in the penultimate session that cost USA the victory. Even in 1973, the Aces played six different pairing lineups against Italy.  Perhaps it was state of the match, but teams today would still keep players paired.

Switching pairings was not a good method. But getting bridge players to change thinking often takes decades.

Roth-Stone was one of the first USA hyphens. Today, some partnerships, as with the original Micro-soft Corporation, have even dropped the hyphen and become welded together.  If Brad & Joe keep playing at such a high level, we might need to add Gr-oss to our bridge pairings. The alternative of Mue does not sound very intimidating.

Maybe eight years ago, I played in the district GNTs against what should have been the best team, given that it consisted of the four best players in the room. They sat against us not in their usual partnerships, but crisscrossed.

This was apparently to insure that the guy who never said anything during a match so he could stay focused was now paired with the guy who never failed to post mortem a hand. At our table, Mr Speedy was paired with Mr. Glacier. Near the end of the match, Mr. Speedy - who I have never seen upset beyond sarcasm - was screaming at his partner over a misunderstanding. Their apparent strategy of confusing our team with the thought of “why are the four best players from our district so dumb?” did not work very well. If a marginal slam our mates bid had come home, they would have gone home.  They managed to move on to the NABCs, but not for long.

Bridge is a partnership game. Yet many refuse to believe it.

Selection Methods

The EBL Champion emerged with the most VPs in round robin play. The Spingold was run as a double-KO at the time. There was some discussion of RR vs KO as a better method of selection. I think that matters much less than how the teams were constructed and managed.

The European teams - particularly the Italians - were built and managed as a team. Garozzo , who would join in 1961, would later relate: “...we were a real team. We all worked together.”

Perroux ran the Blue Team with an iron fist. American captains, such as John Gerber, had to put up with things like player’s wives attending team meetings and complaining about how he was managing. Vince Lombardi would have certainly wanted to have Mrs. Bart Starr attend a team meeting and complain to the coach that he was calling too many sweeps and not letting her husband throw the ball down field.

Gerber would complain: “I hate having the wives here. They are a distraction and they destroy moral". Perroux would have his team dine alone. There was no talk about bridge unless everything went perfectly. Only Perroux was allowed to criticize a player and then, only in private. Curfews were enforced by bed checks. Once, when Perroux found a player out carousing, he escorted the man back to his room and then confiscated all the player’s trousers - not to be returned until just before game time the following day.

This type of discipline was not seen in the US until the late 1960s (at the end of the original Blue Team run) when the U.S. Aces were managed pretty much as a paramilitary unit by the retired Air Force Lt. Colonel Joseph “Moose” Musumeci’. (Motto: our Italian is tougher than your Italian.)

Moose even had his players doing calisthenics. Today, players would die laughing at the thought or just die practicing them.

Discipline

The word discipline is interesting because it refers to both the form of training that enables people to control themselves as well as referencing a branch of knowledge or specialty study. One cannot have one without the other. An effective bridge partnership operates within their established discipline. The partnership and team discipline is of critical importance in a match. Discipline is what evens the keel throughout tight matches. Garozzo once said: "Temperament is a lot in bridge. We had a team that had very good temperament. I was the worst one."

In 1958, in the middle of the Bermuda Bowl, Tobias Stone would lose his temper.

Board 40(?), USA v. Italy 1958

This board would produce an enormous amount of press in both newspapers and books.  I have it reported as board forty, but W is dealer on that board and the bidding would be very different.  I mention this because sometimes not everything is reported exactly right.  It is quite possible that this was board forty and it was rotated to make South the declarer.

Forquet
106532
9
AJ108743
Stone
AK84
A7632
5
AJ8
Siniscalco
QJ9
105
KQ2
KQ654
Roth
7
KQJ84
96
109732
W
N
E
S
1NT
2
2
3
P
3NT
5
5
P
P
X
P
P
P
D
5X South
NS: 0 EW: 0

I have no idea what Roth's 3NT bid meant.  If it was "non-serious" then R/S might be more advanced than I thought.

Forquet led the 3

The contract was making on the A or another suit led, given that the simple strip and end play was trivial for a declarer like Roth.

Mollo wrote about this hand. “Given the bidding and the system, it was an inspired, but perfectly logical lead. To this day the Americans haven’t forgiven him for it and there were dark hints of hanky-panky at the time.”

In case the reader might not know, Victor Mollo was not Italian.  He was Russian by birth and British by choice. Perhaps by necessity, given the Russian revolution. Though the British believe that given a choice, one should necessarily choose being British.  The only Mollo in all of Russia today is a French footballer, I suspect the family might have changed their name.  Does anyone know?  The surname Mollo is supposed to have originated in Normandy. Though the name is about an order of magnitude more common in Italy, and - interestingly -another order of magnitude more common in Bolivia. 

On bd 47, in the 1973 Bermuda Bowl, Mike Lawrence would be on lead against a spade slam Forquet bid, holding 8 / 1082 / A65 / QJ10964. Mike led the 4 for partner to ruff. Less surprising since partner doubled, presumably for a club lead. But the spot was a careful SP card for Mike’s entry and a second undertrick.

Board 60, USA v. Italy 1958

Rapee
Q
976532
QJ9863
Belladonna
K85
J106
J108
A754
Sildor
A63
97543
AQ4
K10
Avarelli
J109742
AKQ82
K
2
W
N
E
S
3
P
3NT
4
P
P
5
P
P
X
P
P
P
D
5X West
NS: 0 EW: 0

Four spades could not be defeated. But a potentially profitable sacrifice went horribly wrong when Rapée took the percentage play. Spade to Ace, K then Belladonna ducked two rounds of clubs, winning his ace on the third round. This follows precisely the BOLS tip by Belladonna on when to win one’s ace of trump. Always nice, though perhaps rare, that people take their own advice. Declarer was tapped on the heart shift and down to one trump. When Rapee led a diamond up, he had to decide what to play given North’s 8. Rapée did not know where the K was located - he assumed in South. 2-2 diamonds and he could make the hand But if 3-1, it was twice as likely the stiff would be J or T than K. So he played the Q and went down four. -700 on the old scale.

The Americans had a different disaster in the open room. Siniscalco opened 2, Forquet bid 2NT and Crawford, sitting South bid 3(?). Becker raised to 4 and Forquet doubled. Siniscalco was not happy with that development, but he passed reluctantly.

A low diamond went to the ace and Forquet shifted to the K. Declarer cashed the J revealing the break Crawford could still make this contract with x-ray vision, but there was no reason after this start to play Forquet for the Q. Declarer found the K play. But now ten of clubs forced him down to fewer trumps than Forquet, who would now score a long trump for the set and a 900 point total loss for USA.

This is a subtle hand. Did you see Crawford’s miscue?

Rather than the natural, high from the short side, heart jack, a low heart to the ace would have made the contract. Crawford would still have been tapped, but he could cash spade winners and have a high crossruff at the end. On Crawford’s line, the 6 will be overruffed. Making the doubled contract would have won the board, cut 2 IMPs of Italy’s lead, but instead widened the deficit.

I dislike Crawford’s 3 call over 2NT. If the opponents continue with a likely minor bid, you will lose the longer spade suit. Today, everyone bids some number of diamonds to show both majors and no one these days ever has a problem on the hand. Players back then did not think bridge needed conventions.

If Bridgewinners was in existence, I am quite sure someone would defend 3 as natural with the same logic justifying penalty doubles. “If 2-P-2NT-3 is the majors, how do you ask for a diamond stopper for 3NT or expose a preemptive psych? The opponents will BID ALL OVER YOU!”

Crawford then tried to get the swing back. It is fairly obvious that Goren the journalist had to report the board, despite not wanting to criticize Crawford too heavily. Goren wrote: “In an effort to make up the loss, Crawford resorted to swing tactics four boards later. The tactics were correct, but his ammunition was inadequate.”

This hand was also written up by Edgar Kaplan as a textbook case of “horrible” and “what not to do” against a Neapolitan club. Kaplan could better speak his mind, since, as an example of tactics in a book, Kaplan did not need to identify the player. As a reporting journalist, Goren could hardly report “then our unnamed player failed to kick the ball into the unattended goal from five feet out.”

Board 64

Siniscalco
AJ8
A108
AQ109
K106
Becker
9532
7653
5
Q952
Forquet
Q1074
KJ9
J8
A843
Crawford
K6
Q42
K76432
J7
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
3
X
P
P
P
D
3X South
NS: 0 EW: 0

The defense, knowing that 2 promised three controls, was merciless. The club lead went to the ace and the appearance of the K made this a double dummy exercise. A low heart, three rounds and West can stay opff any endplay in trumps. Crawford scored two trumps for a 1,300 point penalty.

This hand was just before the midway point and Stone’s eruption. Or meltdown, depending on one’s viewpoint.

Stone Melts

Midway through the match - the event lasted ten days - Tobias Stone, taking issue with the Italian players staring intently at each other, “protested” that practice. This was also described as: "Protested nothing!" said a bridge official. "Toby screamed.”

Sports Illustrated would later report on the events in an article on Bridge Ethics. “The suave and diplomatic Italians, personally popular and praised by Bridge Master Charles Goren as "fine sportsmen and magnificent players," were also noted to be doing a lot of staring at each other—long, soulful looks that bothered some players and spectators.”

On the one hand, Stone certainly crossed the line for expected behavior. SI later reported: “..Tobias Stone of the American team lost, his temper, none too stable in any event, protested and set into motion a chain of circumstances that led of his being censured by the American Contract Bridge League and banned from international play for a year. Last week he sued the league to have the censure - in itself unprecedented - removed by court action.” (See? Courts getting involved, sixty years ago).

On the other hand, some of the circumstances and customs of play were unusual - certainly by today’s standards. The closed room was a soundproof room at the casino. The open room contained anywhere from seven hundred to a thousand spectators, most of whom were rooting for the home team. The custom at the time was that the Italian players would hold their hands up over their heads so the spectators could see their cards. The American players were cautioned by the bridge officials from doing this as most of the spectators were Italian.

The photo on the first page is an example of the practice.  Bob Hamman could do that and know one could figure out his hand since it only gets sorted in his brain.  Eric & Jeff split up a suit and have the cards together so tightly, I still wonder that they draw so many kibs.  I kibitz them all the time, but thank goodness for BBO and knowing what they hold.  Perhaps we could get Uday to offer "Bob" & "Meck" view options so we can feel like we are sitting right at the table.  

The staring accusations and protests in 1958 created a media sensation and produced some bad blood.

A Sports Illustrated article highlights some issues regarding allegations and attitudes of R.A.s at the time:

They also say that the conflict dramatizes the different ethical climate of European and American bridge. Betting is heavy during European tournaments and all but unknown, or for small stakes, in American matches. There is no way to codify unethical practices in bridge. It is unethical, for instance, to hesitate on playing a singleton, just as it is to deliberate too long on certain no-trump bids or to go through elaborate facial grimaces, indicating profound uncertainty, whose net result in certain bidding and playing situations can only be to acquaint one's partner of the nature of the cards held. But if any protest is entered, the dispute boils down to something as nebulous as a fleeting expression. Hence bridge officials in the United Stated hold that the primary aim is to maintain an ethical climate, rather than legislate against concrete acts. They want to avoid the money-saturated, gambling-tense environment of much European tournament play, where, in recent years, both the Italian and the French teams have fired top bridge stars for cheating. (emphasis mine)  American bridge experts also tried to soothe international friction diplomatically. Charles Goren went over the boards (each dealt hand is called a board and each board is recorded) "with a fine tooth comb," could not find a shred of evidence of cheating by the Italian players, called the very idea "preposterous." As for the staring Stone complained about, Goren said:"Heck, Americans are the greatest starers in the world."  -  SI, August 17, 1958

My Take on The Staring Controversy

The one thing I know for certain is that if a pair has prearranged signals, staring is not required. The players know what to look for. If it is the fingers on one hand showing heart length, the position of the pencils on the table a la Cokin-Sion or whether a card is led vertical or horizontal, these can all be gleaned at a glance.

This is not to say that this proves there were not prearranged signals. It is nearly impossible to prove a negative, anyway. But it seems to me that players who are overtly cheating would be less likely to stare at each other.

I used to joke that I could crush any pair in Challenge The Champs using Goren bidding with my best friend, Jack, providing that we could look at each other when bidding. We could always tell what the other was thinking. When I play bridge, I prefer to look down at the table so I don’t have to worry about UI or making faces.

And today, with hoodies and t-shirts at the WSOP final table, staring down is the new normal. Heck, people don’t even make eye contact with their diner companions these days. Everyone is staring down at their i-phone in their own little world.

But back then, the world was different. I can still hear my mom saying: “don’t slouch! Sit up straight.” And if one was playing on home court, in front of one’s countrymen, one would certainly want to look like the world champions. People did not don a suit and tie or tuxedo to slouch. I believe the players were just on stage, playing a role. And if my friend Jack was putting on his poker face, I would be reluctant to draw conclusions.

Whether players were trying to put on their best poker faces is anyone's guess.

The Way We Were

The pre-bidding box bridge world I knew in the USA was UI-ville. That much I do know. While most - but not all - of the better players mostly played by a reasonable standard, many Americans played SAC. This was the system that predates SAYC. SAC stands for Standard American Chinese. In Chinese dialects, a character has three different meanings depending on one of three tones. The word “san” is either mountain or three depending on the tone. And in old-fashioned American bidding, 2 was either three points or a mountain of points depending on the tone.

Back then, there was never any discussion as to whether a bid sequence was to play, invitational or forcing. Everyone at the table could tell by the voice. No one ever had a problem with “what is this double?” as we might post today. If the person said “I double”, that was penalty. A soft double meant partner was never to pull. Quizzical doubles were DSIP.

Bridge was easy. Until players were confronted with bidding boxes. These despised gadgets refuted the pile of crap I always had to listen to, about “learn how to play and defend, fancy bidding is not necessary”. Of course it wasn’t necessary. With different tones, 1m-1M is already 9 different auctions in SAC. The art of vocal range will never be matched by science.

What UI was available with bridge before boxes and screens in world championship play, I cannot say. I was not there. But Jean Besse was there in 1958. “The Italians were less erratic. They played on an even keel, while the U.S. pitched and tossed.”

Resse: “Delaying tactics and failing to act promptly in entering the bidding proved costly to the United States.”

No expert onlookers in 1958 were surprised when Italy won.  

Board #128

West
964
963
AKQ
10642
North
J108
KQ84
10
KQJ98
East
K532
752
87543
A
South
AQ7
AJ10
J962
753
D

With Crawford/Becker N/S the bidding went P-1; 2-P

Belladonna opened 1 with the North hand:  1-1NT; 2-2NT; 3NT.  For a game swing.

Not Sterling

Stone
Q1065
2
AJ10
KQ432
Belladonna
A3
109875
KQ65
96
Roth
KJ9
AQ43
743
A85
Avarelli
8742
KJ6
982
J107
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
P
X
P
P
P
D
2X North
NS: 0 EW: 0

“Most players would open West’s hand, but it does not qualify as an opening bid in the Roth-Stone system.  Roth’s decision to pass the double is a strange choice, in view of the likelihood that East and West could make a vulnerable game.” - Goren

Belladonna went for -100 and a big pickup for Italy. I would be a little more caustic than Goren. Most bridge players think that Armstrong-Forrester was the first partnership in the Bermuda Bowl to employ a semi-forcing pass system. In fact, one apparently appeared nearly three decades earlier. This author believes the apple that hit Tony on the noggin was against a R/S pair. Tony might have observed sarcastically: “if that hand is a pass, you guys could do better if you had bids to show real passes.”

As with Reese’s Little Major - originally a jocularity - the idea hung around and got the person thinking that the initial thought might not be such a bad idea. I think sarcasm is likely underrated in human achievement. “Now that you invented that wheel thing Og, you should put four of them on that raft there and make it four times better!”

On a more serious note, I think what Roth was trying to address was the problem of the wide range of an opening one bid in standard. His approach was to raise the floor. This might have been more effective in an era where players were less likely to jump into or open the bidding. Today, opening the bidding is seen as too much of an advantage to yield. Gadgets like Gazzilli and structured reverse - as opposed to the old fashioned GF rev - are seen as better solutions to the problem of strength range.

Repercussions

Stone was later cleared by the ACBL of the more serious charges of accusing an opponent of cheating. Charges that Stone denied at the time.  In fact, Siniscalco directly asked Stone "Are you accusing me of cheating?"  Stone said, "No, it makes me uncomfortable." Life was indeed different back then. We were still half a decade short of figuring out that placing our President in a convertible and driving him along a publicized route down a veritable sniper’s alley of tall buildings in a state where the average person owned an arsenal of guns was a bad idea.

Bidding was different and customs were different. Players were not allowed to allege cheating nilly-willy. Though the newspapers had more freedom to speculate - and they did.

I think Stone’s mental state likely impacted both his play and his team’s composure.

Players talk all the time about how things don’t bother them and they can stay focused. The reason they make this claim is people lie. What people lie most about is themselves. And the person they lie to the most is themselves.  People say what they want to believe.

Lets fast forward to 1972.

The Aces were Ira Corn’s answer to restoring American supremacy at bridge. Its members were the cream of American talent. Long training sessions. Even computer support. Lots of hard work. Founded in 1968, their mission was to take the Bowl back to America. In 1969 on that mission in Rio, Taiwan shot down the Aces. Taiwan then played in the final, losing to Italy. Then the Blue Team, tired of winning, and as Forquet noted were businessman who would prefer to finally have a real vacation, announced their retirement.  It appeared that the Great Blue Whale would swim off into the sunset.

The Aces would win the Bermuda Bowl in 1970, beating Taiwan and some of the original players. They would repeat in 1971. Ira’s Aces would claim 11 major victories in 13 national and international events by 1971. The Aces had become a bridge machine, crushing all competition in its path.

But then the team began to change. Ira felt he spent enough of his money creating the team. Players were no longer full time employees. A couple players moved from the Dallas area. Players returned to stakes games, playing with clients and giving lessons. Meanwhile, C.C. Wei, looking to promote his Precision system, persuaded some of the former Blue Team members to return to bridge. Garozzo & Belladonna were paired together for the first time, playing their SuperPrecision system. The Precision modified Blue Team revamp barnstormed across Europe. In early 1972, a challenge match for stakes of $30K to the winner was set in Las Vegas.

(Side note:  Perroux was once asked why he never paired his two best players.  He responded that both players were so aggressive he would be scared to see the outcome.)

The Aces showed up cocky and eager to complete their original mission. They were also out of practice. A year removed from coach Moose’s training regimens and his blackboard of sins. The Aces were crushed by the Blue Team. US players forgot bidding agreements. They quibbled. They made mistakes. By Bobby Wolff’s count, at least 200 mistakes and he classified 80 of them as “total boners”. What had been an unstoppable juggernaut of an American bridge team even lost the consolation match to a team called Barney’s El Capitan. I have no idea who was on that team, but the sponsor was a motel in Reno.  I approve of bridge sponsorship, but perhaps we could do better than: "mention this bridge match and get a free token for the massage bed!"

Ira Corn remarked: “If you don’t have a super-ego, you would quit the game after a defeat like this.”

What this proves is my teacher was right about contests. One never rises to the occasion as people like to believe. One always falls to the level of one’s training.

The Aces were out of practice and training. And if Hamman, Wolff, Soloway, Lawrence, Goldman and Jacoby cannot “turn it on” because they suddenly need to, then YOU certainly cannot. If these players can start quibbling and feel pressure and despair, then anyone can.

Wolff once observed, “The whole world is convinced the Blue Team is god. Well, I don’t think so. They are emotional.”

This is undoubtedly true, especially given that I have yet to meet an unemotional Italian. But what the Blue Team did better than others is channel and contain their emotions. A lot of that credit goes to Carlo Perroux. The Blue's other advantage was that success breeds success. Being there before matters. It matters a lot.

In 1958, Tobias Stone - already the loosest cannon on the deck - was the only player on either side who had not previously played in the Bermuda Bowl. This event is very different. If one loses in the Vanderbilt, you are bummed while the rest of the players who got KO’d earlier, congratulate you on your fine run. You already know that you will lose more Vanderbilts than you will win. Losing stinks, but one's credentials are not tarnished.

But now, in a foreign land at the world championships, you are playing for your country. Everyone is watching. The whole world watched bridge back then. This was front page news. The 1959 match finals was actually broadcast on live TV.  And at some point one needs to contain the realization when your team is trailing, that in losing, you are not going to be viewed as the great expert who made a deep run. You will be written off as just another American who lost to Europe, again.

That is pressure.

Oslo, 1958 European Championships

Italy won for a second time in the Bermuda Bowl in 1958, but the COC did not then allow for an automatic return of the champion. Italy still needed to prevail in the following EBL championships that September to defend their Bowl title. The European teams was always a tough event. Face it, no one has ever conquered Europe. And if one tries that as a strategy in the board game Risk, you will fail as well. It just cannot be done. Europe is tough. The three favorites were Italy, France and Britain. The other 12 entrants were still mighty dangerous.

France took the early lead, handily defeating Italy in their head to head first match. Britain was also cruising along. Italy started building up steam. Then Norway, with its then 3 million population but 14,000 league bridge members, defeated Italy. The ACBL today would have nearly two and a half million members at that participation rate.

Britain looked good until it was tied by Ireland. The Irish actually won by 5 IMPs, but that scored even on the VP split. This result did mean that the Irish national team could return home as conquering heroes. France now looked like they were in with a win, but the French were upset by Egypt in their last match. Italy won their last round and punched a return trip ticket to the Bermuda Bowl.

Goren wrote “the sound of those cheers in Oslo left no room for doubt of how Europe felt. For its champions, this was vindication as well as victory.” Europe was happy to send the Italians back. The view was this was going to be payback for the accusations in Lake Como. It was going to be a grudge match in New York City in 1959. A grudge match without anyone being impolite enough to mention that fact.

The Other Significance of Olso

The big event in Oslo in 1958 was the ACBL, EBL and Australian representatives met to form the World Bridge Federation. Alvin Landry was selected as the Secretary of the WBF. General Alfred M. Gruenther was to be the honorary President.

The purpose of founding the WBF was “... the staging of a contest patterned after the Olympic Games. This is planned as a curtain-raiser to the world Olympics of 1960, scheduled for Rome.”

This event, the World Bridge Olympiad, was won by France in 1960.  The French team was René Bacherich, Gérard Bourchtoff, Claude Delmouly, Pierre Ghestem, Pierre Jaïs and Roger Trézel. Britain took the silver and America the bronze. Toby Stone was on that team. (Roth was not.) Two other American teams finished 4th and 5th. Italy was 6th.

The WBF was created for the Olympics.  It was not - as many BW posters seem to believe - an organization that suddenly went rouge for the IOC. The bridge world already had regional RAs. We already had a world championship - the Bermuda Bowl. In order for bridge to be recognized as an Olympic Sport, there had to be an international governing body. That is an IOC requirement for a sport to be recognized. Therefore, the existing bridge organizations created a world body, the WBF.

This goes back six decades. The Olympics was the point in creating the WBF.

So, if you don’t like silly judges in Sports Courts, I doubt anyone in 1958 could possibly foresee mathematically challenged jurists as being a future problem. In any event, our occasionally ridiculous Supreme Court decisions in my country are not a reason to toss the US Constitution. If something is wrong, look to fix it. But it always helps to understand what really happened.

I think the World Bridge Olympiad was a fine addition to the Bermuda Bowl. With it, the bridge world created a world championship that now allowed every country to participate directly. (And the USA multiple times.) Heck, Canada now got to go as Canada! The Canucks also won a bronze medal in both 1968 and 1972.

Pretty cool, eh?

Today’s bridge trivia question is what country won the Women’s division of the first Bridge Olympiad?

Answer: The United Arab Republic (AKA Egypt & Syria).

Helen Camara, Aida Choucry, Samiha Fathy, Loula Gordon, Josephine Morcos, Suzanne Naguib and Sergio de Polo (NPC).

 

The world once played bridge.  And bridge made the world a better place.

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