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The Return of the Curse of the Blue Team
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I was in a bar recently, and a funny thing happened.  I was sitting by myself and reading the latest issue of...

Hmm. 

Maybe I should start at the beginning.  What's the beginning?  I'm not quite sure. But I know that Bridge Winners members like hands to bid and hands to play, so let's start with one of each.

You are playing in the final of a long, important teams event. It's about one-third the way through and the scores are close.

West
J
KJ1074
52
Q7643
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
1
1NT
X
2
P
P
3
P
4
P
P
?

 

Yes, I know you don't like the 2 bid.  You pulled the wrong card out of the bidding box, or something.  It's what happened at the table, so live with it.

You are playing in the same big teams event.  It's getting towards the end and you think you have a good lead.

West
J107
K1085
AK7
A96
North
KQ83
AJ32
10
8532
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
P
3
P
P
X
P
P
P

 

From the bidding, you can see that this is an old deal.  People got up to funny things back in those days.

Your double was for penalties. 

You lead the K: 10, queen, 3.

What next?

Before we get back to the bar, let's review an old bridge article.

The March, 1974, edition of The Bridge World contained a fine article, Frank Vine's The Curse of the Blue Team.  This article can be found in a book of Vine's collected essays, North of the Master Solver's Club.  I recommend the book (and, for that matter, The Bridge World) most highly.

In the article, Vine, a member of the Wentworth Bridge and Social Club, is preparing to play the dreaded Blue Team from Stony Creek.  Vine tells us that, for 12 consecutive years, the Blue Team has won the famous Chicken Roost Trophy, emblem of bridge supremacy in Southern Ontario.

Vine's partner has his views as to why the Blue Team has such an amazing record.

"It's nothing but luck. Plain dumb luck. That’s their secret, pure and simple."

This bellow came from George Loudmouth... a man known for his loud convictions.

Professor Cornelius Coldbottom, president of the club and the world's finest bidder, had advice for Vine about how to go about winning the Chicken Roost Trophy,

"Dear fellow. You are mistaken, totally mistaken. What you call luck is simply flair... Study the great matches of history,” he continued, “and you will see that at each critical juncture the master player will take a winning action that would never occur to any of us. Learn to emulate their methods and then perhaps our day will also come."

Vine did the hard yards in preparation.

... for three solid months preceding the championship event I studied and memorized each hand from every Bermuda Bowl and Olympiad contest of the past 15 years. I was a walking encyclopaedia of bridge.

Frank Vine and George Loudmouth play against the fearsome partnership of Eric Murphy and Sammy Cartwheels, and, to Vine's disappointment, although the match appears to be excruciatingly close, the hard work appears to be in vain.

But, with three boards to go, Vine, East, was on lead, and...

East
J84
9
A10763
A986
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

Your lead.

Vine:

You recognize the hand, of course*. It is from Board 77 [fourth-last] of the 1968 Olympiad finals between Italy and the U.S., and it was held by Camillo Pabis-Ticci ... Pabis-Ticci found himself on lead. He put down the ace of clubs!

D'Alelio
Q9
Q10875
J9542
10
Robinson
A107532
K4
KQ
K43
Pabis-Ticci
J84
9
A10763
A986
Jordan
K6
AJ632
8
QJ752
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 North
NS: 0 EW: 0

 

Vine:

As you can see, the lead was a spectacular one. D'Alelio ruffed the club continuation, led back to his partner's ace of diamonds and got himself another club ruff to set the contract.

At the other table the contract was unbeatable after the pedestrian lead of the singleton heart [by Edgar Kaplan]. It could not have come at a better time for the Italians. The Americans, far behind all through the match, had rallied to within 11 imps of the leaders...

More interesting than the lead was Pabis-Ticci's explanation for it. He stated that he had seen Robinson lead the ace of clubs against a part-score on Bridgerama the day before and that had proved to be the only way to defeat the contract.

... The bidding against us went exactly the same way and once again the contract was four spades. With a flourish I produced the lead of the ace of clubs. This time, however, the cards were distributed just a little differently.

 

* Do not get led astray by a popular misapprehension about this deal. Some accounts claim that South bid 3 at his second turn.  The source of this seems to be an inaccurate report by Victor Mollo.  The deal and bidding above is from the Olympiad Handbook and matches the deal and bidding found in an article by Pietro Forquet (Palm Beach Post, 17 May 1969.)

Loudmouth
Q
AQ87
542
K5432
Cartwheels
A107432
542
KQJ9
Me
J85
9
A10763
A986
Murphy
K96
KJ1063
8
QJ107
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 North
NS: 0 EW: 0

 

Vine:

Declarer trumped my ace of clubs, laid down the ace of spades, reached dummy by finessing against my jack of trumps and led the queen of clubs, ruffing out Loudmouth's king. He returned to dummy with the king of spades and discarded two losers on the good clubs. Four spades bid and made.

My partner was visibly upset. “What kind of stupid lead is that?” he screamed. “Any normal human being, if he wants a ruff, leads his short suit, or his long suit if he wants to give partner a ruff. What kind of cretin leads a short suit to give a ruff? Are you out of your mind?"

"I led it", I explained, "because I once saw Arthur Robinson lead the ace of clubs against a part score on Bridgerama, and that was the only way to set the contract."

For some reason this failed to soothe my partner, who began to froth at the mouth. Even the opponents got into the act, and I thought I heard someone say something about “ask a foolish question and you get a foolish answer.” I have to admit that when you say it out loud the reasoning for the lead seems to lose a lot of its persuasiveness.

With two boards to go, Vine picked up a familiar hand.

East
6
8763
96
AK8752
W
N
E
S
1
X
4
?

 

Vine:

It is, of course, Deal 71 from the 1967 Bermuda Bowl, and these cards were held by the holy one himself, Pietro Forquet. He heard the bidding go: one spade on his left, double from his partner, four spades on his right, everybody vulnerable.

Instead of the expected five hearts or five clubs, Forquet surprised the world by doubling. The contract was defeated one trick after the ace-king and another diamond, which Forquet ruffed. Later, Garozzo won a heart trick. Since the responder was void of clubs, neither five clubs nor five hearts could be made.

Sure enough, the bidding went one spade on my left, double from my partner and four spades on my right. Naturally, I doubled. George led the ace-king and another diamond and we did even better than the Italians, in that the contract was down two, no one being void in clubs. This was partner's hand:

--  K Q J 4  A K 8 3 2  Q 9 4 3

Because of the lucky lie of the cards, we were also cold for slam in either of two suits. Loudmouth, who has a great tendency to result boards, could not stop commenting on this fact. I couldn't seem to convince him that six was there only because of the freakish distribution of the opponent's cards, i.e., no void in clubs, no singleton heart. When I brought up the name of Forquet he muttered darkly about there being more than one kind of nut in the forest

Vine was a somewhat dejected going into the last board.  He judged that he needs a miracle to win the match. 

Again Vine picked up a familiar hand.

East
76432
J1094
KQ4
2
W
N
E
S
1
?

Vine:

It was, of course, the famous "cool" hand of the 1957 World Championship, which many observers have claimed was decisive in shattering American morale.

Let me quote from the writings of Alphonse Moyse Jr. in his report of the event:

--------

With both sides vulnerable, West dealt and bid one club, and this was the North holding.

7 6 4 3 2  J 10 9 4  K Q 4  2.

“One Spade,” said Siniscalco coolly. I heard the bid, I saw the hand - and a few minutes later I wanted to call off the few bets I had made on the match. South turned up with:

A 5  A 8 6 5 2  10 9 2  K Q 5.

South. Forquet, bid two notrump. Siniscalco bid three hearts (just as coolly), and Forquet bid four hearts. The adverse trumps were 2-2 and the intrepid Italians paid out* a measly 100 points for their fun.”

Speaking very quietly and confidently to myself, I said, 'This is bad. Anyone who doesn't go down at least 800 on that spade overcall, bidding system or no system, is just too omniscient or too something for us simple Americans. The handwriting is on the wall.

--------

Sure enough, my vulnerable opponent opened one club. Coolly I overcalled one spade. Here the script changed, as Murphy on my left doubled. Partner, no doubt surprised by all the bidding, passed. Just as coolly I removed to two hearts and Murphy doubled again.

“Aha,” I thought, “I may get it all back on this one board. Two hearts doubled plus an overtrick, let's see—that's 870. I'd better redouble and make it 1190."

Coolly I redoubled, and everyone passed. Murphy led the king of hearts and my dummy was a little disappointing:

8 5  Q 8 3  10 9 7 3  K Q 6 4.

I managed to score two trumps, a club and a diamond. I had miscalculated the number. It was not 1190, it was 2200.

As my opponents reeled off trick after trick, my partner sat there in paralyzed silence...

As coolly as I could (under the circumstances I was a little upset) I explained about Siniscalco and the 1957 World Championship...

“You know,” said Loudmouth, “there's one thing all those guys you're telling me about have got that you haven't got.”

“I know,” I said despondently, “flair.”

“No,” said Loudmouth, “what they've got is luckier partners.”

You know something, I think he's right.

 

 * At one point, Siniscalco had ten tricks.

Now, back to business.

I was in a bar recently, and a funny thing happened. I was sitting by myself and reading the latest issue of The Bridge World, when a man passed me on his way out.  He saw what I reading.

Man:  Are you a bridgeplayer?

AW: Yes.

Man: Well, I learnt to play as a kid, but I never took it up.  But here's a funny thing: I bought a carton of old books from a junk store, and there was a bridge book in the box. In the book was an envelope.  I've got it with me; I don't want it, so you might as well have it.

He handed me an envelope from his jacket pocket and left.

I opened the envelope and took out some pages - a hand-written bridge article on faded, aging paper.

And here is what it said.

The Curse of the Blue Team: Tiebreaker

 I sat alone at the table after George Loudmouth had stomped off, muttering to himself. All that work, memorizing the great hands of the past, and for it to end like this! Where did I go wrong? Very depressing. I felt terrible.

Suddenly I heard someone running towards me. It was George! “You won’t believe it,” he shouted. “Our boys had the biggest set of all time! It’s a tie and we’re now in a four-board tiebreaker! We start play in five minutes!”

Amazing! I hurried to get a coffee and someone told me that once more we were to line up against that greatest of pairs from Stony Creek, Eric Murphy and Sammy Cartwheels. The Blue Team hadn’t won yet! The Chicken Roost Trophy was up for grabs!

As I walked towards the table I could see that George Loudmouth was already seated and talking to Murphy and Cartwheels. He was pointing to our old scoresheet and tapping the side of his head. He stopped when he saw me approaching. What was all that about? It didn’t matter, we had four fresh boards with which to snatch victory! This time I resolved to make no mistakes.

I was sitting West and the first two boards were uneventful; maybe we were down a little on overtricks, maybe not. George had said nothing, so things couldn’t be too bad. It was on the third board that I picked up a hand I knew well, with the opponents vulnerable.

K J 10 7 4  5 2  Q 7 6 4 3

This was held by that great theoretician, Professor Eugenio Chiaradia, winner of six consecutive Bermuda Bowls. It was board 70 of the 1957 Bermuda Bowl and, following his cheeky 1 overcall, Chiaradia found a most startling bid! Would I get the same chance?

Chiaradia
J
KJ1074
52
Q7643
Koytchou
Q10753
98
AJ106
52
D'Alelio
K64
6532
K9
AJ109
Ogust
A982
AQ
Q8743
K8
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
1
1
1N
X
2
P
P
3
P
4
P
P
4N
P
5
X
P
P
P
D
5X West
NS: 0 EW: 0

 

Chiaradia lost the obvious four tricks for -300.

In the other room, Forquet, South, chalked up 620 after an uninterrupted auction to 4 and a heart lead.

Here is what happened at my table.

Me
J
KJ1074
52
Q7643
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
1
1NT
X
2
P
P
3
P
4
P
P
?

 

I was pleased with how our auction was going, it was all on target! The opponents were about to make 4* and both 5 and 5 are cheap sacrifices – only two down! This would make up for any overtricks lost on the first two boards, so I confidently followed the great Professor ** and bid 4NT.

Strangely, after my confident 4NT things went a little off-script; George sat and sat and his face went redder and redder. He began to grind his teeth. Murphy and Cartwheels were trying not to laugh. Eventually, George bid 5 and was doubled.

Once again the layout at my table was a little different.

 

* Nitpickers may want to quibble, although there is a good case for making 4.  In any event, allow me poetic licence.

** Chiaradia and D'Alelio were playing Italian Natural, which wasn't much more advanced than Culbertson.  There is no hint, in the system notes or in Kaplan's Italian Natural system summary, that 1NT showed heart support.

Me
J
KJ1074
52
Q7643
Cartwheels
10965
Q983
J6
A109
Loudmouth
KQ82
65
K983
J52
Murphy
A743
A2
AQ1074
K8
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
1
1
1N
X
2
P
P
3
P
4
P
P
4N
P
5
X
P
P
P
D
5X East
NS: 0 EW: 0

The opponents started with three rounds of clubs; George managed three tricks in each of my long suits. Minus 1100 and they couldn’t make 4

“What the hell is going on around here?” bellowed George as he rammed his cards back in the board. “Did I raise your hearts? Did I bid clubs? No, I showed values in their suits. So what do you do with some crummy misfit? You drive us to the five-level, is what! What’s all this about? Just whose side are you on?”

I began to tell George about how Professor Chiaradia, winner of all those Bermuda Bowls, was a great thinker and wonderful bidding innovator, but he told me to shut up. Murphy and Cartwheels were looking very pleased with themselves.

Well, again we had one board to get it all back, so I was delighted to pick up:

J 10 7  K 10 8 5  A K 7  A 9 6

Yes, board 205 of the 1957 Bermuda Bowl! It’s is a plain-looking hand but it brought in 1100 after Giorgio Belladonna sniffed out a snappy penalty double. I was alert and waiting for my chance to pounce!

Belladonna
J107
K1085
AK7
A96
Ogust
KQ83
AJ32
10
8532
Avarelli
62
Q7
QJ862
KQJ10
Koytchou
A954
964
9543
74
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
P
3
P
P
X
P
P
P
D
3X South
NS: 0 EW: 0

 

Belladonna followed his classy double with a magnificent card – he led a top diamond and shifted to the 10. Carnage! I was hoping for the same opportunity.

Well, our bidding went the same way, I led the same top diamond, dummy was the same and I shifted to the same 10. I waited for the tricks to come cascading in. It didn’t work out like that. The first hint of trouble came when Loudmouth showed out at trick two.

Me
J107
K1085
AK7
A96
Cartwheels
KQ83
AJ32
10
8532
Loudmouth
6542
QJ9862
KQJ
Murphy
A9
Q9764
543
1074
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
P
3
P
P
X
P
P
P
D
3X South
NS: 0 EW: 0

 

Like Koytchou, Murphy had psyched, but the devious devil had hearts for his 1 bid! How could I ever have picked that? Surely George couldn’t criticize me for getting that wrong. Murphy won my 10 in hand and played back a middle heart. I covered, dummy won and Murphy now crossed back to his A, drew trumps with a finesse and cashed dummy’s spades. Nine tricks.

George Loudmouth’s face was the color of a ripe eggplant. “You make some nutty double and the moment you see dummy you throw away your trump trick!” he shouted. “What are you doing? Why can’t you bid and play like a normal person?”

I carefully explained that Giorgio Belladonna was the winner of 10 consecutive Bermuda Bowls and if doubling and switching to the 10 was good enough for him, it was good enough for me. George was not paying attention, being too busy pounding the table with one hand and tearing at his hair with the other. He looked like he was about to burst into tears.

I decided to cheer him up. “I know!”, I said brightly. “Let’s go score-up! Maybe our boys have had another great set!”

The End.

I put the papers back in my pocket, finished my beer and headed home.

It was time to work on finishing my bridge book.

Not long to go now.

AW

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