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Another Look at Walter Avarelli
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Barnet Shenkin has provided us with a deal that Walter Avarelli played very well.

https://bridgewinners.com/article/view/playing-with-michael-rosenberg-against-walteravarelli-and-the-blueteam/

 

So how good was Walter Avarelli?  

I am aware that individual hands demonstrate little; all players, strong and weak, have their horrors. Nonetheless, here is a quiz; four hands from 1972.

 

1.

North
AKJ6
J4
KJ8
A1074
South
742
KQ8
1073
J983
W
N
E
S
1
1
X
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P

 

Official Handbook:

[West] led the ten of hearts, [East] played the nine and declarer won with the queen. Declarer passed the nine of clubs to [East], who exited with ace-and-another heart. Declarer led the eight of clubs...

West plays low. What do you do?

 

2.

North
109863
8
QJ4
Q843
South
AQ754
KQ1043
A10
9
W
N
E
S
P
1
X
4
P
P
P

 

The lead is a low club to the ace, and a diamond is returned. You finesse, losing, and West cashes a top heart. You ruff West's club king.

What next?

 

3.

South
95
KJ87642
KJ
K7
W
N
E
S
P
P
3
3NT
P
P
?

 

What is your call?

 

4.

West
QJ1032
A103
Q9832
W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1
1
2
4
X
P
P
P

 

On earlier hands in this same match, your partner opened i with doubletons: J7 and J9.

What is your opening lead?

1.  1972 Olympiad Final, board 85

Wolff
Q953
102
654
K652
Belladonna
AKJ6
J4
KJ8
A1074
Hamman
108
A97653
AQ92
Q
Avarelli
742
KQ8
1073
J983
W
N
E
S
1
1
X
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P
D
1NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0

 

At the table, Avarelli rose ace on the second round of clubs. He cashed the top spades, played a third round and the defence claimed down two.

At the other table, Goldman finessed for contract.

 

2.  1972 Olympiad Final, board 63

Goldman
J
AJ72
K32
KJ763
Belladonna
109863
8
QJ4
Q842
Lawrence
K2
965
98765
A105
Avarelli
AQ754
KQ1043
A10
9
W
N
E
S
P
1
X
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

 

At the table, Avarelli tabled the spade ace and conceded one down.

At the other table, Hamman crossed to dummy and took the spade finesse for contract.

 

3.  1972 Olympiad, Qualifying round 27, GB v Italy, board 2

Avarelli
95
KJ87642
KJ
K7
W
N
E
S
P
P
3
3NT
P
P
?

 

At the table, Avarelli raised his own preempt.

 

I think Problem 4 is of a different class to the other three, so I am putting it on separate page.

1972 Bermuda Bowl Final, board 67

Avarelli
QJ1032
A103
Q9832
Goldman
K9532
A984
J76
5
Belladonna
QJ10
65
KQ985
AJ10
Lawrence
A8764
K7
42
K764
W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1
1
2
4
X
P
P
P
D
4X South
NS: 0 EW: 0

 

Mike Lawrence was at the table.

Belladonna gave this [4] a lot of thought. Later when I saw his hand I wasn’t sure what he had been thinking. Then he started that staring routine so popular with Jaïs and Trézel. All of the same mannerisms. Look left. Look right. Look at partner. Ultimately, Belladonna doubled. He got 100, because of the 3-0 spade break. It was the only time I saw this display from Avarelli and Belladonna.

Is the bidding the only thing of interest? It is not. Look at Avarelli’s hand. What would you lead? I doubt many will find his choice. Avarelli led the ace of diamonds. Considering East’s 1 bid said nothing much about diamonds, this lead is hugely dangerous. The lead turned out not to matter at the table but it does matter in any sane discussion of the hand. It says a lot.

 

Here is another hand from the 1972 Final; same partnerships.

West
KJ1075
65
K64
J43
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
4
P
P
P

 

What is your opening lead?

Belladonna
KJ1075
65
K64
J43
Lawrence
A9
Q104
1098752
A9
Avarelli
8643
K73
3
KQ1085
Goldman
Q2
AJ982
AQJ
762
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

 

Lawrence, in the foreword to "Under the Table":

[North] jumped to 4. If anyone had asked what this meant, they would have been told that [North] had some kind of boring values. Call it a semi-constructive raise to game.

Giorgio didn’t ask.

What did Giorgio lead?

Answer: He led the three of clubs.

99% of the world leads something else. I have given this hand to more people than any other hand over the years. It turned out that this lead set 4. It is makeable, but if any lead gives you a chance to set 4, a club lead is it.

[Hand displayed]

If there is any hand that stinks of cheating, this is it. What makes it so?

I didn’t give you the exact auction. Something extra happened. When Goldman bid 2, Belladonna elevated out of his chair and demanded to know “What is 2?” Giorgio doesn’t usually speak very good English*. But he asked “What is 2?” in perfect English*. He started to say something else but instead came back to his sitting position, saying “Excusa, excusa.” He was embarrassed.

But not too embarrassed to lead a club.

What do I think happened here?

I think that Belladonna knew Avarelli had good clubs.

I think that Belladonna knew Avarelli had short diamonds.

I think that Belladonna expected to hear Goldman bid 2

I think that Belladonna was tired. He had played a lot of bridge this week.

What do you think?

 

Sports Illustrated, February 10, 1975:

For years it had been whispered that, good as they were, some Italian pairs were cheating. Just how, no one was certain, but one thing causing suspicion was the remarkable number of killing leads made by the Italians when no such leads were called for from the bidding.

 

Maybe "no one was certain" in 1975, but some clarification was received the following year, after Burgay's recording.

Ortiz-Patino:

I understood the tape well and was in little doubt of its authenticity...  smoke signals, pauses, commonplace words with coded meanings — all these came into the picture. How, I wondered, could we defend our championships from ridicule in the light of this? ... Burgay told me his partner had gone into hiding.

 

-------------------------------------------------------------

* Alan Sontag:

In 1973, Steven Altman and I played in the London Sunday Times invitational pair game. During the match against Belladonna and Renato Mondolfo** the following auction occurred: 2 (natural) from Belladonna, 2 overcall by Altman, 4 by Mondolfo. I asked Belladonna what 4meant. He shook his head, mumbled “no understando” and shrugged his shoulders. I asked again is it weak, invitational or forcing but was stonewalled by gibberish and shrugging. I had a marginal responsive double, but with only 7 points and a singleton heart I passed. We defended the final 4 contract perfectly and beat it two tricks but we were on for 4. At the end of the hand Belladonna said to me in perfect English, “Nice defense.”

** This partnership was named in the Burgay Tape as using illicit signals

Raising one's own preempt and making a mess of basic suit combinations is a little strange for the winner of 12 world championships.  Surely no other Blue Team player did such things!

 

1.

South
AQ975432
1053
9
A
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
3
X
P
4
?

 

What is your call?

 

2.

North
Q97
AQ
AQ94
QJ103
South
AJ10652
984
8
A92
W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1
P
1
2
2
P
4
P
4
P
6
P
6
P
P
P

 

You win the J lead in dummy, draw trumps in three rounds (East has Kxx) and play a heart to the queen.  You run the Q; holding.

What next?

1. 1973 Bermuda Bowl Final, Board 68. 

Bianchi
AQ975432
1053
9
A
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
3
X
P
4
?

 

Benito Bianchi, winner of two Bermuda Bowls and four European Championships, raised his own preempt*.

 

2.  1973 Bermuda Bowl Semi-final, board 18.

Manoppo
8
KJ1032
J107
K854
Forquet
Q97
AQ
AQ94
QJ103
Manoppo
K43
765
K6532
76
Bianchi
AJ10652
984
8
A92
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
P
1
P
1
2
2
P
4
P
4
P
6
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

 

I find the bidding a little mysterious. No doubt a Blue Team supporter will explain how 4 shows both red aces and it is impossible for Forquet to have:

KQx Axx Axxx KQx

Anyway, as stated, you win the J lead in dummy, draw trumps in three rounds and play a heart to the queen. You run the Q; holding.

 

Alfred Sheinwold was kibitzing:

East naturally played low [on the first club], and Bianchi made the beginner's blunder of repeating the finesse instead of taking the ace of clubs. West took the king of clubs and returned a heart to dummy's ace. Now there was no way for South to get back to dummy for the last club. He played out the rest of the hand avoiding Forquet's eye, giving up a heart at the end. You don't expect to see this sort of thing in the semifinals of the world championships…

 

In his Popular Bridge article, Sheinwold discusses another hand of Forquet and Bianchi's, where their defensive signals went haywire.  I am guessing that having such a kibitzer could have been a bit stressful.

 

The Independent, 11 March, 1997:

There was an interesting gap in Sheinwold's bridge career during the years of the Second World War when he headed the code and cipher department of the Office of Strategic Services - the forerunner of the CIA

 

---------------------------------------------

* In "Under the Table", I show the hand where a Blue Team player double-raised his own preempt. 

And he was right! How lucky is that?

Here is another interesting deal.

 

1967 Bermuda Bowl Qualifying, France v Italy, board 8a.

Svarc
K53
762
K54
J1087
Belladonna
QJ1072
43
AJ10986
Boulenger
A8
AKQJ
Q2
KQ543
Avarelli
964
10985
73
A962
W
N
E
S
P
1
X
P
1NT
2
3
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT West
NS: 0 EW: 0

 

After showing longer diamonds, Belladonna led a Roman 10, won in dummy. A low club to the jack won, and Svarc cashed dummy’s four hearts. Belladonna discarded two high spades and was then able to let Avarelli  win the third round of spades to put a diamond through for down one.

As you see, the contract would have made, had Svarc held 9 or 10.

 

This deal was written up as a “brilliant defense” by Belladonna.

I think there is something more to say about this deal.

What do you think it could be?

Let's return to 1972.

 

While this hand has been discussed before, I think there is a little more to say about it.

West
76
J65
AKQJ86
76
Belladonna
AQ853
K8
952
AKQ
East
KJ102
2
J10985432
Avarelli
94
AQ109743
10743
W
N
E
S
3
X
P
P
P
D
3X West
NS: 0 EW: 0

 +800, with 4 going down, on normal play.

 

In online discussions, there are many incorrect statements about what Avarelli and Belladonna actually played over preempts.  In the "Blue Team Rule" article, I quote the Roman Club books and show a clear Avarelli-Belladonna takeout double. In case there is still doubt, here is another example:

 

1968 Olympiad, Qualifying Round 21, board 20

Avarelli
K984
AK62
7
J1054
Belladonna
Q10
Q10
J9853
Q762
W
N
E
S
P
P
3
X
P
P
P

 

So what was going on?  Why did Avarelli choose to pass 3X, an option that that no one else would ever consider?

One online analyst thought that Avarelli

...analyzed the pros and cons of passing or bidding 4, assessed the table feel and state of the match and took a measured risk to take the non-obvious action.

But in this case, there was no meaningful “state of the match.” This was the third round of 38, to qualify for the semi-finals. Avarelli was playing Germany, who were not regarded as a threat. Italy won the 20-board match 17-3. Germany finished 21st , averaging 10.5 VPs per match on a 20 to minus 5 scale. Italy qualified first with an average of 16.6 VPs and could have lost this match by a hundred imps and still qualified first.

In comments in "The Blue Team Rule" article, we read:

Maybe he didn't see partner's double?

There was nothing to see.  Spoken bidding.

Or the recorded auction is wrong?

It was witnessed on Vu-Graph, and I verified it with a member of the opposing team.

The plausible explanation is ... Avarelli was hurried and didn't bother to sort his cards. After a quick glance, he quickly Passed thinking the AQ of s were the AQ of s.

Well, let's hear from someone who was there.

Ron Von der Porten:

The 1972 Olympiad qualifying match had Italy facing (a very weak) Germany in the third round of the long round robin.

I was in Florida and played in a preliminary event, a BAM Mixed Teams, and was scheduled to fly home the next day. The Italy/Germany match was on vu-graph, and, late in the session, Belladonna and Avarelli decided to wow the crowd.

[deal and result supplied]

In the other room, the doubler’s partner tried 4 and had gone down when ruffing the fourth diamond with the K and losing a finesse to the J.

I was in the back of the room and watched the entire auction. It took Avarelli a long time to decide what to do, at least 30 seconds, and I thought he was, rightly, pondering just how many hearts to bid. When he passed, I was astonished along with everyone else, but then it began to dawn on me that this pair had a long history of getting these things ‘right’, and I wondered about how that pass would have looked if Belladonna had held something akin to the more likely A x x x K x x x A x x x x [6 is excellent, 3 doubled may well make]. I’ll never know, but my thoughts were that the winning number of hearts might have been forthcoming!

After the rather easy defense collected 800, I went out of the room and ran into Eric Murray, whom I knew was of the same opinion as I about what the Blue Team had been doing all these many years.

VdP: Eric, we finally have them … (I then told him Avarelli’s hand, the auction and his amazing pass)

Eric: Come on, that’s impossible.

VdP: Take a look for yourself, it’s still up on the vu-graph.

He believed me and we chatted a bit about past abuses.

The next morning I was ready to leave for the airport and ran into Eric again.

Eric: Ron, you’ll love this! After leaving you yesterday, I went to the elevators and there was Benito Garozzo, who had been in his room resting during the session.

(Conversation at the elevator)

Eric: Benito, I don’t often give you hands, but what would you bid with this? (and he gives the Avarelli hand and auction to Benito)

Benito: (thinks a bit) 4..........maybe 5..........maybe 6! It’s a very hard hand.

Eric: What about a pass?

Benito: Pass? PASS?? That’s not bridge!

Eric: Well Benito, Walter just passed that hand on vu-graph against the Germans. +800.

Benito: mmmm... pass. Yes, maaaybe pass.

Both Eric and I thought that this hand would change the world, and that every bridge magazine in the world would just show the hand and bidding on their covers and let people decide what they thought about Avarelli’s pass.

As the Brits love to say, “Not a bit of it!” There was no publicity, and it took another three years before screens went up.

But the world of the Blue Team did change, as Walter never played for the Team again, being replaced by Benito Bianchi in 1973. Guess the noose was getting tighter and that idiotic actions like that pass, especially against a hopeless team, doomed the good judge to Purgatory.

 

So what was going on in those 30+ seconds that Von der Porten mentioned?  Do you think Avarelli was hurried and trying to sort his cards, as we read on the preceding page?

Danny Kleinman:

Leading American experts have often spoken highly of the technical skills of Benito Garozzo, Pietro Forquet and Giorgio Belladonna—but show little respect for any other Blue Team players.

 

I certainly agree about the technical skills of Garozzo and Belladonna.

If you haven't seen this hand before, I think you will enjoy it.

 

1974 Bermuda Bowl Final, board 78.

Belladonna
K7
AK984
K1043
Q10
Kehela
J10
QJ5
AJ9
AK965
Garozzo
A82
107632
Q7
732
Murray
Q96543
8652
J84
W
N
E
S
1
1NT
2
2
3
P
P
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

 

As you can see, there are ten easy tricks, what with the 10 onside, and the lucky club layout.  +170!

But Eric Murray went down in 3... how is that possible?

Murray ruffed the heart and played a low spade, ducked to Garozzo, who found the Q shift - a diamond ruff is now unavoidable and we are down to nine winners. Dummy won the diamond, Belladonna took the trump and gave Garozzo a ruff. He shifted to the two of clubs… low, queen(!), ace.

Murray, knowing that Belladonna had at most two clubs, was worried that the queen had been singleton and clubs would not run. He took the ruffing heart finesse for down one.

This is a striking example of Tim Seres' 1974 Bols Tip: "Give Declarer Enough Rope".

 

At the other table, Bianchi, North, overcalled 2.  Would that be your choice?  What do you think motivated Bianchi's overcall?

 

BTW, you can examine the records for all the hands where Belladonna or Garozzo misplayed a basic suit combination. Good luck, you're going to need it.  

I concur with these views of the lesser players:

 

Mike Lawrence:

Bob Hamman said it best. “From central casting.” Avarelli wasn’t very good.

 

John Swanson:

The teammates of the big three during their unbelievable run, Avarelli, D’Alelio, Chiaradia, Siniscalco and Pabis-Ticci, were nowhere near as talented as the stars

 

Bob Hamman:

The Blue Team’s success was roughly the equivalent of an eight-man team winning a world class mile relay competition with a team consisting of two world class sprinters (Belladonna & Garrozzo), one guy who could make a college relay team (Forquet), and five fat old guys from central casting

 

We have a dissenter:

Walter Avarelli, in an interview about the Blue Team, Asbury Park Press, 23 January 1972:

All the players are equal.

 

Possibly so, but some were more equal than others.

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