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World Championship Books
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Reports of World Championship contract bridge matches have been published at least since 1933, providing a rich source of bridge history. I sometimes search for interesting deals by looking for big swings. Some swings appear to be random, a few because of a brilliant bid or play, but, not surprisingly, most result when someone blundered. The following swing from the 1964 Olympiad fits at least two of those categories.

That year the open team was conducted as a 29-team round robin of 18-board matches, IMPs converted to victory points. The four leading teams then played a knockout with the pairing determined at random. As luck would have it the finals would be Europe against the New World, for Great Britain drew Italy; Canada would play the U.S.A. This was one of the big swings in the European match.

Boris Shapiro, partnered with Reese, and Avarelli to his left and Belladonna to his right, had to find a lead after this auction:

Shapiro
K986542
KQ5
54
2
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
3
P
4
P
4NT
P
5NT
P
6
P
7
P
P
P

When there were only a few teams competing, the WC books gave a short description of system agreements, but in the Olympiad years (and later Bermuda Bowls) there were too many teams involved to give even a brief system outline. We know that Avarelli-Belladonna used the Roman club, including Roman key-card Blackwood. Even so, I don’t know what Belladonna intended with his 5NT call. I checked with Wikipedia to see if it would offer any enlightenment, and found this under “Roman Cues and Roman Blackwood”.

"Cue bidding aces, kings, voids and singletons more or less indiscriminately supported an aggressive and somewhat adventurous approach to slams, an area of bidding where the Blue Team invariably shone."

Not much help there. I suppose that, at the table, Schapiro was made aware of whatever slam conventions his opponents were using. With less information than Schapiro likely had, what would you lead?

Avarelli
A103
2
K3
KQJ9865
Reese
1098643
1098
10743
Belladonna
QJ7
AJ7
AQJ762
A
Shapiro
K986542
KQ5
54
2
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
1
3
P
4
P
4N
P
5N
P
6
P
7
P
P
P
D
7 East
NS: 0 EW: 0

Schapiro found the spade lead, picking up a whopping 19 IMPs. His teammates, Flint and Harrison-Gray bid: 2NT – 4C; 4NT – 7NT. But it was not enough; Italy squeaked out a 126 - 120. The Italians went on to defeat the U.S.A. in the finals.

The following deal is a puzzle to me. It’s from the Argentina – Italy match from the 1958 Bermuda Bowl with Argentina, Italy, and the U.S.A. competing. The Italian North-South bid to 3NT.

Dalelio
K6
AK
K8632
AJ32
Chiaradia
A1085
Q832
J10
965
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

West led the 2, attacking declarer’s limited communication. How should declarer play?

Lerner
Q742
J64
A54
KQ10
Dalelio
K6
AK
K8632
AJ32
Blousson
J93
10975
Q97
874
Chiaradia
A1085
Q832
J10
965
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0

Chiaradia made a normal looking, but doubtful play of ducking in dummy. East’s J was won by the king and the 10 was led, losing to the queen. Dummy’s king won the spade return, perforce, and a low diamond was led to the jack. Lerner could, and most certainly should, have won and returned a diamond. That would lock declarer in dummy. He would be forced to concede three black tricks to West. But Lerner ducked. Chiaradia then cashed dummy's high hearts and led another diamond. Lerner, rather than dummy, was now endplayed and could no longer defeat the contract. He led the K. But Chiaradia, instead of ducking (which insures the contract, with the necessary assumption that the Q is onside), won the ace, took his diamonds, and surrendered the last three tricks.

The winning line is to win the opening lead with the K, cash the top hearts, and lead a diamond. The defense can’t stop two spades, three hearts, three diamonds, and a club.

It seems Chiaradia blundered by winning the A at the critical juncture, but perhaps there was an unexpected motive for his less than accurate declarer play. The 1958 Bermuda Bowl had an unfortunate condition of contest. (There seem to be a lot of those.) If one team was trailing both of the other teams by a margin of 100 IMPs after seven of nine scheduled 16-board sessions, that team would be eliminated. The match between the two contenders would then be extended by 32 boards. Sure enough, after six sets Argentina was being crushed by the other two teams. U.S.A. was up 111 IMPs; Italy was leading by 42. Italy’s lead was well short of 100, but a couple deals into the seventh set Lerner refused a finesse for no reason to lose a game contract threatening to extend the Italian lead. Because ducking the K is such an obvious play, I have wondered if Chiaradia was employing “Sportsmanlike Dumping”. Italy was leading U.S.A. by 23. They would prefer to end the match as quickly as possible.

The next deal is from the 1954 World Championship, a head-to-head match between the U.S.A. and France, the European champions. There were a number of unusual aspects of this battle for the Bermuda Bowl, including the composition of the teams. The U.S. team members were Doug Steen, Milton Ellenby, Billy Rosen, Don Oakie, and Cliff Bishop. They had qualified by winning the Masters' Team Championship (now known as the Spingold) at the Summer Nationals. Lew Mathe was added as a sixth, a tribute to his bridge skills because he did not have a partnership with any of the other players. During the championship the U.S. team proved their versatility and, I suppose, compatibility by using a different partnership combination almost every session.

It was a young U.S. team with an average age of 34 years. At 27, Steen was the youngest. Also the strangest. Mathe told of one morning during the event when he encountered a disheveled Steen in the hotel lobby. Mathe asked what the problem was. Steen replied, "I got stuck in the wall last night." This is not what one wishes to hear from a teammate during an important event. It seemed that one of Steen's out-of-body experiences had not been entirely successful. Steen retired from competitive bridge a few years later to make a fortune in the commodities market. Richard Walsh told me that Steen would come into the Bache office in Beverly Hills and perform transcendental chants, sitting on the floor to improve his trading insight.

The French team qualified four-handed. Their choice of rounding out the team was remarkable. Rather than adding another French pair they created a true European team by selecting Jean Besse of Switzerland and Karl Schneider of Austria! That would not be possible these days because of sponsorship by national bridge organizations. Besse would go on to represent Switzerland in ten world championships; Schneider was a proven veteran - he was a member of the 1937 Austria World Championship team.

The conditions of contest included an unusual proviso: If the difference between the two teams was greater than 24 IMPs after 192 boards, only 32 more deals would be played. If the match was closer than 24 IMPs, 64 more would be played. (The IMP scale then is use was roughly equal to 60% of today's scale, thus 24 IMPs then is equal to perhaps 40 IMPs now.) The Europeans must have been regretting this rule for they had gained 45 IMPs in boards 113 through 192, but the deficit was 36 IMPs. The U.S. team halted the slide, picking up 13 IMPs over the last 32 boards to win the title going away. This was to be the last World Team Championship for the U.S. for sixteen frustrating years.

The play and bidding throughout the match was far below what is expected of top players these days. This was deal 54:

Mathe
AQ4
A3
AJ8
QJ873
Steen
K10962
8
K64
A952
W
N
E
S
P
P
1NT
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

Using a range of 16-18 HCP the West hand is surely too strong for 1NT (good controls and a five-card suit). But the 4 bid was a much worse effort. Despite the narrow range in high card strength defined by an opening notrump bid, there can be a wide variance in the value of a hand in support of a suit. It is a well-known principle that the notrump bidder must convey this information to partner when possible. An advanced cue bid of 4 in response to 3 is basic sound bidding (not that Steen could have bid more than 4 anyway).

The French pair did reach the excellent slam despite preemptive bidding by Oakie and Bishop. East, Marcel Kornblum, received a heart lead. How should he play (spades are 3-2)?

Amouraben
AQ4
A3
AJ8
QJ873
Bishop
83
KQ1094
93
K1064
Kornblum
K10962
8
K64
A952
Oakie
J75
J7652
Q10752
W
N
E
S
P
P
1NT
P
3
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 East
NS: 0 EW: 0

There is one minor pitfall to be overcome. Declarer must be careful to start the clubs by leading low towards the QJ, catering to either defender having all four missing clubs. Unfortunately for the Europeans, Kornblum started with the A and the contract failed when North proved to hold all four clubs. The 7 IMP loss should have been a 7 IMP gain - then another 32 boards would have been played.

On the return trip the champions stopped off for a 96-board exhibition match against a team of top British players: Reese, Schapiro, Meredith, Konstam, and Mayer. The result was a crushing 81 IMP defeat for the recently crowned world champions. Reese's report of the match in the February, 1954 The Bridge World included this hand:

Reese
KQ6
K93
K643
A5
Oakie
A95
J1072
AJ10
K109
Shapiro
J10
AQ54
Q872
832
Ellenby
87432
86
9
QJ764
W
N
E
S
P
P
1NT
X
XX
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

Reese stated that, "Oakie knew that we played a fairly weak notrump, not vulnerable, and that accounted for his double." Considering that “fairly weak” actually meant “fairly weak strong-notrump”, it is difficult to find any merit in the double. Partner is a passed hand; game is out of the question. But Oakie found his partner with a quite suitable hand. It is not easy to see how the British pair defeated the 2 contract, but they played a sparkling defense. Ellenby won the diamond lead and tried the ace and another spade. Reese won and continued with a diamond, ruffed by declarer. Another spade and another diamond ruff left this position:

Reese
K93
643
A5
Oakie
J1072
K109
Shapiro
AQ4
8
832
Ellenby
87
86
QJ7
W
N
E
S
P
P
1NT
X
XX
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

How did the British defeat the contract after Ellenby led a heart?

Shapiro won and returned a trump. Reese made the critical play of ducking the ace! Another heart, another club, followed by a diamond insured a second trump trick for the defense. Reese noted in his report that if Ellenby had ruffed a spade and then led a heart, East would win and lead a trump. If declarer puts up an honor in an attempt to win and ruff his last spade, West wins and returns a trump. Again the 8 scores a trick. If declarer ducks the club, so does West.

Despite the clever play and potential play by the defense in the trump suit, the contract cannot be defeated. Did you spot declarer's error? It is surprising that it was overlooked by the players at the time and by both Reese and The Bridge World editors later. Declarer must discard one (or both) hearts when the defense attempts to shorten the closed hand trumps. The defensive threat of pulling two round of trumps is nullified by declarer’s spade suit. If the defense doesn’t lead trumps, declarer can crossruff. If they do, declarer has two good spades.

If you have read to this point you might be asking what the theme is, other than a short collection of almost forgotten deals. I have lost a good deal of the energy and enthusiasm required to look through World Championship books. Storage capacity is also dwindling. I have sold over 20 WC books on Ebay recently and will list another 15 to 20 in the next week, beginning today. They can be found by searching “world championship bridge” in the book category. I will also list three trials books. Search for “trials contract bridge”. I hope you weren’t bored by the commercial.

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