The “Match of the Century”
By Harold Franklin
Reprinted from The Bulletin March 1972
In December 1971, a 140-board match billed as the “Match of the Century” was held at the Las Vegas Hilton. It brought together for the first time in direct confrontation the retired 12-time world champion Italian Blue Team and the current two-time world titleholders, the Aces. On the surface it appeared that the match indeed qualified for superlatives, since the Blue Team, although relatively inactive as a unit since their retirement in 1969, continued to be regarded as invincible, while the Aces, after winning an undistinguished Bermuda Bowl at Stockholm in 1970, had shown themselves to be true champions by the manner in which they retained the title at Taipei.
Thus the match seemed to be bringing together two teams which stood head and shoulders above any other teams in world bridge. But perhaps too much had been expected of this “Battle of the Century,” for both teams fell considerably short of their reputations.
For the first half of the match the teams were virtually level with the Italians appearing more vulnerable than at any time in their distinguished career. Walter Avarelli and Giorgio Belladonna were clearly less practiced in their version of the Precision Club than were Pietro Forquet and Benito Garozzo, and suffered an occasional misunderstanding.
On Board 2 Garozzo and Forquet reached 7NT on:
|♠ A 8 4||♠ Q J 2|
|♥ A K Q J 6 5 2||♥ 7|
|♦ K||♦ A Q 6 4 3|
|♣ A 2||♣ Q J 5 3|
After a diamond lead, declarer’s best chance was to find both black kings onside, so he won with the ace and ran the ♠Q. Had the queen held the trick a spade would have been discarded on the ♦Q and all would have rested on the club finesse. But the spade finesse failed for down one and it seemed a fine chance for the Aces. However, Bobby Goldman and Mike Lawrence reached the same contract at the other table to produce the same result.
Three hands later the Italian Precision Club had the better of things:
|Dlr: North||♠ A 10 4|
|Vul: N-S||♥ A 6 5|
|♦ A K Q 9 2|
|♣ K 10|
|♠ 8 3||♠ Q J 9 7 5 2|
|♥ Q||♥ K J 8 2|
|♦ 10 8 6 4 3||♦ 7 5|
|♣ J 9 8 4 2||♣ 3|
|♠ K 6|
|♥ 10 9 7 4 3|
|♣ A Q 7 6 5|
Forquet and Garozzo show controls when the opponents intervene over 1♣. 2NT showed three controls (ace = 2, King = 1), and a spade guard. When South showed a club feature at his third turn the strength of his heart suit was clearly suspect and Forquet thought deeply before committing the partnership to the five-level, but five proved just safe. Goldman and Lawrence got too high very quickly in an uncontested auction:
|(1) transfer to hearts|
After the 2NT opening Lawrence decided that the hand was worth a slam in one of his two suits. But Goldman misread his intentions and carried on to a grand slam in hearts. As it happened, even six would have been one too many.
The Aces held a slender lead after the first session of 20 deals and improved on it when Lawrence kept his head better than Camillo Pabis Ticci in an inferior contract:
|♠ Q 10||♠ A K|
|♥ 9 8 6 4 2||♥ K J 7|
|♦ K 10 9 6||♦ A 7 5 2|
|♣ K 6||♣ A 4 3 2|
At the superior contract of 4♥, one could normally afford to lose two trump tricks in addition to a diamond. 3NT after a spade lead was far less attractive, since by the time the second heart is lost, the opponents will be in the position to cash at least three spade tricks. Pabis Ticci elected to try for four diamond tricks as his only legitimate chance, and so lead a diamond to the king at trick two. When no honor fell he continued with diamonds and eventually went down one, losing three spades, a diamond and the ace of hearts.
Lawrence, however, saw that he had a second chance even if he could not make four diamond tricks. He too began with a diamond to the king, but when nothing happened, he led a heart toward his hand hoping to find the doubleton Q-10 or A-Q of heats with North. He was rewarded with the later possibility and came home with 10 tricks.