by Alfred Sheinwold, Playboy Magazine, May 1964
[NOTE: The following article harkens back 50 years, when the immortal Alfred Sheinwold reported on the 1963 Bermuda Bowl world championship in Saint-Vincent, Italy. Imagine a time when bridge stars like Pietro Forquet were lauded in Playboy for "matinee-idol good looks." Enjoy the article. Hopefully Hugh Hefner doesn't sue.]
The Italians have made a habit of winning the world championship at contract bridge ever since 1957, when Carl Alberto Perroux brought his then-unknown Blue Team to New York to meet - and defeat - the biggest names in bridge. They did it in 1958 and 1959; they did it in 1961 and 1962 - and they did it again in 1963, just as most of the world expected. This time they won in the tiny Italian resort town of Saint Vincent, while less dedicated mortals strolled on the mountain slopes under a brilliant June sun or played chemin de fer at the casino under the brilliant chandeliers.
It was this same Casino of the Valley that had played host in 1960 to some hundred bridge experts from a dozen countries who had come up for a day from the world championship in nearby Turin. On that occasion Johnny Crawford, least inhibited of the American experts, had walked out with some $20,000 worth of lire bulging from every pocket. This time only four countries were up for the world championship, and there were no Crawfords among them. The pickings for the casino, conveniently across the street from the Hotel Billia, where the nine-day tournament was held, were destined to be very slim.
France, Argentina and the United States, each representing a continent, sent teams to Saint Vincent to play against Italy, which had won the previous year. They found Perroux's Blue Team already in possession, winding up a week of practice.
It was quite typical of the Italians to take an extra week away from their work to train for the nine days that were to come. The food and water might be different from that of Rome and Naples; the altitude was almost 2000 feet. Perroux is father and mother to his team; he takes no avoidable risks with the physical condition of his middle-aged ragazzi.
It was Perroux who had persuaded the management of the casino, which owns the Hotel Billia, that there would be good business and good publicity in furnishing free accommodations to the four teams and a bevy of tournament officials. If the invading bridge experts succumbed to the lure of roulette or chemmy, that was none of his affair; boys will be boys. But Perroux made sure that his boys stayed away from the tables of the casino; their job was at two very different tables across the street.
Perroux, a Knight Commander of the Order of Merit, has earned fame and honors in his career as a trial lawyer and all-round spellbinder, but he would have earned his knighthood just as surely if he had done nothing but bring glory to Italy by captaining the Italian team to six world championships. (Two of his players, Pietro Forquet and Benito Garozzo, as yet unknown except for their prowess at the bridge table, were made Chevaliers of the Order in 1962.) Perroux begins each world championship sadly predicting that his team will finish last and ends by explaining why they shouldn’t have won. Between times he keeps a watchful eye on the form of his players, at and away from the bridge table.
Among ordinary bridge players Perroux would rank as a great expert, but to his own team Perroux’s bridge is the subject of much irreverent humor. This does not seem to handicap him in his task of judging which four of his six players are equipped to play the next session or which players he will need to keep fresh for the most important match. When Perroux fell ill at Turin in 1960, and the Italians lost the world championship to France, Forquet insisted that Italy would have won if Perroux had been able to stay at the helm.
Forquet, star of the Blue Team, is not the man to give credit lightly to anybody else for the long string of Italian successes. Slim and still boyish at 38, Forquet looks on the heavy-set 58-year-old Perroux as a father whose authority is needed to keep the other children obedient and diligent.
There has never been a conflict between the young man and the old man for primacy on the Blue Team. They compete only in physical distinction – Forquet with his matinee-idol good looks, and Perroux, a tall man of huge bulk, with his dignity and authority. Forquet is content to overpower his rivals at the bridge table, and at Saint Vincent he encountered perhaps the only player in the world for whom he has an abiding respect – Howard Schenken.
Schenken, star of the United States team, was once picked almost unanimously by American Life Masters as the partner they would want if they were playing for their lives. Some experts believe that at 59 Schenken is not the player he once was; others, accepting this estimate, think he is still the best player in the world. (The opinion is no longer unanimous: Some Americans would plump for Lew Mathe or Tobias Stone, and most Europeans would name Forquet or England’s Terence Reese.)
Four teams seemed to be involved in the struggle for the 1963 world championship. Only two had a real chance, and the soul of each team was its star performer. The world championship at Saint Vincent was actually a contest between the noonday sun and twilight.
2020 © Jeff Tang. All Rights Reserved.