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Table of Contents
Leandro Burgay was a leading Italian expert in the 70s. However, he did not have the personal connections or the political clout with the FIB (Italian Bridge Federation) to displace anyone on the famed Blue Team.
Accordingly, several months before the combined 1976 Bermuda Bowl - Olympiad bash in Monte Carlo, Burgay engaged Benito Bianchi in a 35-minute telephone conversation. Bianchi was Pietro Forquets partner in both the 1973 and 1974 Italian World Championship victories. Burgay gave a tape of the conversation to the FIB claiming that Bianchi had discussed at length a signaling method, using placement of cigarettes in the ashtray or in the mouth, which he used with Forquet.
Burgay alleged that as a right-minded citizen of the bridge world he was simply seeking justice. There is reason to believe otherwise but ultimately Burgays motive for the subterfuge is immaterial. Bianchi initially denied that there had been such a conversation. After listening to the tape, which was full of odd sounds, Bianchi admitted that it was he who had been recorded, but the recording had been doctored. Besides, he claimed, the discussion only concerned how such a cheating method would be possible.
After getting this limited concession from Bianchi, Burgay produced another tape, this one without the strange sounds. Burgay had deliberately added noise to a copy of the conversation to get Bianchis admission that such a conversation had taken place! Experts could not find any evidence of editing in the second tape. Luigi Firpo, president of the FIB, moved with swift action. He suspended Burgay, the accuser, for six years and Bianchi, the accusee, for six months. Why? Burgay for making an accusation of cheating (evidence be damned). Bianchi for reasons not clear (if he was judged not to have cheated), possibly for being stupid enough to discuss cheating with Burgay. After Burgay threatened civil action, his suspension was reduced to 18 months and Bianchis suspension was lifted altogether. According to Burgay a board of arbiters appointed by the FIB to determine the facts declined to listen to the tape or read the transcript. Shades of World Bridge Federation (WBF) vice-president Ortiz-Patino in Bermuda the previous year when he first tried to impugn the motives of a witness and then left the room saying, "I cant listen to this."
This had been strictly an internal Italian bridge affair with no publicity. Then a few days before the start of the 1976 Bermuda Bowl the scandal hit the papers. Wonder how that happened? When the WBF Executive Council convened they were faced with a difficult situation. Should they get involved? Bianchi was not a member of the Italian team which would compete at the World Championships, although Forquet was. The WBF decided it was necessary to take some action but there was little they could do before the tournament. They released a statement that no sanctions would be made pending an FIB agreement to conduct a full investigation. Of course, the FIB claimed to have already conducted a full investigation. The WBF wanted the details in writing.
Part of the concession the FIB made to the WBF was:
"Should the inquiry determine that the declaration by Bianchi of his cheating with Forquet was confirmed, the Italian Bridge Federation would renounce all European and World titles won with either Bianchi or Forquet on the team."
We're talking more than two dozen titles here; it would not be in the best interest of the FIB to find Bianchi and Forquet guilty.
When the WBF executive committee next met, a year later at the 1977 Bermuda Bowl contest in Manila, there was no evidence of a thorough investigation by the FIB. Acting with a firm hand too often missing in the past, the WBF suspended the FIB from membership in the world organization. The wordy statement, containing a number of 'whereases' and 'hereby resolveds' delayed the suspension for nine months and included a proviso for the delay to be extended. In effect, the FIB was given another year in which to get its house in order.
The Italian reaction to the suspended suspension was not one of contrition. President Firpo threatened to withdraw from the WBF, asking pompously, "What will world championships be like without Italy?" Bianchi saw the matter as "another American trick". He was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, "The Italians annoy the Americans, and for the past 15 years they have been building up a defamatory campaign against us. They have a voting majority in the world federation, but numbers make strength, not right."
There are no facts which support Bianchis charge of American persecution. The ACBL had six out of 18 votes on the WBF Executive Council. The action against the FIB was not initiated by an ACBL member and the vote for suspension was unanimous.
Bianchi went on to say, "The Americans insist in misinterpreting the tape. The tape shows Forquet and I were discussing smoke signals as a hypothesis for anyone who wants to cheat. Its like discussing whether it would be possible to kill the president - which does not mean you have done it or you intend to do it." I empathize with Bianchi on that point. All my discussions about killing the president have been purely hypothetical.
Giorgio Belladonna, 15 time World Team Champion - most won with Forquet as a teammate, encountered Burgay at an Italian tournament a few weeks later. He did not choose to confront Burgay verbally. Instead he adopted a more primitive method of expressing his feelings by knocking Burgay to the floor of the playing area and then emphasized his displeasure with a kick. The tournament committee was called to act upon the one-sided brawl but claimed not to have jurisdiction because play had not yet begun.
Timing is everything.
The WBF proclamation threatening suspension of the FIB was issued in Manila prior to the start of play in the 1977 Bermuda Bowl. The reaction of the U.S. players there bordered on indifference. There was no Italian team at the tournament and we had no reason to expect an Italian team to have more impact than any other team at future Bermuda Bowl tournaments. Also, jaded by our Bermuda experience, we expected nothing to come of the threatened suspension.
And so it came to pass. Before the 1978 Olympiad in New Orleans a new slate of officials was elected by the FIB. They were able to satisfy the WBF that the required investigation had been performed. The threat of suspension was lifted. It was a case of much smoke but no fire. And the outcome, although perhaps not measuring up to what might be considered justice, may well have been best for the game of bridge.
1975 Bermuda Bowl Finals
This is one of the great pictures from Bermuda Bowl play. It was taken during trick five of the second hand of the finals. Paul Soloway is North for the U.S. (back to camera). John Swanson is South. The Italian opponents are Zucchelli in the East position and Facchini is West. At opposite corners of the table are the monitors who record each bid and play. Johannes Hammerich of Venezuela, a vice-president of the World Bridge Federation is stationed behind Zucchelli observing the action in an official capacity. There is a television cameraman at the left and a "play-by-play" announcer standing at the right.
There are a couple of accouterments not present at most bridge tables. The wooden structure placed diagonally across the table is the "screen". This was the first World Championship in which this device was used. The dark patch at the left part of the screen is actually a cloth curtain which could be drawn across the table during the bidding. The players bid by placing a card from a "bidding box" on the table. After both players on one side of the screen had bid the monitor on that side would call out the bids to the other side. After the opening lead was made the curtain was opened.
This system has since been extended and refined. The curtain is gone, replaced by a wooden panel which extends almost down to the table top. The bidding cards are placed on a tray which can be passed back and forth from one side of the table to the other (after both players on a side have bid). When the opening lead is made the panel is raised just slightly such that the players can see cards placed on the table but not the players on the opposite side.
The other enhancement to the equipment is a coffee table placed underneath the bridge table. This is visible by the white cloth used to cover the table which shows to the right of Soloway. These tables were so placed, according to the WBF, to "avoid rumors". This was after Facchini and Zucchelli were, "severely reprimanded for improper conduct with respect to actions of Mr. Facchini moving his feet unnaturally and touching his parntner's feet during the auction and before the opening lead". Some rumor!
Last update: March 31, 2009