John Swanson was one of this country's top players during the sixties and seventies, qualified to play in four Bermuda Bowl world championships, and won the world title in 1977.
This book is a fascinating account of these times, a behind the scenes look at bridge on the national and international level. The writing is entertaining and the many hands, often presented as problems, are interesting.
Several cheating allegations shook the bridge world during this era. Screens were introduced, and later after the famous foot-tapping incident in 1975, screens under the table as well. Swanson writes in great detail of these events, in a factual manner with lots of hands to go with it so the reader can judge for him/herself.
Swanson also offers insights on cheating in general and on the sometimes startling reactions of the authorities towards accused and accusers.
Heads Up!! Momentous news here at Bridge Central. My bridge partner and colleague, John Swanson, has brought forth an autobiographical account of his experiences in international championship play.
Between 1969 and 1977 John had a dazzling record in top level bridge. He won the Vanderbilt twice and the Grand Nationals twice. Three of those wins got his partnership into an International Team Trials. One other time his pair was chosen to augment an eligible team. All four times his team won the Trials and represented the U.S.A. in international play. The results were poor to begin with but improved each time until John's team won the 1977 Bermuda Bowl.
John's story of those years is preceded by introductory chapters that include brief histories of bridge, international play, bridge organizations and tournaments, IMP scoring, and the Aces. The comes John's early years in bridge, including the first bridge article he were wrote. As a writer, John has come a long, LONG way. John has plenty of funny stories about the partners, teammates, and opponents he meets along the way And, naturally, there are plenty of bridge hands. John is markedly even handed in presenting both good and bad results, both his partner's and his own.
Here are John and the legendary Dick Walsh (now living in a castle in Switzerland) bidding in the 1970 International Team Trials.
A trump is led and Walsh tried the combination play. Ruff the third heart and if the queen doesn't fall, guess the diamond. The queen fell. Big gain.
The specific characteristics of the book that takes it out of the ordinary is the reportage on cheating and cheating allegations. John was playing in the 1975 Bermuda Bowl when allegations were made that an Italian pair (Facchini-Zucchelli) were transmitting information under the table, by foot tapping. John was playing in the 1977 U.S. International Trails when Larry Cohen and Dick Katz were accused of sending signals, and defaulted. John's team was declared the winner and given an international berth.
As he wrote the book, John became aware that he'd been in the arena at significant times with regard to alleged cheating, so he made a conscious effort to survey the historical world scene from that perspective. Besides VERY detailed descriptions of the 1975 and 1977 events, John recounts the 1965 Reese-Shapiro story and then surveys World Championship leads by members of the Italian Blue Team, who were often believed to be shading things a bit. He also tells the weird story of Leanardo Burgay, an Italian expert who accused Blue Team members of signaling illegally.
Anyone who knows anything about accusations made against the Italians is familiar with this hand:
The scene: The 1968 Team Olympiad
The match: Italy vs. U.S.A.
West Camillo Pabis-Ticci, a second level Blue Teamer.
Let's face it. You're never going to be a world champion. You're simply not imaginative enough. Pabis-Ticci led the CLUB ace, caught partner with Q9, Q10875, J9542, 10 and gave him two CLUB ruffs to beat the contract. Furthermore, when Pabis-Ticci was asked how he'd arrived at that lead, his answer (read the book) was patently absurd.
The book has some interesting photographs (Hamman, Belladonna, Chagas, and Swanson playing "Oh, Hell" in Taipei), and a thorough index.
CONCLUSION: Swanson has certainly "lived" in interesting times, and has told us all about them. Plenty of humor and plenty to think about, especially if you are (or were) a Blue Team fan. One of the sad things about the book is that it reminded me how ineffectual (cowardly) the officials (U.S. and international) were in dealing with the cheating allegations. Plenty of value: An easy A.
In this book, the author presents his experiences and opinions of bridge at the top in the USA and at the Bermuda Bowl in the period 1969 to 1978.
This was a turbulent period at the international level, particularly for US teams, who were caught up in the two cheating accusations at that level: against Facchini-Zucchelli in the 1975 Bermuda Bowl and against Katz-Cohen in the USA team trials held in 1976. Swanson was near the centre of these events for he represented USA in numerous Bermuda Bowls, winning in 1977.
The story he present of these events is fascinating, made the more so by the strong narrative and frank style, In discussing the behind-the-scene events of the 1975 Bermuda Bowl, he presents a case for the widely-held belief by the top American players that the Italian Blue team 'cheated when they felt they needed to'. Even though I do not agree with those opinions, I understand and respect them now for I have known John for nearly 20 years and his great integrity is the core of his character.
The book appeals on many levels; to those interested in the history of World Championships, the drama of international selection and representation is just a great story. My recommendation is to buy the book and treat yourself to a compelling but controversial read.
Our earlier attempt at book review cum Editorial having been well received, we dare to try another.
John Swanson, one of the most successful American players in history, has produced a splendid insider's look at big time bridge and its top events. "Inside the Bermuda Bowl" (250 pages; $14.95 paperback), deals primarily with the major world-championship events and the corresponding Trials to qualify U.S. representatives over the 10-year period from 1969 to 1978. Though this book, you can feel, vicariously, what it's like to win or lose national knockouts, to gain or fall short of Trials placement, to qualify of fail in the Trials, and to win or lose the world title. The author has done all of these, and through his autobiographical description everyone can understand the joys and frustrations of star players' trying to cope with partners, teammates, opponents, directors, captains, administrators, scribes, spectators, and others, including, neither last nor least, one's self.
In parallel with the personal angle, we get a historical perspective: who won and lost, how did personality and behind-the-scenes maneuvering affect the outcomes, what were the key deals. Offhand, the only relevant thing we can think of that this book does not adequately present is the author's winning personality. If bowls were awarded for being a charming individual, a gentlemanly opponent, and a companionable teammate, John would need a larger kitchen.
The book is bittersweet. One thread is an inspirational story of the self-fulfillment available through dedication to personal improvement and the quest for goals. It reminds us that there are some battles in which anyone can be victorious through effort, however far they may be from championship level. But there is also a dark thread, for the recounting of these years' events recalls some of the blackest moments in bridge history. Described in detail are the dramatic and repeated failures of our organizations to deal with cheating, real or imagined, and accusations of illicit behavior, justified or frivolous. Thus, the reader shares not only the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat but also the disgust of watching as officials fail to protect the players and the frustration of observing the inability of organized bridge to lock the barn door even after the theft.
Not long before we read this book, the Internet was abuzz with the news that a player who had once been found to be using illegal signals, but allowed to compete thereafter, had again been disciplined for cheating. Incredibly, we seem to be no better prepared for scandalous behavior now than we were during the seventies. Have we learned nothing from the debacles of yesteryear? Have we given up in the face of what seem to be insurmountable difficulties? Does anyone other than the players even care?
The cover of Inside the Bermuda Bowl shows a blond man who strongly resembles the author opening the lid atop the Bermuda Bowl and peeking inside. (note 1) It's a clever and intriguing start to Swanson's account of his life in bridge, culminating with a win in the 1977 Bermuda Bowl. He offers some fascinating hands and a look at some fascinating players.
The book, however, has a major flaw: it is riddled with misspellings, mispunctuations and typos. (note 2) For example: Alfred Sheinwold is referred to as "Freddie" in the introduction and as "Freddy" on page one. Players change position during the same session of play. (note 3) The best (or worst) example is found in Swanson's account of the 1971 Bermuda Bowl in Taiwan - "the first and last time that I was required to doff formal attire to play bridge." The image this created - strip bridge at the world championships: minus 590 equals a cummerbund? - was a major blow to concentration.
If you can overlook this distraction (does a 17-IMP swing cost a full dinner jacket?), you'll thoroughly enjoy Swanson' account of team trials and world championships through the years. He is still angry about the 1975 Bermuda Bowl and the Italian foot soldiers who were "severely reprimanded for improper conduct" (one player moved his feet and touched his partner's feet during the auction and before the opening lead).
Swanson writes: Our team was stunned. The WBF seemed to be saying, "Yes, they were cheating but we elect not to do anything about it." More than 20 years later, reading over these statements, I was still aghast at the WBF's failure to remove Facchini-Zucchelli and declare the first three matches forfeits.
In fact, Swanson contends, all the world championships won by the Blue Team are suspect. (note 4) After winning 15 world titles between 1957 and 1974, the Blue Team played in five more world championship matches and won only one.
Swanson asks: What cased the turnaround? Players get older. Priorities change. Some of the drive to stay on top may have waned. This hardly seems an adequate explanation for such a dramatic change of fortune. There is another possibility: bidding screens were introduced in 1975.
He adds: This begs the question as why I would keep the issue alive after all this time. I am bitter. Bitter at the accolades heaped for almost 20 years upon a team I perceive as undeserving while their opponents were made to look inept, even foolish.
Note 1: When I commissioned my artist friend, Marsha Poole, to create the front cover I said that the peering person was not to be me. Any resemblance is not coincidental - there isn't any resemblance.
Note 2: I apologize to my readers for each and every error. I wish I had done better.
Note 3: This is deliberate. The positions were always rotated such that South was declarer when all four hands were shown; East was declarer when two hands were shown. This is a matter of style (used by The Bridge World but not by the ACBL Bulletin).
Note 4: From page 158: There was no question that they (the Blue Team) had won the 1975 Bermuda Bowl finals by any means other than by playing better than we had.
The author has been playing tournament bridge for over 40 years. He represented the USA in four Bermuda Bowls, winning the World Championship in 1977. He describes those and related events. His account of the 1975 Bermuda Bowl, The Italian Foot Soldiers is compulsive reading.
He cites many hands where he thinks something strange happened. In the 1972 Olympiad Garozzo held:
and after a pass on his right he opened One Spade.
and the Italians bid to Seven Spades. In the other room the USA player opened with the 'textbook' Four Spades and only reached 6NT. Swanson describes Garozzo's bid as remarkable, but with four hearts, a void and one opponent already passed, was it really?
Whatever you make of his examples, the book makes fascinating reading and may raise a few eyebrows. Not to be missed.
Here are four problems from Inside the Bermuda Bowl - answers at the end of the review.
Given the West hand and auction, what opening lead would you make?
|(a) forcing; (b) values|
|J 94 985 AQ109832|
|10963 42 764 QJ97|
|J85 9 A10763 A986|
|(a)16+ artificial; (b) asking; (c)|
|86 J8765 K10843 6|
This bridge autobiography, written and published by John Swanson, is good value, with a similar price to a typical UK bridge book, but with more than twice the number of pages.
The author describes the world of a top expert Bridge player in '70's America (National Events, National Trials, and International Competition) with fascinating insights into bridge politics, gamesmanship, and cheating allegations.
There is a useful index of all the people he mentions in the book, The author's favourite bidding system is Kaplan-Sheinwold, which is quite like Acol. He includes many interesting tournament deals, which he presents as instructive quizzes.
Swanson believes some internationals cheat. In the context, the first three lead problems above feature plays that Swanson judges suspicious:
A1: West led a diamond - a suit that no player of any experience would lead. East held A.
A2: The lead by West is automatic: the Q [ ] What did [West] lead? 10. His partner held AK85.
A3: Did you choose a heart head? A trump? Or did you go for ruffs and led A? All wrong. [West] led A - which worked well when his partner held a singleton club.
Now for something completely different:
A4: The last deal illustrates the excellent judgement of Swanson's partner, Paul Soloway. The double here does not carry the Lightner meaning of 'lead dummy's first suit'. It means instead 'do not make a passive lead [ ] Paul did make the correct lead of a heart to my Ace. With any other lead the opponents would have scored their grand slam.
John Swanson was a well-known expert back in the '60s and '70s, enjoying his greatest successes in partnership with Paul Soloway. Whereas Soloway has gone on to become the masterpoint king of world bridge, Swanson retired from the game. Yet his tall frame has been spotted at a few tournaments recently. And his caricature may be seen on the cover of his new book, "Inside the Bermuda Bowl."
Swanson describes what it was like playing in nationals, trials and world championships
over the 10-year period through 1978. Also, he gives an interesting and unemotional
description of some cheating scandals of that period.
In the deal, which arose during the 1973 Bermuda Bowl, North's five diamonds showed either four aces, or three aces and the spade king.
In six clubs, Swanson won with dummy's diamond ace, drew trumps, took his three heart tricks, ruffed his last heart in the dummy, and ruffed dummy's last diamond in his hand. Then he led a low spade toward dummy. (He needed luck in spades, and felt West had the ace because he had taken a long time over his opening lead, suggesting he was thinking of cashing the ace.)
When dummy's spade king won the trick, East followed thoughtlessly with the nine. So, on the next trick, he was left "holding the baby" with his jack. On East's forced diamond return, Swanson discarded his last spade, the queen, while ruffing in the dummy.
The book is available for $17.95 from Baron Barclay Bridge Supplies. Call (800) 274-2221 to order.
John Swanson, who represented the U.S. in four world team championships, looks back in "Inside The Bermuda Bowl," a gripping book about what goes on at and away from the table at the highest level. Swanson, world champion in 1977, candidly assesses teammates and opponents.
He is bitter, he writes, because he is convinced the Italian Blue Team that dominated world bridge for two decades was at best unethical. Swanson's first-hand account of the 1975 scandal in which two Italians (not Blue Team members) were demonstrably cheating is excellent. His indictment of Blue Teamers, based mostly on deals culled from the 1958 Bermuda Bowl, is more controversial. (I recall hearing a member of a 1973 U.S. team suggest that the Italians "had an edge" -- after a match in which he trailed 124 to 6 after 32 deals. I remember thinking I'd be making no accusations under those circumstances.)
Never doubt that Swanson is a fine player. In today's deal he landed an impossible game
in a Bermuda Bowl. After taking West's heart lead with dummy's ace, Swanson led the ten of spades(!)
to fool the defenders. When East played low and West took the jack, 3NT was cold:
West shifted to a fatal club; but even if he'd cashed the ace of spades and led a diamond,
declarer could get home with some good guessing at the end of the play.
"Inside The Bermuda Bowl," hard to put down. Order from The Bridge World,
(800) 599-0033, $18.90 postpaid.
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