The All-Time Bridge Greats
Giorgio Belladonna (1923-1995) of Rome, Italy, was a public official
and bridge professional with a long-running column in a leading
Italian daily newspaper. In his youth, Belladonna was a useful footballer
but it was bridge which was to be his great love and at which he
was to become one of the all-time greats.
A leading theoretician, Belladonna was the principle inventor of
the Roman Club system of bidding and, with Benito Garozzo, created
Super Precision, a complex strong club based method.
Belladonna was the number one ranked player in the world for many
years according to the WBF's masterpoint scheme and for many years
would also have won a sizable number of votes from his peers as
being the best player in the world. Certainly, he was regarded as
being the best technical player around. I can also speak from personal
experience in saying that he was one of the nicest players in top
The story of Giorgio Belladonna is really the story of a very great
team, the Italian Blue Team. There have been other powerful teams
in the history of bridge but the Blue Team were, without question,
the finest team the world has yet seen and their achievements are
The Blue Team consisted of eight very fine players: Eugenio Chiaradia,
Guglielmo Siniscalco, Mimmo D'Alelio, Walter Avarelli, Camillo Pabis-Ticci,
Giorgio Belladonna, and Pietro Forquet and Benito Garozzo, who are
also to be found in this volume. As important as the players was
the non-playing captain, Carlo Alberto Perroux.
An international team consists of six players, and from 1957 to
1969 six out of the above eight players won ten consecutive Bermuda
Bowls, the Open Championship of the world. They also won three consecutive
World Team Olympiads, in 1964, 1968 and 1972.
After the break-up of the Blue Team, some of its members continued
to play internationally and three more Bermuda Bowls were won in
the 1970s. Only one man was a member of every one of those sixteen
Italian World Championship victories and that was Giorgio Belladonna.
He also won the European Open Teams Championship on ten occasions
between 1956 and 1979 and the Italian Open Teams eleven times.
Belladonna's early successes were in partnership with Walter Avarelli.
He played odd championships with other partners but his other major
partnership was that with Benito Garozzo, which was generally regarded
to be the strongest in the world. After retiring from international
competition Belladonna frequently partnered Pietro Forquet in open
tournaments around Europe.
Along with other members of the Blue Team, Belladonna played in
the Lancia Team, a sponsored team that toured North America in 1975
playing a series of challenge matches against local teams. They
managed to win only one of the four matches; good news for their
opponents as part of the sponsorship deal was that Lancia cars were
to go to teams which were successful against them.
Belladonna had also been a member of the Omar Sharif Bridge Circus,
a group of top professionals who toured both Europe and North America
in the late sixties playing challenge matches. In 1970, the Circus
made its second North American tour, winning three out of seven
challenges against major city teams and also playing a marathon
840 board match against the Dallas Aces who accompanied them on
the tour and played a segment of the match at each of the seven
venues. The Aces won the match by 1793 to 1692 IMPs.
But the results of the matches were not as important as was the
publicity generated by the tour. Though it was not a financial success,
the tour significantly raised the profile of the game in the public
image for a while, though it has to be admitted that Sharif was
the biggest attraction to the media and the exhausting schedule
included many personal appearances by him.
It was no accident that Giorgio Belladonna was involved in both
the Sharif Circus and the Lancia Team. A truly great player and
a fine human being, he was a great ambassador for the game wherever
The hand which follows was attributed to Belladonna and certainly
nobody else has ever laid claim to it, yet, when asked by another
author many years ago, Giorgio swore that he had never seen the
hand before and knew nothing about it! Whatever the truth of that
story, it looks like a Belladonna hand and is so beautiful in its
simplicity that I could find no hand more deserving of my selection
as the Belladonna hand for this book.
© K 4
¨ J 10 8 7 6
§ A 7 6 4
© Q 10 8 7
¨ K 9 5
§ K Q 9 3
© A 9 6 5
¨ Q 4 3 2
§ J 10 8 2
A Q 10 8 7 6 5 3
© J 3 2
West leads a low diamond against 4ª and the problem is how to guarantee
your contract against any lie of the cards, assuming no first round
Almost everyone would lead a heart to the king and, when that failed,
win the spade return with the ace, cross to the §A and lead a heart
to the jack. If either heart honor is onside or you get your heart
ruff you are home. But not this time.
Giorgio Belladonna is not 'almost everybody'. He found the correct
play of a club to the ace and then the ©4 away from the king.
How could this go wrong? If East has the queen
and plays it your jack and king are now equals against the ace and
you can establish a heart trick; if he does not play his queen then
your jack forces the ace. And if West held the ©Q?
Fine, he could beat your jack but what now? The first spade must
come from East, else two rounds of trumps can only ever be drawn
at the expense of the defensive trump winner, and with no trump
loser declarer no longer requires a heart trick. Such a simple play,
yet it looks so unnatural and so is very difficult to spot. Unless,
of course, you are the great Giorgio Belladonna.