Giorgio Belladonna (June 7, 1923 - May 12, 1995) won the most world championships of any member of the famous Italian Blue Team (Squadra Azzura) that dominated bridge in the 50's, 60's and 70's. A larger-than-life character known for his expressive nature and aggressive playing style, Belladonna collected 16 world championships in all: 13 Bermuda Bowls and 3 World Olympiads. In 1968, American expert Charles Goren praised Belladonna as the world's greatest player of the era.1

As a teenager, Belladonna's primary interest was soccer. However, prospects of playing seriously were disrupted by World War II. 2 Belladonna subsequently studied architecture and law only to drop out of school. He did not learn to play bridge until the age of 21. 3

Belladonna acquired a job with Italy's Social Security Department after quitting school, but continued playing bridge. He eventually becoming strong enough to represent Italy in the European Championships of 1954. 4 During this time, he and Walter Avarelli devised the Roman Club bidding system, one of the first artificial club opening systems. In 1956, Belladonna joined the inaugural Blue Team. Team members included Avarelli, Pietro Forquet, Eugenio Chiaradia, Mimmo D'Alelio, and Guglielmo Siniscalco. The Blue Team won the first of 13 Bermuda Bowl titles in 1957.

In 1967, Belladonna joined the Omar Sharif Bridge Circus to play exhibition matches in Europe and the United States. The team, sponsored by actor Omar Sharif, included Benito Garozzo (who played with Belladonna), and experts Claude Delmouly (France) and Leon Yallouze (Egypt). In a second tour in 1970, the Circus played a team of British experts in London's Piccadilly Hotel for a pound a point. (Sharif's team would ultimately prevail over 80 rubbers.)

One of Belladonna's most well-known hands, however, comes from the 1975 Bermuda Bowl finals against the United States. The hand occurred after the two teams had already tangled over an acrimonious foot-tapping scandal involving one of the Italian pairs.

Board 92 Garozzo
Dlr: EastQJ8
AJ965
KantarK82Eisenberg
7652AQ43
K432QT87
J53BelladonnaQT64
KTSAKT9754
H--
DA97
CJ98632


Trailing the match with a few boards to play, the Italians accidentally ended up in 7C. Eddie Kantar led a low heart, which Belladonna ruffed. Next came a club finesse, followed by the ace. The lucky trump break enabled the contract to make, and with it came a 13th Bermuda Bowl victory for the Blue Team. At the time, Kantar bemoaned his luck in Sports Illustrated. But a double-dummy analysis suggested that Kantar should have played the CK at trick 2 to falsecard Belladonna into a losing line of play. (Phillip Alder provided an analysis of this hand in the New York Times.)

The Blue Team officially retired after 1975. During this period, however, Belladonna continued to play bridge. He owned a bridge club in Rome (after leaving his government job in 1970), and also penned bridge columns for Italian magazines. Though he continued playing in tournaments, he would not represent Italy at the world championship level again.

Belladonna, a smoker in his prime, passed away of lung cancer in 1995. He was 71.

Notable Quotes

"The Americans would be world champions today." 5

when asked what would have happened if Eddie Kantar falsecarded with the CK on Board 92 of the 1975 Bermuda Bowl.

Books

  • The Roman Club System of Distributional Bidding (1960).
  • Precision and Superprecision Bidding (1976).

Victories

  • Bermuda Bowl, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1973, 1974, 1975
  • World Open Team Olympiad, 1964, 1968, 1972

References

1 Goren, Charles. Giorgio Blew It - and That's News. December 09, 1968. Sports Illustrated.

2 Truscott, Alan. Giorgio Belladonna, 72, Player On Fabled Italian Bridge Team. May 14, 1995. The New York Times.

3, 4 Obituary: Giorgio Belladonna.

5 Manley, Brent (1994). At the Table.

Giorgio Belladonna

"The Americans would be world champions today."

when asked what would have happened if Eddie Kantar falsecarded with the CK on Board 92 of the 1975 Bermuda Bowl.