24th Bermuda Bowl and 3rd Venice Cup 1979, Rio de Janeiro

Octubre 11; 1979

What would YOU do? You are playing against the highly regarded Italian team, and you are trying to make a good impression on the top players in the world as you play in your first Bermuda Bowl. 

Giorgio Belladonna
Giorgio Belladonna

All of a sudden something very strange happens, you realize if you pass, the great Giorgio Belladonna will suffer the embarrassment of playing a game contract! in YOUR suit. After much confusion, you realize you have it in your power to allow your opponent to land in the right contract– all you have to do is give them another opportunity to bid.

Well, what would YOU do?

That was the position Steve Hamaoui of Venezuela found himself in on Board II of the Central America-Caribbean match against Italy. If he let the Italians play there, it would probably mean a 12-IMP gain– a chance for C.A.C. to make a good showing in its first Bermuda Bowl appearance against the many-time Bermuda Bowl champions. Now that we’ve set the stage, here’s the hand:

  8 4 3 2
K J 10
A K 7 6 4
K Q 9
A K 8 6 2
Q J 5 2
  J 10 5
Q J 10 5 4
Q 9 5 3 2
  A 7 6
9 7
8 7 6 4
10 9 8 3
South West North East
Vernon Pittala Hamaoui Belladonna
Pass 1 2 Pass
4 4 Pass 5
Pass Pass ???  

Here is where it all happened. Of course the players were competing behind screens, using bidding boxes, with monitors to call the bids to the other side of the table. The monitor, who is not a bridge player, called the second bid by North and East correctly, «Pass – 5


And the monitor on Pittala’s side of the screen wrote them correctly on the bidding pad. But Pittala thought Giorgio’s bid was 5 — so he passed.

It took a while to sort everything out, what with the language difficulties– Spanish, English, Italian and Portuguese.

But finally the facts were established, and Hamaoui wanted to know, «Does this mean he’ll have to play 5?» The director told him this was so.

«But I don’t want to win this way,» said Steve. He was told that what has happened has happened and can’t be changed.

Steve Hamaoui & Perlita Sultan
Steve Hamaoui & Perlita Sultan
2009 Red sea winners

«Well, I can change it», said Steve. «Don’t I still have a bid coming?» He was told this was so, whereupon he immediately doubled.

Belladonna reached across to shake his hand and said, » You are a true sportsman — the Sportsman of the year.»

Of course this let the Italians completely off the hook. Belladonna was able to correct to 5H and Pittala was able to take 12 tricks to push the board. If Hamaoui had not made his sporting gesture, the 5C contract would have been set several tricks and C.A.C. would have picked up approximately 12 IMPs.

The decision had to be a tough one for Hamaoui. After all the Italians are one of the favourites in this championship, despite their lowly standing at this point. Any help given to Italy could give the European champions an extra edge against the rest of the field. Then there was the possibility that his teammates would not be happy to see aid being given to the enemy.

But Hamaoui’s spirit of fair play dictated his action, and he really never gave any serious consideration to any other action. Perhaps virtue sometimes is its own reward, but this was not the case in this match. Not only did Hamaoui not take advantage of an unfortunate mistake, but he also was happy to discover upon comparing scores that his team had beaten the strong Italians, 15-5, the first victory in Bermuda Bowl qualifying ever for the C.A.C.

Jaime Ortiz Patiño
Jaime Ortiz Patiño

It’s interesting to note that WBF President Jaime Ortiz-Patiño gave special instructions to the team captains at their meeting prior to the first match. He pointed out that the monitors here know little or nothing about bridge, and therefore they cannot call attention to an insufficient bid or similar infractions.

Patiño insisted that only the players themselves could call attention to such irregularities. He asked the captains to instruct their players to just point out such irregularities if the opponent on their side of the screen should commit one.

Then the bid could be corrected immediately and all would progress smoothly. No one would get an unwarranted edge.

What Hamaoui did was beyond Patiño’s request. Certainly he could not have been criticized it he had just passed and collected the set and 12 IMPs. Certainly he is likely to be the subject of some criticism for the action he took. But to most of the bridge players of the world, Steve Hamaoui a sportsman and a hero.