ACBL Bridge Beat #87: Bermuda Incident
In 1975, the Bermuda Bowl was played in Bermuda in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Bermuda Bowl. During the early qualifying stages, Gianfranco Facchini, a member of the Italian team, was observed apparently giving foot signals to his partner, Sergio Zucchelli.
The first person to notice unusual foot movements was Bruce Keidan, an American news correspondent monitoring the match between Italy and France. Keidan reported his observation to the North American non-playing captain, Alfred Sheinwold, and to Edgar Kaplan, a member of the WBF Appeals Committee. Kaplan informed WBF President Julius Rosenblum.
Rosenblum observed for a time, then assigned special observers from the Appeals Committee, Johannes Hammerich of Venezuela and James O’Sullivan of Australia, to monitor the Italian pair.
According to Keidan, Hammerich and O’Sullivan, Facchini reached out with his feet on several occasions during auctions and before opening leads and apparently touched Zucchelli on the toes once or more. Zucchelli’s feet remained completely immobile and Facchini did not move his feet at other times.
Rosenblum, Hammerich and WBF Vice President Jaime Ortiz-Patiño of Switzerland therefore decided to monitor Italy’s next qualifying match, using European observers. Before this plan could be implemented, however, the WBF was informed that the North American team would refuse to play against Zucchelli and Facchini in the next scheduled match. This, plus the fact that rumors of the foot movement accusation were already rampant, caused the WBF to inform all team captains of what had transpired, to postpone the Italy-North America match and to convene a hearing immediately.
The WBF Appeals Committee heard testimony from observers Keidan, Hammerich, O’Sullivan, Rosenblum and Tracy Denninger of Bermuda. Facchini did not deny moving his feet, but attributed his movements to nervous tension. Zucchelli testified that he was unaware of any foot actions by his partner.
Oswald Jacoby, who had analyzed some of the hands, was called as a witness, but the committee was unable to find specific correlation between the foot movements observed and the bidding or play of the hands, a factor usually considered essential to conclusive proof of cheating. The WBF therefore resolved that Facchini and Zucchelli “… be severely reprimanded for improper conduct with respect to the actions of Mr. Facchini moving his feet unnaturally and touching his partner’s feet during the auction and before the opening lead.” Coffee tables were thereafter placed beneath the card tables to block any possibility of further such movements.
Sheinwold promptly issued a statement: “The North American team endorses the verdict of guilty but deplores the failure of the World Bridge Federation to bar this pair from further international competitions.” The word guilty had not appeared in the original verdict, but a later statement from Rosenblum corrected this omission by declaring that the accused pair “had been found guilty only of improper foot movements.”
The first meeting between the Italian and North American teams, postponed from Sunday afternoon, was played that evening. Italian npc Sandro Salvetti kept the suspect pair out of the lineup, saying that their nerves were frayed by the accusations. Two days later, the pair also sat out the second qualifying match against North America, although they had played in other matches in the interim.
On the morning of the first session of the final between Italy and North America, when Sheinwold learned that Facchini and Zucchelli were listed in Italy’s starting lineup, he announced that the North American team would not play against this pair unless instructed to do so by the ACBL. The League’s representatives in Bermuda unanimously ordered the team to play. Italy fared poorly with the accused pair in the lineup, and it was only after they had been benched at the request of Benito Garozzo and Giorgio Belladonna that Italy staged an “impossible” rally to retain the world title.
The partnership of the accused players was broken up and the WBF advised Italian bridge officials that it would not welcome the nomination of either player to any event it conducted in the immediately foreseeable future.