Leandro Burgay was a leading Italian expert in the 70’s. However, he did not have the personal connections or the political clout with the FIB (Italian Bridge Federation) to displace anyone on the famed Blue Team.

Accordingly, several months before the combined 1976 Bermuda Bowl - Olympiad bash in Monte Carlo, Burgay engaged Benito Bianchi in a 35-minute telephone conversation. Bianchi was Pietro Forquet’s partner in both the 1973 and 1974 Italian World Championship victories. Burgay gave a tape of the conversation to the FIB claiming that Bianchi had discussed at length a signaling method, using placement of cigarettes in the ashtray or in the mouth, which he used with Forquet.

Burgay alleged that as a right-minded citizen of the bridge world he was simply seeking justice. There is reason to believe otherwise but ultimately Burgay’s motive for the subterfuge is immaterial. Bianchi initially denied that there had been such a conversation. After listening to the tape, which was full of odd sounds, Bianchi admitted that it was he who had been recorded, but the recording had been doctored. Besides, he claimed, the discussion only concerned how such a cheating method would be possible.

Inside the Bermuda Bowl
By: Mr. John Swanson
Chapter 15 - The Burgay Affair

The Bermuda Bowl
By: Mr. Henry Francis and Mr. Brian Senior
Page 158

Posted on the Internet: Inside the Bermuda Bowl

After getting this limited concession from Bianchi, Burgay produced another tape, this one without the strange sounds. Burgay had deliberately added noise to a copy of the conversation to get Bianchi’s admission that such a conversation had taken place! Experts could not find any evidence of editing in the second tape. Luigi Firpo, president of the FIB, moved with swift action. He suspended Burgay, the accuser, for six years and Bianchi, the accusee, for six months. Why? Burgay for making an accusation of cheating (evidence be damned). Bianchi for reasons not clear (if he was judged not to have cheated), possibly for being stupid enough to discuss cheating with Burgay. After Burgay threatened civil action, his suspension was reduced to 18 months and Bianchi’s suspension was lifted altogether. According to Burgay a board of arbiters appointed by the FIB to determine the facts declined to listen to the tape or read the transcript. Shades of World Bridge Federation (WBF) vice-president Ortiz-Patino in Bermuda the previous year when he first tried to impugn the motives of a witness and then left the room saying, "I can’t listen to this."


This had been strictly an internal Italian bridge affair with no publicity. Then a few days before the start of the 1976 Bermuda Bowl the scandal hit the papers. Wonder how that happened? When the WBF Executive Council convened they were faced with a difficult situation. Should they get involved? Bianchi was not a member of the Italian team which would compete at the World Championships, although Forquet was. The WBF decided it was necessary to take some action but there was little they could do before the tournament. They released a statement that no sanctions would be made pending an FIB agreement to conduct a full investigation. Of course, the FIB claimed to have already conducted a full investigation. The WBF wanted the details in writing.

Part of the concession the FIB made to the WBF was:

"Should the inquiry determine that the declaration by Bianchi of his cheating with Forquet was confirmed, the Italian Bridge Federation would renounce all European and World titles won with either Bianchi or Forquet on the team."

We're talking more than two dozen titles here; it would not be in the best interest of the FIB to find Bianchi and Forquet guilty.

When the WBF executive committee next met, a year later at the 1977 Bermuda Bowl contest in Manila, there was no evidence of a thorough investigation by the FIB. Acting with a firm hand too often missing in the past, the WBF suspended the FIB from membership in the world organization. The wordy statement, containing a number of 'where-ases' and 'hereby resolved-s' delayed the suspension for nine months and included a proviso for the delay to be extended. In affect, the FIB was given another year in which to get its house in order.

The Italian reaction to the suspended suspension was not one of contrition. President Firpo threatened to withdraw from the WBF, asking pompously, "What will world championships be like without Italy?" Bianchi saw the matter as "another American trick". He was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, "The Italians annoy the Americans, and for the past 15 years they have been building up a defamatory campaign against us. They have a voting majority in the world federation, but numbers make strength, not right."

There are no facts which support Bianchi’s charge of American persecution. The ACBL had six out of 18 votes on the WBF Executive Council. The action against the FIB was not initiated by an ACBL member and the vote for suspension was unanimous.

Bianchi went on to say, "The Americans insist in misinterpreting the tape. The tape shows Forquet and I were discussing smoke signals as a hypothesis for anyone who wants to cheat. It’s like discussing whether it would be possible to kill the president - which does not mean you have done it or you intend to do it." I empathize with Bianchi on that point. All my discussions about killing the president have been purely hypothetical.

Giorgio Belladonna, 15 time World Team Champion - most won with Forquet as a teammate, encountered Burgay at an Italian tournament a few weeks later. He did not choose to confront Burgay verbally. Instead he adopted a more primitive method of expressing his feelings by knocking Burgay to the floor of the playing area and then emphasized his displeasure with a kick. The tournament committee was called to act upon the one-sided brawl but claimed not to have jurisdiction because play had not yet begun.

Timing is everything.

The WBF proclamation threatening suspension of the FIB was issued in Manila prior to the start of play in the 1977 Bermuda Bowl. The reaction of the U.S. players there bordered on indifference. There was no Italian team at the tournament and we had no reason to expect an Italian team to have more impact than any other team at future Bermuda Bowl tournaments. Also, jaded by our Bermuda experience, we expected nothing to come of the threatened suspension.

And so it came to pass. Before the 1978 Olympiad in New Orleans a new slate of officials was elected by the FIB. They were able to satisfy the WBF that the required investigation had been performed. The threat of suspension was lifted. It was a case of much smoke but no fire. And the outcome, although perhaps not measuring up to what might be considered justice, may well have been best for the game of bridge.


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