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By John Carruthers



As a bit of a bridge historian it is always a pleasure for me to meet and talk to great players from earlier days. One such player is Marcelo Lerner, who won the 1957 South American Open Team Championship in Chile, playing for Argentina.

DB: Greetings, Marcelo, please tell us about your early international bridge experiences.

ML: After we won in Chile in 1957, we were invited to play in the 1958 Bemuda Bowl in Lake Como, Italy. In those days, there were only three teams, and in fact, this was the first time a non-European or non-American team played. Europe was represented by the Blue Team from Italy and the USA had Crawford-Becker, Roth-Stone and Rapée-Silodor. Both of those were marvellous

DB: What about the travel to Italy?

ML: We had two days flying time with stopovers. We first flew to Recife and from there across the Atlantic to Dakar. After Dakar we flew to Madrid then to Rome.

DB: And from there to Como?

ML: We spent a couple of days in Rome sightseeing, then we took a train to St. Moritz in Switzerland, where we had been invited to play in a ‘friendly’ against the Swiss team and a team from Italy. We won, so our confidence was high going into the Bermuda Bowl.

DB: And in the Bermuda Bowl?

ML: We were very unschooled. We played against the Italian systems, which were all new to us, this Neapolitan Club and the Roman Club, without really having any preparation at all. And those two teams were the best in the world, so we finished third.

DB: How was the experience?

ML: The bridge was a learning experience. Everything else was wonderful. For example, the prize-giving was done by the Prince of Liechtenstein.

DB: What do you see as the major differences between then and now at the top level?

ML: Nowadays the young players know much more than we did then. They are familiar with all the systems. They still need to play and practice to gain experience, but they are much better off than we were in that regard. Also, in those days, we played in tuxedos!

DB: What about your later experiences?

ML: I played the 1964 Olympiad in New York for Argentina, and the 1965 Bermuda Bowl in Buenos Aires. After that, I did not play too much internationally because my practice as a medical doctor took up too much of my time.

DB: Can you tell us about the famous scandal from your viewpoint?

ML: We knew nothing at all at the time. When we played against Great Britain, the Non-Playing Captain, Ralph Swimer, and the President of the British Bridge League, Gerald Butler, were at the table taking notes, but this was not unusual in any way. Reese and Schapiro were gentlemen and we did not suspect anything at all. Later it turned out that Swimer and Butler had been charting
Reese-Schapiro’s finger signals and when they compared notes, it turned out that they could call the number of hearts in the hand they had not watched when they referred to the number of fingers displayed.

DB: And what have been your experiences since then?

ML: I played with Agustin Madala when he was 10 years old! Even then he was a marvellous player – we played in the Argentine Team Championship and came second. Last year my team won the Argentine and South American Senior Team Championships and competed at the World Championship in São Paulo.

DB: So you won your first South American Championship in 1957 and your latest in 2009. Do you have a favourite hand to tell us about?

ML: I’ll show you a hand from Como. To set the stage, Jean Besse was kibitzing John Crawford, the selfconfessed ‘best player in the world at the time. Since Jean Besse was actually a candidate for the best player in the world (with Reese, Schenken, Fourquet and Belladonna), there was a bit of an antipathy between the two.


Dealer South. NS Vul.


Q 10 3 2
J 10 5 4 3
10 7 4 3


K 5 4
A Q 8 7 2
K 5 4 3

J 9 8 7
K 9
A 8 5
J 9 7 6


A 6
K J 9 6 2
A Q 10 8 2



West         North       East      South
John         Carlos       Al         Marcelo
Crawford Cabanne    Roth      Lerner

—            —            —         1
1          2          2       5
Pass         Pass        Pass

ML: In those days, our bidding was not so scientific as it is today. We bid what we thought we could make. Crawford led the queen of trumps, and when the dummy came down, he remarked, “It looks like I made the best lead.”

Basically, my contract has no play at all, but I decided to make the best of it. Roth (Crawford and Roth were not a regular partnership, but in those days, the Americans mixed their partnerships quite a bit), followed with the five of diamonds and I won the king. Perhaps I could build a spade trick for a heart discard, so I led the six of spades, four, queen, seven. A spade to the ace followed and since my spade play had been so successful, I tried the queen of clubs; Crawford played low! What was I supposed to do; I discarded a heart. I led the ace of clubs and ruffed a club, then ruffed a spade back to hand to ruff another club. They were four-four! Now it was simple matter to lead a trump, ruff the spade return, draw the remaining trump and concede a heart. Plus 600!

Crawford was apoplectic. He made all kinds of excuses: when Roth did not play the diamond ace, he placed it in my hand; when Roth did not have the spade ace, he must have the club ace; Roth raised to two hearts, so I had no hearts; and so on. Jean Besse, always a perfect gentleman, simply smiled softly and nodded.

Jean Besse later wrote a very long article for the French magazine ”Le Bridge” about this deal. He was not very complimentary to Crawford.

DB: Marcelo, thanks very much for your time. We appreciate it.

Marcelo Lerner, in addition to being a great player, is a fine gentleman and a very gracious interview subject. It was a great pleasure speaking with him.