OBITUARY: Giorgio Belladonna

Giorgio Belladonna, during a long career as a bridge player, was the anchorman of the famous Italian Blue Team (Squadra Azzura) that dominated world bridge for 18 years between 1957 and 1975. For many years he was the leading scorer of World Bridge Federation Master Points.

Belladonna did not start with bridge as his intended career - after completing his schooling, he studied architecture in Rome, but soon became disenchanted and switched to reading law. He was not happy with that either and dropped out before his final examinations. He first learnt to play bridge in 1944. It was another 26 years, however, before he became a full-time professional. After terminating his studies, he worked as a functionary in the Social Security Department in Rome until 1970.

Although he was in the Italian team for the European Championships of 1954, it was not until two years later that he scored his first European Championship win, with his partner Walter Avarelli and joined by the Pietro Forquet-Guglielmo Siniscalco and Massimo D'Alelio-Eugenio Chiaradia partnerships and with Carlo Perroux as non-playing captain (the "Blue Team"). They went from strength to strength, following up by winning the Bermuda Bowl against the United States in 1957.

The team, with some changes in personnel (but always including Belladonna), won nine more European titles, 13 Bermuda Bowls, and three World Olympiad Teams. Although all fine players in their own right, collectively they had a magnificent team spirit and their successes were in no small measure attributable to the firm captaincy of Perroux. Iron discipline and early nights were the order of the day and - an often overlooked factor - absolutely no recriminations at the table. Even after the most horrendous disaster in the middle of a match, the two players concerned would smile at one another and continue, as if nothing untoward had happened.

Apart from the more formal tournaments, Belladonna also toured with the Omar Sharif Bridge Circus, playing exhibition matches in Europe and throughout the United States. The tours culminated in a high stake (pounds 100 a hundred) rubber bridge challenge match in London in 1970 against Jeremy Flint and Jonathan Cansino. The Circus won by over 5,000 points.

Rather less successful was the series of matches sponsored by the Lancia Division of Fiat in 1975. They were played in four different American cities and the sponsors had guaranteed the delivery of a new car to every member of a team that beat the Lancia team, which was basically the Blue Team reinforced by Omar Sharif. Their opposition, however, won three out of the four matches and this caused Sharif, in his autobiography, to observe gloomily that his team was a highly successful distributor of Lancia cars.

Belladonna was highly regarded as a theoretician. He was a prime architect of the Roman Club (one of the first of the artificial bidding systems) and, with Benito Garozzo (another member of the Blue Team), made significant contributions to both the Blue Club and the Precision Club systems.

Alan Hiron

Giorgio Belladonna, bridge player: born Rome 1923; married (one son, one daughter); died Rome 12 May 1995.