World's top bridge teams prepare to do battle

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THE World Bridge Olympiad begins at Salsomaggiore, Italy, today with play in two divisions, open and women. There will be 59 open teams, 36 women's teams. Both entries are the biggest yet.

The qualifying rounds, with teams divided into two sections, will continue until 1 September. Then the leading eight teams will play a knock-out, finishing on

5 September.

In the open event the Americans, who retain five of the team that won last time, must be regarded as favourites. With their experience they are almost sure to qualify. Very close behind are Italy, France, Poland, Brazil, Sweden, and Great Britain.

Recent Italian form has not been equal to that of the country's great days, but home teams always have an advantage. The Netherlands, Austria, Iceland, Norway, Argentina are strong, too.

Britain won the European Championship last year and fields the same team: Tony Forrester and Andrew Robson, Graham Kirby and John Armstrong, Tony Sowter and Roman Smolski. Gerard Faulkner is non-playing captain, and David Burn coach.

It is difficult to predict the winners of the women's event. Denmark is the holder. The Americans are sure to be strong, and so are Italy, France, Canada, Great Britain, Austria and Germany. The British team is Sandra Landy and Michele Handley, Nicola Smith and Pat Davies, Elizabeth McGowan and Sandra Penfold.

Scoring in the qualifying round will be by international match points, converted into victory points.

Alan Hiron will be reporting on the tournament day by day.