ACBL Bridge Beat #85: Sharif Bridge Circus

The Sharif Bridge Circus was a touring professional team of world class players, organized and headed by movie star Omar Sharif, to play a series of exhibition matches against leading European and North American teams.

The Circus made its debut late in 1967 when Sharif, Giorgio Belladonna, Claude Delmouly, Benito Garozzo, and Leon Yallouze, all playing the Blue Team Club, defeated the Dutch international team in matches sponsored by newspapers and played in three Netherlands cities before enthusiastic audiences who viewed the competition on Bridge-o-Rama.

Using this format – a match against a highly rated team with the play-by-play displayed to the audience accompanied by expert commentary – the Circus made an extended tour in 1968. It defeated teams in Italy and London, lost its first matches to The Netherlands and Belgium in The Hague, and made a swing through six North American cities: Montreal, Toronto, Los Angeles, Dallas, New Orleans and New York – winning the majority of the matches. Several of the American matches were three-cornered contests involving the Circus, the local team and the Aces.

A second tour in 1970 received a spectacular sendoff when Jeremy Flint and Jonathan Cansino challenged Sharif and company to a 100-rubber pairs game in London (later reduced by time pressure to 80 rubbers). The stakes were an unprecedented British pound ($2.40) per point, plus an additional bonus of $1000 on the net result of each four rubbers.

The match attracted wide newspaper and magazine coverage in the United States as well as in Europe. Sharif won by a margin of 5,470 points and collected more than $18,000. However, this was a comparatively small sum against the expenses of staging the match and taping the highlights for a series of television shows planned for later syndication. The TV shows never aired.

This was immediately followed by a tour of seven North American cities – Chicago, Winnipeg, Los Angeles, St. Paul, Dallas, Detroit and Philadelphia. In addition to matches against powerful teams of local stars, the tour included a marathon 840-deal match against the Aces, who accompanied the Circus throughout the tour. The Circus defeated the all-star teams in Chicago, Winnipeg and St. Paul, but lost all its other matches, bowing to the Aces by 101 IMPs (1793-1692) after the lead had seesawed excitingly from city to city. Pietro Forquet joined the Sharif team in Dallas but could not reverse the effect of the exhausting schedule, which included numerous personal appearances by Sharif.

Despite commercial sponsorship of more than $50,000 in 1970, neither of the American tours proved a financial success, although both resulted in wide publicity for bridge.

Omar Sharif

Waldemar von Zedtwitz,Louise Durham, Leon Yallouze, Benito Garozzo, Charles & Peggy Solomon and Omar Sharif

Souvenirs from the circus

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