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2014 Italian Open Trials: Silvio Sbarigia’s view

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Silvio Sbarigia I am very upset, as, I believe, the majority of Italian bridge players. I cannot find words to describe this type of trials, which were never run in Italy, apart from rare cases. Pairs trials were run to select the third pair for the Olympiad in Montecarlo (1976). Salvetti was the head coach, Garozzo-Franco and Belladonna-Forquet were already in the team and the trials only picked the third pair: Mosca-Sbarigia. I then recall the sad story in Stockholm 1970, when the Open team picked by trials came last. (1)

Otherwise, our past head coaches, for instance Perroux, Salvetti, Mosca and Lavazza never even dreamed of running trials. Running trials when you already have one of the strongest teams in the world not only is offensive to the players, but also chance may allow a weaker team to represent Italy in Europe and in the world.

At the moment we have an undoubtedly very strong team, and trials are unimaginable. Bocchi-Madal, Lauria-Versace and Duboin-Sementa have won the last Bermuda Bowl. Duboin-Sementa are not playing together any more: is this the problem? Let us then run trials to pick the third pair, like in 1976, in order to keep a quartet of world class players that the whole world admires.

Teams trials are necessary where there are less than four world class players (as it happens in many European countries), or where there are many of them (as it happens in the US), and who wins is as strong as who loses. The Italian situation is different: there is a big gap between world class professionals and others.

I read the list of teams who signed up for now: team Angelini is at international level, team Zaleski is certainly strong; there are four or five teams with known semi-professional players and their sponsors; lastly, there are about fifteen teams who field competent average players, who want to take part and have fun, although they know they do not stand a chance. I have real sympathy for them and their sportsmanship.

However these trials should pick the team who will represent Italy in Europe and will have the chance to qualify to the next World Championships.

The Italian Federation chose to run trials. But the Italian open team does not belong to the Federation, it belongs to all members. The Federation has a duty to field the best team. There is no flipping this: you cannot have the strongest team if you are missing one of the strongest pairs: Bocchi-Madala.

The Italian Federation did not manage to find an agreement between the two major sponsors Lavazza and Angelini, but I believe that in the end an agreement could be reached. If Angelini wins the trials, he should hire Bocchi-Madala and guarantee that Italians will be represented by the best team. He would have to make agreements with the players and their sponsors, but this is his problem. I, like all fans, want the best players to play. Regardless of my friendship with Alfredo and Lorenzo, I will support team Angelini, because Angelini is the only one with the financial power to hire Bocchi-Madala, thus making Italians really happy.

The most logical thing for the Federation would have been to keep together Lauria-Versace and Bocchi-Madala, which I  think are two best pairs in the world, and run trials to pick the third pair. At this point even Angelini, who never hid his desire to play in the open team, would have had good chances to win playing with Antonio Sementa.

If we read again Medugno’s electoral program, it is clear that trials are run for two reasons: the first is financial (there is no money, baby!) and the second one is to create a chance for young players to come to the fore.

The problem with the so called “young” players is that they are not professional players yet, and it would be really difficult for them to compete against professionals at international level. The same could be said for those whom I label “semi-professional” players: they are very good players but bridge is not their only activity, which is what happens with real professionals. A professional is he who only plays bridge and studies, researches and practices full time. High level bridge is a demanding activity which requires daily study and effort. Semi-professional players are paid to play in the competition for which they are hired, but they do not have annual contracts like professionals, who can dedicate themselves exclusively and continuously to bridge.

With respect to financial issues, I think they should have found an agreement with the sponsors in order to promote the open team, and in any case they should have not subsidised the team who went to play in Sanya and save the money for the open team. Sponsors can sign up to Sanya, with any team: on the other hand the European Championships are a national competition and they are the qualifying round for the Bermuda Bowl, the highest level team competition.

Even more. Is money the issue? OK. Let’s run team trials, paid by the sponsors, between the strongest teams, Angelini and Lavazza, where the best player undoubtedly are, and who wins picks the third pair. The sponsors would take care of the expenses and Italians would be guaranteed to have the best team.

This year I celebrate 50 years of membership to the Italian Federation: I have seen all sorts of things, but this year’s trials is the most illogical, bizarre and damaging choice I have ever seen! If the team selected does not win a medal in the European Championships, then the Federal Committee will have a moral duty to resign. And I do not even want to think that we are jeopardising the qualification to the next World Championships!

In addition to looking silly in Europe and missing the qualification to the Bermuda Bowl 2015, there is another serious danger. I am thinking about the possibility that Bocchi-Madala will start playing for a different country. It is not a secret that they are courted and since they both have an Argentinian passport, they could play there. Moreover, it is possible that some rich foreign sponsor may want to imitate Zimmermann and may hire our world class players for any national team.

I would like to close with three positive thoughts. The “Club Rosa” (4)  is a great initiative, i.e. pairs trials for the Women team. I do not understand why Dano De Falco has been replaced as head coach. Dano is notoriously very skilled in this role, so his replacement is a mystery to me. Emanuela Capriata is doing an excellent job with our girls. And lastly, I would like to thank Maria Teresa Lavazza who has done a lot for our bridge and coached our team, achieving goals that will remain in history.


Silvio Sbarigia

(English edition by Laura Cecilia Porro)


1) Read a history of Italian Open trials by Paolo Enrico Garrisi: click here >>

2) Italian Open Trials: Teams Roster >>

3) Medugno’s statement: click here >>

4) Italian Women Trials: click here >>

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