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Interview with Italian champion Toni Mortarotti (first part)

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Toni Mortarotti is a champion and a strong player but above all a well known teacher and writer about bridge, all in all a great cultural representative of this sport: where should we start? With the fact that above all I am a fan of bridge.

Tell us how this passion was born: You started competitive bridge very young, didn’t you?

I’ve been playing bridge for 44 years, since I was only thirteen and a half. My enthusiasm started at the bar. I had friends who played bridge, and they got me, the youngest, involved. We played cards at the bar, tarocchi or tressette, and they suggested I play bridge. In the afternoon they explained two rules to me and that evening we went to play: the same evening two of our group won the tournament, while I was third last or second last.

You make it sound too easy Toni …

We were real “card sharps”, we knew all the card games: bridge in those days was the outcome of the other card games.

So you are saying that learning to play bridge is easy?

Very easy. It’s of unique simplicity. What you need, a necessary introduction to bridge, is knowledge of the cards. Anyone who doesn’t know cards needs instruction and a method suited to his needs. If someone doesn’t learn bridge it’s hardly ever because of his own problems but due to problems of the teacher and his way of teaching. Certainly if someone isn’t interested he won’t learn anything; bridge is a subject like any other, you need passion, seriousness and study. If you don’t study you don’t learn anything.

So we have Toni Mortarotti, a great teacher and promoter of bridge. You’ve been teaching for many years…

Yes, I gave my first course in 1968.

To talk about a more recent period, do you feel like telling us something about the lessons you gave last June at the Rome University of Tor Vergata?

The course consisted of almost 50 lessons. The purpose was to study a way of uniting bridge with the university curriculum, particularly with the study of engineering. The initiative had an excellent impact on the few students who enrolled and followed the course.

Few students?

Yes, there weren’t many. In any event it was an experimental situation, the important thing was to verify if it could be done, also from a logistical point of view.

How was this project started?

The idea came from Francesco Angelini, who has a great and authentic passion for bridge, and from Prof. Bove, because of their relationship with the Rector of the faculty. In 1991 I myself created and started the “Bridge at School” project, first doing some experiments in Torino and then obtaining a signed agreement. It was the first time that a discipline associated with the National Olympic Committee, as we are, had official recognition from the Ministry of Public Education. From 1993 to 1998 I held training courses for the tutors. Unfortunately as happens often in Italy, this project also was excellently planned, and then there was little interest in realizing it.

Do you mean that “Bridge at School” didn’t reach the expected results?

It absolutely did not. It was exploited, that is, used only for appearances. In reality it was opposed by many people who didn’t understand its true value.

So you’re not happy with the way things went?


What do you think was the cause of this failure? And what do you mean by exploitation?

Many of the people connected with bridge don’t have an understanding of bridge, nor of what bridge needs. In the 1970’s the elected assemblies and the federal boards were composed of presidents of associations, of people who had a passion for bridge and for Article 1 of the Bylaws: the propagation of the game. Today there are practically no presidents of associations in the Federation, and the same associations have been exploited as a cover for activities let us say, “pseudo commercial”. Therefore there is the risk of using bridge in a way not in keeping with the purposes of the Federation’s bylaws. Many associations have become tournament factories, courses are given only to produce students of the courses: there is no goal of involving or turning a neophyte into a bridge fan, a member of the Federation and therefore a participant in bridge activities, not only in the game but also its social aspect.

Are you saying that probably the idea of bridge as culture has been put on hold?

The “Bridge at School” project wasn’t looking for young bridge champions, as they did in the ex USSR selecting three million youngsters to obtain six chess champions. On the contrary, the project was intended to provide information and familiarity with bridge, with important collateral results: interest in bridge within the family; the possibility to create a common area for parents and children on the basis of a shared hobby; finally the possibility for the youngsters who wished it, to join the associations and the clubs, which should be the basic elements composing the Federation. In fact the Federation is the confederation of the clubs, not a separate entity but the expression of the base. The school should be a moment of culture, and only later the youngsters who so desired, would have been directed towards the competitive sport, not compulsorily but only if they wished it. This would have also created a younger connecting structure, renewing the environment and making it more enjoyable for participants. To sum up the basic problem is just one: bridge is in the hands of incompetent persons. Bridge which is played, taught or written about does not admit approximation. Bridge is a statistical game: many don’t understand the difference between approximation and statistics.

When you went to the bridge club as a young man, what was the environment like?

In Torino I was fortunate to meet Benito Garozzo at the club. The best thing I remember in addition to the friendship which we cultivated, was the cultural exchange which Benito carried out. If today bridge is an “Italian” game we owe it to Garozzo.

Is it so difficult today to renew the bridge environment?

It’s not difficult, in the present situation it’s almost impossible. If you go to a bridge club you realize that there is an owner, who is not very interested in bridge but instead, very interested in making up tables or courses and collecting the membership fees.

Let’s talk instead about your activity as a corollary of teaching: you have written a lot about bridge. Which of your books did you most enjoy writing?

It’s true, I’ve written a lot about bridge with my wife, Marina Causa. The best known is certainly “Notes on Natural” which Giorgio Belladonna stated was the best book about bridge ever written in the world. Maybe it’s the one I like best because it was my first book. Now however on the basis of my experience, I would draft it in a slightly different way: however I believe that still today it has important values, above all for teaching purposes. But if I have to tell you which book I really like the best, I have to mention books written by others.

Well then Toni, what are your favorite books about bridge?

Certainly Hugh Kelsey’s book “Killing defence at bridge” and “More killing defence at bridge”; this latter book which hasn’t been translated into Italian, is certainly a fundamental text.

Toni for today we’ll stop here: do you promise you’ll give me a second interview? I would like to talk about you as a champion, and I have many other things I’d like to ask you.

All right, see you soon then.

Very soon ..

 read the second part: click here!


translated by Carol Sims


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