At the Budapest 2016 European Team Championships, the Italian ladies team (Margherita Chavarria, Beatrice Delle Coste, Francesca Piscitelli, Annalisa Rosetta, Vanessa Torielli, Marilina Vanuzzi) finished eighth, just missing out on a qualifying spot for 2017 World Teams Championships (Venice Cup) to be held in Lyon, France. In early 2017 the ladies team representing Trinidad and Tobago declined to participate so giving Italy the opportunity to play. The team; Irene Baroni, Caterina Ferlazzo, Cristina Golin, Gabriella Manara, Annalisa Rosetta, Marilina Vanuzzi and Valerio Giubilo as non-playing captain, played well to finish tenth in the round robin, once again, just a whisker from qualifying for the knock stage.
We asked Simonetta Paoluzi, one of Italy’s most decorated female players, to comment on the performance of the team and give an appraisal on the current state of ladies bridge in Italy.
Simonetta lives with her two children, Margherita and Michele, in Rome where she works for the National Research Council (CNR), and plays bridge professionally. From 1989, when she won her first Italian title, she has collected a further 16 Gold Medals in Italian championships; her many trophies include place finishes in several Italian competitions, and one Gold, two Silver and two Bronze medals at International level.
Let me state from the outset, I do not consider the Lyon team result as a disappointment, Italy was asked to replace a team that pulled out. Many of our top players were not available for selection, and not all the pairs were established partnerships, in a short space of time they were match ready. In such circumstance it is fair to say that the team performed well and played some good bridge.
Some of the comments made about the team, some published, some whispered, assertions directed at the group of players who have been playing at the top of ladies games for the last 25 years, the assertion being that they have a poor record of winning. It is not true, I was only available for selection until 2004. Here are a selection of results since 2003:
2003 Gold medal – European Open Women Teams, Menton (Coach Mosca, Ferlazzo-Manara, Capriata-Golin, Buratti-Forti)
2008 Silver medal – European Women Championships, Pau (Coach De Falco, Ferlazzo-Manara, Paoluzi-Saccavini, Arrigoni-Olivieri)
2009 Bronze medal – European Open Women Teams, Sanremo (Coach De Falco, Ferlazzo-Manara, Paoluzi-Saccavini, Arrigoni-Olivieri)
2013, after trials, Bronze medal – European Open Women Teams, Ostende (Coach Rinaldi, Ferlazzo-Manara, Paoluzi-Saccavini, Rosetta-Vanuzzi)
2014, after trials – 4th place European Women Championships, Opatija (championship played in the first three positions: Coach Rinaldi, Ferlazzo-Manara, Paoluzi-Saccavini, Piscitelli-Chavarria)
2015 2nd place with the same team, HUA YUAN CUP Beijing.
Moreover, reaching the knockout stage in the following Olympiads; (Torlontano Trophy) 2004 Istanbul, 2008 Beijing, 2012 Lille, 2016 Wroclaw, in 2009 Venice Cup S.Paolo and 2015 Chennai, in 2007 European Open Women Teams Antalya and 2011 Poznan.
Not wanting to bore the readers with a list of lineups, how many different pairings from one competition to the next, the exception being the Ferlazzo-Manara. If you are so inclined and you have the time you can see how well the Italian ladies team has fared over the past two decades. Check the WBF and EBL web sites for the facts and ignore the chattering of the detractors.
In 2016 the Italian Bridge Federation abruptly interrupted this encouraging trend, implementing a poorly conceived selection process, the upshot being we fielded a weakened team in Budapest.
Let’s discuss the future, now: winning is never guaranteed, but competing for it in World or European competition and making sure we are at least on the podium, should not be impossible for the Italian Ladies Team. No one is suggesting it is easy, far from it, it will require hard work from all levels of Italian Bridge; players, administrators, coaches, etc., It neither does it come cheap, it will require more investment from our federation, FIGB, I see it as a unique project in the history of our game at the national level.
Let’s be candid, in Italy right now there are too few young world-class ladies’ players coming through. There are several excellent individuals who are able to put up a decent fight at international competition. Those who are proposing a rejuvenation of the sector, who want to put the older players out to grass and bring in new blood, my immediate response is that there at most five players under 30 who can compete at the highest level. We must bring them in, after this group there are no other players except the Dal Pozzo sisters who are right now too young for the rigours battle amongst the best players.
Sweden, Poland, Netherland and France all fielded teams with younger players, but England, European silver medal and Venice Cup finalist, have an average north of fifty.
Let me outline what I think has to be the coming national strategy:
- A core group of around 16 players – an intelligent mix of promising young players and talented veterans.
- The introduction of a uniform bidding system – sacrifice complexity to enhance exchange options, with a special focus on competitive bidding.
- Support pairing shifts; this gets easier as a by-product of the common bidding system, as seen in France and several other advanced countries.
- Focus on declarer and defensive play – we appear to be weaker than other teams.
- Focus on BBO training sessions, much less expensive than the college-style traditional training days.
- Focus on sponsorship: playing bridge ‘is’ expensive, but it is necessary to allow players to play together, instead of being forced to play separately because of sponsor requirements. This could be helpful at least at FIGB “Torneo Nazionale” events, providing a good source of training opportunities.
Restrict meet-ups at National Championships. Most players are there anyway and do not need to sacrifice time and/or money to participate.
The main issue is the player’s long term commitment. If bridge is their main activity or, as is more often the case, a passion already eating up much of our spare time we need help from the National Bridge Federation to compensate players, based on results if need be, to increase participation.
This is a starting position, I hope that this triggers a wider discussion within the community that is Italian ladies bridge so as to enhance our performances in the near future.