The 2014 edition of the Spingold saw the Lavazza team in the US Nationals. For the first time we did not play for a local sponsor. The team should have been: Maria Teresa Lavazza, Norberto Bocchi, Agustin Madala, Alejandro Bianchedi, Guido Ferraro and myself [GD], rotating in order to give everyone the opportunity to get some rest. Unfortunately, fate had other plans and Guido left us: we cannot accept that he is gone. However, the project had been started and, as they say, life goes on. Choosing someone else was difficult: not only did we need a champion, but also someone who fit with the group and the Italian style. We all thought of Zia and when he accepted, the team was formed. The idea of rotating players was now more difficult to implement, because our Italians and Argentinians all play the same artificial system, whilst Zia prefers a more natural system that better suits his creative attitude. Based on our features, we thought that I was the best partner for him.
What should two players who never played together, who live far away and have different styles do in order to become a high level partnership?
Phase 1: we spoke a lot over the phone (luckily there is Skype) in order to understand each other’s views on the system.
Phase 2: we defined the basic system: natural, 5 card majors, 15-17 NT.
Phase 3: we started an email conversation, sending each other system bits, sequences, conventions and agreements which we had been playing with other partners.
Phase 4: we wrote the system, and this is the most complex bit. Each player has his favourite conventions and real passions. We started a game of compromises and refusals, always making an effort not to hurt the other. It looked very much like the discussions engaged couples have: “Darling, on Wednesday nights I have always been playing football with my friends and I’d rather not give it up” “Sure dear, on Mondays I usually go to the cinema with my best friend, would you mind if…” I started it. My first suggestion was to add Gazzilli, which I believe is essential in a natural system. Zia happily accepted it, although he had never played it before, so we added a not-too-complicated version of it. He showed me some sequences to raise opener’s majors which I approved. My second suggestion was to open 18-19 balanced hands 2 Clubs. I do not necessarily think that this is a beautiful agreement, but it has the remarkable advantage of taking these hands away from the 1C and 1D opening bids.
Game forcing hands can be opened 2D, which is ugly, but they rarely occur. Zia agreed to have a special opening for strong balanced hands, but asked me if I was joking about the frequence of game forcing hands. He likes using the game forcing opening bid even with marginal hands, so we came to the compromise of having 2C as GF and 2D as 18-19 balanced.
We went on for a while, agreeing each step of the sequences: two-way checkback, reverses, Key Cards, and others. Once the system was agreed, we wrote it down in details and much to our surprise our “mostly natural” 5 card majors was over 100 pages long!
Phase 5: competitive bidding. I am used to playing transfers in competitive auctions, some universally known conventions and others which I believe have been invented by us Italians. Zia is not used to this. Together we discarded the most complicated agreements, and met half way through.
Phase 6: defense. I thought this was going to be the easy bit, since we had similar habits. The only difference is that I tend to give count, whilst Zia prefers attitude. I found out that this is Zia’s real passion: not only did he want to set the general philosophy, but he also wanted to go through a number of specific situations to agree variations. As a consequence, another bunch of pages got into the system. The most difficult part for me has been when, after saying that each defensive card has a meaning, he also added that he enjoys falsecarding to trick declarer and that I surely was going to get it right. Although I was flattered by his trust, this seemed ricky. However, I have to acknowledge that his forecast was nearly always accurate.
Phase 7: partnership style. How aggressive are we when we open? What are the criteria to preempt? Light overcalls? What does double mean in different situations? The first three questions were easy to answer. We found out we have similar ideas and style: aggressive when unbalanced, sound when balanced, different preemptive criteria depending on vulnerability, aggressive 1-level overcalls, constructive 2-level overcalls.
On the fourth issue we were really far apart: I proposed the Italian style, i.e. all doubles are for take out, except rare circumstances where it is obvious that they are for penalties. So “if you are not sure or if we have not discussed this situation, do not pass”. On the contrary, Zia said: “Look, if they are going three off undoubled because the agreements did not allow me to double, I will not sleep at night”. So we agreed lots of take out doubles, but the approach became “if you are not sure or we have not discussed this situation, pass because they are going down”.
The first two Nationals have gone well: we reached the semi final of the 2014 Spingold and we came third in the 2014 Reisinger. Now we keep talking and playing on BBO to get ready for future tournaments, and I will report back the most interesting boards.
One last thought: now I think Zia is the most “Italian” player among the Pakistanis and I am the most “Pakistani” among the Italians.
English edition by Laura Cecilia Porro for Neapolitan Club & NewInBridge