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Ralph Katz talks about… (interview)

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Last Sunday (June 10,  2012) bridge star Ralph Katz from USA was a guest of the Bridge Live Show, broadcast on BTCC ( Channel). BTCC is a new web TV produced by Neapolitan Club and  As a member of team Nickell Mr. Katz will represent USA at the Mind Sports Games’ Bridge to be held in Lille, France in August. The interview  was hosted by Jan van Cleeff and  Laura Cecilia Porro. Some questions were suggested by public too. We publish here a short summary.

As usual, we start with five dilemmas. We give you 2 words and you have to choose one of them. The first one for you, Ralph:  Bridge or trading options?

It’s bridge since I do not trade options any more. The first 5 years I traded options I enjoyed it so much I could not wait to go to sleep at night so I could wake up in the morning and trade options, but that’s changed, the game’s changed and I’ve changed, I would put bridge now and options 15 years ago.

Spingold or Vanderbilt?

No real preference, maybe the Vanderbilt because you win a silver trophy if you happen to get lucky enough to win it.

Nickell or Jacobs?

You put me on the spot here. I am not going to answer that one they are both great to play with, great players, but I am going to take the Fifth.

How do you like playing with Nick?

It’s great. He’s a great player and a great partner, we’ve become good friends and it will be three years this summer and it’s been a wonderful experience for everything.

Which pair do you prefer: Versace-Lauria or Brink-Drijver?

I’ve never played on a team with Brink-Drijver. These kinds of  questions get me into trouble. I played with Versace-Lauria  for many years: they were terrific, almost always brought back great cards, they are very good teammates. If you ask me to start to compare teammates you will get at least half the people mad.

Who do you fear playing against the most?

I do not think I fear playing either one of them, my fear is that I have an off day and do not play well. I worry against a pair that plays excruciatingly slow. I do not usually have a very strong preference who I play against.

Is there any pair at all you worry about, when you play against them?

No, apart from anybody Mark Feldman and Barnett Shenkin are playing with, because you know you are going to take a lot of time and then you have to worry about penalties, there’s so many great pairs out there if you start picking one pair to fear… they all play great, they have better days than others but there’s just many great pairs out there.

USA is allowed to send 2 teams to the Bermuda Bowl and Bocchi is against this, last week Chris Willenken argued against Bocchi’s view. What is your opinion?

Well… Bocchi is entitled to his opinion.  US has a pretty big population and there’s also many bridge players here, you are not going to get me to vote for one team, maybe it is self interest but I have a strong opinion for two teams. The Olympiad has “one country one team”, the Bermuda Bowl is a great event: why change anything?

Your team will change this year, because Nickell has hired Levin and Weinstein. How do you feel about this?

It is sad to see Bob and Zia go, Zia has been my teammate for six out of the last 8 years, but Stevie and Bobby are a great pair and friends of mine, so I have no complaints, I am looking forward to playing with them, but I am going to miss Bob and Zia.

Do you have a forecast about the forthcoming European bridge championships?

Italians always have a great team, Netherlands and Norway, Poland, it seems France and Israel have a good team, I do not really know who the teams are this year, so I am throwing darts here. Forgive my ignorance on that.

You started playing bridge when you were 16, how did it happen?

I happened to stop at my uncle’ house one afternoon and he was teaching to play bridge to two kids, I sat down with them, and within two weeks I was playing duplicate at the bridge club with them. I played pinnacle since I was 5 years old, I had cards introduced from a very young age. Bridge is tough but at least I had some ideas how to play cards and trump suits.

In your family there are a lot of bridge players, so you were not pushed you just happened to be there.

My parents did not play, I guess my grandma did,a long long time ago, but nobody pushed to me, I just enjoyed it because it is a great game and I love competition.

You are married to a world champions and your son is the King of bridge 2006, it is a very inspiring family around you, how are they doing now? Are they still playing?

Martha still plays, not as much as she used to. My son did not play for a year, he won the Mini-Spingold 4 years ago and played for juniors a couple of times, then he spent 18 months without even touching a card, he’s not obsessed with it.

Do you prefer teaching or playing?

I do not mind teaching but I much rather play than teach.

What are your chances in Lille? You will represent US there.

There’s going to be a lot of good teams there, we will need a little bit of luck.

Who are your models, or people that inspired you?

Bobby, and great players easy to talk to.

What is your best victory and your worst defeat?

The Bermuda Bowl in Brazil: it is the only world championship I won. You lose a lot more than you win, we lost the Bermuda Bowl in Shanghai by 16 IMPs: that was a bad defeat, it is a tough question, brining back repressed memories.

Madame Lavazza current npc of the Italian team will resign after Euro, what do you think of this and of the fact that trials will be run in Italy?

Italy will still send a good team, there’s so many great players, they will have a good team no matter what, they will change the names a bit.

Are you practising a lot with Nick, and what is the role of Eric Kokish?

Nick and I play once or twice a week on BBO for 2 ours, the coach works on the system making sure we have agreements, we have 80 pages down to the 200 we started with. We have been trying to make things simpler last year, especially those sequences that never come up.

Eric is a very successful coach and he is coaching a lot of teams that are sometimes in competition against each other, is there a fear of conflict of interest? Is that an issue in your team?

No I am sure many teams do better because Eric is coaching them. We lost in the Rosenblum to a pair that Eric coached, we lost in the finals, but that’s part of the game, if he makes another team better than so be it, but there’s no conflict of interest.

Eric loves conventions and he loves to make lots of agreements , how does he do that in your partnership?

Eric likes to have a lot of agreements and most of them are great, we do not have issues remembering, we do not play the things that come up only once every 3-4 years.

What is the ACBL doing for junior bridge?

I think they have a junior program, maybe not as big as in many other countries.


BTCC team

June 15, 2012

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