Valerio, first of all let me congratulate you and the Zaleski team, your team mates, on your win at the Coppa Italia. Tell me how the Zaleski team came into being? Romain Zaleski is perhaps far better known today for his business prowess rather than for his success at the bridge table. He has always had a great passion for the game, he started playing in 1970, stopping for many years. In the mid-2000s, as his workload became less onerous, Romain decided to devote more of his time to competition. He lives in Italy, but can be defined as a citizen of the world, spending much of his time in Paris, where he has close professional ties with such luminaries as Faingenbaum, Pilon and Chemla. He contacted them when he decided to resume playing. After gaining a steady stream of good results, he was looking to take his game to a different level. With this in mind, in the spring of last year, he approached members of the Lavazza team, many of whom he counted as friends. They suggested Versace and Lauria, who at that time were contracted to the Roman sponsor Angelini Francesco. When the opportunity presented itself to hire Lauria and Versace he did so.
We know that the break between Versace-Lauria and the Angelini team arose from the national selection by Maria Teresa Lavazza for the Europeans in Ostend. But was the proposition of Zaleski already in the air? I mean to say, do you think this potential opportunity may have accelerated the breakdown in their relationship with Angelini?
Absolutely not. There had already been a quarrel with Angelini, and a falling out. Lauria-Versace decided to accept the proposal from Zaleski, which occurred some weeks later. The breakup between was no secret, news travels quickly.
How were you hired?
At a later date, and only because the sponsor wanted to play with Versace. At first, Zaleski was still thinking of playing with one of his French partners. After meeting Alfredo and Lorenzo, Romain became ambitious to play with Alfredo. Lauria and Versace brought me to the attention of Zaleski, since this arrangement had worked well for the Angelini team.
As a bridge player you have enjoyed partnerships with, initially, Versace and latterly with Lauria.
Correct, I have known Alfredo Versace from more than 25 years, but we always played at a friendly, rather than at a competitive level. The professional opportunity came when I was hired by Angelini. At that time the two anchor pairs, Fantoni-Nunes and Lauria-Versace were the core of the of Angelini squad. When Antonio Sementa, Angelini’s former partner, left the team, a vacuum was created. Francesco Angelini had some difficulty in trying to find a partner he could gel with. He tried to play with Dano De Falco, but there wasn’t such a good rapport between them. Therefore Angelini started playing with Versace, but the team was down to five players and was not playing to its full potential, something that is essential at the highest level. It was in October 2008 that the group unanimously decided to invite me to play, because of the clear desire of Angelini to continue playing with Alfredo. I only became the partner of Lauria when the sponsor wanted to play with Versace.
When the pair Lauria-Versace are not playing together, because one might be playing with the sponsor, then it is you, Giubilo, that the other will turn to, that’s why you are their team mate and good friend, especially in the light of the fact that you also study their bidding system.
Friendship is the foundation of our bridge partnerships. Learning the system is one thing, being able to play with both Lauria and Versace is another, very few can do this… Any success enjoyed is, I assure you, down to their brilliance.
Today you three are now interchangeable?
No. Let’s say that there is only one pair, Lauria-Versace. Giubilo takes to the field if it is necessary because he knows their system well enough and their approach, but mostly because the two of them like playing with Giubilo.
In this new Zaleski team you’re a fundamental strategic pawn. I know you always study with Lauria to change or to elaborate the system. But, what exactly is your role within this particular triad?
Compared with Lauria and Versace, lets just say I bring an organisational aspect to the team. Practicing the game at a professional level, the work does not end in sitting down and playing, there is a whole organisational machine to run, which I’m glad to be able to lend a hand. With regard to bridge maybe my best quality is to be a quite a versatile player, it enables me to play with Laura or Versace or on occasion with the sponsor Zaleski. The next international tournament, Montegrotto, I’ll play just with Romain. Moreover in the Italian Cup, I actually played one round with Zaleski.
Could you give us a brief introduction to your new sponsor, Romain Zaleski?
Despite the many successes he has achieved in his professional life, Romain remains an individual with a great deal of humility. He’s a person of great kindness, well educated and a tremendous raconteur. During the last few tournaments I have gotten to know him quite well and I feel we are friends.
Do you still get on well with your previous sponsor, Francesco Angelini?
I will always be eternally grateful to Francesco Angelini, whose team I played in for more than two years. I have a great relationship with him today. We left very quietly. Zaleski contacted me when I was still under contract with him, Francesco wanted me to stay, but in the end we parted on good terms because he understood how great an opportunity it was for me.
While playing for Angelini you gained international success, the European Team Cup in 2009 comes to mind.
Yes, I played on that occasion in partnership with Alfredo Versace. But in other competitions, I just played with Francesco.
Right now, how is your relationship with ‘Fatunes’?
I have a closer relationship with Claudio Nunes. We would meet outside of bridge, even when we were playing for different teams. As you know I was the best man at his wedding and he was the best man at my wedding! I also enjoy a good friendship with Fulvio, but obviously we are less close.
Before changing the subject, Valerio, please gives us an anecdote about playing alongside Alfredo and Lorenzo…
Well, I consider myself fortunate to witness discussions on bridge between such great players, which is often laced with sarcasm and delightful irony. At times it can be very funny. They both are such great players, world famous, with strong personalities … I remember a recent episode, our first tournament abroad with Zaleski. We played in Vilnius against Jacek Romanski … At some point Romanski’s partner tried to steal a ninth trick in a notrump game, Lorenzo, with the faintest of smiles, immediately pounced and found the killing switch. Romanski, who was dummy at the time, turned to Lorenzo: “My partner is a strong player but when he plays against you he does not seem to understand anything at all.”
Indeed Lauria is ruthless at the green table, but such a nice man outside of the game.
Within the game it is well known that Lorenzo can strike fear into the hearts of the opposition. Whoever plays against him, I include myself in this, is struck by his formidable powers as a player, leaving one at times completely awe struck. I happened to play against Lorenzo and Alfredo as well. When I play against Alfredo I get the same bad results but I was not in so much awe! (laughing editor’s note). Lorenzo definitely has a very high specific weight at the table. But this depends not only on his reputation: he is a player who has made very few mistakes throughout his career. Giorgio Duboin has often commented ‘that the hand will go like this because Lorenzo has played it a thousand times before’. Away from the table he is a man of great empathy, I know that many people see him as gruff, but this belies his true spirit, an individual with great humour. Our wives have been playing together for two years now, and this has further cemented our friendship.
And now, let’s talk about you. Although you play bridge at the highest level, you have another life.
Correct, bridge is not the only thing in my life. Following in the family tradition my day job is that of a sports journalist, specialising in horse racing. I have also been the Technical Director at the Hippodrome Tor di Valle of Rome over the past decade.
In a recent interview you wrote, in the Italian newspaper ‘Il Tempo’, let me read you the quote, “I have grown up on bread and horses. ” Here is a question; the great equestrian Nuno Oliveira said ‘The art of riding is to perfect the simple things.’ You have made a study and contributed to bidding systems, would you say the same about bridge, that this is the art of perfecting simple things?
Certainly not. Bidding systems are complex. We can compare a system to a Formula One car. The development of a high performance vehicle is nothing like that of a mass production car.
Please, explain your philosophy behind bidding systems.
Lorenzo Lauria and Alfredo Versace have done most of the work, which got underway when they started playing together. From a few agreements and gadgets, they have gradually developed a system that can be described as the Formula One of bidding systems. To extend the metaphor a little, in such systems the driver and the test driver are both important and the machine must perform at the highest level for both of them. The structure of the system is now highly tuned, and yet there are always changes, amendments, and improvements based on what actually happens at the table. Although our system is fairly comprehensive, there is always an unforeseen situation that will arise in competition. Even if you play a system for 50 years, something will happen that will force you to reconsider a certain sequence. What you thought was once optimal, after further analysis might not be so, the system is always in a state of flux.
Is it true that you and Lauria work on the system, daily, in a maniacal fashion?
Lorenzo is certainly a genius, and we are both a little maniacal. In fact every-time we play I think about how we might improve the system. Let’s me say this, if Lorenzo is a system maniac, then in me he has found very fertile ground, this is one reason why Lorenzo is pleased to share his thoughts. He is always careful to identify the flaws of the system and to try and fix them. Then he will consult Alfredo. Whatever comes to pass, we call Alfredo to get his assessment. In this regard Alfredo has the same level of brilliance as Lorenzo.
In his last interview, speaking of system development, Lorenzo Lauria wanted to underline his gratitude to Garozzo. How important do you think the contributions of Benito has been?
The tribute to Garozzo is absolute. He was Lorenzo’s master. He taught him the important things, especially in system development. If you speak of the great bridge legends, then there is non such as Garozzo. He taught an entire generation of bridge players. Let me take the opportunity here to wish him well because I know he has been ill, and I am glad that he is now on the road to recovery. I had the good fortune and honour to play in a team with Garozzo on more than one occasion, and it is really quite incredible to see how polished his game still is, and at the same time how passionate he is about winning.
This year we wrote a review of Benito’s play while in was in Italy playing for the Angelini Team. Do you think this partnership will continue?
Benito now divides his life between the U.S. and Italy. In his native country there is his family, his sons, and his grandchildren.
In the next Spring Italian Championships, do you think Garozzo will play for the Angelini team?
Try to understand what it is like to play for Angelini… About three months before a competition it is all purely utopian! Things in the team are always very ‘volatile’. Francesco has his mood swings and makes hasty decisions, such as the break-up with Alfredo and Lorenzo.
Indeed, it seems that the quarrel with ‘Fantunes’ has also ended. Angelini did not recall them for the Italian Cup final, but both champions are playing in his team once again…
I think ‘Fantunes’ will play for Angelini, at least until the duration of their contract, which I believe will expire in about a year. I think the quarrel has ended, even if I’m not sure that the relationship is quite like it was before. However, I think after the agreement has run its course then Claudio and Fulvio will devote their full attention to their new venture in Monaco.
What do you think about Zimmermann’s project? He wants to build a very strong team under the flag of Monaco. Do you think that the international authorities will give their approval?
In bridge these developments are nothing new. Much of it will depend upon those that run world bridge. In the past such changes have been stopped, but now those in a position of authority are giving more consideration to this sort of thing.
Mr. Jaen-Charles Allavena, the President of the Bridge Federation in Monaco, in his official statement regarding the Zimmermann project, stressed that the project had met with the approval of both the European and the World Authorities.
I believe Zimmermann’s project will be approved.
Then we will see a great team, Fantoni-Nunes, Helgemo-Helness, plus Zimmermann and Multon. Will they be unbeatable?
No, they are not an unbeatable team. At the last European Cup at Izmir in Turkey, Angelini ‘s team line up was Fantoni-Nunes plus Helgemo-Helness, but they did not win.
To end our interview, a forecast for the next highly anticipated Spring Championships…
All bets are off on the Lavazza Team…
Will they win hands down?
They are certainly the clear favorites, very difficult to beat, but in bridge you can never say never.
Let me give you another aphorism from the world of horse racing. You know they say ‘If the horse makes a mistake, apologise to the horse.’ So, if your partner makes a mistake, do you apologise to him?
This aphorism is wildly known, but alas, I do not agree. It is said that all horses can be trained, but then there are horses that train better and some less, so let’s just say that the mistake lies more often with the trainer.
But if you make a mistake, what does Lauria do?
He will let me know. In his own inimitable way. And that depends on the circumstances and on the severity of the error.
And what do you do if Lauria is wrong?
Well, this is a rather rarer event! However, out of habit I never say a word to my partner when he has made an error, whether it is Lauria or a lesser mortal. At a certain level a player will know, more or less immediately, they have made an error, so there is little point in saying something. I have had the good fortune to play with those who are my superiors, so it is rare that this embarrassing reprimand ever takes place!
by Laura Camponeschi for BridgeTopics.com & NeapolitanClub
February 23, 2011