40th World Bridge Championships 2011: interview to John Carruthers

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40th World Bridge Championships 2011 – Veldhoven, The Netherlands, 15-29 October 2011.  The World Championships are coming. Neapolitan Club will publish some interviews with experts and protagonists of the event. John Carruthers is the Canadian Open Team’s captain: He  introduces us to his players and discusses some interesting issues related to World Championships, such as selection of national teams and Zimmermann’s project for Monaco. John does not deny us a forecast: Italy – Usa1 in the final.

John, you are the Canadian Open Team’s captain: Will you present your team to our readers? I mean, what is the profile of the pairs and the players?

 Sure. None of my players is a professional bridge player, although two of them make their living through bridge. They are all seasoned players, having won about a dozen Canadian Championships among them. They are all gentlemen and good guys, but fierce competitors.

Doug Baxter: works for Jaguar/Land Rover in Toronto and this is his first Bermuda Bowl. He is a solid player and plays with…

David Lindop: who is one of the players who make his living through bridge. David is married to Audrey Grant, the best and most famous bridge teacher in the world. David lives in Toronto and is one of the two the most experienced members of the team, having represented Canada with distinction on previous occasions.

Mike Hargreaves: is a partner in a law firm in Victoria, British Coloumbia and has won the Canadian Championship on two previous occasions. Mike plays with…

Jim McAvoy: an accountant with his own firm in Victoria. Jim has won one previous Canadian Championship.

John Rayner: owns the most successful bridge club in the Greater Toronto area. This was John’s first Canadian Championship win and he plays with…

Michael Roche: and forms the drollest partnership in the bridge world. Michael has won two previous Canadian Championships and just missed winning the Transnational Teams in Hammamet in 1997. He is in the insurance field.

They are all successful businessmen and bridge players who will not be overawed by the company they keep. But we are realistic as well. There are many other good teams and we’ll have to be at our best to play the role of ‘Cinderella’.


Do you want to explain us what is your job as captain? What exactly is your role?

Oh boy, that is a loaded question. The role of an NPC is that of organiser, secretary, coach, psychologist, cheerleader, manager and drill sergeant. It helps greatly to have experience as a player at the top level and to be a friend to your charges. All NPCs adopt these roles more or less to suit their character. In my case, with this team, I am friends with all of them and I hope my experience as a player/NPC will help them.


In the field of bridge you have really covered – with success – all the possible roles: player, captain, coach, journalist and writer, organizer… Which role do you like most? And what experience do you remember with greater pride?

As a bridge player, the role I enjoy most is actually playing. It’s true, I’ve had many roles in the bridge world, but my successes (such as they are!) at the table are my most memorable. Winning the Forbo Invitational   in 2000 was very exciting, as were my Canadian and North American wins. Being chief organiser for the 1997 World Junior Championship in Canada was very satisfying, as is being editor of the International Bridge Press Association Bulletin. Writing is also fun for me and I enjoy doing a portion of the World Championship Book each year. I truly loved being coach of Pakistan in 2007 – that was a very memorable experience for me: the culture, the food, the friends I made are all important to me still. As an NPC, being captain of medal-winning teams in the 1989 Venice Cup and the 1991 Juniors was great fun.


How the team that will represent Canada has been selected? I mean: There was a sort of trials (like in the USA) or a Technical Director had provided to the invitations (like in Italy)?

Each year we have an open trials to represent Canada: the Canadian National Team Championship (CNTC). The team that wins the CNTC is our international representative for the next World Championship. I believe we’d be better off with a manager or selection committee. We just don’t have the depth of talent other countries, such as the USA, Italy, Poland and France have. Our six best players can hold their own against anyone in the world, but in practice, our six best players don’t often play together.


In Italy we have no trials. The team selection by TD Maria Teresa Lavazza for Ostend 2010 stirred considerable controversy because of the sensational exclusion of Fantoni and Nunes (number one and two in the WBF Ranking), but then Italy won the title and now we have the same team at Veldhoven. In the USA the trials led to exclusion of Rodwell – Meckstroth which are one of the world’s strongest pair. So according to you: Which system provides the best representative?

This is one of my favourite topics for discussion. Team selection, in my view, should depend on the country. In the USA, they have half a dozen teams capable of winning a World Championship. Thus, they can afford to have an open trials and whether Nickell, Fleisher, Diamond, Cayne, Meltzer or the ‘kids’ win, they’ll represent the US with distinction. Canada can do no such thing. Let’s say for the sake of argument our best players are Kokish, Silver, Mittelman, Baran, Korbel and Wolpert. It seems to me that we should give those players every chance to be our representatives. We do, in a way: they could play in the trials and win, but other commitments often prevent this. So I have great sympathy for Madame Lavazza and her choices. She has a very difficult job – Bocchi is a personal friend, so he and Augustin are a shoo-in for the team; and how can one exclude Sementa-Duboin and Lauria-Versace? At the same time, I also have great sympathy for Nunes-Fantoni – how can you exclude numbers 1 and 2 in the world? I believe countries like Netherlands and Sweden have got it exactly right – they have extended ‘observation trials’ with about six pairs to choose their three for competition. Poland also has a good method, where the top dozen or so pairs compete, with the current team having a slight advantage, but not to the exclusion of others.

Italy had the misfortune (?) of having four of the top pairs in the world to choose among. Maria-Teresa had to choose three of them. Whoever was left out had the right to say, “We should have been included”, with some justification. Don’t ask me which three pairs I’d have chosen in her shoes – I don’t know.

On this topic, I was born in England and have the right to represent that country should I choose to do so (after the appropriate waiting period and supposing I was good enough to be picked!). I had a discussion recently with some top English players – it seems that although they have a selection committee, it seemingly does not choose its best team – Robson, Forrester, Gold, Bakhshi, Malinowski, Sandqvist, Hallberg, Townsend, Hackett, Hackett, Holland – surely we could produce a top team from among this group. So here is my application to be Czar of English Team Selection!


Btw, in Veldhoven many strong top players will not play: Meckstroth and Rodwell, Zia and Hamman, Fantoni and Nunes, Helgemo and Helness… What’s your view?

In the case of Meckwell and Zia-Bob, the Nickell team did not win either the 2010 Trials (for USA1) or the 2011 Trials (for USA2), so they have no quarrel. Helness-Helgemo have withdrawn from Norwegian representation for financial reasons (with Zimmermann in Monaco) and who can blame them? F1 drivers and tennis players have moved to Monaco for decades for the same reasons – why not bridge professionals? Despite their absence, this is a very strong Bermuda Bowl.

Having said that, it is more interesting to me personally if HH play for Norway and Fantunes play for Italy, but perhaps I am a dinosaur. I’d be happier if the WBF adopted something like FIFA rules for World Championship play. We have a transnational championship every 4 years anyway, let’s keep the BB pure.


In IBPA Bulletin you wrote an editorial devoted to Zimmerman’s project . Tor Helness and Geir Helgemo from Norway, Fulvio Fantoni and Claudio Nunes from Italy have now taken up residence in Monaco and together with Zimmermann-Multon form a team representing The Principality of Monaco in international bridge events. Will you please explain to our readers your view about?

Ah, it seems I have already expressed my views on that! As a purist, I would love to see the best of each country playing each other for the World Championship. HH (Helgemo – Helness)  for Norway, Fantunes for Italy, Meckwell for the USA, BZ (Balicki – Zmudsinski) for Poland, but that does not often happen. Firstly, the country has to qualify. Basically, the situation is that the national federations pay expenses for trials and World Championships. M. Zimmermann does much better than that: a residence in Monte Carlo, a good salary plus expenses; how could anyone refuse that? If I had been offered that opportunity 30 years ago, I too would have said goodbye to my country – much as I love Canada.


And now… what’s about Italian Open team  that will play in Veldhoven (Bocchi-Madala, Duboin-Sementa, Lauria-Versace)?

In my view, this is the best field in the Bermuda Bowl in years, maybe ever. The co-favourites will be USA1/Italy. The American team of Levin-Weinstein, Martel-Stansby, Fleisher-Kamil is the equivalent of any team in the world today, including Monaco and Italy (I realise Monaco is not eligible). If I had to make a guess, I’d say Fleisher (sorry, Maria-Teresa). But…would anyone be surprised if a young Netherlands, Israel or Sweden won? What about China, a bit of an unknown quantity. And the young USA team? And let us not forget that the Iceland team which won in Yokohama in 1991 is back for its second appearance. They have the best percentage record in Bermuda Bowl history – one appearance, one win. Also, the South American teams are not to be discounted – Chile is young, very eager and very talented and Brasil has its best team in years, maybe ever. It will be tough going for the rest of us!


John, as a last question I just wanted to ask you which teams – besides Italy of course – you think will compete for the final victory in Veldhoven …

Ha ha! It seems I have anticipated another question. Okay, not going out on a limb, Italy-USA1 in the final. But don’t forget that South Africa beat Italy in Shanghai in 2007 and then almost beat the USA in the next match. And Iceland won in 1991, Netherlands in 1993. Could it be the time for Sweden or Israel. Perhaps not, but do not be surprised if it happens.

There is no question in my mind that there will be some surprises in Veldhoven. That in itself is not a wild prediction as there always are!


Thank-you very much, John!


Laura Camponeschi


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