Krzysztof Martens: Everybody needs a coach (interview)

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Krzysztof Martens is one of the greatest players in the history of  bridge and now coach of Monaco, who won the European Championships in Dublin. Friday, June 22, 2012, Martens was a guest of the live show broadcast from Dublin on the BTCC ( Channel), the  web TV  produced by Neapolitan Club and We report here a summary of the interview run by Jan van Cleeff and Laura Cecilia Porro.

As usual, we start with a few dilemmas. We give you 2 words and you have to choose one of them. Home or travel?

I like to be home but I travel too much: this is a problem. My wife accepts it, for the moment it’s 60 per cent time out of home and 40 at home. It is not enough but everybody accepts it.

Polish club or 4 card majors?

I think we have to play two systems depending on vulnerability, more conservative when red, very distractive when green, I am a fun of two systems depending on vulnerability. If I have to pick I choose 4 card major because polish club is a bit archaic.

You played with Geir Helgemo in 1997 and you did very well…

We played super natural and we won “Top 16” in Copenhagen, playing only Stayman and Blackwood.

Coaching or Playing?

I like both, they give you different satisfaction, if you are coach of the champions it is a pleasure to help them in system and technical things. But I am a player, I won 3 times European championship. I am a player first, coach secondly.

Club de France or Team Orange?

I know both, I was a coach of the Dutch team many years ago, I know all Dutch players: I prepared the structure of their systems, I enjoyed the job with the Dutch for 2 years. Now I also like Club de France because it has improved my French. However the French do need a coach because they play a little bit too conservative without enough activity, I hope that during the past 6 months I changed their mentality. I like French style but for example when I arrived six months ago they needed count in every hand in every suit, but this is a wrong habit. Now they changed a bit. For example, Quentin opened 2 Diamonds multi on xx KJ9xx xxx xxx: he won the game because they find the heart lead against 3NT, everybody else led the king of spade, they could beat it only because of the active opening.


Support doubles yes or no?

Yes I recommend them very strongly, but I am really against support redoubles. For example 1C-p-1H-X-XX: it is against tactics very often to use support redoubles. If they bid too active they have to pay, redouble should show the strength and invite partner to double: very often you get 1100 or 800.

You write books and founded the Martens academy, tell us about this project.

It is a great project because I have a long experience as a coach (I started in 1999 coaching Israel): I have 2000 pages of materials and I try to prepare the project for the high level. Many tell me my books are too difficult but the books will be well selling in 20 years because the level will be higher. I have written 15 books so far, I am preparing 3 new ones now. One of them is on professional slam bidding, 150 hands from the championships played by 15 professional pairs. I cover all parts of professional slam bidding. Even the professional level is not good enough, I can see mistakes at slam level even here in the Championships: we need more agreements. The base of the bidding is important for the slam zone.

When did Zimmermann ask you to be the coach of Monaco?

I started about one year ago. I thought Hegelness and Fantunes did not need a coach, but it is not true, every body needs a coach, they were playing in their routine but from time to time we have to change mentality. For example, Hegelness changed their openings at the 2 level. They used to play natural weak in 3 suits, but it is too easy for opponents, especially green against red: it is like putting the ball in the middle of the court. Now they changed: They play Multi when red and both majors when green, and they have many variations. Also they used to have an 8-page long system, now it is 40 pages. They accepted many new conventions, for instance – and I was surprised – how to show your length by transfers: after 2/1, 1S-2D-2H-2N forcing, after which 3C shows diamond support, 3D shows 5-5, 3H 64, 3S bad fragment in clubs, 3NT 5422. The advantage of this is that you can support partner at 3 level and you have a good entry to the slam zone, you can show your void and singletons. Helgemo and Helness accepted this after the first discussion, it is fantastic, they were playing completely natural, they now have sequences such as 1H-2H-2N as forcing.

Zimmermann and Multon also accepted many changes. I also tried to correct Fantunes but they have special agreements, it is difficult to help them because they have special structures and philosophy. It is my role to help everybody, after the tournament I prepare reports with interesting hands, my comments and recommendations, my solutions and probably it will help the players to improve.

You give a lot of importance to bidding, Duboin is on the same wavelength and thinks that IMPs come from bidding.

Yes I agree, it depends on the level. If you analyse Monaco-Italy you cannot find a hand that Helgemo made and Duboin went down, it almost never exists. The advantage is only in the bidding, especially you must be better than professional pair. During this championship I have not seen many technical mistakes, but a lot of bad judgement in the slam bidding, I am really surprised that so many slam hands are not at good enough level.

Let us talk about one disaster, 7 Clubs doubled, with the ace of trumps missing.

It was a silly mistake, it is either a misunderstanding or judgement. I think it was a concentration issue, Claudio Nunes bid too quickly: If he spent one minute he would not have bid it. This is the problem: When the hand is quicker than the mind.

What about Fantunes system: do you think it should be changed?

I propose to change with Hegelness or Zimmermann-Multon because they have space to change, especially gadgets and competitive bidding, but Fantunes have dangerous system for them and opponents. If you open at one level natural 10-13 of course you no have place to find better part score, but better chance to find best game. Their 2D is very preemptive, now opponents have to risk at the 2 level. They create the chaos, sometimes they pay because they play in wrong part score, but sometimes they play 2H when opponents have 4S on. Chaos created by system is important if you win more than you lose, and Fantunes win much more than they lose.


About your coaching: is this the end of your playing career?

I do not know: I hope I have a chance to play in higher level competitions with my partners. We have open championships. Probably I cannot be coach and player at the same time. Some ask me: are you better coach or player? Honestly in the world there exist very good 100 professional players, then let’s say I am one of the 100. In the world there exist only 2 high level coaches, Eric Kokish and me, others are very good but not good for professionals players. Of course I am better coach than player because there are not that many good coaches in the world.

Monaco is in very good shape: you have the best players, the best coach… still you may lack one element, how about the physical part of the sport, do you make physical exercise to avoid those lacks of concentration?

No it is not my role, of course I have some players they have very good physical form, but the main point in bridge is the psychical form, you must be in a good mood because if not it is difficult to play at a good level, you cannot play under pressure. If pressure comes players make more mistakes, pressure is more important than other things.


June 24, 2012

BTCC team

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