Lorenzo Lauria: I like competitive bridge (interview)

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Lorenzo Lauria, there are many topics that I would like to discuss. But, first, I wish to present my personal congratulations to you for the splendid victory in Orlando. Would you like to tell us something about your experience in this event? It has been quite some time that Alfredo and I have won in the US. When we first played with Bocchi-Duboin, we won many tournaments in America: we were the leading team. I’m not sure if we have won six or seven Nationals: every year we brought back at least one prize.

Lately we have been marking time. We have in recent years had a less competitive team, and sometimes we have played as a result of a last minute request. The team is now back to its winning ways, and with Sementa and Duboin we have a squad that has trained well and is battled hardened: in the previous National we made it to the semi-finals, but Sementa was taken ill and this prevented us from progressing. This year in Orlando we had more than our fair share of luck, something you always need to win. We took some risks in the early stages, after we took the lead we held it until the end, winning by a small margin. It was very satisfying, and I hope it is the start of new winning era for us.

What are your thoughts on the pair, Sementa- Duboin? They seem to have raised their game…

It can’t be said that this pairing has ever been in a state of decline. It takes patience for a pair to get to the very top. Sementa-Duboin are off to a terrific start, I think that a little more time is needed before one can come to a definitive evaluation of how strong a unit they are. Anyway, we have won the Europeans, the Olympiad, and now we have won one of the Nationals in the US, the results are coming!

In Milan, in the Campari tourney, The Lavazza Team did well to win another title.

The ‘Città di Milano’ is a very peculiar tourney: it’s played over one and half days within separate groups. Not all the teams play the same hands, so much depends on the deals that you happen to play. So the format can distort the actual strength of the teams. Lavazza gathered a lot of points in the preliminary group that allowed them to win by a substantial margin. Fair to say that Lavazza was the strongest team in the event, so the result was right.

It is good news for our National team, all these victories… it looks to me that the team selected by Mrs Lavazza is very strong.

Yes, I think so!

It also looks like the new Zaleski Team is under-performing somewhat…

In Milano we were unlucky, the format was such that being heavily defeated in a match, it becomes more difficult to make up. The true test will be the final of Coppa Italia, which will start on December 16th. This event is very important for our team and we are keen to do well. My feeling is that we are the favourites, and a victory would be a great start to the new season.

How will the team line up?

Zaleski will pair up with Versace and I’ll play with Valerio Giubilo. Mr. Zaleski is a sponsor that likes to play, it means that you will not see Lauria-Versace play so much together. This might be a handicap, even if I play well with Giubilo and I do feel well disposed towards him.

Regarding the Coppa Italia, you know very well the bridge environment in Rome, can you tell me what’s happening with the Angelini Team? I have read that Fantunes are still playing, at the same time I hear rumours that they are breaking away, can you shed some light on this?

Fantunes are still registered to play in the Angelini Team. However, knowing Francesco Angelini, I doubt he will allow them to play. I know that he’s still angry with them, and I think that he will not even bother to call them. For Francesco, friendship is the foundation stone in a team, if the personal relationships is affected then there will be repercussions. I can’t tell you with absolute certainty, but knowing Francesco, he will not wish to continue with them for the Coppa Italia. And if you check the current line up, Angelini has it seems approached other to substitute for Fantunes: Garozzo, Dato, Cima and Primavera. At least, that’s what I know from the a certain source, i.e. the aforementioned Mr Angelini.

Even if you no longer work for Angelini, you remain one of his best friends.

Undoubtedly, Francesco and I remain good friends: we have known each other for over forty years. The breakup of the team was contractual, as I explained to you in the preceding interview, certainly not for personal reasons.

Can you tell us how the break occurred between Angelini and Fantunes? You know all the actors in this story, and I’m sure that you have talked with Angelini about this.

First of all, Fantunes have made their own choices, to play abroad with Zimmermann. So they have informed Angelini that they wouldn’t be available for the national team in the upcoming Olympiad and that they have chosen to play for Monaco, part of the reason for doing this is that they would be able to cement their relationship with Helgemo-Helness. Fantunes hoped that Angelini would understand their ambitions, that in their mind, it is better for them to play for another country. How do you think Francesco would react to this arrangement? He has not accepted this agreement, of course, and has dismissed them.

Did your friend Angelini tell you this?

Yes, he did.

Let me understand. The Fantunes have submitted to Angelini a their project in which they would have follow to play in his team for the Italian championships, but in the Zimmermann’s one for the international events?

Exactly. Obviously Fantunes consulted Angelini’s opinion before making a final decision. But do you know Angelini? How do you think he would have answered? The reaction of Francesco was brutal, he told them clearly what he thought and that they could go quietly to… Monaco. Let’s just say he immediately removed them from any embarrassment that they might suffer from leaving his team, leaving them free to go wherever they wanted, and to play with whom ever they wished. Moreover, this reaction by Angelini was quite predictable. Especially in light of the after the termination of my contract and Versace’s. Fantunes had strenuously supported the position Mr. Angelini had against Lavazza over national team selection, certainly Francesco did not expect that they would no longer wish to be considered for selection for the upcoming Olympiad…

I believe that the decision of Fantunes to play for Monaco is very much influenced by Lavazza’s decision, i mean they are now out of the Italian National team. Is it true that you did not want them in the national squad and that you have said so to the selectors?

No, we have played many times with Fantunes, perhaps the relationship was not always idyllic, but I would never exercise a veto. This is a decision for Mrs. Lavazza: the decision that at this moment, in my view, is the correct one.

The point I am trying to make, Fantunes might have felt that they had no future in the national squad, that their decision really reflects their predicament.

I think both factors weigh. I can say that with Angelini, Fantunes had a fairly significant contract, probably they have had a larger financial offer from Zimmermann: to give up a big contract it takes a even bigger one.

Lorenzo, you had a big contract with Angelini and yet you’ve gone…

No, I never wanted to make that choice. I had already agreed to play for my national team and this then led to the break, but it was a never my decision to break with Angelini. In fact initially I did not think that accepting the invitations to play for the Italian National team meant a break from Angelini. I did not know and I could not have foreseen. Fantunes considered two options, and chose Zimmermann, hopping at the same time that Angelini would entertain their inclusion in national events.

How do you feel when you see two Italian champions who have gone to play under a foreign flag?

I would never have done this. But everyone decides his fate according to their emotions and disposition. For them it is not only to renounce, forever, playing for the Italian National team, but also a new road that will lead them to nowhere. Believe me, things are not so simple. Someone may object: Monaco has never had an important bridge past or a leading bridge player, nor do they have a future because two Italians, two French and two Norwegians go to live in Monaco … We’ll see what happens.

In our previous interview you used an expression that created much discussion: You stated that Fantoni’s style was that of a ‘commercial’ bridge player. Could you please elaborate?

To define the Fantoni’s approach as ‘commercial’ is overly simplistic, naturally I was not referring to the Fantunes bidding system, of course! Fulvio Fantoni and Claudio Nunes are two professionals. I think it is fair to say that Fantunes are more attracted to the business aspect than the need to continually improve and hone their skills. Certainly in no way did I mean to belittle their standing in the bridge world. From my point of view they do a job very well, I was not being overly critical, they do what we all have to do, and that is to make money. In no way did I use the adjective ‘commercial’ to diminish their quality as players, or their professional standing.

I think what you meant in the first interview was clear. Lorenzo, you just said that Fantunes do work that you could not do: explain to me exactly what you meant?

I like competitive bridge and I much prefer to focus on that. You see, there are quite a few ways to make money as a professional, as a teacher, a writer, running tournaments, cruises, etc., I prefer the competitive game, and that is how I am judged. I can say these things with a degree of certainty because I have played with Fantunes for years as teammates. Fantunes are players that are capable of winning any competition: What I do not like is their attitude towards team members who solely play competitive bridge. I do not find them very serious, that’s all: Because of their commitments they often pull out of training sessions, or discussions on how their system might be improved.

Fulvio seems to me a very affable and convivial. He has often been a guest on my radio show and I have found him to be very nice and helpful. It is difficult for me to picture him ‘copping anattitude’ towards teammates.

At this point I would like to clarify something. I have played for more than fifteen years with Fulvio Fantoni and Claudio Nunes. Personally I’ve never heard half a word in fifteen years. Never a comment or a joke or a shred of empathy: none, zero. For me, Fulvio Fantoni is a person who has problems communicating with mankind: Difficult for me to define a man who has never said a word to his teammates in15 years! I have found in the last few years, coinciding with his success and his initiatives, recreational and social (cruises, vacations, tournaments representation and the like) Fulvio Fantoni is one of the most gregarious and friendly charactors in the world of bridge. I wonder how it is possible, how one can talk to so many people and be so taciturn with your teammates of over fifteen years? I have hardly been aware of his participation in the obvious excitement of being part of a winning team, and we won a lot. When he was asked something, he always responded quickly and in a monosyllabic fashion. Now I hear that Fantoni is the best person to have as a teammate and is so sympathetic. I remain perplexed. I knew a person totally different from what he appears today. I witnessed the rise of Fantoni, I watched him grow and succeed. When he joined our team he was unknown and we helped him win a lot of titles. When I say ‘we’ I mean not only myself and Alfredo Versace, but all the teammates of Lavazza, The National side, and the Angelini teams with whom Fantoni has won so much. I can say that we played some part in his success. Anyway, Fulvio has never established a warm relationship with us: Don’t you think that is curious, that suddenly he is now so popular in the bridge world?

And Claudio Nunes?

From my own personal experience they are very different, Claudio has always been a friendly to all of us.

Let’s change the subject. I read on Bridgewinners.com a recent interview with Alfredo Versace that he gave in Orlando the day after you won the Reisinger Cup. In this article Alfredo speaks about you as one of the great scholars of bidding systems, but the interviewer points out that there is not a single convention that bears Lauria’s name …

Frankly, I have never registered an agreement or a convention in my name, and wouldn’t really know what the procedure is. I can say that almost all participates that play the game at a high level employ the methods that I have introduced, without me having to work hard to promote them, or by attaching my name to them. During a tournament someone might say ‘I play Versace’ playing a sequence invented by me (laughing ed.) I find this amusing. Honestly I do not care to be the eponymous player of the bidding sequences that I have developed. Furthermore I have developed sequences that can not be so easily defined by a bid such as 2 clubs in response to a notrump opening (Stayman) or 4 notrumps Ace asking (Blackwood). I have mainly developed more complex treatments. I have contributed to some of the sequences to the system today successfully played by Fantunes. Consider Benito Garozzo: There is no specific agreement that bears his name, he is part of the history of the game, and without doubt he is the teacher of us all.

I would like to conclude by passing on my congratulations to Cristiana Morgantini, your wife, for the good win in the mixed pairs.

Cristiana is not a professional bridge player, she does another job and plays only out of passion. But in recent years she has greatly improved. She has an undertaking to study a lot and constantly look to improve the system that Versace and I play. She has managed to assimilate so many things and has improved immensely. She is now a leading competitive player in Italian mixed pairs.

In greeting you I want to thank you for the extraordinary kindness you have always shown me, and I wish to invite you, with a caveat, that you can always refuse, as a special guest for my radio program.

No no, consider that I have declined the invitation. (Laughing n.d.r)

Well, like I said, you can always decline …

I have taken the opportunity and I declined!


by Laura Camponeschi

December 17, 2010

(live recorded December, 14th 2010)

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