“Something happened” – Interview to Lorenzo Lauria run by Laura Camponeschi for Neapolitan Club and NewInBridge.
Laura Camponeschi: In a few days the European Open Championships will kick off in Tromsø and the Italian stars have not signed up yet: why?
Lorenzo Lauria: Alfredo’s and my participation is determined by our sponsor, Francesco Angelini who, as you know, does not enjoy travelling by plane and reaching the Arctic Circle by car is a problem. So far we are not planning to play, but Francesco can be unpredictable, so I cannot rule out that he will change his mind last minute. And naturally, given my contract with him, I am not tied to any other sponsors.
I do not know why other Italian champions are not taking part, but Tromsø is an inconvenient and expensive location, so it is not easy to plan to get there.
LC: On the other hand you will definitely go to Chicago in August, to play the Spingold Knock Out Teams: who is in the team?
LL: Alfredo and I will play with Jimmy Cayne and his partner, Michael Seamon, but the third pair is new: instead of French Lorenzini-Bessis, we will play with two young Israeli, Lotan Fisher and Ron Schwartz.
LC: Cayne has changed the third pair twice in the last two years, does that mean Lauria and Versace have a life-time contract instead?
LL: Jimmy has always been telling us that our commitment to him is for life, because we are good friends in the first instance.
LC: Italy did not qualify for the 2015 Bermuda Bowl, but will you go there to play in the Transnational?
LL: I can rule out that Angelini will sign a team up, and I still do not know whether I will go with another sponsor. For what concerns the Bermuda Bowl, it is true that we did not qualify, because we did not make the first 8 at the last European Championships, but in many sports the defending champions are invited anyway and I was expecting the WBF to do the same. In other sports who won a World title is entitled to the qualification to the next World Championships. In bridge it does not work this way, but I think that the field in the Bermuda Bowl would be better if the defending champions joined. The other strange thing compared to other sports is that the US can field two teams, but bridge has rules of its own…
LC: In any case, failing to qualify to the World Championship 2015 is a mark: what do you think the Federation will do to make the Italian Open Team competitive again? I am thinking about the European Championships in 2016: who will the Federation field?
LL: Currently we do not know what Lavazza players intend to do, whether they will stay in Italy or play for another NBO. After all, many bridge professionals are considering moving NBO, following Monaco who brought together players from different nations. Honestly I do not think any Italian player is currently ready to replace the previous team. There are some good young players, but you also need a lot of experience, so I do not see any possibility to replace our champions in the short term. It seems that many players are considering moving NBO, not only in Italy: I think the WBO and all NBOs should be more rigorous to slow this tendency down.
LC: In this interview you have have often mentioned your sponsors, the American Cayne and Italian Angelini: would you like to quickly sketch their path on the international bridge scene?
LL: I have been playing for Cayne for 10 years and not many sponsors tie themselves to the same pair for such a long time: obviously we are not only colleagues, but also friends, which is not common in the relationships between employers and employees. Jimmy is one of the most passionate bridge players I have ever met and plays a system he wrote: he is a great expert and he won a lot.
LC: Tell us something about Cayne’s system.
LL: It is a natural system, with some variations he created, both in competitive and uncontested auctions. Jimmy is happy to play his own system, especially the conventions which come from his imagination and experience.
LC: I am curious: can you give me an example of one of Cayne’s original conventions?
LL:When opponents open the bidding and it goes 1S-(P)-1NT, the 2C/D overcall shows a two suited hand with the other major, even with a 5-4 distribution. This overcall is often useful because it allows to find a fit otherwise difficult to bid.
LC: And Angelini?
LL: Angelini and Cayne have a lot in common. Angelini plays his own system as well, which he named Millennium: it is a strong club based system but he developed it with particular convention and sequences of his own creation. Francesco has also been very successful in Italy and in Europe, wherever he could get to by car or boat. Needless to say, Francesco and I have been friends for 50 years and this often leads us to have frank and difficult conversations, which happens when you are close to someone. Consider this: we have been knowing each other from before we learnt to play bridge.
LC: In these days the acquittal verdict for Fantunes was published, a hand, played by number 1 and 2 in the world, was under investigation. Can we talk about it?
LL: I want to make it clear that I do not intend to delve into legal issues, or comment on the verdict, or the behaviour of other professionals.
LC: But you know the hand, and maybe you can help our readers understand the technical aspects, can you tell us why the Public Attorney’s Office found this hand interesting?
LL: I know the hand well, and I think many others do too because it was played during the Italian Open Teams Championships, and it was broadcast on BBO and BridgeRama: in Salsomaggiore we talked a lot about it.
I will try to make technical remarks, which are within the remit of a bridge consultant.
From a technical point of view, Nunes’ defence is not justifiable, especially given he is ranked number 2 in the world.
On the one hand, in bridge we make often incomprehensible mistakes, but on the other hand competitions subject players to extreme conditions, under which they have to focus a lot. This hand is a perfect example of an extreme situation: leading against a slam holding two aces. The player on lead is under extreme pressure, because his two aces could beat the contract. After leading the ace of diamonds, the player realises that this has promoted two diamond winners in dummy, and should be aware of the risk of returning a diamond.
LC: Is the ace of diamonds lead technically valid?
LL: Yes, I would say it is nearly compulsory given the bidding.
LC: What is the danger of returning a diamond?
LL: If partner does not ruff, declarer can discard the clubs on the diamonds.
LC: What rules out that the ace of clubs may be ruffed?
LL: Fantoni’s bidding: the ruff is only possible if declarer has a void. Nunes can see two clubs in dummy, and he has three to the ace: if the ace is not cashing, this means Fanotni has 8 clubs KQJ10xxxx. But Fantoni, facing a passed partner, at favourable vulnerability, overcalled 2 Clubs: if he had 8 good clubs, he would have bid 4 or 5. The bidding and dummy make it clear that the ace of clubs is cashing and that it has to be cashed quickly, since declarer has good diamonds to pitch the clubs.
LC: So how is it possible that Nunes failed to see the danger of returning a diamond?
LL: What we need to ask is what might have diverted Nunes so much from a normal defence, to forget that the second ace was cashing and this would have beaten the slam. It is something we will never know, but something happened and distracted him from a technical defence, easy for a top player. And here I stop, because it is the Judge, not the consultant, who needs to draw the final conclusions.
LC: What about Nunes’ defensive line, about having a mental blackout?
LL: The evaluation of the case is up to the Judge, which I am not. I’d rather worry about the consequences of this verdict in the bridge world. How many bridge players will appeal to a mental blackout to justify an abnormal play? This verdict may set an extremely dangerous precedent.
(English edition by Laura Cecilia Porro for NewInBridge and Neapolitan Club)