Raised in awe of Lauria: interview with Giorgia Botta

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Giorgia BottaGiorgia Botta, born in 1989, is studying International Relations at LUISS University in Rome. She will be part of the team which will represent Italy in the Women category at the transnational European Championships, which will take place in Ostend (Belgium) next June. She also qualified to play the trials for the Italian Women Team in the European Championships 2014. 

The Italian Bridge Federation (FIGB) has started a new project dedicated to women’s bridge and to re-design the national department for Women. This is a two-year project and consists in the creation of a club, “The Pink Club”, reserved to sixteen pairs of women. The national team which will compete in the 2014 European Bridge Championships will come out of this group. Moreover the first six pairs will represent Italy in the next transnational European Championships in Ostend, under the names “Italy A” and “Italy B”, which will be sponsored by the FIGB.


Giorgia, you are very young (23 y.o.) but you already have a long international bridge experience. Recently you achieved two results: entering the Pink Club and qualifying to represent Italy in Ostend. Can you tell us how it went?

My partner and I regarded these selections mostly as a chance to meet and practice. My partner, Margherita Costa, lives in Alessandria (Piedmont), while I live in Rome, so we cannot meet very often: we do not have many chances to play together. Obviously we knew we could do well and we tried to play our best. The first selection was held in Turin and we qualified to the final, which was held in Salsomaggiore Terme. Here we ended up in the first six.


How did you react to the news you made it to the team for Ostend?

Margherita and I are very happy. In Italy the women’s world is very tight, pairs to play in the Women Team have always been hand-picked, and the names have been the same for many years. We wanted to show that we could play at a higher level, regardless of our age.


How do you feel about beating famous and award-winning champions such as great Gabriella Olivieri?

I felt I was lucky. To beat Golin-Olivieri you need not only to play good bridge, but also a bit of luck.


What has the reaction been to your qualification from the other more experienced players?

They were kind and happy for us, the atmosphere during the selections was great and this helped us. We felt people were cheering for us. We got support and love. Margherita Chavarria also qualified and this generated enthusiasm: she comes, like us, from the girls category. Margherita plays with a more experienced player, Francesca Piscitelli, and ended up fourth, so she will play with us in Ostend.


You claim you have been lucky, but I think your destiny was marked, given your bridge past. These successes come after many national and international achievements. And those who follow women’s bridge were expecting this…

Certainly we have worked very hard: we have been coached for many years by Emanuela Capriata. But when you win a tournament, or a qualification such as this one, where many pairs could have gone through, one needs some luck.


I would like to talk in general about Italian bridge. In the Open category Italy has written the history of bridge, with a series of victories, while in the Women category we struggle to dominate. In the last European Championships in Dublin our national Women team underperformed and failed to qualify to Bali. What do you think are the issues of women’s bridge and how do you think the Pink Club will help?

The crucial issue in women’s bridge is the lack of a community, probably connected to the same lack in the junior category. The chance to access the women’s team, as I said, has always been restricted to a handful of pairs. The creation of the Pink Club is very important, not only because it starts a new tradition of open selections, but also because it gives the opportunity to 16 selected pairs to study with tutors chosen by the FIGB, to create a good system and learn new things. We hope this is the way to do better in the Europeans and thus qualify to the Venice Cup.


What are the reasons of the poor results obtained in Dublin?

It is hard for me to say. Maybe the lack of change and new ideas lead to missing the targets. Another reason may be that the women’s team is not taken care of well enough.


Silvio Sbarigia analysed Dublin’s results and highlighted that the women’s activities are not followed and that women are not professional players: “ButGiorgai Botta I am not surprised. In Italy the Women category is not at the same level as the Open. The Italian women are not professional players and do not dedicate their lives to bridge only, as it happens in the Open. Some also have obsolete systems. But when they go to the championships they meet professional opponents”. I ask you if you agree with this opinion and whether the Pink Club addresses some of the challenges raised by Sbarigia.

There is no doubt that Sbarigia is right. You need to dedicate body and soul to bridge, otherwise you cannot improve, while others do. Having other things to do or other jobs prevents this growth which is necessary in order not to lose ground to other countries where women are professional players. As far as I know even girls playing in the junior category abroad have sponsors: they get a monthly pay to play in the national junior team. Clearly a woman who works cannot compete with opponents who are professional players. In Netherlands they invest a lot in all departments and the results are under everyone’s eyes. Even though juniors are not paid much, it still allows them to invest a lot of time in improving their game. In our country there is no sponsor for women who have represented Italy for the past 30 years, let alone young girls.


So could we say that the Pink Club is the expression of the will to create new space for juniors, or an inevitable choice given the poor results obtained by the women’s team?

We can say that both elements are present. I do not think we are being unfair, if we say that lately the national women team did not achieve much apart from the performance of individual players. I believe a change was necessary, even though this is only a start. I feel the sincere interest in giving space to young players, from the new president Gianni Medugno, and hopefully from the whole committee.


Italian bridge always relied on the results achieved by the Open team, thanks to very few top players who are amongst the best in the world, and maybe the best of all times: not even in the Open team there is much opportunity for others to get in, or am I wrong?

There is not much change in the team because the philosophy behind it is the same in the Open and Women categories. In the Open there have been no issues because we have champions, but it could be a problem in the future.


The important sponsors look for champions to win, rather than new talents or juniors to encourage…

In Italy we lack the culture of sponsorship and I am not sure whether the FIGB will ever change its attitude towards this.


Do you think things are different abroad, i.e. there is more attention to bridge?

Absolutely. I know from personal experience the situation in the Netherlands and Israel. In these countries communities of juniors flourish and a lot of effort is put into them. This creates a good basic level from which excellent players can be picked. In the Netherlands, to be fair, they work a lot in all categories, and the results show it. And look how much space is given to juniors in the national Israeli team!


Shortly the White House Internationals in Amsterdam will take place. This is one of the most prestigious tournaments dedicated to juniors. Italy did not take part for a couple of years, but now we are back. The selected team is composed by  four sixth of the national junior team (Delle Cave, Gandoglia, Di Franco, Zanasi). Now, on the international junior scene the best results have been achieved by the girls, so why are the boys going?

This decision has been made by the FIGB. The decision was to invest money and sponsor the trip abroad to train the male junior team. This tournament is not only an important event but also a chance to practice.


But if the best results have been achieved by the girls (e.g. Taicang), don’t you think it would have been more sensible to send the girls?

Well I cannot be impartial here! But I have to tell you that the girls have never been taken into account for the White House and we never took part in it: not some years ago when we were invisible, and not now that someone knows us. This year in theory we should have been selected, but then the usual economical reasons (this is always the painful bit) allowed to send only one team, and thus the boys have been picked. For the same reason we did not participate in the White House for two years. The resources dedicated to junior bridge have been decreasing lately, but this year I see the intention to do better. But you see, if funds were 1% earlier on, we cannot get to 20% instantly. Things are improving though.


Do you like how the new FIGB is working, is the new president Gianni Medugno doing well for the juniors?

Players in Rome know Gianni very well, and I supported him in the elections. As of now I cannot evaluate his actions and we have not seen much so far. However, the Pink Club and the possibility to take part to the spring championships as a form of training for the juniors are steps forward.


Will you go to Atlanta for the third World Junior Bridge Championships (August 2013)?

So far nothing is official. The Italian team will select only one women pair and Emanuela Capriata will pick it. I hope so, but I cannot tell you anything definitive. Emanuela is our coach and we, I can say it, are her creation. She would rather send us all, but the FIGB only left two places for women and Emanuela will have the hard task to decide. We face again the budget issues which does not let us send more than one team to Atlanta. But maybe they will find other sources of funding and things will be different…


So Ostend is crucial for you, a good performance may open the doors to Atlanta and the national Women team.

Only three pairs play in the national Women team, and although not easy, a good performance in Ostend would surely help me hang in there and make it to the team, if not immediately, within two or three years.


Do you already know who will play in the two teams which will represent Italy in Ostend?

No, so far we only know the six pairs, but not the division into teams. Mr Rinaldi and Mr D’Avossa will decide.

Can you describe me your partner, both as a person and as a player?

My partner is Margherita Costa from Alessandria. She has not been playing bridge for a long time, I think only 5 or 6 years. She started playing at home because her parents play. Our partnership was born at the European Championships in Albena (Bulgaria, July 2011). To start with we got along well, then we had some issues because we are very different people. So we took a break, and during the World Championships in Taicang (China, 2012) we were not supposed to play together. This break did us good: we needed time to understand the good and bad features of each other. From a bridge point of view we never had any issues, the problems had nothing to do with bridge. I have a strong personality, passionate, and sometimes irascible. Margherita is very shy, calm and withdrawn. To start with I was too aggressive and she was too timid.


How much do personal relationship matter to bridge?

To me, they matter a lot. I would say 80%. If you do not get along there is no chance. At the beginning things go well because you focus on bridge and you do not really know each other, but as soon as you start a friendship if you do not have a good relationship it is the end.


Which system do you and Margherita play?

The base is five-card majors Italian style, with strong NT and prepared club. We have many gadgets obviously, such as Lauria-style Gazzilli, and 2D opening with balanced 18-19. The latter convention is very popular now: it is the famous 2D Lauria/Versace, in a simplified version of it.


You do not play Multi 2D, do you? My friend Paolo Garrisi once wrote that this convention is like a yellow book where you do not know the assassin or the victim, i.e. the points, or the distribution…

None of the juniors play it, they do not teach it.


How do you defend against opponents Multi 2D?

At this stage we do not have an artificial defense. This will be the first topic of the Pink Club. The first purpose is to agree a better defensive system. At the moment we defend against Multi 2D as if they opened 2S, this is our rule.


How would you define your bridge: aggressive, as your personality, or normal?

I am normal, but aggressive within this spectrum.


Which are the strongest Italian pairs, Open and Women?

Lauria-Versace, without hesitation. Saccavini-Paoluzi in the women.


If you could choose a partner for an important mixed competition, who would you choose?

Without doubt Lorenzo Lauria.


Why do you prefer him, have you ever played together?

I never had the pleasure to play with Lauria. Amongst the stars I only had a chance to play with Versace, who was very kind and gave his time to the juniors. My preference comes from the fact that I was raised with the myth of Lauria.


Which players (female or male) made an impact on your bridge?

I started playing when I was very young, my parents play. I do not think I have been influenced by anyone, but I see our champions as a model: even the thought that one day I could become only nearly as good as they are is a source of inspiration.


Which players do you follow to study?

Our system mirrors Lauria-Versace’s. We try to play everything is known of their system.


Giorgia BottaLet’s play a game. Imagine you are Ms Lavazza and you have to pick the Italian Open team: who do you send to Bali?

This question is too difficult for me. I have always been trying to avoid the controversies connected to the selection process. However I trust who made the decisions so far and I would send the six who presently represent Italy. To be clear, the six who played in Ostend and Veldhoven: Bocchi-Madala, Lauria-Versace, Sementa-Duboin. They won a lot and keep winning.


What do you think about Fantoni and Nunes who abandoned Italy to play for Monaco?

I can only say that the other six did not complain about this, but rather they highlighted that Claudio and Fulvio’s presence was creating issues. This makes me think that this was the best choice. As I was saying earlier on, without harmony you cannot win in bridge.


Can you make a forecast for Bali, who will end up in the top three spots in the Bermuda Bowl (Open) and Venice Cup (Women)?

It is really hard to make a forecast, because bridge is growing in many countries, apart from the usual suspects. For the women it is premature to take a guess, because the teams have not been disclosed yet. I tentatively say France for the Women, given the standard of their players, and I would like that because they have a couple of young players. For the Open I do not want to place Italy first to avoid bad luck and not to sound nationalist. But I see Italy in the top three. Together with USA and Sweden, which has a very young and strong team that could repeat the performance from Lille.


Giorgia, are you leaving out Monaco?

Well they have won a lot: they can take a break no? (laughs: ndr)


In conclusion, Giorgia, I congratulate you again on your beautiful qualification to Ostend and I let you thank who you want.

First of all, thanks to our coach Emanuela Capriata, we owe everything to her, and thanks to the Italian Federation who gave us this opportunity. Thanks to my partner, obviously, Margherita Costa, with whom I achieved this result.


Any other thanks apart from the bridge world?

My parents. Like all juniors, they are close to me and support me. They always trusted me and let me do what I wanted. I am a student after all, close to the final degree: my commitment to bridge has an impact on my studies. In particular I thank my mother who always trusted that I was able to handle all my tasks. And believe me, for a parent that supports a child that studies, this trust is not little!


Laura Camponeschi


(English translation by Laura Cecilia Porro for Neapolitan Club)

February 27, 2013

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