Norberto Bocchi released to Neapolitan Club this long interview a little before to leave Veldhoven. The Italian Champion reports with great sincerity on the atmosphere in Veldhoven, and explains the reasons for the Italian defeat against the Dutch in the semifinals. A quite “hot” interview.
Norberto, tell us about the atmosphere in Veldhoven. How did you experience these World Championships?
I have to say, unfortunately, that our experience as the Italian open team wasn’t very positive. In Veldhoven there were many Italians: Some played high level bridge, in the Transnationals. And many were members or former member of FIGB (Italian Bridge Federation), and were present for various reasons. All in all, I think were some forty Italians, here; yet I never felt the warmth of supporters around us, as happened in the past instead: It’s evident that this National Team doesn’t gather much sympathy among Italians. The semifinal match against The Netherlands lasted two days, but nobody of those Italians present came next to us to encourage. Nobody has given a pat on the shoulder to me or my teammates, not even a gesture of encouragement or a word of support during two days! During the Championships, there are many opportunities to meet us, in the rest periods, at lunch, in the hall… yet none of compatriots here present said a word of encouragement. An unbelievable situation!
Norberto, are you saying that all of you, members of the Open Team, have been felt secluded? I mean: is this a personal feeling or has been it shared by others as well (Lauria, Versace, Madala, Duboin, Sementa)?
Obviously, it is a situation that has been experienced by the entire team. We all felt surrounded by an atmosphere of coolness and indifference, if not of antipathy, from Italians in Veldhoven, both from other players as from members of Italian Federation. What’s more. It hurts me some utter grudge against Mrs Maria Teresa Lavazza. Someone, after the defeat, downright said “I’m sorry for the squad, but I’m happy of the defeat for Mrs Lavazza”. The resentment against the Team or against Mrs Lavazza has been clear. The only person who’s with us is Mr Giancarlo Bernasconi, former vice-president of Italian Federation. Mr Bernasconi never was involved with jalousies and internal polemics, and always he was supportive to Italian Team: in Veldhoven and in other circumstances. After the defeat Mr Bernasconi was really of great solace for us, and I take this opportunity to thank him for what he always has done for the entire Italian Team.
I suppose you spoke with Mrs Lavazza. Did she suffer too from such a bad climate in Veldhoven?
Of course, I had occasion to talk of this with my teammates and with our coach, Mrs. Lavazza. She suffered a lot by this negative atmosphere. The dislikes of an apparant faction were mainly focussed at her.
I suppose Mrs Lavazza is very embittered. In her last interview with Neapolitan Club, she disclosed to us her intention to withdraw as coach after this World Championship, and maybe she would have left as winner….
Losing Mrs. Lavazza would be immeasurable for our Open Team. Maria Teresa Lavazza has given a lot to Italian bridge, not only as sponsor but also and especially doing in an unparalleled way in her role as coach and captain of the Open Team. She has always protected us and always has put us in the position to play at our the best. Therefore all the players are deeply grateful to her. As coach, Maria Teresa Lavazza has won more than anyone else in the world, gaining respect and credibility in the international bridge. Even about the controversy that followed the non calling Fantunes to Europeans of Ostend she was right. There her choices proved once more that the are always well thought out and in the best interest of Italian bridge: at Ostend we won gold, and the value of selected pairs is now recognized by all. Agustin Madala, who was at first regarded with distrust, is now a well recognized champion that all envy to us. My partnership with him, I think, has proven to deserve to be in National team, and nobody longer argues over this. The facts show that some grudge toward Mrs. Lavazza is the result only of personal jealousies and antipathies, and absolutely without foundation.
Here in Veldhoven we still won the bronze medal in a World Championship, I don’t think it’s a failure. There are players who would cut one arm to achieve that. It’s true, however, that for Italy any result but the first place is seen as a failure. The expectancies on our national team are always very high, we always start as great favourite. Everyone always expects us to win, but in competition there are the opponents too. When you play at these levels you can also lose a game. Italy of course wins often, as happened at the last Olympics in Beijing and in Europeans of Ostend, however it can also happen to lose a game. Here it happened that we lost in the semifinals against a sound and well skilled team as The Netherlands. Already during the round robin stage I said that the more scaring team was right The Netherlands, who I thought more dangerous than USA2 and USA1. Which was the case.
Before to better analyze the defeat against The Netherlands, I would turn to the matter of the dislike toward the National Team from Italians. Many, Italians and not Italians, followed the matches in BBO. Do you think that the disaffection toward the Blue Team is spread even between the bridge player who followed from far the Veldhoven events?
Italy is always followed in BBO’s Vugraph. The match for third place has had more viewers than the contemporary final for the first place. There is no doubt that the Italians are the most popular on BBO, and Italians are considered the lighthouse in the world of bridge. I take this opportunity to thank all the fans who followed us with passion and who cheered on us with great affection. However, also there are many ‘fake’ fans who cheer when they see us make mistakes or lose.
Norberto, help me to understand: why this Team doesn’t like? Are in Italy all widows of Fantunes?
It’s matter of facts that there is no sympathy at human level for this Team and for its coach (Lavazza). The reasons could be many. Obviously, it weighs all the trail of controversies linked to the exclusion of Fantunes from Ostend European Championships. Above all, I think that the dislike to the “Palace”, to the Federation and to its management, in short, bears even disaffection to the National Team, who is in some way direct emanation of that. Many criticize the Federation, above all, its choices: there is who entreats to make trials, there’s who complaint some kind of nepotism, and so on. In short we are the easy target of the dislike aimed toward the Federation, which we have to represent.
You’re very saddened because you’re very fond of this Team. I would like to talk of your personal story. After the friendly divorce from Duboin, you were some years far from Team until you find in Madala the ideal partner to make a competitive pair. To use a football metaphor, you accepted in good part the bench and the turnover. Yet I know you had very enticing offering to enter another nation’s team… Would you talk it about?
I have been excluded from our National Team and I didn’t play for two years. It has been a moment in which it seemed that weren’t longer place in the Italian National Team, and other offerings, of course, came in. As you know, my mother was Argentine, thus I have the Argentine passport too: they invited me to play in Argentine Team, with Agustin Madala, of course. The arrangement was very enticing as an Argentine sponsor had offered a stellar contract to enter the Argentine Team and, what’s more, I could follow to play with the Italian sponsor Lavazza. I didn’t accept, I preferred wait my time here in Italy. I deeply love Italy and my National Team, it has been natural to me place feelings before money
What do you think of the choice made by Nunes and Fantoni who, after their exclusion from the National Team at the European Championship in Ostend, decided to play for the Principality of Monaco representative?
They were excluded because the coach, Mrs Lavazza, in that occasion, wanted to test a new pair. But she has always stated that the available couples were four, she would always choose between the four pairs (Versace-Lauria, Bocchi-Madala, Duboin-Sementa, Nunes-Fantoni). And, as it is known, Mrs Lavazza always called the Fantunes, in the past. The problem was to wait and to accept some round sitting bench, let’s say so. I don’t feel able to judge other’s choices, but it’s evident that they didn’t accept the bench and couldn’t wait. It was stimulating, for all us, to know there were four pairs in competition; this was a spur to doing better. We now know that the pairs are only three because the Fantunes’ self exclusion.
You say “self exclusion” by the side of Fantunes…
They liked better going to play for another country, rather to accept the turnover in Italy. This is a fact, not my guess.
About Monaco. During the World Championship in Holland, it came the new that Greece withdrew from being host country of next European Championship in 2012. Do you know which alternative country has been suggested?
Sincerely, I haven’t sure news about this; I heard of Spain or The Netherlands as possible alternatives for next Europeans Championships.
Have you got to figure out if the Monaco Team built by Zimmermann (Helgemo-Helness, Nunes-Fantoni, Zimmermann-Multon) will be allowed to play European Championship? I’m dealing with the matter of citizenship, and I explain for our readers. The players of the Zimmermann team all have the residence in the Principality since December 2010: the European Championships will be held as usual in the Summer of 2012. The Law of EBL (European Bridge League) states that to represent a country, the players must have got the nationality since two years. If the European Championship will be held in Summer, 24 months have not yet passed.
I think that, today, any level Bridge pursues personal and economic interests. If the law in force would be obeyed to the letter, the Zimmermann Team couldn’t access to Europeans Championship, but I think it will be found a solution for them and therefore they will be allowed to play.
Is this your guess only or have you had some news about there, at Veldhoven?
Obviously, I exchanged a few words with people who deal with the case and I know that there is some work in this direction.
In which percentage do you assess this possible participation of Monaco-Zimmermann to the next European Championship?
What do you think about this event?
I think that all bridge players, including me, will be glad to see in official event players such Nunes-Fantoni and Helgemo-Helness. To meet them at table will be an engaging challenge. However, let’s expect to see as the facts evolve and which reaction will be.
Finally, Norberto, back to the championship and analyze the performance of Italy. The first question is on the match against China in quarter-final. The problems was born because Lauria’s health problems: is it? Is it true that he didn’t play because he was sick by hives attack?
Lauria didn’t have any health problem. The hives always hits him, he has always played and won with urticaria (laughing e.d.), let’s avoid to say nonsense! Lauria saw Madala and me playing very well and asked us if we felt to play all the matches. Among us there is great harmony; we consulted with our teammates and we decided together that this was the best for the team. We players are all under pressure, at World Championship, I also didn’t sleep some nights, it’s normal. Whe athletes, in such circumstances, we all suffer physically and mentally the stress of a long and fatiguing away. That’s why, as I said, it is important to feel around us the warmth of supporters.
Let’s now analyze the reasons of the defeat against Holland.
The match against The Netherlands was played pretty bad and with nervousness by ourselves. I’m not looking for excuses to this defeat: the credit goes all to Dutch who were able also to keep a clear mind, had always presence at table and have played well: chapeau! Italy usually loses few of so important matches. By account of all, Italy was the best. This defeat does not diminish the value of the team, as bookmakers’ odd demonstrated. To state Italy2:1 means that we were over favourite, and not without reasons. This means that our defeat has to be take as an accident, a remote possibility. We always defeated Holland, and I’m sure that in the next match we’ll beat Holland again: They sure don’t scare us. This defeat isn’t matter of squad’s strength: every match has his own story.
Then talk me about such “accidental” defeat, Let’s analyze it together. Why did we lose?
In this match played many accidental occurrences. First, it weighted very much the “field” factor, if you allow another football metaphor. To play “home” supported by a huge cheer is a great advantage. In addition, the Dutch victory can also be explained by certain circumstances, so to speak, fortuitous… I show to you the technical analysis of some hands. Above all in the last sixteen hands (round6 of 6), some curious accidents occurred. I mean there were some hands a little “peculiar”.
The pair Drijver-Brink plays 1NT; at other table, Lauria and Versace bid 3NT going down. Holland cashes six IMPs.
Let’s see the Dutch’s auction: You have now to know that the pair Drijver-Brink play a bridge very modern, aggressive. It’s reputed as one of most aggressive pair in the world. They always push. But, strangely, in this hand they open 1♣. Watch Brink’s hand: if you submit it to any high level player, he’ll tell you that with 14 HCPs and one five card suit the opening should be 1NT. It’s a widespread use in the world that any pair who opens 1NT by 15-17, with this hand (fourteen points by aces and kings), anyway opens 1NT, moreover when vulnerable. In the other room, Alfredo Versace opened 1NT and of course they landed in 3NT. Let’s play the hand: there are four losing finesses. What could be said? The unusual Brink’s opening has revealed to be lucky, and it’s an opening that Dutch don’t do. However, I’m sure that Brink always will open 1NT that hand.
Another hand that left me very puzzled is the next, n° 23th
Watch the auction. Drijver opens 2NT and Brink bid at once the transfer to spades (3♥), whereas at other table, on Lauria’s 2NT, Versace, having both majors (5-4), triggers the Puppet Stayman.
Remember that that Brink-Drijver are the strongest Dutch pair, reputed between the strongest in the world; they are always expected to play high level bridge. It’s curious that such champions, over 2NT, with this two suiter hand play the transfer to spades, hiding hearts. And what if the partner would had heart and no spade support? They wouldn’thave foundthe heart fit and the slam. At the tableI askedexplanations to Drijver: “You have bidden spade at once; what if the slam would have been in heart?” He replied just raising his eyes to heaven, sighing as to say”we wouldn’t find it, pity.”Frankly I do not expect auctions entrusted to fortune from such level players! I can concludewe were unlucky, becauseif in this hand the slam would have been in heart, Dutch never could find it.
I expound to you still an hand, the 26th.
Here me and Madala didn’t find the slam, we stopped to 4♥. Our opponents at the other table found it, instead.
South opens 1NT and his partner, having two KJ guarded by douces, first made the transfer to heart, and on the maximum strenght response from the Opener, went to slam. Then they find the spade ace onside: a really lucky slam. And lucky has been the playing too, because if South would have played on club ruff, he would have been over ruffed. Just think that Verhees not even play a round of trump, as it would have been obvious; he started by diamond ace, king and diamond ruff: but what could he do if Lauria would have followed by a diamond, not having yet drew heart? I find a little “sui generis” both the auction and the playing manoeuvre, which then proved to be winning for Dutch, but certainly were eventfulandentirelyaccidental. An original 6♥ indeed.
I showed you these examples to explain how a match can be determined sometimes by contingent and accidental factors, by peculiar or very unlucky hands A match, won or lost, does not determine the absolute value of a team. Of course The Netherlands has won and I accept the sporting results: I want to congratulate once again with the Dutch players, as I just did in Veldhoven, I would also like to express my appreciation for the performance of USA2 and the Israeli team that won the Transnational: I confess that I was moved and excited when I have seen so many young players on the podium. These players are so young and so talented and passionate: They actually are the a great hope for the future of the bridge, also they give me trust that our beloved game will continue to live.
Laura Camponeschi (11/03/2011)
This interview has aroused strong interest. And many readers have found ambiguous some words reported by Neapolitan Club. We asked Norberto Bocchi to clarify his thought about the last part of the interview in which he examines some of the hands and call them ‘peculiar’ and ‘ unlucky’ for Italy: “Perhaps I expressed myself badly – Norberto says – I just wanted to say how disappointed I was for some hands that I consider very unluky. I take this opportunity to reiterate my respect and my appreciation to the Dutch national team players and to the style of bridge they expressed “. (November 08, 2011)