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Alfredo Versace Interview

conducted by Steve Weinstein, Jason Feldman, and Gavin Wolpert

World Champion Alfredo Versace regularly plays with partner Lorenzo Lauria and is one of the intriguing stars of the Italian team. Along with Versace's 2005 Bermuda Bowl win, his staggering bridge resume includes multiple victories in the Olympiad (3), European Championships (7), Spingold (2), Vanderbilt (2), Rosenblum (2), Cavendish teams (2), Reisinger (3), Italian National Titles (13), Italian Cups (11), and many others. Bridge Winners recently had a chance to sit down and candidly interview Alfredo, fresh off his 2010 Reisinger win in Orlando.

ACBL President Rich DeMartino with Reisinger winners Giorgio Duboin , Alfredo Versace, Antonio Sementa, and Lorenzo Lauria (not pictured: James Cayne and Michael Seamon)

Bridge Winners (BW): How did you get started playing bridge?
Alfredo Versace (AV): When I was about 9, my grandfather owned a bridge club that gave bridge lessons, so I came with my family to visit him and I started watching bridge. Then like a joker I played my first tournament at 10 years old with my mother, then I played for 3 years until I was 13. I took off 1 year and came back at 14, and have played bridge for the rest of my life.

BW: Did you graduate high school?
AV: No, I started to play for Lavazza at 15. It was a nice story. In Turin there were 2 big teams: one was Lavazza, and the other did not have a sponsor.

BW: How did you start to play with Lavazza?
AV: My father was a friend of the partner of Maria Teresa Lavazaa, and I was friendly with her son and daughter. They knew I had a little talent. They asked me and I was very happy. The team was Belladonna-Garozzo, me and Guermani, Santia and another player I can't remember.

BW: So you were 15 playing with the greatest Italian Bridge pair in history. Were you nervous?
AV: Very nervous.

BW: Did they teach you a lot?
AV: Belladonna taught me more, because he trained the Italian junior team for years.

BW: Who were your contemporaries in the Italian bridge world growing up?
AV: Many of the Italians that you see now such as Bocchi and Ferraro. Sementa came a bit later. Duboin was already established as he was 10 to 11 years older.

BW: How good were you when you were 15?
AV: I was terrible, but I wanted to get the respect of the other players. Never do something that anybody could say a word about. That is the first rule to play on a team with champions. Now, I can say that is the first rule to play bridge with anybody.

BW: Yes, it seems like the Italian teams over the years have gone out of their way to not lose imps.
AV: That is our philosophy. Everybody would feel so guilty if we did something that was dangerous, so that is our philosophy. It is a little different from the other style of play.

BW: Do Fantoni and Nunes play a different style?
AV: We played with them for 15 years. We have had good success with them. Now they are playing a system that creates a lot of swings. Their mentality is different.

BW: So they used to play the same system as everyone else on the team?
AV: No. They have changed systems lots of times, but now they have played this system a long time, 4-5 years, I don't know exactly.

BW: Is the way they play counter to Italian bridge culture?
AV: No. No, because they don't do crazy things. The system creates swings automatically without interpretation.

BW: Understood. Is that counter to your personal bridge philosophy?
AV: Yes. Sometimes someone can get upset. Lorenzo has said some critical things about them, because sometimes you discover that you lose points without reason.

BW: Lorenzo can be very fiery. It seems that him and Fantoni-Nunes have had somewhat of a feud.
AV: We played together for 15 years. Now, because we left the Angelini team and they don't play on the national team we have had some problems. But I guess in a couple of months or a year, it will be ok.

BW: Is the reason the Cayne team broke up because of your problems in Italy with Fantoni-Nunes?
AV: They decided to leave the Cayne team. The reason they left was strange. A team with a sponsor like Cayne and Lauria-Versace as teammates. You might find something better, but it is not easy. But they probably had problems with us about the European Championships. That what I guess. They never said. They said they don't want to play on the computer, but for me they had some problem.

BW: You think it was more of a problem with you and Lauria then Cayne?
AV: Definitely yes. We started to have a bad relationship from that, because they left the team about 4 or 5 months before and we could not find a third pair. It left us in a little trouble.

BW: What happened at the European Championships?
AV: They were replaced by our sponsor Francisco Angelini and his partner Sementa.

BW: So Angelini fired them?
AV: No, it was just a chance to allow Angelini to represent Italy after all the money he has invested. So 1 pair had to leave. So they got unlucky. I can understand their frustration.

BW: Their record has been outstanding.
AV: Yes, and so probably they were mad at us because of that. That's my guess. I have no problem with Fantoni-Nunes.

BW: There was a big interview with Lorenzo that caused quite a stir.
AV: Lorenzo is a big personality. He used to be our "father" for me, Claudio, and Fulvio so he tried to teach us. I have to say that he is the best professional in the world because he works everyday about system and he has done big big things with bridge, in the bidding especially.

BW: And he doesn't really like Fantoni and Nunes?
AV: Because they refuse sometimes to work or reject his advice and experience of 40 years.

BW: There are no big conventions or bidding agreements that have his (Lorenzo) name, so what did he do exactly?
AV: Lorenzo thought that their system should be better. He did much work with them. I don't know if now they don't follow the advice of Lorenzo, because they think his ideas are not good or for other reasons. Their relationship is a little broken for that reason. They didn't really work on the system as we did, well not me so much as I am not like this, or so interested, but Lorenzo. For example, he (Lorenzo) said I can see you every Thursday and we can change the 2 opening. He worked on their system, and gave them some good advice. And they use our competition stuff, and they worked with us a lot. But for Lorenzo, not enough.

BW: Bocchi and Duboin were one of the best pairs in the world. Why did they stop?
AV: You should ask them. Sometimes, after a long time you are tired of playing together.

BW: About 10 years ago I (Gavin) came to you, and you gave me your system notes, and said take what you want. So you don't care about your system being secret?
AV: Now everybody can see you play on the internet, and everybody can know, so there are no secrets. And it is different when it is a teenager starting to play, I am happy to help the young players.

BW: So now it seems like there are 4 star pairs in Italy and only 3 can be selected for the team.
AV: Exactly. That is exactly what I said. Fantoni-Nunes would be a leading pair in probably every country.

BW: And now you have Madala who is very talented.
AV: He is the youngest one and he is really talented. A genius. It looks normal for the captain to let him play. He needs experience with Bocchi. I have to say, without them, we would not have won the Europeans. Our two other pairs played so-so, and they played very well.

BW: So there is a good bond between the team?
AV: Yes it is a really friendly situation. Everyone respects everyone. It's really a nice moment for Italian bridge. We don't win as much as we won before, because everyone else is playing so well. Especially in the USA the tournaments are becoming really hard.

BW: Do you think it is tougher to win the Bermuda Bowl or Vanderbilt?
AV: It's very close. In a knockout you could lose against everybody.

BW: Lorenzo is getting older, is there a time you think he would step down and you would take another partner?
AV: At the moment no.

Click to read Part 2 of the Alfredo Versace Interview



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