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Montecatini

Having just returned from ten glorious days in Italy I offer this description of the 8th European Open in Montecatini. Beware there is not a single hand or bidding problem.

My European friends and teammates frequently ask why they cannot get more Americans to attend their bridge events. Perhaps this will help them answer the question.

Six months before the event the EBL web site listed a number of hotels within easy walking distance from the playing site in the beautiful Tuscan town of Montecatini Terme. All the members of our team agreed on the Montecatini Palace. It is very pricey (when you add the taxes my room cost three times what a similar room will cost in Toronto) but was highly recommended and about 200 yards from the "beautiful convention center" where all the events were scheduled to be played.

Mid April the EBL announced that play would be moved to a location just outside Montecatini. We were assured that this would cause no inconvenience as shuttle buses would be running all day and taxis are cheap and plentiful. There was a kernel of truth in that taxis are plentiful, but took ages to arrive at the hotels and longer at the playing site. As for cheap - Italy bans Uber to protect taxi drivers, enough said. The EBL in another considerate move offered a bus pass for the duration of the event for 30euro. As I never rode the bus I cannot confirm the process but two or three people told me that they did not pay….not clear if that was incompetence in collecting the fares or a subsequent decision to waive it.

Ok, add a rental car to the very pricey hotels.

Now for the site. It was a very large tent placed on a gravel surface with a fake wooden floor that bounced every time someone walked by and echoed every sound. The temporary air conditioning units were noisy and hopelessly under-powered. The summer Tuscan sun is very unforgiving with daytime temperatures in the mid nineties and there was no shade. The afternoon temperatures inside the tent were in the high 80s and the humidity levels were reminiscent of Florida on its worst days.The toilets were across a gravel covered open area and required 2 -3 minute shade-less walk in the open. The facilities for the roughly 400 male participants consisted of 5 urinals and two stalls. So of course long waits were routine.... I did not count the facilities for female competitors, but I did see the lines outside the bathroom.

Right next to the tent was a shooting range. So in the land of Vivaldi and Verdi we were treated to the accompanying sounds of shotguns, exploding clay pigeons and rifle fire…..and snapping chair legs. Yes snapping chairs. The plastic chairs were of the type found at your local hardware store for about $5 and I saw three people fall to the floor when their chairs collapsed. (There are some advantages to having active tort lawyers).

The parking area was a fairly level but bumpy open grass field devoid of shade. Returning to the car every day I had to use my handkerchief to touch the controls until the air conditioning had time to cool it down.

The rules required prepayment of entry fees. Foolishly I complied, because that led to further inconvenience. The people who had not paid could go to the playing area and pay and get their credentials. We had to find a tiny unmarked office in a side street near the place where we were to have played originally. We only found it because we noticed an Italian bridge federation employee wearing their bright yellow uniform shirts standing at an ice cream stand. Gelato in hand she guided us to the office.

The site was very poorly located for meals although there was a McDonald's and a Burger King (I kid you not) about one mile away. The one restaurant on site disproved that old travel adage that you cannot have a bad meal in Italy. Of course it was not air conditioned and one had to queue for 5 - 10 minutes in the hot sun to prepay for the very limited set of choices. I had my first whopper in at least ten years and my second, third fourth and fifth. (The air conditioning at BK was great).

The form of competition for the main team event consisted of two days with 5 matches a day of a 10 board Swiss. At the end of that the field was cut from 121 to 16 even though we were only told that they had changed it from 32 qualifiers to 16 only the day before the event. We were complaining about having come so far to be eliminated after playing less than 10% of the field in a series of ten board matches when a couple from Australia pointed out how much further they had come with the same result.

So what was positive?

1) We enjoyed the bridge.

2) The EBL technology is vastly superior the the ACBL so that individual scores and next round matches were available instantaneously at the end of the round.

3) They eliminated the possibility of cheating using audible signals because the ambient noise levels were so high between the outside air conditioners, the echoing floor and the adjacent shooting range one could barely call cards from dummy (we had to resort to pointing) much less cough loud enough to be heard.

4) The numerous water dispensers were kept replenished which seems to be beyond the capabilities of most of the hotels where nabc events are held. Of course the water was tepid so the appeal of this aspect was somewhat limited.

On the change of venue I heard several reasons offered, including some malarkey about insurance. One EBL official told me that there had been a change of leadership at the FIGB and the new president saw an opportunity to save money. Whatever the reason the conditions were unacceptable.

Gee, I wonder why more Americans don't rush over to play in the European events...

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