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Gitelman Eyes Sabbatical in 2013

Fred Gitelman, founder of Bridge Base Online (BBO), and Gold Medalist in the 2010Rosenblum,shocked the bridge world with his announcement. He recently informed his partner, teammates, and a few of his friends that he will not play on the DIAMOND team for the 2013-2014 cycle. For many of us, his situation as a professional bridge player would be a dream come true: He had the opportunity to play on aworld-classteamwith his friends and get handsomely paid in the process.

Why would he walk away from it? There is no better way to find out than to talk to the man himself.

Bridge Winners (BW): We heard the news about your upcoming Sabbatical for the 2013-2014 cycle. Is this true?
Fred Gitelman (FG): Sabbatical is a good word for what I am planning. I had been using "retirement" but sabbatical is more appropriate since the duration of my break from "serious bridge" is currently unknown.

BW: You have spent most of your life deeply involved in the game of bridge both playing competitively and through BBO. What prompted your decision to take a leave of absence?
FG: Being really serious about bridge takes up a lot of time. Aside from the almost 2 months that are required to play even a minimal schedule of big tournaments in America (the 3 NABCs, the USBC, and the Cavendish), in order to be successful on a consistent basis it is necessary to spend a lot of time between such tournaments practicing online, discussing hands with partner, thinking about bridge, working on system notes, etc. With the level of competition going up and my brainpower staying level at best, the amount of time required to remain near the top only rates to increase in the years to come.

Having been fortunate enough to have experienced significant success in bridge during the past few years, I would not be satisfied with the likely consequence of devoting less time to the game. Furthermore, to do so would not be fair to my current partner and teammates, all of whom work hard at the game and care very much about winning. It would also not be fair to whatever sponsor would be paying me to perform at a level that might be higher than that which I could reasonably hope to achieve should I start devoting less time to bridge.

Meanwhile, during the roughly 3/4 of my waking hours in which I am not focusing on bridge, my work at BBO keeps me very busy. I enjoy the work I do and I think it is important, but like most people who work hard, I occasionally need a vacation. Given the amount of time I already take off of work to play bridge (which is certainly not a vacation!) and the extent of my BBO-related responsibilities, I would not feel comfortable about the concept of taking yet more time away from my job for the purposes of going skiing, sitting on the beach, just hanging out with my wife (Sheri) and dog (Koda), etc.

Finally, there are some other things I want to do and enjoy while I am still young enough to have a chance to do them reasonably well (such as playing pool, skiing, playing tennis, and learning more about math and physics).

The concept of a sabbatical that might turn into a full retirement is something I have been thinking about for a while and it is probably something I would have done sooner had it not been for the large sums of money being offered to successful professional players these days. Fortunately my businesses are profitable and, although Sheri and I like to live well, we are not exactly into spending money just because we can. As such, I doubt we will really miss the additional income that I could generate by continuing to play high level bridge. I consider myself very fortunate to be in a position where I can make this choice.

BW: Will this be for just one year?
FG: I have committed to sitting out for one year. I honestly have no idea what I will want to do after that.

BW: Will you still attend the NABC's, during the year, playing with a different partner, or perhaps [your wife and sometimes partner]Sheri?
FG: I expect that I will go to at least some of the NABCs and play in at least some of the big pairs events with Sheri. I expect I will not play in the big team events. It would not totally surprise me if I agreed to play in the 2014 USBC at the last minute if I was offered a spot on a competitive and personable team.


BW: It sounds like you are looking forwardto skiing, travelling, shooting pool, and working on BBO.Any other particular plans of things you want to do during the year?
FG: Yes, all of those things (and reading). Also, Sheri and I got a dog a few months ago and we recently bought a new house. Probably we will end up doing some work on our house and spend some time just enjoying living together there with our dog.

BW: Your long-time friend and partner Brad Moss will partner up with Joe Grue for the 2013-2014 cycle. (Ed. note: Curtis Cheek, Joe's former partner, has not yet decided on a future partner.) Do you have any thoughts or comments on this? Would you like to go back to playing with Brad in 2014?

FG: The Moss-Grue partnership has a lot going for it. Both Brad and Joe were among the most talented young bridge players of their respective generations - the best of the best. They are both great and highly-dangerous players as well as fierce competitors. I have no doubt that they have the potential to become one of the very best pairs in the world. It may take some time for them to realize their full potential as a pair, but from day 1 they will strike fear in the hearts of their opponents - nobody is going to want to play against this pair regardless of the score of the match.

Like any partnership, Brad and Joe will have to do a lot of work in order to become all that they can be - raw talent is not enough to cut it these days. The fact that they are close friends, enjoy spending time together, care very much about winning, and respect each other both as players and as people will make this task somewhat easier. Since they are both coming out of highly successful partnerships that invested a lot of time in the game, I think it is safe to bet that they both understand what will be involved in becoming an A-1 pair.

Brad and Joe both like to play a more "active" style than most of today's leading players. It may the case that one of both of them might have to tone it down a bit in order for their results to be consistently strong.

As for 2014, as I suggested above, I really have no idea if I will want to get back into serious bridge at that time (or at any other future time). Could I see myself playing again one day with Brad? Absolutely. But I don't think it is really sensible for me to speculate as to if and when that might actually happen - there are simply too many unknowns.

BW: Any other comments?
FG: Nothing else springs to mind, but let me know if you have further questions.

BW: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us again (In the Well: Fred Gitelman). Enjoy the new house and puppy.

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