02:55 10 October 2014 Padova, IT by GS Jade Barrett CsbNews.org correspondent
«Tarot cards likely originated in northern Italy during the late 14th or early 15th century. The oldest surviving set, known as the Visconti-Sforza deck, was created for the Duke of Milan’s family around 1440. The cards were used to play a bridge-like game known as tarocchi, popular at the time among nobles and other leisure lovers» – Brendan I. Koerner
From the Headquarters of the Great American Bridge Tour in Elk Point South Dakota, USA it is an 8000 KM to Padova, IT, but the distance flies by when we are headed to our favorite place in Europe. The pleasure of visiting our friend, guide and teammate, Paolo Clair, in his home city never ends and the bridge club has welcomed us with open arms.
You would believe that as full time professionals that spend 300 days a year or more competing on the road that we would have enough of bridge, but in truth we find ourselves at the table more often than not, for while we own other interests, the game still stimulates even after our combined 75 years of competition.
I met Paolo not so long ago as he served the important role of Chairman of the EBL’s Junior Committee, a position not unlike the one I held for many years in North America. We struck a friendship immediately, sharing both our love of coaching and our joy of playing our magnificent game – not to mention the pleasures obtained through dining and drinking.
This journey includes competing at the Angelini Tournament in Rome, as well as strengthening our relationships with the bridge athletes, associations and clubs in Italy in preparation for bringing more of our charges to visit this beautiful country.
We sat down with Paolo and discussed the history of our company and our hopes and expectations for the future of the game.
Paolo Clair: “When did you decide to form a professional bridge company?”
GS Jade Barrett, Founding President, Tournament Bridge Services (parent company of the Great American Bridge Tour): “As a full time player, I realized that there was a need for organization among those who wished to play for a living. There had been several attempts at forming Professional Player Associations, but they had failed to materialize. With the rising number of people seeking professional partners and teammates, and an ACBL schedule that includes over 3 million tables in play each year, the need for a group of qualified athletes became readily apparent. We started with five strong players – not the highest level, but both well experienced and accomplished – in 1995 and have grown steadily ever since”.
PC: “3 Million tables? How many tournaments a year does the USA have?”
Dr Donna Lombardini, CEO GABT: “There are over 350 weeklong Bridge Tournaments in the ACBL annually – you would probably define them as Festivals, as well as another 800 or so smaller three and four day events. Over 30 of the festivals draw 2500 tables for the week. There are also the three North American Championships that rotate around the USA and Canada that draw on average around 4000 competitors. The 2014 Las Vegas NABC drew over 6500 participants from all over the world”.
GSJB: “What surprises so many players from outside the ACBL is that there is so much attendance for these events despite the lack of prize money”.
DL: “Yes, they always seemed surprised at that. While there are a few exceptions, none of the ACBL sanctioned tournaments have cash awards. We play for glory, MasterPoints, a sense of accomplishment – and a few bragging rights”.
GSJB: “With so many players competing, the market for a well skilled player is growing. Yet we are highly selective of our staff members. It is not enough to be a superior player, they must be passionate, social and be excellent teammates when things do not go so well”.
PC: “I attended Las Vegas and was impressed at the quality of the field in the Spingold, all 75 of the teams were capable of success”.
DL: “And it becomes stronger every year. If you place in the top 20 of any North American Championship, you have done well”.
PC: “How do you measure the success of your teams? Winning events? Winning MasterPoints?”
GSJB: “Neither, both (laughing). As a rule, playing professionally should be about delivering a high quality experience regardless of the outcome. Trust me, every member of the team despises losing, but it is a fact of competition that no one wins every event all the time. I always say that if we lost every match and get hired again by the same sponsor, than we have done our job well”.
DL: “That’s true, but to be fair we have an excellent history of performance”.
PC: “Your teams always seem to have a good chance to win, even with less experienced players”.
GSJB: “I know for a fact that every participant has the opportunity to solve every bridge problem correctly. There is no hidden talent for the game, just the ability to focus; work hard; and believe that you can solve the hand. I have lost to the least experienced player, as well as the champion when both bid and play correctly – though the more you play the more you are prepared to succeed. Having played over a million and a half hands against countless thousands of players, I have seen the best and worst of all levels of players. Everyone is a dangerous competitor”.
PC: “When we saw each other in Las Vegas, your wife (ed. Note 3 time North American Champion, Karen Lee Barrett) and Donna were working with a booth for Charity. What is Heifer International and your relationship with them?”
GSJB: “For many years my family has donated time and money to Heifer International. For over 70 years they have donated animals to families in poverty, establishing farms and ranches all over the world. In fact, back in 1946, they delivered a herd of horses to Trieste, Italy! As of last year they have help lift 80 million souls out of poverty worldwide”.
DL: “The projects we support are very exciting. Many bridge players support Heifer and their work throughout the world. We dedicate 2 or more days of every tournament we attend by playing as Team Heifer International. It constantly amazes me how many of our fellow competitors remark positively about Heifer and the work they do”.
PC: “Very good idea, to help Heifer promote to the world of bridge”.
GSJB: “Very much so, there are many well to do players, and this organization is about helping people lift themselves up. They are provided training in many aspects of ranching or farming, as well as business lessons in order to prepare themselves to build a better life. Most projects last five years, at which point the families who are involved are expected to become self-reliant. Not all projects have succeeded, but most have”.