“Let’s have dinner! We drink vodka!” Not the first words you would expect to hear after the tense final of an international go final. But this is how bridge superstar Fulvio Fantoni greeted the rival Polish team at the conclusion of yesterday’s Pairs Open at the 2013 SportAccord World Mind Games. “We’re all good friends,” Fantoni told Ranka. “We’ve known each other for many years.”
Even during games you can see players chatting with their opponents. “We sometimes share a joke,” says Fantoni. “It doesn’t affect the game but it is very important for bridge players to get on – even with our rivals.” At the all-important bidding phase a barrier drops down to separate the players from their partners – so in bridge it’s adversaries who sit on the same side of the wall.
Because bridge is played with partners, relationships are important. Fantoni says that his partner Claudio Nunes is technically stronger, but that Fantoni has different qualities to bring to the table. “There are no particular roles in a team – both players have the same importance. But you need to balance your qualities, you need a good rapport.”
To become a top go professional it is usually necessary to start at a very young age and to study relentlessly for many years. While of course an immense level of commitment and thousands of hours of hard graft are also necessary to reach the top in bridge, Fantoni explains that the situation is not as clear cut as in go. “There are some things you can only really absorb when you are young, but that is no reason not to take up bridge later in life. There are millions of situations that can appear in a game, so ideally you need to get familiar with as many as possible. There’s always something you can learn, but finding unknown territory gets harder the more you play. I think that at the top level it is concentration that becomes the most important, and that is something that can mature with age.”
With a jovial atmosphere and promise of drinks over at the bridge camp, we ask ourselves – are we playing the wrong game?
– John Richardson