Romania is a small country that has rarely made the highlights of major Bridge championships. And yet at the World Team Championships in Wuhan this Cinderella team managed to reach the semifinals and eventually secured the bronze medal in the Mixed Teams Championship.
We interviewed team members and today we have the pleasure of introducing you Mihaela Balint and Bogdan Marina. You can say hi to them on BBO under the usernames sympaaa and dromikete.
Quick interview with Bogdan Marina (dromikete on BBO)
Tell us a bit about yourself — when did you start playing bridge, how did it happen?
I played for the first time when I was 14, with family and friends. I played more seriously much later, when I was 24. I like both the intellectual challenge and the social aspects of the game.
Walk us through the China experience. How far did you expect to go? When did you start thinking you might actually win the title?
I hoped to go as far as possible from the beginning, I was confident in my ability and in the final match with Russia I believed we can win till the last moment.
How were the opponents, were you afraid of a certain team?
We felt we could defeat any team once we started playing.
You were very close to the finals. How do you feel now, the bronze medal is still an amazing achievement!
Happiness and also disappointment. We hope we’ll get’em next time!
Wishing everyone all the best 🙂
Quick interview with Mihaela Balint (sympaaa on BBO)
Tell us something about yourself, how did you start playing bridge?
I’ve been studying computer science at the Polytechnic University of Bucharest and then teaching for another 15 years. One day in my early twenties, a colleague and friend decided that we should learn bridge because he heard “it’s cool”. Vivi was the initiative guy, and he was also the first one of us to quit, he had bigger fish to fry.
Our little group didn’t have a teacher, we learned from another colleague who knew about 5 card majors, finessing, games and slams. It was just another game to have fun with. Amid tents in Vama Veche, we discovered more bridge bohemians, and one of them showed us the way to the Locomotiva Bridge Club in Bucharest. There I realized I loved bridge and I was also good at it, an ideal combination — and I was hooked.
What’s now a life journey started by a lucky string of accidents. If bridge were promoted and organized better in Romania, others like me would emerge. Better than me, because they would start early, get lessons from the best, and grow up in a high-level competitive environment.
After you qualified for the World Championship did you trust that you would go that far? Did you think you could win?
I cannot imagine we all felt the same. Lisbon was a first, and so was Wuhan. Having no previous experience, I censored any thought about expectations. On a personal level, I had a demanding year at the University where I teach, and I felt I was in poor bridge shape throughout 2019. I had my usual knowledge and desire, but impaired focus.
I played the festival in Mamaia days before Wuhan, but the everyday practice didn’t bring back my focus and speed of reasoning. I was worried and counting on the high stakes to “wake me up”.
I raised my level only slightly during the round robin, motivated by our good ranking. It soon looked like we had a good chance to qualify, without pressing the pedal.
After that, it was just one match at a time. You think to give your best these 2 days, and only then tackle what’s next.
It was important that the atmosphere in the team was good, it was good when we played well and won, and it was good also when we made mistakes and lost. Before every segment we high-fived and encouraged each other, and then we accepted the result and moved to the next one.
Did we believe we could win? It was easy to believe it, because we spent most of the time being ahead. We were in a qualifying spot for basically all of the round robin, we were always ahead versus USA2 and England, and either ahead or very little behind versus Russia. We respect our bronze, but we feel that gold was within reach.
What did you feel when you got to the finals? Were you afraid of a particular team?
Once we finished the round robin in the first 8, the next meaning of “qualifying” was getting on the podium. Being picked by USA2 bothered me, because I have some friends on that team and I also think very highly about their bridge skills. I was not intimidated, I just wanted more “faceless” (in terms of my relationship with them) opponents. I was worried about my level, not theirs. I had to play better than before and live up to my team.
I shared my concerns with my husband, and we came up with a list that I had to repeat before every board. Play slower, look at all the cards, count, think about what can go wrong (or right). It was a good mantra, meant to calm me down and reduce my previous mistakes to a manageable list. My mistakes had been mostly caused by speed and negligence. It’s embarrassing to look at the list and see these beginner tips, but it was a good time to get back to the basics.
When I play I feel the calmest. Kibitzing my own team on BBO was draining me more than playing. Sometimes I would just find some other activity, other times curiosity was stronger.
After the first day against Russia, I was selected for an anti-doping test. I am hypothyroid and take medicine every day. At the time I was too tired to think about it, but in the hotel I started to worry about what my thyroid medication might contain. Then I remembered I used nose spray and I also started to worry about what it contains. Many years ago, a Romanian gymnast lost a gold medal when the team doctor treated her cold with Nurofen. I tried to find some answers online but didn’t really.
Next morning when I came to play I was nervous, but I thought I held it together until the very last board when I built a position for myself to give away a 3NT. I didn’t play the second segment of the day, and used it to calm down. Yes, it was my responsibility to check that medication and I hadn’t given it enough thought (mainly because I had no idea who to ask and it felt normal to treat a medical condition). Apart from that, my conscience was clear. And my job now was to play well.
I almost got high on the thought: I had the pressure of playing in a semifinal, that’s a great pressure to have. I wish I could say I then went there and won, but I didn’t. It was not because of any pressure. Doing my best wasn’t good enough in that last set.
How did it feel to be on the podium next to so many other good players? What’s your next bridge goal?
It’s special to get a medal, it’s even more special to get it for your country. It’s not much, but we did something for our country. Maybe it will help, maybe it will give bridge a better chance in Romania. Maybe not, but we still got to show our flag around. And of course, we want more.
Bridge could thrive in Romania, our culture is all about competition and analytical thought. Most Romanian parents care greatly about how smart their children are. We need some bridge heroes to start exploiting this potential.
You are also a famous tournament bridge director. Which part do you find most interesting? To direct, or to play?
The game was meant to be played. Directing is just there to keep it as a game of (ladies and) gentlemen, and often fails. Directors have to be fair, and that means following the established rules and procedures. It doesn’t always feel right to the director, and quite a few players choose to believe we are incompetent or corrupt to decide as we do. But it’s wrong to deviate according to your own judgment – your judgment is prone to bias like all humans’. Some of the rules are just too intricate. Some just restore equity, while others penalize offenders.
It’s not outrageous that many players don’t get our rulings, but I prefer to play and directly suffer the consequences of my decisions. When you play you can stay true to yourself and do what you think is best. It’s also much more fun and challenging. I actually just stepped down from directing to dedicate more time to my university job and playing.
Do you have an interesting board that you liked and want to share with us?
I am blessed to forget boards very fast. If I remember a board after a week, I am probably ashamed of how I played it. So actually I remember a few, but I’d rather not share them with the world.