It was a magical evening - figuratively
and literally - as the 11th World Teams Bridge Olympiad celebrated
opening night in spectacular fashion at the Theater aan het
Vrijthof in Maastricht city center.
"Let's have a party!" cried magician Richard
Ross as he stood on stage with WBF President Jose Damiani and
Deputy Prime Minister Annemarie Jorritsma-Lebbink, both covered
in streamers and confetti, the climax of a celebration witnessed
by hundreds of competitors and throngs of organizers.
Ross had opened the evening in disguise
as part of a skit which ended with the WBF flag in position
at the back of the stage. Ross followed Harry van de Peppel,
chairman of the Dutch organizing committee, and displayed his
sleight-of-hand magic - including several card tricks -- between
each of the opening-night speakers.
As Damiani took the podium near the end,
he remarked about Ross: "I definitely refuse to play rubber
bridge with that guy."
Damiani noted that the Olympiad was played
20 years ago in Limburg, the Dutch province of which Maastricht
is the capital. In fact, two of the competitors at Valkenburg
in 1980 will compete again in Maastricht: the Netherlands' Anton
Maas, who earned a bronze medal, and France's Paul Chemla, who
won the gold.
"The history of bridge is being rewritten,"
Damiani said, reading a letter from Juan Antonio Samaranch,
president of the International Olympic Committee. Samaranch
wished the WBF and the Dutch organizers of the tournament well.
"We soon hope to Join the Olympic Games," Damiani said.
Jorritsma noted that she enjoys playing,
although she downplayed her own skill. As she left the stage
for the first time, however, she showed her knowledge of bridge
history with a piece of advice for players: "When in doubt in
leading against a grand slam with two aces, try spades." This
was a reference to a disaster suffered by the U.S. in the 1980
Olympiad final against France, when Bob Hamman led the ]A against
a grand slam by France, allowing declarer to take all the tricks
in a doubled contract.
Mayor Philip Houben of Maastricht told
the crowd that those who "think and play bridge at the same
time" chose to be in his city for the next two weeks. "Maastricht,
the ultimate European city, is proud to welcome you."
The speaker with the best sense of humor
no doubt was Laurens Hoedemaker, president of the Dutch Bridge
Federation. After welcoming the players and acknowledging the
support of Limburg and the city of Maastricht, Hoedemaker took
part in a magic trick engineered by Ross, who said Hoedemaker
needed to change his name to "Laurens the Greatest."
Hoedemaker wished all competitors well,
reminding them that "members of the national organizing committee
and the volunteers have devoted their time to what will become