It seems like Val Kovachev was at every D17 regional, and perhaps he was. I had an opportunity to play against him several times, and each time I recognized that he was an excellent player who added pleasure to our game. As a teaching pro, I am sure he does an excellent job teaching his partners. For all of these reasons, I asked Val if he would consider being one of the featured players on our website. He graciously agreed to be interviewed by me and his responses to the questions relating to bridge strategies should be very helpful to many of duplicate players.
Val grew up in Bulgaria and became good at cards, playing a game similar to bridge. He attended college with academic and athletic scholarships. One day, his roommate invited him to a local bridge club, the rest is history. In those early days, card playing was forbidden if it was suspected that betting was involved. In his senior year he became so addicted to bridge and his grades started to slip. Nevertheless, he graduated with an agricultural engineering degree. Engineers in Bulgaria did not make a lot of money, so he continued to go to college on his scholarships, majoring in math. Eventually, Val turned his love for bridge into a successful career.
Val Kovachev has been playing professional bridge since 2003. He has won all the major Bulgarian bridge championships. Additionally, he has won the Schapiro Cup in England, and placed 2nd on two other occasions. Val has placed in the top 3 finishers in the NEC Cup in 2010, 2011, and 2012. In 2013, he and his partner, Lynn Rosenbaum, won the Open Pairs at the North American Championships. We are lucky to have him play at so many D17 Regionals.
In addition to playing bridge, Val is a big movie fan and likes to swim. He still keeps in good shape by jogging 3 miles a day, 3-4 times a week. He is a big fan of Turkish food, but says he is beginning to like Asian food as well.
When asked what his biggest obstacle he faced in becoming a good player, he responded, “The number one obstacle is my temper”. He says he is not always an easy partner, but is slowly moving in the right direction. I grinned when Val said, “I should be able to be a perfect player in another 10-15 years”.
Nothing about duplicate bridge is easy to learn. But once he learned how to picture in his mind the opponent’s cards and his partner’s cards, the puzzle became clearer and easier to solve. Val has a great sense of the game, but it is not enough just to be a good technical player he says. He likes to be a difficult opponent at the table, doing normal boring things at the table in the beginning, and then becoming unpredictable. This reminds me of a fastball pitcher who likes to mix things up with a wicked curve ball. Val really enjoys being creative. In addition, he really understands the game and likes to “bid from the heart”.
When asked if he had any bad moments in bridge that he can’t seem to forget, Val related a story that happened at the 2008 European Championships. Bulgaria had a great team and was vying for first place. Bulgaria’s team captain thought if they beat the lowly Turkish team, everyone would think the Turks lost on purpose because of Val’s close friendship with them. With that in mind, Val and his partner (Bulgaria’s best pair) sat out and Turkey won 19-11, resulting in a 4th place finish for Bulgaria, 2 points under 2nd place and 1 point under 3rd. Very close, and very disappointing!
Val does admit to making mistakes, but he says he forgets them quickly to help him survive. Sounds like good advice: don’t dwell on past mistakes!
He does remember a moment of glory when he made a spectacular bid at a very high level tournament that earned him Best Bid for 2007 award. Perhaps we all remember some special play or bid that we made.
Bridge Playing Strategies: questions and responses
What suggestion or helpful comments would you like to give to relatively new players?
Be patient, you will eventually get there!
What are some common bidding problems players should avoid?
Bidding without thinking of their next bid is a common problem. Another problem is players not bidding their hand.
What are your thoughts on team games vs. pair games?
I like team games because you can usually count on your partners. Pair games are more of an art; totally different from team games.
In general, what are good strategies for defense?
Bidding ordinary works for most players, but not for me. I like to be not ordinary, but the question is: how much of you can my partner take?
What are good pre-empting strategies?
The one that will surprise your opponents is very good. But, of course, it all depends on how much of that “surprise” your partner can take!
How much is extra length in a suit really worth?
Any extra length is worth a lot more when supported with top honors. I like 6 card suits because they can produce more tricks with less points. Players often underestimate the 4th card in a suit, but it is can be a slow potential trick.
Which are the very most essential conventions for the average player?
Less conventions make for an easier life. As you and your partner grow, you can start adding more conventions. In addition to the standard conventions. One thing to remember: half the time you use an advanced convention, you give the opponents information they can use to defeat your contract.
What are the keys to developing a delightful and effective partnership?
Tolerance, tolerance, tolerance! I try to treat my partner like my first love, like my Mom, or like a first child. This is not always easy.
How can one do well playing with many different partners?
You need a bigger memory box in your head for all the things your different partners love to do!
What other comments would you like to make regarding bridge strategies for our players?
Do not always bid what you have in your hand; bid only when this information is useful to your partner. Also, do not bid when your partner is not interested.
Additional questions and answers are forthcoming - please check back!
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