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Beverly Kraft -Eric Kokish


Just Bridge...


Brad Coles Interview


1. How did you get into coaching


In 1985, a Brazilian friend, Ernesto d’Orsi, whom I had met in a Pan American Invitational tournament in the seventies, was in charge of the Bermuda Bowl in Sao Paulo, and wanted Brazil to make a great showing. There was a new young pair on the team and Brazil hadn’t done too well in recent years, so he asked me to come to Rio for a few weeks before the Championship and stay on to coach the team. He knew of my interest in bidding theory and partnership and thought I could help. It was a challenge, starting with the fact that three of the players were former world champions and the best I had done was to lose to two of them (M Branco/G Cintra) in the 1978 World Open Pairs final), but we hit it off very well (the two young guys spoke almost no English and were inexperienced at the highest levels, but were hungry to do well) and the team performed far beyond anyone’s expectations, winning the round robin and losing to a strong USA team on the last deal of their 160-board semifinal on a random partscore decision. That match still gives me goosebumps every time I think of the electric atmosphere in that Vugraph theatre. The next year, Patrick Huang invited me to work with the Chinese Taipei team, and so my international coaching career began to take off. Chinese Taipei also won the Round Robin in the next Bermuda Bowl.


2. What made you the best


Attrition. Or something like that. When I started there were no other serious coaches, although in each country I visited there were excellent people who grew into the role for their federations once they saw what a difference it could make to get the players involved in using their bridge time wisely. Coaching is like anything else: the more you work at it, the more you learn and the more you can add to your program. I guess I’ve had more experience at it, so, like the legendary Satchel Paige, I try not to look back in case the field is gaining on me too quickly . . .


3. Is there a Kokish style


I think so. It involves being a good listener and trying to let the players come to their own conclusions about what’s best after exposing them to some different ideas and perspectives. I don’t believe that lecturing works well as a means of getting ideas across to a group of bright people who bring a wealth of their own experience to the table. The players who are going to get better will do so when their attitude is good, when they’re ready to see that some things don’t work as well as others without defending an indefensible position, and when they can appreciate that partnership and chemistry are everything once an acceptable level of proficiency has been achieved. Coaching is a blend of marriage counseling, therapy, and leading an ongoing search for the truth, something that comes in a wide variety of forms once you get past the essentials of right and wrong. I try to know as much as I can about the people I’m working with so I can find the right openings to help them realize their potential on the strength of their own efforts. It’s an ongoing challenge.


4. How is that different to other coaches


That’s an interesting question that I can’t really answer officially, although I’ve tried to find out from contacts in various countries I’ve visited how other coaches have approached their task. In many cases the other guys have focused more on declarer play or pet conventions or a lecture style that is much less personalized, and all I can say is that anyone who has something to offer and can find the right package to deliver it will be providing a valuable service. There is no manual on the trade, although I’ve often considered writing a book about it.


5. How much difference does coaching make


My opinion has always been that it’s the players that make the difference. A good coach is an enabler, creating an atmosphere where the players want to work hard, take responsibility for their actions, and grow as people and players. Without that will on the part of the players, coaching is just an expensive way to pretend you’re trying hard, a luxury item like a fast car or celebrity golf tournament. A coach can make a difference if he has time to prepare his charges for a world championship like the Bermuda Bowl, where the systems and players are known months in advance. That’s really where I do my most meaningful work for the Nickell team: I prepare a detailed book on each team in the round robin, which includes systems, summaries, suggested defenses, scouting reports on the pairs and teams, including as much recent history and personal detail as I can gather, and a selection of deals highlighting things to look for. For the Estoril Bermuda Bowl, my research ran to over 1500 pages for the other 21 teams in the round robin, and took Beverly (my wife and business partner in International Bridge Services) and me close to 600 person-hours. Each player received a one-foot square box of binders by Federal Express about three weeks before D-Day. Despite general bitching about having to schlep the books to Estoril, everyone seemed to read as much of the material as they could digest. Is this for everyone? Hardly, because it’s both expensive and extremely time consuming, but it gives you some idea of how far the serious teams might want to go to come to a WC prepared.


6. You have seen the OzOne squad - where do you think they can go


That’s a loaded question that can’t be answered meaningfully yet. It’s a bit disappointing that many of Oz’s most dynamic players did not apply for OzOne and that there are very few well-seasoned partnerships in the current squad, but for the most part, the pairs we’ve got now seem to be internally sound and the partners content with one another as people and guys with whom to go to war. In some ways it’s better that there aren’t too many preconceptions that are written in stone, but in others it’s an uphill struggle to get enough quality events under their belts to build the experience necessary to make a run at the top. It’s terrific that Nabil and Adam Edgtton are in the squad because their upside is so high if they work hard and stick together, but they really are just kids and deserve to be kids before we turn them into kangaroo soldiers. 


7. How long will it take


I could kid myself about it, but I believe we’ll need a couple of years to develop the partnerships and get our work under our belts.


8. How are you going to go about it


Visits to Oz are very costly although we have a nice budget, so most of what we’ll be doing the rest of this year will be done over the Internet and by assigning work and projects that will be overseen both in Australia by Margi Bourke and support staff and by me from afar. Apart from various overseas missions for all squad pairs, we’ll be playing intra-squad online team matches on BBO about twice a month (using deals I’ve culled over the past 20-odd years, all from real play, all with something worth discussing). If all goes as planned, we’ll have records of the matches played by OzOne pairs everywhere and we’ll go through them. We’re intending to run simulations in Australia to test controversial and innovative ideas we feel are worth exploring, with the intention of developing information that OzOne can use to conquer the world. Every little bit counts. At the moment, we’re attempting to develop a view on pre-empting style, what works, and what doesn’t. All OzOne players are asked to record their preempts and results on those deals on the OzOne Bulletin Board, and we’re going to study these carefully over time. We’re also hoping to take advantage of the expertise and special skills of Australians outside the immediate group, those who are not on the committee or in the squad, but are still interested in the project.  


9. Do you see new players joining the OzOne squad


Absolutely. We will probably cut the squad to four or five pairs sometime later this year, but our objective is to include the best pairs in the project at any time, so it’s an open-ended process that will benefit from change and from developing new talent. Somewhere down the road, we hope to work more closely with Australian women’s teams and the juniors.


 Feel free to add any questions of your own.


10. What would you consider a good performance in the first year?


A medal in Verona, a team in the semis in Dallas or Chicago, first or second in the PABF with an all OzOne team, consistent performances in Australian events by all pairs, a report from everyone that they believe they’re improving. That would make for a happy coach.