Fred Gitelman – The Interview

Fred Gitelman – The Interview

By Alex J. Coyne © Great Bridge Links

Fred Gitelman is one of the biggest names in the bridge world largely due to his contributions to online bridge through Bridge Base Online. Fred officially retired from his post at BBO on July 12, 2019, and it’s the perfect time for an interview.

We caught up with Fred for an e-mail interview to find out what he sees in the cards for the future.  (Photo: Jonathan Steinberg)

Great Bridge Links: Why retirement?

Fred Gitelman: For what I think what are essentially “usual reasons”. My wife, Sheri Winestock, and I have been working (very) full time on writing bridge-related software since 1990. We worked very hard and are proud of what we accomplished. We are now financially secure and still young enough to enjoy most of what life has to offer. 

GBL: After retirement: Are you planning more bridge writing?

FG: Right now my only plan to relax for a month or so while I try to figure out what I am going to do next. I will certainly have plenty of time for bridge writing and that is something that I have enjoyed at various times in the past, but like I said, no plans.

GBL: How about continuing to play?

I more or less retired from high-level bridge in 2013. Sheri and I still play the occasional big event (and we actually won one of them last week) and we have talked about going to some tournaments in attractive places (St. Moritz and Australia’s Gold Coast for example).

Right now it is hard for me to imagine ever wanting to be very serious about the whole bridge thing again. By “very serious” I mean playing in all the big ACBL events on killer teams, playing in team trials with the eventual goal of winning a World Championship, putting a lot of effort into trying to be part of one of the best pairs in the world.

Of course I love the game itself, but there are various aspects of competitive bridge that I would rather do without.

GBL: Tell me about the very moment BBO went online for the first time.

FG: Technically it was far less than a moment – the BBO server program crashed with a millionth of a second after I launched it!

GBL: When it comes to online paid bridge, BBO Money Bridge leads. First, what gave the idea’s spark, and second, what’s the most anyone has made through it?

My partner, Uday Ivatury, and I have spent countless hours over the years considering and discussing possible formats for online bridge games that would hopefully appeal to some segment of the market. We have both played bridge for decades in clubs and at tournaments of all levels (and, in my case, in many countries).

We have also both played rubber and social bridge.

I think this experience has given us some insight into various “classes” of bridge players and what they enjoy about the game. As far as Money Bridge was concerned, the basic goal was to develop a cheat proof game that would be attractive to those bridge players who “enjoy the action.” Once we decided on the goal, a good solution was relatively obvious.

We also came out with “Money Bridge Tournaments” (which are now called “Robot Reward Tournaments”) around the same time. They were a huge success for several years, but have diminished over time. MBTs were in my view one of our best inventions – I loved playing them!

To the best of my knowledge, BBO doesn’t do this sort of thing any more. There are legal issues in some parts of the world and some major credit card companies won’t go anywhere near a site that could be perceived as offering “gambling”. Of course what we were doing wasn’t actually gambling (at least how I understand the word), but the risk/reward involved strongly argued for shutting down these games.

GBL: I’ve always wanted to know if you were secretly disappointed to find that Windows offered solitaire instead of bridge as a default.

FG: Not really – from Microsoft’s point of view it would have been ridiculous to offer bridge instead.

GBL: You’ve taught so many people bridge and finer playing tactics. But have you ever met anyone you couldn’t teach no matter what you tried?

FG: I actually have done very little person-to-person teaching over the years, but I did help introduce a rubber bridge player named Reese Milner into duplicate. Reese was a very nice and very accomplished middle age man who I thought had no hope of ever being anything other than a horrible bridge player. He just didn’t get it.

25 years later and Reese has won several ACBL and World Championship events. I think he might be the WBF’s highest-ranking Senior (and, unlike the massively tainted Open rankings that the gutless WBF refuses to purge of cheaters and their teammates, the Seniors rankings are relatively pure).

How did he do it? By being the hardest-working and most dedicated bridge player I have ever met. Something else about Reese: he almost always plays as well as he is capable of playing. Very few players, even at the top, are able to achieve this. Reese would be the first to give (too) much of the credit for his success to the excellent teachers, partners, and teammates he has had.

In principle it is nice to think that *anyone* is capable of finding their inner-Milner, but in my experience those who actually achieve this are few and far between.

GBL: If you have one sentence, paragraph or thought for the bridge world as a whole, it would be…

FG: The future of both bridge and Planet Earth are very much in question. We are so lucky to live in this time, to have bridge to stimulate and entertain us, and to have each other as friends. Be kind to each other and be kind to the game.