Ciao, Francesca!

You may not be aware of Francesca Canali as she quietly roams the playing area. She’s a petite little thing, bending behind a big camera and standing on chairs to get overhead shots. She catches players at the table in a smile or a moment of intense study or puzzlement; she captures the happy faces of players who become new Life Masters; she directs the winner’s circle as she chronicles achievements for publication in the Daily Bulletin.

Francesca is ACBL’s official NABC photographer. She also posts photos to the organization’s Facebook and Instagram during the 10-day tournament.

“I especially like candids,” says Francesca in her lyrical Italian-accented English. “I like capturing the expressions of the players when they are laughing and enjoying bridge or thinking very hard during a tough board. I hope that my pictures can go outside the world of bridge and show everybody what an amazing mixture of fun and mental challenge this game is.”

All around the world

She performs similar functions for other bridge organizations: Her bridge assignments take her all over the world, working for the World Bridge Federation, the European Bridge Federation and other national bridge organizations and invitational tournaments. From San Diego she flies directly to China for the invitational IMSA Elite Mind Games in Huai’an, China. There she will write the daily bulletins in addition to doing the photography.

She primarily works for the Italian Bridge Federation, where she writes and lays out the bulletins, posts website news, manages the blog and attends championships. “In Italy, we have more championships than in America – at least one a month – but they are much smaller.”

Francesca lives in Padova, Italy, a small town in the northeast part of the country close to Venice, but she isn’t there much. All told, Francesca estimates she spends 36 weeks of the year away from home.

Francesca was introduced to the ACBL by Brent Manley, retired Bridge Bulletin editor and one of the daily bulletin editors who covers bridge events around the world.

“I worked with Francesca at numerous tournaments overseas,” says Brent, “and it was obvious to me right away that she is serious about her work as a photographer. She is small in stature but big in determination.”

Brent says that Francesca is never satisfied until she gets just the right shot. “I’ve never seen a bad photo from Francesca. I convinced the ACBL that calling on Francesca to take photos at NABCs would be in the organization’s best interest. I am happy to say I was proved right – and then some. Francesca is a gem – a valuable member of the team.”

While Francesca is best known throughout the bridge community for her photography, she grew up as the writer in the family. She has interviewed and profiled some of the best players in the game including Thomas Bessis, Benito Garozzo, Dennis Bilde and Michal Klukowski. She plans to interview Brad Moss in China later this month.

“I like writing articles very much,” she says, “but I think that photos are very powerful because they are more immediate. Plus, photography is an international language that does not need to be translated.”

A BBO director when she was 20, Francesca had the chance to be a BBO operator at a World Championships. During the event she took pictures of players to post in a blog for home spectators.

“The blog had so many visitors that I decided to run it after the championship was over,” she says, “and I added bridge-related articles. The president of the Italian Bridge Federation liked the idea and asked me to run a news website for the Federation … provided that I would close my own blog.”

Young love

Francesca started playing bridge for romantic reasons.

“My mum is a bridge teacher in Italy,” she says. “I was not much interested in the game and did not want to learn till a handsome boy joined her courses. I immediately fell in love with him.”

The local club organized an “open air” game in the square, and the handsome boy did not have a partner. That was all the motivation Francesca needed. The teenage girl undertook intensive lessons from her mother over two days to get ready to play.

She says that when the day of the tournament came, she felt her head was exploding because there were too many things to remember.

“I was extremely worried because I was sure that I would make mistakes and look stupid. When we sat down at the table in the middle of the square, my hands were trembling, and I did not even remember how to count points. But suddenly a heavy summer storm came and the organization had to dismiss the tournament because of the weather. We found a shelter in a bar and talked all the day long and finally ended up together!”

She says she wishes she could play more, “but I don’t have much time.”

Playing in a 299er game in the San Diego NABC, Francesca and partner Stephanie Threlkeld – who is ACBL’s Education and Communications manager – placed second overall and first in Flight C.

“That was my biggest achievement,” she says with a radiant smile. “We got a beautiful trophy! I love my trophy.”

If you see her camera pointed your way, smile and say, “Ciao, Francesca!”