Junior players from all over the world converge on the Wujiang District, China, next month for the World Youth Team Championships. Eight teams from the U.S. and Canada join the fray to compete for four trophies: Patino Cup for Juniors under 26; the Damiani Cup for Juniors under 21, the Koc University Cup for Youth under 16 and the Rona Cup for young women under 26.
In 2013, Joe Stokes coordinated the U.S. Bridge Federation training program for Juniors with international aspirations.
“Thanks to help from many USBF members who are serving as mentors, over 80 Juniors now have the opportunity to practice on BBO each week,” Joe says. “Groups work with one or two regular mentors.”
Joe says that the Junior training program couldn’t have happened without the support of the expert mentors, “and our structured training and mentor program wouldn’t have happened without Michael Rosenberg, Debbie Rosenberg and Barry Goren.”
Currently, Michael is the sole organizer of the training program, according to Joe. “USBF and our Juniors owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Michael, who not only gives generously of his time and expertise, but has recruited scores of world-class players as mentors. We all appreciate the generosity of our expert members who are willing to devote their time to helping Juniors advance,” says Joe.
Burke Snowden, a junior from Yale, echoes Joe’s gratitude to the expert players who work with the Juniors. “That we have so many high-level players volunteering their time is something!”
Burke is attending his third world team championships, this time as a member of the USA 2 U26 team. He’s traveled overseas twice as a member of a national U.S. Junior team – China in 2012 and Istanbul in 2014. His team won the gold medal competing in the World Youth Open Teams Championship in Atlanta in 2013.
Burke likes the “buzz” of the international competitions.
“It’s like ESPN. You walk in, and there are multiple vugraphs everywhere and live commentary – and all these people care about the hands you’re playing and how you’re doing.”
Teams were selected through trials held the week between Christmas and New Year’s: the Michael Seamon Junior U.S. Bridge Championships.
Stokes says, “Although the USBF has no funds for the Michael Seamon JUSBC, we raised enough money privately to cover the cost of the tournament as well as airfare and lodging for those who played in Atlanta. We are grateful to the generous donors, who make the event possible.”
Each team has a nonplaying captain accompanying them to China, and each pair also has a partnership bidding coach. The non-playing captains are: Michael Rosenberg (team mentor Geoff Hampson), USA 1 U26; David Caprera, USA 2 U26; Sylvia Shi, U21; Jim Munday, U16; Kent Mignocchi, Young Women U26.
Rory Xiao’s U16 team recently made it to the semifinals of the WBF’s 2018 World Youth Team Online Championship, giving them a boost of confidence going into the World Championships. “I’ve met a lot of players online and I’m looking forward to playing with people from other countries.”
This is Emma Kolesnik’s first outing as a member of one of the WBF Junior teams. The Scripps College sophomore is on the U26 Young Women’s Team.
“I’m looking forward to meeting other Junior players from all over the world and getting closer to my own team. And playing some really good bridge, I hope!”
The young women’s team has been reduced to five players because Isha Thapa is unable to travel. Because of post-concussion syndrome, Isha has been advised by her doctors to stay home, so her partner will play with everybody.
“Isha is our captain, our rock,” Emma says, “so now we have added the added motivation of playing well for her.”
The Canadian Bridge Federation, through its Junior Program, offers promising Canadian youth the opportunity to further advance their bridge skills through a series of mentoring and coaching programs.
CBF President Nader Hanna, who oversees the Junior program, says Canada is sending three teams to China. “We started our preparation and selection process almost a year ago. Teams were selected based on participation and performance in the practice sessions over that period. I was responsible for preparing and selecting the Kids and Youngsters teams, while Bryan Maksymetz had similar responsibilities for the Junior team.”
“They have been working very hard to prepare for these championships and I am very proud of them,” Nader adds.
Nader and Bryan will be traveling with their teams as npcs.
This is Maria-Albena Vassileva’s third time representing Canada in international competition. A member of the U21 squad, she played in Italy on the U16 team two years ago; she also played in the Atlanta in 2013. “I enjoy meeting and seeing players from other places,” she says, “and I’m hoping it’s going to be good bridge!”
In addition to the Kids Under 15 team pictured at left, the Canadian team rosters are:
Johnson Chen Zhu