BIC Winner’s Interview – Harry Zahariev

Zahari Zahariev (Semir on BBO), was the very first BBO BIC International Champion. The Bulgarian scored highly throughout the tournament and won gold with 66.68%.

Bridge has been a part of Harry’s life ever since he was a child. Read on and find out more about his fascinating life and how he managed to win BIC 2020.

Harry Zahariev (Semir)

Tell us a bit about yourself – what do you do, where do live, do you have kids?
My name is Zahari Zahariev, better known in bridge world as just Harry (Zahariev). I’m 47, married with 2 sons (Alexander 20 & Stoil 22). I live in Sofia, Bulgaria. My education is in mathematics (MG) but I currently work in the financial department of a large chain of gas stations.

How did you start playing bridge?
It was 1985, when I was 12. At home, my father was playing a very strange game with his friends. From time to time one of them would leave the table for something, while the other three would continue playing. I knew rules of several card games, not this one however. So, I asked my farther for the rules and after few months of persuasion he gave in. Happily…

Walk us though your BBO BIC 2020 experience. Any boards you found interesting or challenging? 
Unfortunately, I cannot find the archives but I will try to reconstruct one hand by memory.  It was in the final, one of the late sessions, I had 7 spades with KQ10 with 7222 distribution. My GIB started with 1, right GIB overcalls 1, I said 1♠ – pass, 1NT from partner. With no shortness and Hx in hearts I choose to play 3NT instead of “normal” 4♠. Right GIB cashed 3 hearts (partner’ stopper was 10xxx or 9xxx) and shifts in diamonds through mine Kx (or Ax, don’t remember) toward partner’s AJxxx. I drove out spade Ace and got diamond continuation in dummy. At that moment, I was in the crossway and it took me more than 20 minutes to choose. I could finesse spade Jack, making 8 or 9 tricks, but ensuring at least average score, because if spade Jack was on left 4♠ would be at best down one. I could however try to cash diamonds, making 9 tricks without spades (when 3-3) but this way I could establish the 6th trick for defense. Eventually, I tried diamonds and they behaved 3-3, I scored ~90%…

When did you realise you might actually win the BBO BIC?
To be honest, the most important factor for me was the final was limited to 6 sessions. In qualifications players could play as many sessions as they wanted really. When I realized that there was no carry-over, I felt I could win. My six sessions were regularly good, my result would be even better if all 6 were scoring.

“Normal” play, or gaming the robots? What was your strategy?
It depends. Say you’re playing in a format like the BIC, where best X sessions form the score and you already have X good, you should gamble and try to score a huge session. In general, I play normal with GIBs, hoping that my bridge level will score well in card playing. As a rule – the better the player, the lower the need to gamble.

What do you usually like to do or play on BBO?
Unfortunately, I don’t have enough time to spend on BBO. I like to watch vugraphs (only real, however, not online) and sometimes to comment it (with my “official” nickname – “zaXXon”).

What tips would you give to players who are new to playing with robots?
Do not try to follow GIBs “logic”. Don’t trust on GIBs carding – only other GIBs can take advantage of it.

What improvements you would like to see for future BIC tournaments?
GIB’s declarer play is good for a computer. But improvements could be made on defense and leads.

What other things do you enjoy doing besides bridge?
I love to read books and to watch good movies. But only if I’m unavailable to play/watch/read bridge 😀

We also interviewed Jonathan Weinstein, who finished on the BIC podium – read Jonathan’s story here.

The 2nd Edition of the Bridge International Championship runs from March 29 through to April 4. Find out how to play here.