Othello news

The myth of the "Gran Maestro": an Othello weekend in Italy

22 April 2024
Written by Carlo Affatigato

In Italy, we all want to be recognized. It's one of those things that require a clear sign, a convention, something that can't be confused, by us or anyone else. That's why if you want to show respect to someone, in many parts of the country, you call them "doctor" ("dottò," if they're really a friend). They don't diagnose or cure anyone, but the title works. If you are smart, they call you an "engineer," and if you lead a group, officially or unofficially, you are the "president." So if you play Othello at the top level, you are a "maestro": a mythological figure halfway between a teacher and a master. You are not in charge of any class; you don't necessarily have students. Again, the title works.

The "Gran Maestro" is Italy's most prestigious yearly Othello tournament. Every year, the eight players at the top of the national ranking face each other, competing for the title of the year's "great master." On that weekend, while the top players have their exclusive tournament, all others enjoy the "other" tournament, reserved for all those who didn't enter the top 8. It's called the "non-Gran Maestro," but everybody calls it the "Gran Bidello": the Great Custodian. Because schools have more than one authority, right?  As you can imagine, winning that tournament is pretty important too. The winner is the first among the last: you define the border. 

This year, the formula has been improved. Only six players participated in the Gran Maestro, and only five of them were selected in advance. The sixth seat was reserved for the player who would win the dedicated qualification tournament held the day before, open to everybody. This way, everybody has a chance to enter the Gran Maestro, you just need to win on Saturday. And even if you don't win, the day after, you can still play the "non-Gran Maestro": two days of Othello are guaranteed, whatever happens. The idea was successful and attracted many people: more than 30 participants were involved in the 2024 Gran Maestro weekend in Rome.

When we arrived on Saturday, apparently everybody already knew who were "the ones to beat": George Ortiz, Carlo Alami, and Carlo Affatigato were given as favorites for the victory, but the participants included many other solid players, and we all knew that when you face someone like Vincenzo Peccerillo, Elisabetta Vecchi, Severino Di Cola, or Paolo Barsotti, you can never relax. The winner of Saturday's qualification tournament was George Ortiz, collecting six deserved victories out of six.

On Sunday, the six top players gathered in a secret room in Rome Scout Center, the same location as the 2023 World Othello Championship: Alessandro Di Mattei needed to defend his title against the other masters, Roberto Sperandio, Paolo Scognamiglio, Romano Benedetto, and Massimo Di Pietro, with George Ortiz trying to enter the ranking throwing some surprise. It was definitely a tough tournament: no one ended it with zero losses, but the final ranking showed Alessandro Di Mattei above the others with four victories out of five. It's his fifth "Gran Maestro" title, the third in a row, and it guarantees already a place in the team that will eventually participate at the 2024 World Othello Championship in China. 

While all that happened, the real action was in the bigger room: the "Non-Gran Maestro" tournament had 20 participants, and nothing was given for granted. The winner was Carlo Affatigato, the only player with six victories out of six: he's the 2024 custodian, ready to empty your trash for the next 12 months. However, the biggest celebration was for Paolo Barsotti, who ended second with five wins, an astonishing result against players with much more experience than him. Months of studies, efforts, patience, and all those travels around Italy and Europe finally paid off.

The satisfaction of the organizers was visible, and if you saw the national secretary, Leonardo Caviola, at the end of the tournament, you could see a light in his eyes. Thanks to the effort of the Italian National Federation and Caviola's restless insistence, involving new players and organizing tournaments and exhibitions in every part of the country, this year is going to break a record, with probably more than 14 tournaments and almost 100 total players involved. Numbers you don't see often in other parts of the world in Othello. The Italian Othello community is living a great moment, and that matters much more than any title.