Birdging the gap

SANDEEP AND MARIANNE KARMARKAR, the first husband and wife team to win the Agarwala Trophy for pairs.-

West Bengal is the country's most active bridge State and in the South, Tamil Nadu leads the pack.

With his long hair, dark shirts and denims, he looks out of place in bridge. But Vijayaraghavan's is a peculiar story. A few years ago, the Chennai youngster was a very promising cricketer. As a junior, he even played for Tamil Nadu in the South Zone championship. But when he realised that he could not climb cricket's slippery rungs in a bigger way, he stepped out of the sport to concentrate on his studies.

"The decision to quit cricket was really tough. But studies were more important then," says the 25-year-old. For some solace, Vijayaraghavan leaned on contract bridge, a card game, which he had learned from his grandfather and which offered more flexible hours. He worked on the tricks and trumps of the trade, playing frequently with his dad R. V. Subramaniam, and found them quite interesting. Two years ago, he represented the country in an international tournament in Karachi.

Bridge is desperately looking for more such players, to give the sport a young and vibrant look in the country. The sport has a stuffy image. The average age of players at the recent 37th Summer National bridge championship at Vythiri, in Kerala's hilly Wynad District, was 60. Parents seem to be the sport's biggest hurdle. "They feel it's just another card game and it involves gambling. But that's a wrong perception, there is no luck element in bridge and no gambling too," says Y. Kamalakara Rao, the President of the Bridge Federation of India.

"Today, 90 per cent of our players play on the internet, without cards. So, the stigma of bridge being a card game is now gone," says Rao.

And there are many who believe that playing bridge improves one's math skills, logical thinking and teaches the value of teamwork.

West Bengal is the country's most active bridge State and in the South, Tamil Nadu leads the pack.

"There is a strong bridge culture in our State. And at the last Winter National, out of 175 teams, 32 were pure Bengal teams. Apart from this, there were some 40 to 50 Bengal players playing in other teams," says Arijit Guha, the West Bengal Bridge Association secretary, a former international who played the 1998 World Championship in France.

Incidentally, Indian Railways which won the team of four duplicate, and along with it the Khosla Trophy, at the Vythiri National was virtually a Bengal side. Bengal also finished runner-up. Petroleum Board's Sandeep Karmarkar and Marianne who won the Subash Agarwala Trophy made history by becoming the first husband-wife team to win the pairs title. "With Railways offering jobs to 20 players in Bengal, the scene is good," says Guha.

But things could be better.

"In the 1960s and 70s there were a lot of IIT and IIM grads into bridge. Now the number is much less.

"And the penetration among general masses is not there. We have failed to educate the parents."


(T. P. Khosla Trophy, team of four duplicate, final):

Indian Railways (Manas Mukherjee, Saroj Bhattarcharjee, Pritish Kushari, Rana Roy, Amarnath Banerjee, Sumit Mukherjee) bt. West Bengal (J. P. Goenka, Kamal Mukherjee, Kamal Roy, A. Sadhu, B. Das, S. Sarkar) 132-83. Semifinals: Railways bt. PSPB 125-102; West Bengal bt. Maharashtra (Vidarbha) 124-114.

Subash Agarwal's Trophy for pairs, Final placings, top ten: 1. Marianne Karmarkar/Sandeep Karmarkar (PSPB, 409 VPs), 2. Vikrant Joseph/S. C. Sarkar (Guj, 392), 3. C. S. Mazumder/Jagadish Biswas (WB, 373), 4. Manas Mukherjee/Amarnath Banerjee (Rly, 371), 5. B. K. Satyan/Rajeev Parasar (Karn, 365), 6. V. M. Lal/J. M. Shah (Mah, 348), 7. Arijit Guha/ Kamal Roy (WB, 330), 8. Debasish Bose/Gopinath Manna (Rly, 324), 9. B. M. Behera/D. N. Lenka (Ori, 316), 10. Sujit Bhattacharjee/Snehasis Roy (Rly, 309).

Stan Rayan * * * Candid Indeed

Seven-time world billiards champion Geet Sethi says that the nation's sports identity cannot be measured by what the Indians achieve in a cricket stadium. "Cricket is an obsession in our nation like soccer is in Brazil or some European countries. But it cannot define our sports identity," he asserted.

"The emotions which an athlete undergoes at the presentation ceremony when the tri-colour flag is unfurled and also the national anthem played at the Commonwealth and Asian Games or Olympics cannot be matched by anything else," remarked Geet Sethi while addressing the Confederation of Indian Industry in Hyderabad.

He appealed to the CII to come out with a long-term strategy to promote sports in a big way. "And no better way than to start with cue sports as a test model," he said stating that it is cue sports which has produced more world champions from India than any other sport.

The champion player also stressed the fact that Indian sporting history was never short of inspirational figures. "Take the case of Viswanathan Anand whose phenomenal success triggered a revolution in chess and now because of him there are about five million chess players in India," Geet pointed out. He said that the legendary Wilson Jones was given a daily allowance of one dollar during his world championship.

Geet had a dig at some of the national sports federations. "We all know that there are some ageing officials who have one leg in the grave but want the other to be on the seat," he said amidst laughter.

"We need individuals like Capt. P. V. K. Mohan, industrialist and president of APSBA, in other sports too," he said.

V. V. Subrahmanyam