Drama aplenty

The triumphant Indian senior team with PBF president Rehana Saigol (extreme left) and WBF vice-president Mazhar Jafri (fourth from left).-The triumphant Indian senior team with PBF president Rehana Saigol (extreme left) and WBF vice-president Mazhar Jafri (fourth from left).

The Indian teams — the open, the women's and the seniors — qualified to play in the World Championships in Shanghai, writes Raman Jayaram.

The Peek Freans 14th Asia and Middle East Bridge (BFAME) Championships, played at the Carlton Hotel in Karachi in May were full of drama, both on and off the table. Fifteen Sri Lankans and 20 Indians who arrived at the Karachi International Airport late night on May 11, took five long hours to reach the venue hotel due to road blockages in view of the political unrest in Karachi. Not only did the officials of the Pakistan Bridge Federation (PBF) arrange for an escort to the vehicles in which the teams were travelling, but Mazhar Jafri, the vice-president of the World Bridge Federation, and Rehana Saigol, the president of the PBF, were waiting in the lobby of the hotel at 4 a.m. to receive their guests! The unbelievable hospitality had just about begun.

The tournament kicked off quietly enough on May 13. The traditional Friendship Pairs event, rechristened Habib Bank Ltd International Pairs, was won by India's Aloke Sadhu and Kamal Roy. Early leaders Sireen Barakat and Marwan Ghanem (the student-teacher combination) of Jordan came in second followed by the veteran Indian pair who have never played as partners, Ashok Ruia and Archie Sequeira, in a field of 72 pairs.

In the round robin stages of the three main events — the open, the women's and the seniors — India finished on top in each of them. Their opponents in the finals were Pakistan in the open and seniors categories and the gutsy Jordanians in the women's category.

The Indian women had a good 48 international match points lead over the Jordanians in the women's finals, with the last set of 20 boards to go. The Jordanians just steamrolled the Indians in that last set 94-17 to win handsomely by 29 imps.

More drama followed in the 60-board seniors finals. Down 47 imps with one set of 20 boards to go, the Pakistan veterans recovered all 47 of them to tie the match and necessitate a four-board play-off. Thanks mainly to an unimaginable lead of the jack in a holding of king-jack-ten in a slam contract by Ashok Ruia, India scraped through to win the Jordan Trophy.

Sixty of the 100-board-final between India and Pakistan were gone through on the penultimate day. India had a whopping carry over of 25 imps, which came to nought at the end of those 60 boards; the scores were tied at 153 imps each. The lead changed several times in the last 40 boards and with two boards to go, Pakistan were ahead by 10 imps. On the 99th, India gained 11 imps to forge ahead by one imp! On the very last board, Tahir Masood of Pakistan chose the wrong red suit to lead in a three no trump contract by Aloke Sadhu and India gained an overtrick imp to prevail by just two international match points. That was four-in-a-row championship victories for the Indian open team.

The AKD Prize Money Transnational event, introduced for the first time in these championships, saw drama of the "feelings" variety. Jose Damiani, who had specially flown in to inaugurate a school built in an earthquake ravaged north Pakistan — the school was built by funds raised by Zia Mahmood from Bridge players all over the world — formed a team with Zia, Munir Ataullah-Masood Salim, the legendary Pakistanis of the 1980s, and our own Rajesh Dalal-Sunit Choksi. The Damiani team won the event in truly sentimental style.

Just for old times' sake, Zia played the last match of this event with his old favourite, Masood Salim; this time around, Masood was at the table in a wheel chair, his right leg having been amputated.

Pritish Kushari of India demonstrated at the bridge table that the science of counting can also be artistically executed.

Pritish (South) and his partner Debasish Roy avoided the popular contract of four spades and Pritish played in three no trumps, after West had overcalled in hearts. The king of hearts was led, taken on the table with the ace, East unblocking the ten. Pritish pulled the ten of spades, jack, queen, neatly ducked by West. Three rounds of diamonds followed on which West discarded a spade and a heart. A spade to the nine fetched the king from the left who played back his last spade.

Pritish ran his spades and counted out West's hand as 4-6-1-2. He exited with the jack of hearts (to provide for 10-9 doubleton with East) and his club king made the ninth trick. It should be noted that it would not have helped West to come down to the bare ace of clubs retaining hearts instead; in that case, a low club from Pritish would do the trick and he in fact will make an overtrick with both the jack of hearts and the king of clubs scoring!

India was leading Pakistan by just one imp in the finals with just the last board to go. With your RHO as dealer, and both you and your partner remaining silent, the bidding had gone: 1C-1S-2NT-3NT. What would you lead holding: 843, K9543, Q10987, void? Tahir Masood of Pakistan chose the wrong red suit and the declarer Aloke Sadhu of India romped home with an overtrick on the following layout. Pity of pities, in the other room, Sarfraz Khan (East) of Pakistan easily made the more correct contract of four spades!

All the three Indian teams — the open, the women's and the seniors — qualified to play in the World Championships to be held in September/October this year at Shanghai.

While the same six-some who did duty at Karachi in the open team (Ashok Goel, Kamal Mukherjee, Debasish Roy, Pritish Kushari, Kamal Roy and Aloke Sadhu) and the women's team (Hema Deora, Promilla Shivdasani, Rita Choksi, Lina Mayadas, Sheelu Thadani and Usha Kabra) are most likely be at Shanghai as well, it is now reliably understood that Avinash Gokhale and Ashok Vaidya of Pune will join J. P. Goenka, Ashok Ruia, Subhash Gupta and Archie Sequeira for the Seniors Bowl event.