IIT-IANS’ Dream run

Texan Aces created history by winning the silver medal in the European Open championships in Antalya, Turkey. By Raman Jayaram.

Texan Aces created history by winning the silver medal in the European Open championships in Antalya, Turkey. By Raman Jayaram.

In the early and mid 1970s, a few aspiring engineers of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, took to bridge seriously. Several nights were spent learning the game and organising duplicate bridge. The moving force behind this was Gopal ‘Texas’ Venkatesh — the more he got involved in the game, the more resolved he was that he would one day build a world class team, comprising mainly ex-IITians.

Graduating in 1978, Gopal shifted to USA to do his masters and then on to Silicon Valley for a highly successful career. By the turn of the century, he had established his own venture capital enterprise in California. It was then that the ‘Bridge bug’ in him made its reappearance. He systematically built a team with his old IIT classmates and others, and sponsored the team to participate in major international tournaments in the U.S. and elsewhere, beginning 2002.

In the second half of June this year, his team, Texan Aces, created history by winning the silver medal in the 3rd European Open Championships in Antalya, Turkey, where the original field of 104 transnational teams had several world class players.

For ‘Texas’ and his team-mates, the 1978 dream unfolded in Turkey in a most dramatic way, unheard of in the history of the game, making many of the world’s well known players, officials, critics and bridge writers stand up and take notice.

Apart from ‘Texas,’ the team at the European Open comprised Kanningat Krishnakumar, Padmanabhan Sridharan, Jyotindra Shah (all former IITians from Madras) and an equally promising pair from Kolkata, Badal Das and Sumit Mukherjee.

In the initial stages of the championships, Texan Aces were an ‘also ran’ sort of team; relegated to Swiss-B (repechage stage), they were still moving languorously with four rounds to go to have any chance of getting into the main draw. Then, drama number one was unveiled. In those last four rounds, the Texans collected 86 victory points out of a possible 100, to become the fourth qualifier from Swiss-B, the 31st qualifier to the round of 32 of the main draw.

Drama number two unfolded now. The Texans won their round of 32 match against a strong Italian team, Varenne, 50-32 imps. They then trounced Townsend of UK, 105-47 and before we all could recover our breath, they had outplayed last time winners, Orange-1 of The Netherlands 64-20 in the quarterfinals. The semifinals against the South African-Swedish team, Alon Apteker, was another cakewalk victory, 75-23. Almost unbelievably, the Texans had won their last three matches by such huge margins of 58, 44 and 52 imps and they were in the finals!

Pitted against another giant killers of the championships, team Bessis (Father-son, Thomas and Michel Bessis of France and the young prodigies from Israel, Ron Pachtman and Eldad Ginossar; Bessis Jr and the Israelis were all below 30 years of age), the Texans began sedately, trailing by eight imps after the first segment of 16 boards in the three segment, 48-board finals. The second segment was like a nightmare for the Texans, as the deficit became 61 imps.

With one more segment to go, the live coverage of this final by Bridgebase Online was shifted to the women’s finals as the ‘expert’ commentator wrote, “the open finals had become too one-sided.” Five more boards into the last segment Bessis had increased their lead to 73. Bessis 105, Texan Aces 32.

Act III, Scene 3. It was time for drama number three. Almost miraculously, the Texans recovered by 59 imps in the next nine boards and with two boards to go, the lead was down to a mere 14 imps! The problem is that such unbelievable recoveries do not last forever.

An unnecessary sacrifice by the Indians in the penultimate 47th board put paid to their gold medal hopes and they lost the match by 26 imps and had to be satisfied with the silver medal. It all began as an ‘intellectual pastime’, which later became a passionate dream.

There can be no doubt that the European Open performance of Texas Venkatesh and his team-mates is a standout. In the words of Texas himself, it is the result of “discipline, commitment and focus.”

Sridharan considered the quarterfinal win against the holders as the most satisfying of his bridge career so far and said that it is a delight to be part of a team in which every single detail is planned one year in advance. Texas is all praise for Krishnakumar for methodically planning all the logistics and for practically being a right hand (not RHO!). These Indian ‘Texans’ have arrived in the true sense of the word, in the world of bridge.