JAKARTA: Are you travelling to Canada to take part in gambling?” The question from an official when he was renewing his passport before a tournament in Montreal a few years ago still rings fresh in Pranab Bardhan’s ears. Bridge, after all, is a pastime. For some, not a very respectable one either. Cards are something parents ask kids to stay away from.
After Saturday, this perception might change. Bardhan, along with Shibnath Sarkar, won gold medal in the men’s pair event in bridge at the Asian Games. This was the first time that this was played at any multi-discipline games. Other than the Kolkata duo’s gold, Indians came back with two bronze medals.
“It’s a game based on logic. It’s a mind game like chess, but more challenging. In chess, you play one against one. Here you are playing with your partner, with whom you can’t speak during the match. You have to know what I am thinking with my cards,” said Bardhan, who at 60 became India’s oldest Asian Games gold medallist. The average age of the men’s team is 52. In mixed pairs, it is 57.
Bardhan and his 56-year-old partner Sarkar are the quintessential bridge players Kolkata is known to produce. Coming from middle-class backgrounds, they are not very well off. While Sarkar is employed with a Vizag-based company which has recruited him on sports quota, Bardhan runs a small business. Sarkar spends most of his time in a dark, dingy little-known club in Kolkata. He presumably remained bachelor to pusrue his passion. “I dedicate this medal to my late mother. Whenever I felt down or did not play well, she was always there with words of encouragement. Now, I want to say, ‘ma, look, I have won gold,’” said Sarkar.
“They are both fulltime players. No incentive, no problem. That’s how they are, completely obsessed with the game,” said India’s non-playing captain and coach Debasish Ray. The Bridge federation is hoping to cash in on this success. “With better funding, we can help bridge flourish,” said secretary Anand Samant.
best-ever for india at asian games
■ India recorded their best haul, by claiming 69 medals. They won 15 gold medals, equalling the highest achieved in the inaugural edition.
■ Boxer Amit Panghal won the day’s other gold, in the lightfly category. He beat the Olympic champion.
■ The men’s hockey team took bronze, beating Pakistan 2-1.