Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bridge in Bengal---- through an opaque glass

For a long time I was thinking of writing on the Expert Bridge players as I saw them.

My knowledge on them is very much limited to what I felt at the table- when I was fortunate or unfortunate enough to sit across them—so , in all probability, these will be a very distorted view.

Also, I don’t often get to be their opponent. Usually they play at a higher table.But elimination rounds at matchpoint events offer scopes & I grab this opportunity to peep into the minds of champions.

I hope this malicious writing will not attract any defamation suit.

So lets start with the Greatest--- Robi Roy 26022009(005)

He was a legend even before I was born. I happened to play against him only in 3 occasions. One being the Usha Martin sponsored pairs at the Oberoy Grand. He was playing with-I think- Mr. Tibruwala . All I remember is that he dropped my singleton King of Trump With lightning speed & finishing the deal likewise. At that time I found no explanation for him to refuse the finesse but I heard many such stories about him from players, who are trusted not to be overawed by his reputation.

In the other two instances I played a 8 or 10 board swiss league match against him. We were the youngest players in the field then & he did not make our lives difficult. Excessive Kibs made us nervous but he , sure, was not to be blamed for that!

I heard that Late Subinoy Ghosh of Siliguri was as good/or nearly as good as Roby Roy but this can probably never be confirmed.

The Late Shanti Sen: I have seen him but not seen him at play. So I can’t comment on him. Neither heard much about him.I often played against his brother though. A nice gentleman ( he is sengupta but not sen) & I could not muster enough courage to ask him about that.

Kamal Mukherjee: 28022009(002)

One of the greats of Bengal Bridge. He plays the toughest bridge-- the Grandmother’s bridge.No excitement.No Gimmicks. No nothings. He has no enemies but there are thousands of players who think they know better than him. It is said that he likes hands where he can make a simple raise to his partner’s major & go to sleep , thus doing all there is to be done! Perhaps this is why a few years before ( before the Chinese agression to the world bridge) his was the best performance by any Asian player in the world pairs event. Hope in some years those thousands will improve upon his records.

Kamal Roy: A nice gentleman to play against. Like other Kamal, he also does not believe calling directors & asking unnecessary(!) questions to the opponents ( An attitude adopted by many including, notably, Pritish Kushari & Sudhir Ganguly among others)(I know the last line will make me unpleasant to the persons named because the Bridge Law allows one to enquirs about opp’s systems).

Only once I saw him going mad. That was in Pune & he was playing with –probably- Partho Banerjee of Burnpur/Asansol.

Those Two Kamals are a pleasure to play against. All Learners should watch them play if they want to learn Basic/sound old fashioned time tested bridge. Recent success rate of Kamal Roy may not be very high but this has lot to do with the team he gets & he does not play in most of the tournys.

In the opening ceremony of the last Calcutta National, I heard people saying that this particular National is being staged like an act of Hamlet without The Prince of Denmark.

A brief preamble is needed here.

Shantanu Ghosh had suffered a massive cerebral attack a few weeks before & was lucky to escape the extreme consequences.

Before this event, Shantanu Ghosh was Indian Bridge & Indian Bridge was Shantanu Ghosh( or so it appeared or rather made to appear).

He was the Indian Representative to the WBF. His article appeared in the Bridge world & he won with Jaggy Shivdasani the “Challange the Champs” contest-a popular feature of “The Bridge world” ( no mean achievement).

He was the Computer expert.26022009(006)

So perhaps it was correct to term the Calcutta National –“ like an act of Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark”.

But I should know better.

It was an act without CLADIUS-the King of Denmark!

Who wants to spread bad breath about an half crippled person?


But ask secretly & most of the players feel this way. If not most, if not a few, then at least I alone feel the way. & for once, I am not ashamed for feeling the way I feel about him.

I had the misfortune of playing many Pairs event against him & a very few T4 against him. I always blundered. But he was ruthless in exploiting the law.

Is it wrong to take advantage of the law? No. But it was not always so. Sometimes he broke the laws. He, being Santanu Ghosh, got away with it. Directors could not do a damn thing. Hell, they got a living to make. & once you lose Santanu’s favour you are finished.

Once in Bangalore National I saw an appeal arose against Vishu’s team & the organisers found it hard to constitute an appeal committee. Almost every appeal committee member, upon learning that it was an appeal against Shantanu, backed out.Remember Vishu was also very powerful then.

Some of the deals are itched in my mind where he stole from me illegally.

But I must also thank him for donating those Bridge World issues to WBBA.

Perhaps he has made other contibutions to Bengal Bridge, but I am unware of them. Needless to say - as a player he was good. The records speak for him.

But it is the "off the records" incidents that makes a lasting impression to mediocre players like us who places sportsmanship & integrity above winnings.( perhaps all losers feel this way) . But there again, Kamals are a winner too & so is Manas Mukherjee.

Sudhir Ganguly: A player I never understood. Whenever I sat against him, I felt irritated. He makes endless enquiries, calls director, & whenever I ask explanations about his partner’s bids, it turns out to be wrong when the deal is over or his partner spreads the dummy.


This is not just me, he does the same to almost all not so good teams.

But I have a feeling that he does it from insecurity. Perhaps he feels that everyone out there are going to cheat .

He also makes a big fuss about artificial systems.

But, somehow I don’t feel bad vive against him. Just plain irritation. If he stops the nagging probing about opponent’s system, one can ask him regarding the play or defense of a particular hand & learn a great deal of bridge from him.

If you ask him a question,he answers honestly.

Only he has to make his presence comfortable to the opponents. The “Holier than Thou” aura that he wears( knowingly or unknowingly) has to be discarded so that lesser players can sum up enough courage to ask him questions.

Is Mr. Ganguly listening?

Pritish kushari. When I started playing tournament bridge, Amal Das alias Pintuda told me to kibitz a young pair–known as Manas-Kushari.

As a true follower I have been following what my mentor(!)advised till date. I didn’t ever had any reason to regret but for the fact that this formidable duo don’t play together anymore.

Nevertheless I watch them seperately.

Kushari is articulate & suave . He plays elaborate system. he never gives up in a hopeless situation. He’ll spend all his energies even for a trick. He is the theoretician whom I can always ask when I am in a bidding problem or to haul up my system. & he answers.

But it is not for his capability as a player that overwhelms me.

He has produced some good players & a champion named Sumit Mukherjee.

He has established a new Gharana- the Moti Jheel gharana.

Unlike the old Bhawanipore Gharana, this is a scientific & complex gharana & it works.

But at the table he has a habit of intimidating the opponents , a habit that , I suspect, has different reason from Sudhir Ganguly’s.

In the old days, he also took advantages from the law- as the law is interpreted by the Director –& the Director’s interpretations –perhaps- at those days- were influenced by player’s reputations. But that was long past.

Debasish Roy: Another rare Gentleman of the old culture.

He was the favorite partner of Shantanu Ghosh but the company did not have any effect on his outlook of how this game should be played.

A fine player & even beginners feel at ease at his table. He partnered with Kushari successfully for a long time after Shantanu had that terrible attack. 28022009

One can watch him playing at the same skill level ( eating a few Marie biscuits) for a long stretch of time( a great quality).

He has impaccable manners & ethics & an enviable capacity to keep away from any controversy.

When Bipradas, the great gambler of Srirampore, got released from custody, he went to ( ?) for shelter. No prize for guessing right.

Yes, he is the man whose name comes to the mind when help is required.

He also plays Bridge.

He plays naturally. Cards love him. They are tuned to him. If everyone else played the system he plays, nobody would have remembered Robi Roy’s name as the greatest.

The days are changed. Special sophisticated systems can make a poor player strong. So the difference between Manas Mukherjee & the rest of the good players are not as wide as they should have been. A pity.

But I’ll remember him for years to come as ( hiring terminology from the movie “Matrix”) THE ONE.27022009

I didn’t forget to mention the names of the players I omitted. Only that I lost patience & my typing speed is very poor. maybe in the course of few months I’ll mentions players like Joy Narayan Roy ( who reminds me of K.P. Chatterjee in his haydays),Sumit ( whom I mentioned briefly), Kaustav Nandy, S.sarkar( Kacchu), Pranab Bardhan( Choton- who is playing excellent these days),Badal das & others.


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