Six veterans from West Bengal living on tried, tested and trusted rice and daal in Indonesia have come up trumps for India in the Senior Open category at the Asia Cup bridge championship. The team led by Hemant Jalan was on a roll at the event in Jakarta’s Hotel Sultan from October 19 to 25, winning 15 of their 16 matches, including a triumph against Japan in the final.
West Bengal and Kolkata have a rich history in this game of cards. Other than dominating national events, the city has produced several acclaimed players. The 2018 Asian Games gold-winning Men’s Pairs duo of Pranab Bardhan and Shibnath De Sarkar represent the state. Bardhan was part of the team in Jakarta, where he teamed up with Badal Das. Jalan’s partner was Kamal Mukherjee, and Sukamal Das and Subrata Saha formed the other pair. All six in the Indian team hailing from one state and emerging champion makes their achievement unique.
A seasoned player and businessman residing in Ballygunge, Jalan attributed the success to experience and team bonding. All members of the team are battle-hardened and have been playing for decades. Each player in a pair knows the other’s game inside out. To make the most of this and to ensure that there was no dearth of team spirit, Jalan decided against staying in a hotel, unlike the other teams in the competition.
“We rented an apartment instead of going to a hotel. Firstly, none of us would have been able to survive on hotel food for seven-eight days. Then, staying together fosters team spirit and camaraderie. We discussed and planned things together. There was banter and leg pulling as well,” Jalan told My Kolkata from Jakarta on Wednesday. “There was a lady who made breakfast for us. Meals were cooked by Saha and Das (Sukamal). Our help could not be extended beyond preparing salads! As Kolkatans, we have a craving for rice and daal. That was mostly it. It was far better than the oily fare we would have otherwise encountered in the hotels.”
It was the fourth edition of the Asia Cup bridge championship. It’s a quadrennial event first held in 2010 in China. The participating nations this time were Australia, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and India. Indonesia B defeated Indonesia A to bag bronze. India’s sole setback in the tournament came against South Korea in the league phase. Despite that, Jalan & Co topped the league standings.
“It’s a game where every player has to play to their potential. We knew that unless we made mistakes, our opponents would find it difficult to beat us. So, our preparation and strategies centred around eliminating errors. We were determined not to concede self goals and in the end, I think, emphasis on this aspect tilted it in our favour,” said Jalan, praising his partner Mukherjee, a retired employee of the Kolkata Port Trust living in Salt Lake. “My previous partner is no more. And I found out that Kamalda can team up with anybody.”
Being the reigning Asian Games champion in the Men’s Pair category along with De Sarkar, Bardhan thought this success is just what India needed ahead of next year’s Asian Games. It was scheduled to be held in Hangzhou in China in 2022 itself, but deferred by a year due to Covid-19 concerns. “All teams that played in Jakarta were the best of those countries. They came well prepared. To beat all but one of them, being consistent all through, topping the league table and emerging winners so convincingly is most satisfying. All victories are satisfying, but winning in such a manner is special,” said Bardhan, who lives in Jadavpur and has been a full-time bridge pro for years. He was partnered by Badal Das, a retired Allahabad Bank employee staying in Ramgarh, not far from Bardhan’s place.
Hailing from Chandannagar, Sukamal Das is the only one in the six who does not live in Kolkata. Employed with Dhampur Sugar Mill, he has also been playing for many years. In Jakarta, his partner was Saha, a retired employee of United Bank of India from Sealdah. Diverse backgrounds, different neighbourhoods and having honed their skills at different clubs, the sextet gelled perfectly as a team when it mattered to add a golden chapter to the illustrious history of bridge in Kolkata.