2018 Asian Games has been the best that Indian sports have showcased in all these years with the local contingent bagging 69 medals — 15 gold, 24 silver and 30 bronze. While this year’s Asiad saw several firsts by India, it’s hard to ignore the strong performance of the bridge team which bagged a gold and two bronze medals.
For the very first time, bridge was included as a medal-winning sport in this year’s Asiad and a 29-member strong team from India represented the country and ended up with an impressive debut. Sixty-year-old Pranab Bardhan and 56-year-old Shibnath Dey Sarkar won the gold in the final men’s pairs event by beating China. In the mixed pairs event, Kiran Nadar, a philanthropist and trustee of the Shiv Nadar Foundation, along with her long-time playing partner, Bachiraju Satyanarayana, ended up missing a medal after ending up fifth.
However, for Nadar playing the game as a national sport in itself is an achievement. “Bridge had never got its due at the national level, but this is the first year that it has been recognised as a sport and that’s a good beginning,” she feels.
Hailing from a family where her parents played bridge, as a 12-year-old, Nadar too learned a thing or two about the game. “I always thought it was a game of cards,” she says, who continued to play the game post her with marriage with Shiv Nadar. The husband-wife duo would play once a week and sometimes all nights. “We used to play as partners and, generally, would be more on the winning side. I guess I was better than Shiv,” says Nadar smilingly.
After the birth of her daughter, on a sabbatical from work, she pursued the hobby by playing competitive bridge with a group of women. “They felt I had the talent and could shape up well and since then there is no looking back,” she recalls.
While HCL used to sponsor a bridge tournament, Nadar had no role to play except as the sponsor. As her fondness for the game grew, she no longer enjoyed playing just with the ladies and was pining for some real competition.
In 1987, it was a moment of revelation when she attended her first world championship at Miami. “It was just fantastic to see an open arena with 1,000 people playing. Fortunately, I played mixed pairs with Haren Choksi and came 12th. For a first outing. it was very good,” she says.
Having tasted success, Nadar came together with some equally passionate players to form a team known as Formidables. Since its inception two decades back, the team has seen exits and entries, but she managed to create a strong association with Satyanarayana. “Satya is not just my partner but also a mentor. Over the years, although the gap in proficiency has narrowed between the two of us, I would still grant him his edge,” says Kiran.
On why the game is much more intense than chess, Nadar explains that unlike in chess where there is a lot of time to make moves, in bridge each deal is approximately eight-and-a-half minutes and one cannot overshoot the time. “I get riled up easily but if I don’t let off steam, I find it very difficult to keep going and could end up making mistakes,” she reveals, admiring her partner’s trait of maintaining his cool. “He keeps telling me not to lose cool, I have been trying to, but beyond a point you can't,” she adds.
The biggest challenge in the game is to concentrate as any lapses could prove to be detrimental. “You win or lose complicated hands, but most of the time, it is simple errors that prove costly,” Nadar believes. As a result, dedicated bridge players tend to create their own regimen to ensure that they are in the right frame of mind. While most do yoga and breathing exercises, a healthy sleeping pattern is also paramount. “I am a poor sleeper. I toss and turn, especially at a big stage event as the hands keeping going round and round in my head. Over the years, I have learnt to live with it,” she explains.
Now Nadar is looking at how the game can be propagated at the national level and also at the school level as she believes the game also helps students to improve concentration. “In China, millions of young kids are playing the game, we too should introduce it in schools. In fact, we are taking it on ourselves to introduce the game at Shiv Nadar University and SNS School,” she concludes.