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Forget Ludo, this is how senior citizens have embraced playing bridge online

The lockdown is making senior citizens learn to play bridge online   | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStock Photo

Dr Chanjiv Singh’s mornings prior to lockdown always started the same; a cup of tea in one hand and the other holding 13 cards as he sat down with three friends for a game of contract bridge at the Jalandhar Gymkhana Club.

A surgeon and a member of the Jalandhar Bridge Association (JBA), he says, “The Britishers may have brought the game of bridge to India, but it turned out different from what they expected. Here, it is not a mere gentleman’s game. There is a lot of fun involved,” he says.

A partnership card game played by two teams of four players, contract bridge calls for teams to successfully estimate and win a certain number of tricks among them. Despite the pandemic situation, the 80-odd JBA members, some of whom are retired bureaucrats and military officers, are eager to keep the fun alive and are doing so by learning to play bridge online.

Dr Chanjiv Singh

Dr Chanjiv Singh   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The diligence of these senior citizens, says the 46-year-old general secretary of JBA, Sirvinderjit Singh Dua, in learning to play online is “proof of their love” for the game and the association.

“Jalandhar is one of the few towns in Punjab which many NRIs call home. Most of the JBA members (seniors) are alone at home except for the company of their servants, and bridge is their only source of entertainment,” he adds.

Dua created individual accounts for each JBA member on Bridge Base Online website and taught them how to navigate the software that allowed player interaction in real-time. “At first, [playing online] was a challenge. We had connection issues. The players struggled with their devices’ touch-interface during our first online tournament on May 14,” he says.

Embracing technology

However, the seniors soon overcame these minor hiccups and are now so invested that Dua thinks they may prefer playing online even after lockdown.

“Even youngsters struggle with technology, but our club members have become pros within weeks,” Dua laughs, adding, “We were able to play with Mumbai players while sitting here in Jalandhar. This ability to connect with people across the country is the main attraction.”

Sirvinderjit Singh Dua

Sirvinderjit Singh Dua   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Dr Singh, who calls bridge “a dying art”, is glad to see the surge in popularity of the game’s online iteration, which is attracting even those who he refers to as “tech-sceptics”. Dr Singh’s own enthusiasm for online bridge seems to have had an effect on his 27-year-old son-in-law who lives in Pune, and his colleague who lives in Jammu, both of whom have now taken up the game.

The increased interest is also bringing the younger and older generations closer together, like in the case of teenagers Vineet Nandoo and Kunj Chheda, who represented India at the U-16 World Youth Open Bridge Championships held in Croatia in August 2019, and who are now playing the online game with these senior JBA members.

“Socialisation is a crucial part of bridge,” says veteran international player Prakash Paranjape. “The poor and the rich both play the game. Even online, people tend to form similar clusters,” he adds.

The Bridge Federation of India, the game’s ruling board in this country, is, however, apprehensive: the worry is that online games could allow players to communicate through illegal means like video calls as opposed to the traditional method of writing down bidding systems.

How to play
  • Contract bridge is a complex strategy game that is distinguished from other card game variants by the elements of auction and play.
  • Auction is the first part of the game where partners decide a trump suit and assess how many tricks their partnership is likely to win.
  • The partners communicate using bidding systems, which are, essentially, code languages, and vary across different regions (like Precision Club artificial system, standard American system).
  • The highest bid is known as a “contract” thus giving the game its name. When the contract of one team is fulfilled, the partners win.

Sandeep Thakral, a national-level player and an online tournament organiser based in Gurugram, begs to differ. He says that online platforms have become far more sophisticated during lockdown.

Thakral was set to represent India in the World Bridge Games, which was scheduled to be held in Salsomaggiore Terme, in the northern Italian province of Parma, in August. The pandemic outbreak caused a postponement, and Thakral diverted his time and energies to play bridge online. “Previously, our teams would spend 70-90 days a year playing live tournaments. Now, we are continuously playing matches online. At the end of the day, people adapt when they want to, when there is a passion for it,” says Thakral.

Former national champion, Indira Sonawala, is a testament to this. The 80-year-old’s usual bridge sessions at her country club in South Mumbai were interrupted by the lockdown. However, after some encouragement from friends, she decided to give the online game a chance. “I need to go back and play. The club and players are like a family. So, of course, I want to meet my family,” she says, when asked why she continues playing online bridge.

The same familial instinct is what keeps pushing 80-year-old Mahendra Shah to go on the Internet and learn to play the online game, despite his strongly-held suspicions toward technology.

While he has improved his online navigation skills, Shah still misses the ambience at Wimbledon Club in South Mumbai, where he would watch passers-by, and the feel of holding physical pieces of playing cards in his hands. “I prefer physical interaction over virtual play. The device’s backlight hurts my eyes. But I do miss my friends. I don’t intend to play professionally. So, as long as the lockdown continues, I will keep practising to play bridge online,” he adds.

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2021 3:37:18 AM |

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