Goren or Gilbertson?

I love the small town where I grew up. A small temple and a vast well are the landmarks and the famous name as a vast railway junction. There is an enormous banyan tree in the centre of the town with an ancient squarish construction under the tree where people sat and chatted. Elders in the city assembled daily for a few hours to gossip and talk about any exciting stories of the day. While a few read the newspapers loudly, the others listened. Generally, there were no rules, and one could walk in and walk out anytime. A few smoked ‘beedis’ or chewed tobacco as cigarettes were not affordable. . There was not much entertainment in the town except for two cinema theatres — Regal and Crown. As you can infer from the names, there was some British legacy in the small town. Some elders assembled in the afternoon under the banyan tree to play cards, though playing cards was taboo in our village. Rummy and three cards were popular. I was sure there were small stakes for the play.

While in school, Khaja Hussain taught me rummy. We occasionally played secretly on Sundays with two other friends in a nearby elementary school. I did not know any other card game until I grew until I learnt ‘contract bridge’ when working. I enjoyed playing bridge with friends on holidays, in addition to the reading bridge lessons and solving quizzes posted in the newspapers. I became conversant with the rules and the nuances of the game. Four players are necessary for playing a bridge game. The name ‘bridge’ comes from working with ‘dummy’ as a partner without knowing the opponents’ cards, bidding and making the target. While there are similar regional games like 28, I like contract bridge, where I set a challenging goal and find a way to achieve it with many manoeuvres and strategies. The contract bridge is a popular mind game.

I travelled to my town one summer, and I walked around the village to find my school friends. Many of them had left for the greener pastures, while some continued in the town with their legacies. I saw Khaja sitting under the banyan tree smoking a ‘beedi’, chatting with others. While Khaja was in pyjamas and a shirt, the others were in banians and dhotis. We spotted each other. Khaja, with his unshaven beard, got up and gave me a warm embrace and introduced me to his friends sitting along with him. After a few pleasantries, I sat down, reminiscing our school days. Two others joined and started the preparation for the afternoon card game. One of them shuffled the cards and dealt them. Multi-tasking was visible with cards on the one hand with a cigarette or a beedi on the other, and I could see two members have graduated to cigarettes. Every player was focused on the cards in hand, arranging and re-rearranging. The place was so quiet that I could hear a pin drop, and the atmosphere was so tense that I could cut the air with a knife.

I was sitting next to Khaja watching the game. Khaja took a long puff while looking at his deck. I was sure he was considering the various strategies even from the word go. The play ended with three rounds, Khaja losing the game, and his face showed disappointment while he was ready to play the second game. This rummy game has been here for decades, so I thought I would teach this group ‘contract bridge’. It would be a lovely holiday gift from me for the village friends who have never seen anything new in their lives or mindsets.

Khaja won the second game, and there was a smile on his face. I wanted to talk to the group about my intention at this opportune moment. I cleared my throat and told Khaja and his friends about a new card game — contract bridge. In five minutes, I gave an eloquent introduction and how this age-old British intellectual game differentiates from the other card games. I also explained the theory behind the contract bridge and how this is far superior to the dumb rummy. Khaja and his friends listened to me intently with a lot of respect. I could see eagerness and curiosity in their faces as I created a set removing the ‘jokers’ in the deck and started a demo game. As I was dealing with the cards, I was startled when one of Khaja’s friends stared at me and quipped after a long puff of beedi in his mouth: “ Do you play Gilbertson or Goren?”

(My later research showed me several ways of bidding while Gilberton and Goren methods are popular. Mr Charles Goren devised a Point Count Table when opening, responding, and rebidding, while the Gilbertson bidding method uses the ‘trick’ method. It was an incredible eye-opener for me to learn the various conventions used for playing contract bridge, thanks to Khaja and his friends.






…back to a time when I had time.

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Dravida Seetharam

Dravida Seetharam

Life long learner with interests in reading and writing

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