IT ALL started when he overheard arguments and watched ego battles flare up in the family. These took off from seemingly harmless and quiet recreational card sessions around a table. Keyzad Anklesaria remembers burning a few bridges with his brother too, as the post-game fights got nasty. All over a game of bridge.
Recently though, the family from Ahmedabad was thrilled to see Keyzad return with a bronze medal from the World Bridge Games at Poland, as he and partner Sunit Chokshi earned India a place on the podium for the first time since 1988. India had shared the bronze in a team event 28 years ago.
“There was always a bridge culture in the family. And I was intrigued by what the fuss was all about, in the arguments. It would start with the cards and end somewhere else,” he laughs. “It boils down to questioning the other person’s brains. When you accuse someone in bridge, it indirectly means I have a better brain than you. There’ll be allegations and counter-allegations. When they say your hand is not looking good, it’s like saying you’re a duffer. It can hurt,” he says.
Chokshi, however, drifted towards bridge after a defeat at another table — a green baize one. A regular at Ahmedabad’s Ellisbridge Gymkhana, he once travelled to Bengaluru for the billiards nationals, lost in the first round, and returned knowing he was done with cue sport.
But he couldn’t stay away from the daily stopover at Ellisbridge and slowly got drawn to the deck of cards. The first time he joined in was to round off a foursome, though he remembers being tossed about by three seniors, none of who wanted to partner him for a state selection meet. “There were three others, and they needed two pairings, so I volunteered. But there’s always this myth that older players are better, so none of them wanted to pair with me since I was in my twenties. Finally, the person I was dumped upon returned home happy when we went on to win the event,” he recalls.
With bridge making it as a medal sport in the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games, there’s another goal to aim for. Chokshi has won five Asian championships with his partner, though an Asiad gold would sit well in the duo’s cabinet.
“It’s intellectually very stimulating,” says Chokshi, recalling how he read a bit on the sport, but not too much. Anklesaria calls him a player with flair, and is himself known to be the one with a million theories, and the one tempering Chokshi’s flamboyance with technique. Together, they are a winning pair.
Anklesaria pored over reference books at the British Council in his college days soon after his mother taught him the game. “I’d sit up the whole night and finish a book by 6 am the next day, tomes that would take at least 15 days for others to read,” says the 43-year-old.
His first international break came at a junior meet (under-25) in Ontario, Canada, though it wasn’t until he turned 36 that he got serious about the sport. “Indians think it’s a patte ki game — taash, jua. You can’t play it full-time,” he says.
Not that he didn’t try.
Pursuing his chartered accountancy, Anklesaria skipped the deciding exam in the final year of his articleship. “It was either clearing my CA or playing the event at Surat and saying goodbye to CA,” he recalls.
Money wasn’t an issue, thanks to his family business. But his wife was stunned when he announced, at 36, that he was done looking into distribution of gears and machine equipment for a European major. “Well, she had to suddenly deal with a husband not earning money for the family. When we married, she knew I was passionate about bridge. But still, when I told her, she was speechless for some time,” he recalls.
His partnership with Chokshi took time to settle. Chokshi, 46, was his brother’s classmate when they started playing together. Chokshi was invited to join India’s finest bridge team, the Kiran Nadar-owned Formidables in 1999, but declined as he was not willing to split a partnership. The offer resurfaced a few years later, and then Anklesaria joined him a few seasons later.
“We won the summer and winter nationals and I won at the Manchester CWG in 2002 where bridge was an exhibition sport. We got medals, though the 2018 Asiad gold would be a big thing,” says Chokshi, who is involved in real estate.
The two have run into Bill Gates and Warren Buffet at invitational championships in the US, and though their business minds are much revered, it’s their bridge brains that interest Anklesaria. “Buffet had once joked ‘I don’t mind spending rest of my life in jail as long as I have three cellmates and a deck of cards’,” he says.
And after the bronze at Poland, the bug has well and truly bitten India’s bridge duo.