Bridge Workshop at Raibidpura

(Report written by Parimal Vahalia)

Prelude: I had first seen the villagers of Raibidpura play in the annual Maharaja Yashwantrao Holkar Bridge Championship at Indore. They were conspicuously visible by their attire of white pajama/kurta and the headdress which was a sure sign of their village background. Seeing them play at the tournament tables in early 2010 I had instantly wondered about their bridge learning and background, made some checks with the local organizers and then talked to couple of them, expressing my desire to visit them sometime.

The wish was alive during the intervening period but many things kept the visit in abeyance. It was Amaresh Deshpande, who not only took up their cause but also spread the word around by his blog and recounts of his visits there. A common bridge friend, by chance, initiated me to an email correspondence with Amaresh in respect to some material for bridge coaching work he was doing in Goa. The email led to talk on the village and the visit there was urgently fixed for the end of September 2013.

I had some input from both Amaresh and then from Mohan Ukidave who had hosted some of the students for a workshop at Nashik in middle of 2013. Nayana – my wife, without whom my coaching activities are incomplete – and myself decided to undertake the journey for conducting a bridge workshop at Raibidpura. The villagers were consulted, and agreed to our dates.

Envisaged problems: The preparations started in right earnest. We were informed of absence of most of the regular city comforts; air-conditioning, fridge, frequent power disruptions, possibility of mosquito menace, absence of western toilets, lack of regular tables and chairs in the bridge club. The additional consideration for us was the non-availability of our style of food and snacks especially in view of Nayana’s ongoing diet restrictions.  We decided to change what we could and manage with what we could not. The travel to the village was itself a major issue that we needed to address differently. A state transport bus from Ahmedabad travelled on the Mumbai-Agra highway about 40 kms away from the village. We were advised to take that bus and get down at a specific point from where our hosts would pick us up and arrange to take us to the village. The journey was to take nearly 13 hours on roads less than perfect because of the monsoon damage. Absence of the students for each day up to about 4 p.m. owing to their school was also informed to us and we had to be prepared for almost 10 hours of inactivity daily.

Preparation: Western toilet was a decidedly major requirement for both of us with weak knees. We purchased and carried a medical chair with us (have left it there for others who will follow us in future). We carried khakhras (the ever fresh Gujarati snack as emergency food as well as change of taste) in large quantities along with some cookies and dry snacks and decided to find fruits at every opportunity for solving the food issue. We decided to forego the direct bus journey and instead took a night train to Indore from where we would hire a private car to reach the village about 150 kms away. The trip, due to the comfortable night journey by train, reduced the strain of the road journey by bus and allowed us to pick up an important teaching aid (a projector) from Indore.

For the bridge coaching I carried my extensive notes prepared over years along with all the coaching gadgets like score charts, bidding hands, system notes and specially designed worksheets. With practically not much briefing on existing level of competence of the prospective bunch of students there (except the fact that most of them were at the mini-bridge stage), I had to carry a lot of material. I also decided to carry with me simple registration forms for better interaction with the individuals who attend the sessions. Thus armed, we set out on the 23rd September for the adventure into an unexplored territory.

Arrival: The travel was uneventful and we reached the village by about 1.00 p.m. The secretary of the Kisan Bridge Club – Sri Deepak, along with a few others welcomed us. Lunch was arranged at the residence of Sri Devdas, President of the club. He also offered us a choice of stay, either 200 meters away from the club in his own vacant house (where his family had not yet moved) or in a further distant place where they claimed the accommodation was rather spacious and more comfortable. We opted for the nearby house from where we could commute to the club on our own.

Two cousin brothers of Devdas, with their houses next door, were entrusted with the task of providing us with drinking water, tea and hot water for bath during our stay there. None from these two families attended the classes, yet both families took very good care of us during the stay. They also gave good company during the spare hours – sharing tales and accompanying us to market. A true epitome of village hospitality.

Food: The members of the club took it upon themselves by turn to cook meals for us. Most of the villagers had their first meal by 9.30 a.m. and went their ways either to the farms for farming related work, or to the schools for teaching. They returned home by about 5.30 p.m, when they had their second meal of the day. The staple food in the village consisted of chapattis, dal and one dry subzi which was prepared with finely chopped vegetables and was extremely spicy for our tolerance. On day 2 we had to ask them to tone down the spice content considerably. Pickles and the dry peanut chutney provided the extra zing wherever and whenever required. Dal-bati a Rajasthani favorite and a special item for us Gujaratis was also available as a change menu at many houses. Rice was prepared whenever needed. Though the offering did not seem to have any frills, the food was wholesome, tasty and it served the basic purpose of keeping us well fed. Realizing that I was diabetic and Nayana was dieting (both used splenda as sugar substitute), we had a pleasant surprise when Mr Devdas asked for some satchets of splenda and personally prepared rabdi for us on the final day.

The classes: The village has a population of around 5,000 and boasts of a bridge population numbering above 200, a very impressive number indeed. Bridge enthusiasts of the village are distinctly divided into 3 groups.

Mini bridge group: The group mostly made up of new entrants and beginners – children of age 7-12 years. This group normally arrives by 4.15 pm after school and stays on till about 6.00 pm. They play mini bridge and practice only card play (no bidding).

Bidding group: This is the group of youngsters graduated out of the mini bridge group and who have been given basic training of bidding systems and methods. They start arriving around 5.00 pm and stay on till about 7.00 pm.

Seniors: They are the farmers and the service class people. They come to the club at 7.00 pm and play social bridge without entering any scores after deals and thus without any competitive element.

As soon as the mini bridge students arrived in the evening on our first day at the club, the registration process began. When the children started playing Nayana started the supervision, checking out on correctness of contracts and the play progress with inputs on some simple trick making plays, such as simple trump removal and finessing. The children seemed to be keen to acquire new skills in card play. As a small beginning, they were all made to gather in front of the blackboard and taught the basics of rank of cards, honor and positional values, etc. Bidding group members arrived next.  2-3 out of them seemed sharp.  Most of them had terminal exams & tuition classes on from 6.00 pm and had to leave early. The blackboard teaching consisted of 1 Major opening and its revised responses.

Seniors arrived after 7 pm, playing mostly with a strong club system akin to precision.  A short watch on the proceedings was enough to see that they had very few bidding gadgets and needed to upgrade their knowledge a lot for better results. Though a bit tentative, they joined the theory classes for blackboard coaching (probably their first time ever for bridge) when called. We started with a revised structure of 1 Major opening.

The upshot of the first day’s efforts was that they all had become students of bridge theory, sitting in the class in front of the blackboard and enjoying the new way of learning and the inflow of knowledge it brought.  It also resulted in quick spreading of word in the village and a rapid increase in attendance next day onwards. The use of prepared notes, Hindi as medium of instruction, translation of some notes into Hindi, display of copies of some written notes on the notice board and use of projectors all went a long way to add to the interest among the villagers, and the attendance and registration went up day by day.

A common feature of the classes in 3 different groups was that everyone was keen on learning theory and was happy to sacrifice the play for the same. The seniors, many of whom were teachers by profession for years, were all very keen students.

On Sunday the 29th, tournaments were held for all the 3 groups separately. We had 6 tables for mini bridge, 3 tables for the bidding group and an astonishing 8 tables for the seniors. Most surprising was the fact that the senior event attracted some 68-70 year old veterans who had taken part in many state tournaments. The fever had definitely caught on.

Timetable:

Date Group Bridge  teaching  & Activity Comments
24.09.13 Mini bridge Ways to make extra tricks  
  Bidding 1H/1S revised structure  
  Seniors 1H/1S revised structure  
25.09.13 Mini bridge Con 1.  1,2. HW 3,4,5,6, Std opg bids  
  Bidding Standard Opening bids, Leads & Signals Prepared and gave  Hindi version
  Seniors Leads & Signals Prepared and gave  Hindi version
26.09.13 Mini bridge Con 1. 3. Con 2. 7,8 HW9,10,11,12  
    Responses to 1NT  
  Bidding Scoring all formats, Precision opg bids  
  Seniors Scoring, all formats, Precision opg bids  
27.09.13 Mini bridge Con 3. 13, 14. HW Con 3. 15,16,17,18 List of participation on computer
    Responses to 1D Activity sheet on computer
  Bidding Double & Redouble, 1H/1S  responses Hindi write-up given
  Seniors Doubles & Redouble,1H/1S  responses Hindi write-up given
28.09.13 Mini bridge Con 4. HW  
  Bidding Cappelletti, DONT, 1NT responses  
  Seniors Cappelletti, DONT, 1NT  responses To be given in Hindi
29.09.13 Mini bridge Tournament 6 tables -5 rd Mitchell -10 bds  
  Bidding Tournament 3 tables -all play all 15 bds  
  Seniors Tournament 7 tables Mitchell -14 bds To install ACBL scoring and teach
30.09.13 Mini bridge Dup. scoring, Con. Chapter 5,6  
  Bidding Dup. scoring, 1C- 1D responses  
  Seniors Precision 2C onwards & 1D FBO, Cue bids Should practice some deals
    Dup. Scoring  
01.10.13 Mini Bridge Con. Chap 7,8, 9 All copies given to club
  Bidding 2C onwards responses. System notes in English given
  Seniors Responses to 1C, Lebensohl System notes in Hindi to be given

Bridge-related developments: The village boasts of a very high level educational sensitivity, what with over 300 persons engaged as teachers in schools, and lot of young girls going to colleges at distant places. The game of bridge surely has been a very positive influence on the village, with practically no quarrels and fights amongst the residents and no major cases of vices and addiction noted. The village has already attracted TV coverage for its bridge activities. ‘Times of India’, India’s leading national daily has featured the village in its Sunday supplement.

The success of the village in attracting media attention has not been lost on their neighbors. The residents of Shrikhandi, a village 4 kms away from Raibidpura, are also desirous of starting bridge there and came to meet us for the same. Something may be done to soon enough to initiate them to the game and produce some more players.

Outings: We visited the farms of Deepak and of his uncle Kamalji, travelling on a bullock cart. At the farm we saw the different types of produce being cultivated. We borrowed a motor cycle from Mr Devdas to go to the district headquarters, Khargone, where colleges and Government offices are situated. Then after the eight days stay at village, we visited Omkareshwar, Mandu, Ujjain, Bhopal, Pachmarhi – places of tourist interest in Madhya Pradesh.

To conclude: Everyone who came for the coaching classes was wishing the workshop could continue longer. Maybe this trip will be a precursor to many more. Maybe we have a future India player looming amongst Hariom, Rohit, Nidhi, Antimbala, Vidya, Mohit, Krishna, Sonali and other children of the village who have shown immense talent and affinity for the game.

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