Bridge between 14-year-old Mumbai and Bill Gates | News from Mumbai

MUMBAI: At first acquaintance, Anshul Bhatt, a bespectacled ninth grader from Lower Parel, is like any other 14-year-old: he likes Avengers, Harry Potter, soccer, video games and bicycling. But this slip of a boy is a decades-long veteran of the complex adult card game Bridge.
He learned the game at the age of four and three years later he played his first tournament. Aged 13, he took three gold medals – doubles, team (as captain) and overall – in the U16 category at the 7th World Youth Transnational Bridge Championships in Italy last August.
No wonder Anshul was one of the “amazing people” billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates was looking for and was “thrilled” to meet him earlier this month on his trip to India to learn more about the prodigy and his gift.
Gates offers Bill ‘Bridge’ Bhatt his partner, Sachin calls with tips
It’s easy to picture Anshul Bhatt as a normal 14-year-old until you talk to him at length: wisdom beyond his years spills out as he pulls out an orange plastic set he carries in his backpack, spreads out a deck of cards and offers a crash course in “finesse” – a playing technique in the game of bridge – that shatters any chance that a grown-up would find it an easy target in this adult game. The journey began as he sat next to his father and grandparents, learning to balance 13 cards in his tiny four-year-old hand, and then beating them at rummy and mendicot. That was before he played his first tournament three years later, sitting on a stack of three chairs to be eye to eye with the cards on the table and his opponents Indian gymkhanamostly over 50.
“They said, ‘We’re intimidated! What if we lose to a seven year old?’ I didn’t win, but I didn’t finish last either!” he chuckles. As if that weren’t rare enough, the precocious little bridge player caused a minor sensation at age eight when he became the world’s youngest player to win the Joan Gerard Prize – which aims to showcase talent, hard work and international spirit in the Reward junior camps World Youth Bridge Championship in 2017. Then came triumph last month at the 7th World Youth Transnational Bridge Championships in Italy. “After playing 10 hours straight for seven days, guess what we did when the tournament was over?” he asked before quickly responding. “Played more bridge!” Playing a card game that kids don’t play was also what prompted him to meet Bill Gates. “Anshul, if you’re ever looking for a new bridge partner, I’m your man!” was Gates’ sign-off. It’s an offer Anshul might consider. “Yes, because finding a stable partner was one of my biggest challenges. I started playing when I was seven but my partners continue to grow beyond the age limit for the U16 category,” says the student at Dhirubhai Ambani International School, who last year started a bridge club for his schoolmates who now support him call “Bill Bhatt”.
“I wanted more kids to take up gaming, partly to solve my relationship problem and also to break the stereotypes of parents who think it’s like gambling. Bridge is like any other competitive sport,” says Anshul, whose rise to bridge began after his sixth birthday when his father, Mehul Bhatt, saw in his son a natural flair for cards and found him a tutor to help him improve and guide him discourage watching them struggle to connect with older people in their families. Bridge helped me bridge that age gap.
Sometimes I teach them how to use new technical tools and I take advice from them.” Such advice came from Sachin Tendulkar, himself a cricket prodigy, two days before last year’s World Cup. “He talked to me at length about how to deal with nervousness, stay hydrated and have a set routine before the tournament,” says Anshul, who went on to win three golds for India. “After I won, he called again and said, ‘Take the confidence with you to the next event, but remember, tomorrow will be a new day,'” says Anshul, who also shared his learnings from the game outside of the event bridge table carries.
“We play about 50 boards in a day and I’ve learned that a bad score shouldn’t affect my next board. Similarly, on a math test, if I’m struggling with one question, I can move on to the next and not dwell on what I couldn’t solve. It’s also taught me how to perform under pressure, and I’m able to do better and faster on my school exams.” While the teenager has spent more than half his life doing bridge, “there’s a lot of other stuff I want to do ‘ he emphasizes. “I love math, science, cooking, and I want to keep playing forever.” But for now, he has his eye on the national championship in Nashik this summer, “where I hope to break the record of the youngest national champion at 18,” he says keeps his nimble fingers crossed.


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