A versatile player and a great lover of bridge

SportingIndia|04-Oct-2015 14:27

He is a Pakistani, Karachi-born and has taken Pakistan to a memorable final of the Bermuda Bowl event in the 1981 World championship held at Port Chester, USA.  However for two decades now he is part of the USA  team, enjoyed the honour of being part of winning team in the 2009 World championship. In  Chennai he plays for USA’s senior team. 

This is Zia Mahmood, one of the world’s finest bridge players who has rubbed shoulders with such illuminaries like Bob Hamman, the US  legend,  richest men like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet  and noted actor Omar Sharif and many more.  He is the type who likes to live life to the maximum and bridge came in handy to make friends and be with people he loved to be  with and  that include beautiful  women around the world.  Above all this, this  Chartered Accountant, who lives in England is good conversationalist.

Get him going and Zia can leave you in splits with his anecdotes.  Sample this.  Zia, who has done much to popularize bridge in Pakistan was once invited by the then President Pervez Musharraf to come to Pakistan and receive a special medal for his services to the nation through bridge.  Zia readily agreed to go over and everything was arranged, the function was held and then came the catch. The President wanted him to join in a game of bridge. The great player agreed and the President had two Generals of the army to come over.  Zia and the President were the partners. “As the game progressed I found myself in the losing-end thanks to an aggressive President who could not sync with my line of play . Now I did not want to lose like this.  So I decided on playing a psche (read ‘bluff’ )and result was that the swing turned in our favour. 

The Generals sniffed something amiss and when they found the reason, raised objection. It required the President’s intervention to me get out of the rut. But that was how the ‘memorable’ occasion finally ended,” he said  leaving his listners laughing away.
Zia said he had taken to bridge when 22 years and found this sport quite a balm to the mind.  “Tell me which sport would allow you to play with the same sharp skills even when you grow old?  I am turning 70 and I am still enjoying everything I do at the bridge table and with the same skill and seriousness. The sport keeps  the mind alert,” he said.

Known to be popular with women,  Zia would say “bridge helped me here,”  tongue in cheek.  He remembers once how he was with Omar Sharif and there was this beautiful lady who came along to join the famous actor.  “We had a fine evening of bridge and partying and when time came to part, Omar seemed reluctant to leave the woman, who however excused herself and went her way. 

In a fit of disappointment Omar proceeded to a Casino and went on a gambling spree.  What happened was he surprised himself by making  $ 1.1 million that night!  That was his lucky day. Next morning he realized  that had it not been for that beautiful woman, he would not have been to the Casino nor would he have made the wealth.  So deciding to show a touch of gratitude, he ordered flowers worth a $100,000 and had them sent to her,” Zia narrated of the times he had been through.

It is a sport that helps develop friendship and that is why  Zia believed it would have been wonderful to have regular India-Pakistan competitions.  But then he himself found things hot in Pakistan after Musharraf’s  exit and so he too decided to leave Pakistan, to the gulf first and then to USA , a country he believes “opens its arms to the whole world.”

Zia has some complimentary words for the players in India, but as he put it, “they have to come out of this outdated bridge they play.  Exposure to international competitions alone can develop their skills. They are all so talented,” he added

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