Zia Mahmood

We in distant South Africa have been very fortunate to have met a lot of the greats in Bridge. Mike Lawrence made his presence known all the way back in the mid-80's; Jeremy Flint and his team from UK we met; German and Chinese squads have also made their way out here; And Omar Sharif was a hit with all the lady kibitzers!

Zia came to South Africa 4 years ago and his team included Jaggy Shivdasani (of India) and two American hot stars Meckstroth and Rodwell. Of course, they cleaned everything in sight here!! But Zia, in particular, has made a mark in the hearts of all South Africans he met. He was colourful, exhuberant, passionate for all "nice" things, and a great orator on VU-graph, we took an instant liking to him.

Here follows an interview with Zia just prior to the Tunisia World Championships:

"I'm proud to play for America,
but I'm still a Pakistani"
- Zia

Zia has represented his native Pakistan with great dignity and unsurpassed ability on many occasions. Twice he led Pakistan to incredible heights - second place in the Bermuda Bowl in Westchester, New York, in 1981 and second place in the Rosenblum Teams in Miami Beach in 1986.

This time it's different - Zia is representing the United States in the Bermuda Bowl. "But I am still a Pakistani, not an American," he said as he relaxed by the pool here in Hammamet. "I am proud and happy to be representing America, but my Pakistani identity is in no way submerged. I feel like a Pakistani who is living in America and playing for America."

To prove his point, Zia asked that we be sure to see how his American team comes to the table for the opening match. "Our whole team will be dressed in Pakistani outfits. I consider this to be a noble and warm gesture on the part of my American teammates. I feel that my whole team is Pakistani at heart." Of course Zia will be ecstatic if his team wins the Bermuda Bowl - but he's not at all sure it will be the biggest bridge thrill of his life. "It's one thing if you win a world championship surrounded by some of the best players in the world. It's something else again to place second in the Bermuda Bowl and the Rosenblum Teams with a motley group of pirates - my courageous countrymen -- who made up for their lack of experience and ability with their intense desire to play like champions against the best the world had to offer."

For his part, Zia is happy to be in a country like the United States - a country that "opens its arms to the whole world. It's a major part of the American heritage that this country acts as a cauldron for persons from all nations of the world. Because of this heritage, Pakistan can benefit greatly from my appearance on an American team - a win with me on the team will be a huge boost for Pakistan.

" Does all this mean that Zia will never again play for Pakistan? No way! "The time may come when I return home and lead Pakistan into the world championships again." As for the Bermuda Bowl competition, Zia believes this is the strongest field ever to compete in this event. "This field is so strong that it is premature to think about winning. Our focus is on qualifying - I don't want to go home a week early."

It goes without saying that Zia believes the two American teams are strong contenders here. "Then there's Italy - they've been winning everything in sight. And France, winner of the Olympiad last year, is strong again. The other European teams also figure to be formidable. And don't ever count Brazil out of the picture. My gut feeling is that Brazil has returned to the heights it achieved a few years ago. I haven't played against the Far East teams recently, but they must be very good. It has to mean something when Indonesia, a finalist in last year's Olympiad, couldn't finish in the top two in their own Far East zone. I always have had respect for Patrick Huang and his Chinese Taipei team, and it certainly appears that China is making its mark in the bridge world. Only eight teams will qualify for knockout play. It's going to be a real dogfight."

There's one thing Zia would change if he were in charge of the world championships. "I would reduce the number of systems and conventions everybody could play. Maybe just Stayman and Blackwood would be enough. Then I could be looking at all the beautiful girls in the pool instead of studying defense here with Michael (Michael Rosenberg, his partner)."

Zia realizes that bridge has not done all that well in promoting the game as a spectator sport. "But I think computers can make the difference. We have already reached the point where players all over the world can follow a major tournament by bringing the game up on the Internet. We have just started in this area, and it should get better and better as we learn more about how to do things. Watching bridge on the computer may be the answer to increasing the popularity of our game."

And his team did come dressed in Pakistani outfits for their first match!!!

USA2 (Zia's team) reached the semi-finals and were knocked out by USA1. France were the eventual victors.

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