Keep calm and carrom on

Updated: Apr 03, 2020, 10:59 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

As an increasing number of Mumbaikars return to playing carrom during self-isolation, we get a champ to help you ace the popular indoor game

Residents of a building in Lalbaug wear protective masks while playing carrom. Pic/ Suresh Karkera
Residents of a building in Lalbaug wear protective masks while playing carrom. Pic/ Suresh Karkera

ThiS is a real-life incident from 2007 that illustrates the sort of addictive hold carrom has on people. Five college kids from Kolkata hooked to the game met each other on the morning of their university exam intending to study at the last minute. But then they thought, "Let's play just one game before we begin." With biryani as the prize, that game multiplied and went on for 4.5 hours, till 1.30 in the afternoon.

The exam was meant to start at 2. But the students were still in no mood to leave. They kept thinking, "Let's play just one more game," till Safdar, the teenage brother of Faisal Rahman — the friend whose house it was — returned from school, saw the addicts in the midst of their fix and wasted no time in upturning the entire carrom board before pointing out, "You idiots, have you forgotten that you have an exam to reach to?" Awoken from their stupor, the five collegians rushed out thinking they could still make it in time. But, they met with crazy traffic. And it's only because they had strength in numbers that the invigilator had no choice but to let them in when they finally made an entrance to the hall, 45 minutes late.

The scissor style of hitting the striker
The scissor style of hitting the striker

The point is, carrom has had a historic hold on Indians, in varying degrees. No wonder that we have two-time world champions like Prashant More in our mix. And no wonder we also have people like Shilpa Shetty Kundra posting videos during the lockdown, of playing the game with her family.

The popular pastime has returned to more homes and staircase landings right now from its regular hotspots of middle-class Mumbai's chawls and housing societies, with people of varying hues turning to it. And you, too, can spend hours like Faisal and friends if you have access to a board and someone to play with. Feel like your skills are a bit rusty? It doesn't matter. We got 68-year-old Janardhan V Sangam, the first international carrom umpire from Maharashtra, to dish out expert advice. So before you place that striker, pocket these tips.

JV Sangam
JV Sangam

  • Read the carrom board. "Look at it like a cricket pitch. Is it fast? Is it slow?" Sangam says, since that determines your game. You have to hold the striker and play your strokes lightly if it's fast. But you have to hit it harder when the board is damp and slow, like it might be during the Mumbai monsoon.
  • There are different grips for hitting the striker, mainly using your thumb and the next two fingers. Choose the one that suits you. But remember that the scissor style — where you interlock just your index and middle fingers — is best meant for baseline shots into the near right pocket.
  • Strategise like you would in a game of chess. Sangam says, "Think three turns ahead. You might have white pieces and your opponent has black. So the idea with your turn is to make it more difficult for the black coins while pocketing your own."
  • Take the red coin worth three points if you have a chance and even if you don't have a covering shot to claim it, as is the rule. At least it will be placed at the centre, making it more difficult for your opponent.
  • Carrom involves figuring out the correct angle to hit a coin at. So look at each shot geometrically.
  • For the ideal force, your fingers need to be steady. "Remember that you might take five or six tries to pocket a coin initially. But it will be less difficult once you have a steady grip; you will take about two months to pick up the game if you play it with dedication," Sangam says.
  • Don't let your mind stray. Keep your focus even when the snacks arrive. Concentration is key.

Virtual strikes

Don't have a carom board at home? Your best option then is to try out digital versions. There's Carrom Stars, a multiplayer-app that you can use a Facebook account to log into. Similarly, there is Carrom Pool, Carrom King and Carrom Friends.

Log on to Google Play to download the apps

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