Pulling out the Ace of Spades : A Bridge-Player’s Journey to Carnegie Mellon University

When I spoke to Anirudh for the first time, I saw a taciturn, matter-of-fact academically-oriented young man who had his heart set on studying engineering at a top university in the world. He had good grades, a 1500 SAT score, and was passionate about (surprise!) science and math.

What came out as I got to know him better, however, was the story of a young man who had grown up watching his dad tinker in his workshop, a man who had inspired a love of machinery and mechanics that led Anirudh to asking his own questions about how things worked.

What I didn’t see at first, was that I was dealing with a national and international ranking Bridge player (you know, like the card game). Why a teenager was playing, (what in my head was a game for the old birds!) was beyond my understanding. I thought it was something that he did to relax, like some people did crossword puzzles or played Pictionary.

Well, you can probably guess where this is going: I was wrong. Not only did he like playing Bridge, he had also spent the past decade of his life playing with some of the masters of the game, people who’d been playing since Anirudh’s parents were teenagers.

Anirudh was – and is – so interested in breaking down things to see what makes them tick, that he broke down the game of Bridge. He created an algorithm based on probabilities of getting dealt certain hands, and used that to practice before competing in tournaments.

Growing up with a dad who inspired him to choose his vocation of choice is a heart-warming story, but what makes it even more special is that the two of them have played together as partners in Bridge since Anirudh made his debut almost a decade ago.

Over the duration of my engagement with Anirudh, I was stressed out, slightly-panicked, and on the verge of tears more times than most – not because he was a difficult student or because he wasn’t a match for his dream school, but because I felt like I didn’t have the time to do his application justice as his counsellor.

There was so much of his story that came through in his essays and accomplishments, I was challenged to make everyone see the other, special, secret-sauce side of this kid that he didn’t ordinarily share with people.

Deciding where to go to college is one of the bigger decisions that students in general and Asian students in particular make, and to be tasked with a successful delivery of it is an honour. To do right by my kids is something that I do not take nonchalantly – after all, my respect and love for children and their collective success are what make me do what I do.

So what did I do? I tag-teamed with Anirudh and his family, working and re-working essays, his website and resume, and packaging his algorithm for bridge to make sure they told the most authentic narrative of his story possible.

A clear goal of where he wanted to go to school, as well as drawing on his mental stamina (developed from years of playing bridge) allowed Anirudh to come out the other side incredibly victorious. I am uber-happy to report that Anirudh is going to his dream school – Carnegie Mellon – this fall, a student of the class of 2025!!!

Anirudh had the nerve to #DreamBig. So what’s stopping you?