George Murray

By John Williams
EB April 1996

Known as Iain, the tenth Duke of Atholl, died recently at the age of 64. Famed as the only person in the country other than the Queen to employ a private army (the Atholl Highlanders protected his home, Blair Castle), the Duke was a devoted bridge player, a member of the Portland Club and for many years captain of the House of Lords team at a time when it generally held sway over the Commons. Since he relinquished the captaincy three years ago, the fortunes of the Lords have faltered somewhat.

Iain was a striking figure, standing 6 feet 5 inches tall, but his character was quiet and undemonstrative. As a player he was notable for determination and a high degree of concentration - attributes (especially the second) not always attributed to parliamentarians.

Consider the hand that won him the Tony Berry Cup for the best-played hand in the 1993 Lords v Commons encounter:

S K J 7 4
H K 8 6
D A Q 5
C K 8 3
DIR
S 6 5
H Q J 10 9 4
D J 9 4 3
C A 10

Iain responded 2H to North’s 1S open­ing. North raised to 3H and the Duke went on to game - a dubious decision non-vulnerable, which he then needed to justify in the play. A trump was led to the ace and a second trump returned. A third round drew West’s last trump, East dis­carding a diamond. A low diamond to the queen lost to the king and a diamond was returned.

Declarer now played three rounds of clubs, ruffing the third in hand, before advancing a spade to the king to bring in his game. With nothing else to go on, Iain had counted the East hand for ace of hearts, king of diamonds and possibly a club honour, and therefore judged that West was more likely to hold the ace of spades. East’s full hand was in fact:

S Q 10 9 8
H A 3
D K 6 2
C J 9 7 6

A typical Atholl hand – undemonstrative, careful and well reasoned.