By Alan Hiron
EB April 1996
Terence Reese, who died in February, was undoubtedly Britain’s most famous bridge player. Even on the world scene, perhaps only Ely Culbertson (who was, after all, the master of publicity and put the game on the map) and later the great Italians, Giorgio Belladonna and Benito Garozzo, could be considered his rivals.
Where Terence excelled (apart from winning four European Championships, the Bermuda Bowl in 1955, the Sunday Times Invitational Pairs in 1964, and countless other major events) was in the quantity and quality of his writings on the game, in later years with co-authors. Perhaps 80-90 books on the game is the best estimate but they were all excellent with Reese on Play and The Expert Game attracting the greatest acclaim.
As a journalist (rather than author), he had contributed the weekly columns to The Observer since 1948 and the daily articles in the London Evening News - later to merge with the Evening Standard - as well as writing regularly for a number of journals. He edited The British Bridge World from 1955 to 1962, before handing over to Albert Dormer. It was later merged with Bridge Magazine - the world’s oldest journal on the game. It is hard to visualise that the total of daily articles alone came to some five million words!
Terence’s introduction to the world of cards has been well documented. His parents met as First Lady and First Gentleman at a whist drive; before he could read he was an insatiable player of Beggar-My-Neighbour; at seven he became a devotee of Auction Bridge (retiring behind a cushion in order to sort his hand). As well as being a more than useful games player, he won a top Classics scholarship to New College, Oxford. There he captained the winning Oxford team in the inaugural Varsities Contract Bridge match, defeating a side led by lain Macleod, the future politician.
After coming down from university, he tried the commercial world but it was not to his taste and he soon became a professional bridge player and writer.
There are many examples of Reese’s celebrated mordant wit but the one that I liked, which has not been quoted recently, occurred when he was playing in a bridge club near Marble Arch, the old site of Tyburn. His partner did something quite dreadful in defence and this brought forth the comment: “They used to hang people here for far less than that!”
I first became friendly with Terence in 1952 - and it was the start of a long, if sporadic, professional relationship. It was at the old Lederer’s Club in Mount Street at one of the ‘coffee house’ sessions staged by Pedro Juan with the idea of encouraging younger players, with in-depth and highly critical discussions by eight participants, the four players each having a guardian angel armed with a bell. If the angel rang his bell it meant that he disagreed with his player’s bid or play and, at the end of the hand, this was analysed and voted on. If the decision of the court was against either the player or the angel who was adjudged to have ‘mis-rung’, the offender contributed one shilling (5p) to the kitty. I lost a number of shillings, but I learnt a lot.
It was during this year that Alan Truscott emigrated to the States and Terence (then the editor of the British Bridge World) suggested that I took over the feature entitled ‘London and the South’. One thing led to another and, even some 40 years later, I still felt that I owed Terence a great debt - not only from our technical discussions but for his constructive suggestions on writing style.
Indeed, it would not be putting it too strongly to say that this influenced my entire career, switching (as I did) from pure mathematician and computer consultant to bridge teacher, author and journalist.
The year of 1965 was, of course, a black one for Terence Reese and his friend and partner, Boris Schapiro. During the Bermuda Bowl world championships in Buenos Aires, Reese and Schapiro were accused of exchanging illicit finger signals. As their accusers included the British non-playing captain, the remaining matches were conceded and the World Bridge Federation judged the pair guilty.
They passed the matter over to the British Bridge League who decided that, quite apart from some procedural faults in the original inquiry, it would be correct to stage their own tribunal. This, with both sides represented by solicitors, leading barristers, and assessors of the technical evidence, dragged on for a year and a half before finally finding the pair ‘Not Guilty’. What can I say, as one of the assessors? The visual evidence was seemingly convincing but in no way did the complete records of bidding and play from the entire event show anything inconsistent with a top class pair playing in distinctly poor form. If you have not already read it, Terence’s own Story of an Accusation gives a blow-by-blow account of the affair. The intriguing thing is that the book was written while the outcome was still in doubt.
Although Terence and Boris later resumed their tournament careers, they never played in partnership again. What could they do if they tried? If they did well, their enemies would say “Up to their old tricks, again”. If they did badly, their foes would have regarded it as proof of the original accusation.
Terence leaves a widow, Alwyn (nee Sherrington); they married in 1970.
Major International Appearances
European Championships: 1948* 1949* 1951 1952 1954* 1957 1958 1959 1963* 1970
Bermuda Bowl: 1955* and 1965
World Olympiad: 1960 and 1964
* = 1st place
Camrose Trophy Selections: 1937 1938 1947 1948 1949 1950 1951 1952 1955 1958 1961 1964 1965 1969 1972 1973 1974 1975 and 1976
Gold Cup Winner: 1948 1950 1952 1953 1956 1960 1964 and 1965
Crockfords Winner: 1949 1950 1968 1972 and 1975
Spring Foursomes Winner: 1963 1965 1971 1972 and 1973
National Pairs winner: 1951
Tollemache Cup winner: 1961