Martin Hoffman

Martin Hoffman was a hugely popular player, and was considered for a time to be the best pairs player in the world. He enjoyed a long string of successes both in the UK and abroad. He was also the winner of ‘Master Bridge’, the 1982 Channel 4 TV tournament contested by bridge stars such as Omar Sharif , Zia Mahmood and Rixi Markus.

Obituary, by Steve Eginton

I first met Martin Hoffman when I was at Manchester University. He told me that he was a skilled diamond cutter, but that bridge took over his life once he discovered it and it was certainly suited to his personality.

At the time he partnered Paul Hackett who managed the Central Bridge Club, always encouraging students, and Martin helped him out. There were many great players there who inspired my contemporaries, but none compared to Martin in ability. Paul organised exhibition matches at that time and a vivid memory was seeing everybody’s then heroes, the Blue Team, consulting with Martin about card play.

Martin was not just an outstanding card player, he was also incredibly fast. Once, playing his team-mates at the old Stratford congress, I took about 10 minutes on what I thought was a terribly difficult hand, receiving a unique rebuke from Ian Calderwood for being slow! In the end I went two down taking what I thought was a reasonable line. In the other room Martin took about 2 seconds to find a 100% play!

His books on card play, starting with “Tales of Hoffman” were not only very instructive but also incredibly entertaining and gave a flavour of the life that he led. I think it no exaggeration to say that he was respected and loved by every European player that you could find in the old encyclopaedia and he partnered many of them.

His successes were numerous, not only with stars but also producing fabulous results with quite ordinary partners. Sponsors queued up to partner him in pairs events, although he was not always forgiving of partners’ errors. However, I remember once watching two challenge teams match with huge side bets, organised during downtime in Crans-sur-Sierre tournament between Omar and Nuri Pakhzad, a wealthy Iranian. For part of it Martin partnered Fritzi Gordon, beside whom her lady partner Rixi was a lamb. Martin was quiet as a mouse for the whole session.

Those who have read his autobiography will know that he was a holocaust victim and survived Auschwitz. It is impossible for others to imagine such horrors and their effects, and certainly Martin held no trust for security or savings. As a bachelor, his love of “investing” in horses and dogs meant he often relied heavily on his friends, who never failed him.

There were times when, leaving a successful tournament in Europe flush with his fee and prize money, he would reach the channel broke. It only added to his charm. We both worked at Stefan’s Bridge Circle and in 1978 we drove to Biarritz with Milek Lev and his wife Agnes. We were keen to visit San Sebastian but Spain didn’t recognise Israel then. So, he and I alone arrived at the border where Martin’s passport was also refused. It turned out that Martin was still stateless. In 25 years he had seen no point in the effort or expense of obtaining citizenship!

His marriage to Audrey changed that. Over forty years, she ensured that he had emotional and financial security for the first time since his childhood. But she never wanted to prevent him being Martin. He never really changed, playing professionally on the London circuit, regaling partners and opponents alike with often repeated jokes and rebukes about card play. His bidding, always more instinctive than technical, did evolve somewhat towards Solo, but his magical handling of the dummy never faltered.

Fittingly, he played bridge until the day he died, passing away in his sleep that evening.

He will be remembered with so much affection, love and respect by Audrey and all his friends. These are my personal recollections of 50 years but many more can be found in his entertaining autobiography, Bridging Two Worlds.

Martin's autobiography, written for the EBU

“Most of my time, is spent playing bridge. I only ever play professionally, and am not worried by the standard of my partners. I am not worried by their nationality either: I have partnered players from the UK, the US, India, Iran, France, Austria, Germany – wherever they happen to be from, as long as they are pleasant people and don’t mind paying my fees! I am available for rubber and duplicate, club and congress events everywhere in the world. This does not leave much time for family life, but Audrey is very supportive and does not mind keeping herself busy teaching bridge and playing tennis or golf. We don’t have children, but are lucky in that we could always play parents (now grandparents) to our friends’ offsprings. I really enjoy the company of children and love telling them stories and keeping them entertained. Although they tend to go off me as they grow up, they have well repaid my interest in them. It was because of my friendship with their little girl that my Finchley family took me in and gave me a start in my English life, and later, another little girl was key to another rewarding friendship, with her parents, Judy Dench and Michael Williams. Lovely people – but what a shame they did not play bridge!”

Read Martin’s Day in the life of... - August 2008

A feature on Martin's life from English Bridge, August 1987

Crockfords winner: 1981

Spring Foursomes winner: 1969 and 1976

Brighton Pairs, Harold Poster Cup: 1970 1987 and 2011

Easter Congress Guardian Trophy winner : 1969 1976 and 1982

National Pairs winner: 1966

Hubert Phillips Bowl winner: 1970

Tollemache Cup winner: 1967