Max Bavin


Max Bavin (1954-2019)

It is sad to record the sudden death of Max Bavin on 6th October, following a heart attack.

In my early days of managing the EBU there were many major issues to be addressed, not least of which was staffing. My own duties were overwhelming and there was a lack of staff with bridge knowledge who could offer meaningful support. I was able to recruit Sandra Claridge in a general administrative and secretarial role, which steadied the ship considerably but more was needed. I had become aware when engaging directors for tournaments that there was one recently qualified trainee who showed outstanding promise allied to a keen interest in bridge administration: his name was Max Bavin and he was working for the Stratford on Avon Town Council, organising dustbin rotas – not exactly a long-term career option. It soon became apparent in discussion that he would welcome any employment opportunity with the EBU and his original engagement with us was in the role of master points secretary – a position which wouldn’t impact on his ability to undertake directing commitments in EBU or other tournaments at weekends.

This was in the early 1980s when consolidation and then expansion were very much in the air. The EBU was outgrowing its headquarters in Thame and computerisation was beginning to offer new opportunities for business management systems and tournament organisation. It quickly became apparent that Max had a sharp mind and an easy grasp of problem solving, so it wasn’t long before his usefulness spread in all directions. By the middle of the decade there was a team in place capable of tackling an agenda of expansion: a Board of Directors comprising (among others) Keith Stanley as Chairman, Peter Stocken, Grattan Endicott, Tom Bradley and Margaret Curtis provided solid and reliable support to management without undue interference and a management team of myself, Sandra and Max tackled the major issues and projects on a practical level. These included an increase in our profile within the European Bridge League and World Bridge Federation via (a) the instigation of international friendly competitions and (b) staging of the European Championships at Brighton Conference Centre in 1987 and the World Junior Championships in Nottingham in 1989, plus the establishment and financing of new purpose-built headquarters in Aylesbury. During this turbulent period we still enjoyed the sunset of Harold Franklin’s influence: Harold was a larger-than–life maverick and freelance entrepreneur responsible for many major advancements in tournament organisation and as Chief TD of the EBU, EBL and WBF he was ideally placed to further Max’s own training and advancement to the point where, when Harold retired, Max had become a successor-in-waiting. The wonderful Roy Higson held the fort for a while until Max was deemed ready to become Chief TD himself and after that followed an easy passage for him to rise within the ranks of the EBL and WBF, eventually assuming the top directing role in each. He retained his professional duties at EBU headquarters but as I neared retirement he took over responsibility for all aspects of tournament organisation, including booking of venues and TD staff in addition to directing the events themselves. He was also a key member of the Laws and Ethics committee and had a major impact on development of the Laws both nationally and internationally.

The above gives some idea of Max’s importance to the EBU over the 30-odd years of his employment. After retiring he continued his roles with the EBL and WBF, albeit on a decreasing curve.

Personal recollection of Max is of an amenable and committed colleague who commanded the utmost respect. He found it easy to communicate on a working level but had more difficulty with personal relationships, being of a rather solitary disposition. Having said that, although his marriage to Roz ended, he remained on very good terms with her and was always a dutiful and caring father to their son Ben. When things didn’t go well for him he could become moody and withdrawn without permitting any discussion, but his main problem in life was a stubborn refusal to look after himself, despite the best efforts of all who cared about him: he smoked heavily, his taste in food (when he bothered to eat) veered towards the junk variety and he had a life-long devotion to beer (though he was never a drunk), coupled with an aversion to fruit and veg.

Max was a fine bridge player who loved the problem-solving aspect of the game and welcomed over-complication. I spent a year as his partner for club and county and likened it later to going ten rounds with a monkey in a dustbin (which I think he found amusing): he was hard to please without ever being unpleasant and his main enemy at the table was himself. After his dalliance with me he formed a partnership with N. Ireland’s Nick Perceval-Price and they developed a highly complex and artificial bidding system which seemed to lead to endless confusion. At the end of that particular episode he came to the conclusion (as had Harold Franklin before him) that he was simply unsuitable as a bridge partner for reasons of temperament, and so stopped playing abruptly.

Max was a massive sports fan (of the armchair variety only): whilst we shared an obsessive interest in the England cricket team our football allegiances (Man U for him, Arsenal for me) were a constant distraction: we once sat in a service station carpark on the M27, on our way to a Bournemouth congress, listening as Michael Thomas’s last-minute goal at Liverpool won Arsenal the league championship: he was quiet but dignified for the rest of the journey. The only time I ever remember him playing sport was when we were in Guernsey setting up their inaugural congress: we ventured a round of golf but had to give up the unequal struggle when all of our balls were lost in the water or the woods.

Max will be much missed by all at the EBU and the other bridge authorities he served so well, as well as by Roz and Ben, to whom our fondest sympathy is extended.

By John Williams

Antonio Riccardi, Head TD of the WBF and the EBL was a colleague working alongside Max in the world of international bridge as well as his very close friend for more than 30 years. He remembers:

Max’s first European championship was Brighton 1987 under Chief TD Harold Franklin and then we directed the junior world championships in Nottingham 1989. Unlike me he did not continue to direct any Junior Championships but from this moment it is enough to look at the list of European and World Championships (Bermuda, Olympiads, Rosenblum) to know that he was there at virtually all of them.

I remember Geneva 1990 where we tasted Yuri Kovalenko's homemade vodka, as well as Max playing the guitar in the Tiffany Hotel (Salsomaggiore 1992). Then there were the troubles in Lille 1998 when the Howell movements on the screens were wrong: after a few rounds the players realized they would have had to play a second time against the same opponents and the TDs were put in charge of keeping the players quiet while waiting for a solution. Even on that occasion Max was able to mix authority and irony so as to calm souls by generating a smile, and by the time the players were put back at the tables, peace had been restored.

At the beginning of 2000 Max and I joined the WBF Laws Committee, which I eventually left while Max continued until the last update of the Laws in 2017, after which he was invited to be a consultant to the Committee, in order to avoid the need for him to attend their meetings.

After Montreal 2002, Kojak (Bill Schoder, Chief TD WBF) and Claude Dadoun (Chief TD EBL) decided to quit and the Federations had to choose the new Chief TD for WBF and EBL. The solution found was facilitated by the friendship that bound us. For the WBF Max was appointed chief and I co-chief while for the EBL I was the chief and Max co-chief. Among tournament directors Max has always been considered the most technically prepared and until now, whenever I had some doubts it was him whom I addressed. His ability to kick off a major pairs competition on time was legendary.

During any Championship, Benson & Hedges cigarettes were part of his life and, in the evening he would also add spaghetti bolognese and good beer(s).

Eitan Levy – European Bridge League Executive Member:

World bridge has lost a giant. Max’s knowledge and interpretation of the Laws of Bridge was unsurpassed.

At international events, TD discussions and consultations about rulings invariably ended with “what is Max’s opinion.” He had the ability to immediately get to the core of the problem and see the whole picture. A discussion of a ruling with Max often went like this: Max: “What would a bid of 3 clubs have meant in that situation in their system?”. TD: “Oh, I didn’t think of that.” Max: “Well go and find out and then we can discuss.”

In addition to his work in the field Max was always generous with his help. As a member of the EBL Rules and Regulations Committee, he was always the first to remark on a problem raised and I cannot remember when his advice or solution was not accepted. His last contribution to the Committee was in an email sent the day before he passed away. Until his retirement he was active in the training courses for EBL TDs and even after that, any exercises and test questions were always sent to Max for comments. He was a valuable member of the World Bridge Federation Laws Committee and remained an active consultant to the Committee when he gave up travelling.

Max was my mentor. It was through him and his help and encouragement that I rose through the ranks of tournament direction. We were together at many European and International Championships but my best time with him was spent when I directed, at his invitation, at many Summer Congresses in Brighton. I spent many hours with him at meals – always ending with his cognac, and later at the bar with his dark beer. Our conversations there were seldom about the niceties of the laws. We shared stories and anecdotes, swapped rumors, and talked about the other passion we shared, cricket. He often mentioned about how proud he was of his son, Ben.

Max could sometimes be impatient, especially at meetings when something was repeated many times. I, and others, were sometimes at the receiving end of a biting remark when something that he considered elementary was questioned, but none of this was ever done in an insulting way, and he gave praise where praise was due. In the over 20 years that I worked with Max I never heard one bad word said about him. He was an inspiration to all new directors and nearly all of today’s top TDs were influenced and guided by him. The bridge world - players, directors and officials - will all be the poorer for his loss.

Max often quoted the 10cc Rock Band song about cricket. To paraphrase the refrain of that song, “We didn’t like Max. We loved him!”

2013 Biography from Max in his own words:

Born 1954, Wigan. Chief Tournament Director of the World Bridge Federation, former Chief Tournament Director for the EBU.

Joined the EBU in 1984 at the offices in Thame, having previously been a local government officer in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Learned to play bridge at grammar school, where he was fortunate enough to have a teacher who was an enthusiastic bridge player. Originally a keen chess player, but bridge soon took over once he’d been introduced to the game.

Started tournament directing at the local bridge club in his early twenties. First major break came when the local Stratford Congress (a major congress at the time) found themselves to be a tournament director short one year, and he was drafted in at short notice.

Thereafter started working for the EBU as a tournament director at weekend congresses and competitions, most notably in the Birmingham area – the Grand Hotel in particular (a popular venue for bridge events at the time) before joining the EBU full time.

Originally joined the EBU as supervisor of the membership and master-point department, and to maintain and operate the EBU computer system; also as the third member of staff alongside Peter Briggs and John Williams who was also a bridge player and so could deal with general bridge enquiries.

Became CTD of the EBU in 1986, at which point he was already tournament directing at both European and World championships. Attended and passed with distinction the first European tournament director’s course in Amsterdam in 1982. Became CTD of the WBF in 2003. Max left the EBU as Chief Tournament Director at the end of 2012, but continues with the WBF.

Passions outside of bridge include football (Manchester United, rather than Wigan – Wigan were a non-league team when Max lived there), cricket (Lancashire) and music (heavy rock!).