Ralph Swimer

1914 - 1998

By Godfrey King
EB April 1998

Ralph Swimer, one of Britain’s best ever bridge players, has died after a short illness.

Born in 1914, Ralph built a very suc­cessful business, but devoted most of his spare time to bridge. He formed a bril­liant partnership with his great friend Dick Preston and together they won most of the national championships dur­ing the 1960s & early 70s, including the Gold Cup and the Master Pairs many times.

Ralph was a WBF World Life Master and played for Britain in the World Olympiad in 1960 when Britain came second to France. He represented Britain in one other world championship and two Zonal championships.

One of the most traumatic events of his life was as non-playing captain of the British team in 1965 when Terence Reese and Boris Schapiro were accused of cheating.

Alan Truscott wrote in the New York Times 12th March 1998:

A memorable episode in bridge history, which made headlines around the world, was recalled by the death two weeks ago (Feb 28) in London, England, of Ralph Swimer at the age of 83. He was the non-playing captain of the British team at the 1965 world team championships in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and was embroiled in controversy near the end of the tournament.

He was advised by officials that two of his players, Terence Reese and Boris Schapiro, had been seen by several observers to be cheating by using finger signals to indicate the number of cards they held in the heart suit. He then watched them and confirmed to his dismay the validity of the accusation. He talked to Schapiro, received a confession that was later denied by the player, and announced that his team would forfeit in its two unfinished matches.

A hearing by the World Bridge Federation found the players guilty, but a subsequent British inquiry decided that the evidence did not prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. In England Swimer was hailed as a hero by some but targeted as a villain by others. He was forced to bring a libel suit against a player who said in a magazine article that he was a party to a conspiracy, but the jury was unable to agree.

Controversy aside, Swimer was a player of the highest class who won many titles. In 1960 he was a member of the British team, including Reese and Schapiro, that finished second to France in the first World Team Olympiad in Turin, Italy.

Major International Appearances

European Championships: 1962 and 1967
World Olympiad: 1960

Camrose Trophy Selections: 1949 1954 1957 1958 1960 1963 1966 and 1967

Gold Cup Winner: 1955

Crockfords Winner: 1954 1956 1957 and 1974

National Pairs winner: 1959

Masters Pairs (1936-1965) winner: 1949 1951 1958 and 1961

Tollemache Cup winner: 1957 1958 and 1963