Obituary: Terence Reese

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The Independent Online
Terence Reese was the most famous name in British bridge. He was the author or co-author of some 90 books on the game, the bridge correspondent of the London Evening Standard from 1981 and of the Observer from 1950. Perhaps his most acclaimed book was Reese on Play (1948), a classic which made his reputation as a writer.

In the course of his tournament career he was in the winning British teams in four European championships (1948, 1949, 1954 and 1963) and the Bermuda Bowl World Championship in 1965, as well as representing Britain on many other occasions. Domestically, he was in the winning Gold Cup team (the premier British team event) no fewer than eight times - a record only surpassed by his partner Boris Schapiro.

Reese was brought up with cards. His parents first met at a whist drive and at the age of three, before he could read, he became addicted to beggar- my-neighbour. When he was seven he was introduced to Auction Bridge (Contract Bridge - now the only bridge game universally played, and simply referred to as Bridge - did not appear for another five years) but, he said, at that age 13 cards were difficult to handle and he had to retire behind a cushion to sort his hand.

He was educated at Bradfield College, where he gained his colours in cricket and football and - an all-rounder - won the top classical scholarship to New College, Oxford. By now, with Contract Bridge having overtaken the old Auction game, he first came to the public eye in 1935 when he captained the winning Oxford team in the inaugural Varsities match, defeating a Cambridge side led by Iain Macleod, the future politician, by a comfortable margin.

On coming down from Oxford he took up a traineeship at Harrods but this did not last long. In 1936 he left to become a professional bridge player and writer.

The war years saw him serving in Air Raid Precautions and bridge was restricted to the occasional rubber. Once, while playing at Crockfords, the club, there was a loud explosion nearby. A member rushed in with the news, "My God! They have got the War Office!" Playing another card from dummy, Reese observed laconically, "Not intentionally, surely."

After the war Reese founded the Tournament Bridge Association, a commercial enterprise but one which had the effect of giving the tournament game a sound footing before control was passed over to the present organising bodies, the English Bridge Union and the British Bridge League.

The year 1965 saw the biggest scandal that the bridge world has known. After winning the European Championships in Baden-Baden the previous year by a record margin, the British team (including Reese and Schapiro) qualified for the Bermuda Bowl World Championships in Buenos Aires. In the course of the event the British pair were accused of cheating by illicit signalling of the number of hearts that their hand contained. With their accusers including the British non-playing captain, the remaining matches were conceded and the Executive Committee of the World Bridge Federation judged the pair to be guilty. They passed the matter over to the British Bridge League to decide on an appropriate punishment. But the BBL decided to conduct their own independent investigation.

A full tribunal, headed by Sir John Foster and General Lord Bourne, was set up with both sides represented by solicitors and leading barristers. The affair dragged on for some 19 months spread over about 60 sessions. As neither Foster nor Bourne had any pretensions to being expert players, each side chose an "independent" assessor to weigh up the technical evidence. What can I say, as the assessor chosen by Terence and Boris? The visual evidence of finger signalling was seemingly convincing but in no way did the fully documented records of the bidding and play confirm the allegations. They were consistent with the performance of a top-class pair playing distinctly out of form. The verdict of the tribunal was "Not Guilty".

The World Bridge Federation was not happy with this decision and when, much later, Reese was suggested as the non- playing captain of a British team in the European championships, the Credentials Committee decided that he was unacceptable. One of their grounds was that "his writings had been contrary to the spirit of the game". They must have been referring to the mild pornography and suggestions of drug- taking in Trick Thirteen (1980), but as this was a novel (co-authored by Jeremy Flint) and set far in the future, the connection seemed tenuous. After an interval, both Reese and Schapiro resumed their tournament careers but never played in partnership again.

When interviewed in 1981 Reese was asked whether, if he had his life again, he would have followed the same path. "There are some interesting occupations," he replied. "For example, I possess the mental capacity to have done well in the law. On the other hand, I am basically indolent and I dare say I would have done the same thing again." One wonders what he might have achieved if he had been a hard worker.

Terence Reese made his last public appearance at the Macallan International Pairs in London last week. After commenting upon the antics of the younger generation of bridge players, he attended the formal closing dinner - a black-tie affair - wearing a check shirt and a sports jacket. Nobody minded, or was surprised. After returning home to Hove, he died the following night.

John Terence Reese, writer and bridge player: born 28 August 1913; married 1970 Alwyn Sherrington; died Hove c27 January 1996.