Boris Schapiro

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Boris Schapiro (22 August 1909 – 1 December 2002) was a British international bridge player. He was a Grandmaster of the World Bridge Federation, and the only player to have won both the Bermuda Bowl (the world championship for national teams) and the World Senior Pairs championship. He won the European teams championship on four occasions as part of the British team.


Schapiro was born in Riga, Latvia (then part of the Russian Empire) into a prosperous family of Jewish traders. They emigrated at the time of the Russian Revolution, when he was eight years old, and soon settled in England.[1] He was educated at Clifton College and Bradford Technical College[2] in England and at various universities, including the Sorbonne in Paris.

After graduating, Schapiro joined the family horse trading and meat business and worked there until his forties, when he retired to capitalise on his love of gambling by becoming the banker of a baccarat syndicate at Crockford's gaming club in London. He was fluent in Russian, German and French, and used those linguistic skills in the Army Intelligence Corps during World War II.

Schapiro had an early marriage to a Russian woman. He later married a second time, to Helen, in 1970.

Bridge career[edit]

At age ten in England, Schapiro started playing bridge for money at school. His first major tournament was in 1929, when he went to the USA to partner Oswald Jacoby in the World Auction Bridge Pairs Championship. The two players were destined to have great and lengthy careers in the coming world of contract bridge, where Schapiro's first recorded victory was in the World Pairs Championship of 1932, also with Jacoby. (This was before the foundation of the World Bridge Federation, 1957, which has sanctioned all "World" tournaments for many years.)[3]

Schapiro's entry into serious competitive bridge in Britain was delayed until the end of the war. His partnership with Terence Reese, which started in about 1944,[4] was the basis of his most outstanding period as a player. He was also successful with other partners, the last of which was Irving "Haggis" Gordon. Schapiro's bidding in competitive situations was quite outstanding, and his commentary was featured in bridge magazine bidding competitions round the world. Bidding judgement and card-play in defence were the strengths of his game, relative to other experts.

"The characters of Reese and Schapiro were very different. At the bridge table Reese was the cold calculating machine, driven by logic, but witty and good-natured away from it, though with an acerbic phrase when needed. Schapiro was the player of flair; excitable, always on the move, irascible at the table and often grumpy away from it. He did not mellow with old age. At the 1999 European Senior Teams, opponents who called the referee in a vain attempt to protect Schapiro's partner from verbal abuse were told there were special dispensations in standards of behaviour for any competitor over the age of 90."[5]

Major tournament successes[edit]

Schapiro won many tournaments. His first major win at teams was Britain's Gold Cup in 1945/46, partnered by Iain Macleod. He won the Gold Cup eleven times in all, a record, and his last win came at the age of 88 in 1997/98, a remarkable 52 years after his first and 33 years after his penultimate success.[3]

Britain won the world championship for teams in 1955 with Reese and Schapiro, Konstam and Dodds, Meredith and Pavlides, beating the USA in the final. It is the only Bermuda Bowl win for a British team.

Schapiro also won the World Mixed Teams in 1962. At the age of 89 in 1998, he won the World Senior Pairs partnered by Irving Gordon. He was second in the inaugural renditions of both quadrennial open world championship tournaments under the WBF, the World Team Olympiad of 1960 and the World Open Pairs of 1962. He also represented Britain in the 1964 Olympiad and the Bermuda Bowl of the same year, which was played early in 1965, and in ten European Bridge League national teams championships, winning in 1948, 1949, 1954 and 1963.

Although the British team had won the Bermuda Bowl in 1955, Schapiro's 1965 experience was altogether different.

Buenos Aires affair[edit]

Schapiro was accused of cheating in the 1965 Bermuda Bowl tournament, contested in Buenos Aires. It was alleged that he and Reese were communicating to each other the lengths of their heart suits on each deal, by means of illegal finger signals.

American partners Dorothy Hayden and B. Jay Becker sensed that the British pair were holding their cards with their fingers arranged in unusual ways. They conferred with Alan Truscott, the The New York Times bridge editor, and all three agreed they would observe Reese–Schapiro and record how many fingers were visible as each held his cards on each deal. Comparing their notes with the official hand record seemed to show that the numbers of fingers indicated the numbers of cards in the heart suit. One finger visible meant one heart card. Two fingers together meant two hearts, while two fingers spread in a "V" shape meant five; three fingers similarly denoted three or six hearts and four fingers, four or seven. No signal for a heart void was apparent.

Several other eyewitnesses including British team captain Ralph Swimer became convinced of the truth of the accusations. Later comparisons with hand records seemed to confirm that the code remained consistent when Reese and Schapiro were partners, but disappeared when they played with other partners. The matter was then reported to World Bridge Federation (WBF) officials for adjudication.

In hearings held immediately, the WBF decided that Reese and Schapiro were guilty, banned them from the remainder of the Bermuda Bowl, and negotiated an agreement with Captain Swimer officially to forfeit all matches previously won during the tournament. The WBF then referred the matter to the British Bridge League (BBL) for further action, if any.

At that time Schapiro averred he would never again compete internationally, but he later played in European and world senior events.

The BBL convened its own enquiry into the matter under the direction of Sir John Foster QC and General Lord Bourne. After many months taking testimony from eyewitnesses, bridge analysts, and character witnesses, the so-called Foster Enquiry concluded that Reese and Schapiro had not been proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and therefore acquitted them. Several factors must have played a part in this decision, especially the fact that little or no connection could be made between the claimed signals and the results at the table. Reese and Schapiro had not played especially well in Buenos Aires; Reese commented later that no pair were likely to cheat in a way that did not help them win. A simple system to signal whether a player's cards were good or poor for his bid would be almost certain to yield rich dividends.

In his book The Story of an Accusation (1966),[6] Reese went through every single hand presented by the 'prosecution'. He argued both that the bidding was clear by the principles of the Acol bidding system they were using and that they might have used information about the heart suit in several ways, had it been available. Truscott also wrote an account (The Great Bridge Scandal, 1969),[7] concentrating on the eyewitness observations and reaching the opposite general conclusion. Neither side changed its opinions and a considerable rift developed in the bridge world. Jeremy Flint also wrote an account from his perspective as another member of the British team.[8]

After 1965[edit]

Schapiro was bridge correspondent of The Sunday Times from 1968 until his death in 2002. Despite his facility with language, he was never really interested in writing; his output was two small books,[clarification needed] and it is likely that his newspaper column was often ghosted. He made his mark as a player and a personality.

The Buenos Aires affair removed at a stroke the central activity of his life. It took years for Schapiro to be rehabilitated in world bridge, although he was always held in high esteem in Europe. He did eventually return to international bridge competition, unlike Reese, and did so with considerable success (above).

Schapiro's 90th birthday party in London was attended by Jaime Ortiz-Patino, the WBF President Emeritus and the owner of Valderrama Golf Club, who had been a witness for Reese and Schapiro in the BBL enquiry; Omar Sharif, the Egyptian film star and bridge player; Prince Khalid Abudullah of Saudi Arabia, a family friend; and many personalities from the bridge and casino worlds.[5]


Schapiro's conversation at the bridge table was either a delight or a nuisance, depending on taste and point of view.

His standard greeting to females – "What about a spot of adultery?" (or "Fancy a spot of adultery?")[2] – is mentioned in every biographical note and obituary, and reveals his sense of humour. When his team played an exhibition match at Leicester, the wife of the Chief Constable organised a cocktail party for them to meet the locals. The traveling players were invited to sign and comment in the Visitors book, and Schapiro wrote the catchphrase after his signature. Dimmie Fleming – another international player and the only woman to play on the British open team – defused the situation by signing next, drawing an upwards arrow and writing, "But will he ever be adult?"[9]

Another story shows his partner Terence Reese picking up a collection of silver cup trophies from Schapiro's flat in Eaton Place (the Upstairs, Downstairs setting) and carrying them in a pillow-case. Stopped in the street by a policeman and asked to explain his unusual sack of possessions, Reese led the officer back to the flat so that Schapiro could validate his explanation. When Schapiro answered the door, he sized up the situation, and when asked "Can you identify this man?", said "Never seen him before in my life."[3]


  • Bridge, Card by Card (London: Hamlyn, 1969), Terence Reese and Schapiro OCLC 463320531
  • Bridge Analysis (US edition, New York: Sterling Pub, (c) 1976), 187 pp. LCCN 76-1167
  • Boris Schapiro on Bridge (London:Pitman, 1976), 190 pp. LCCN 77-354245


  1. ^ "Boris Schapiro – Obituary" at the Wayback Machine (archived January 27, 2013). English Bridge Union. Archived 2013-01-27. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  2. ^ a b "175 Heroes". Bradford College. 2007.
  3. ^ a b c Hiron, Maureen (2002). Peter Hasenson, ed. "Boris Schapiro, 1909–2002". British Bridge Almanack (London: 77 Publishing) 2004: 222–24. ISBN 0-9549241-0-X. 
  4. ^ Reese, Terence (1977). Bridge at the Top. London: Faber & Faber. Page 36. ISBN 0-571-11123-8
  5. ^ a b "Boris Schapiro". The Daily Telegraph. 3 December 2002.
  6. ^ Reese, Terence (1966). The Story of an Accusation. London: Heinemann. LCCN 67075048. 244 pages. (US edition, 1967). New York: Simon & Schuster. LCCN 67017872. 246 pages.
  7. ^ Truscott, Alan (2004 [1969]). The Great Bridge Scandal. 2nd edition. Toronto: Master Point Press. ISBN 1-894154-67-3. 251 pages. (First edition, New York: Yarborough Press, 1969, ISBN 0682469045, LCCN 68023644, 331 pages.)
  8. ^ Flint, Jeremy, in collaboration with Freddie North (1970). Tiger Bridge: The Game at the Top. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 978-0-340-12854-1. The US edition (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1970, ISBN 978-0-671-20495-2) does not include Chapter 8, "The Great Bridge Scandal".
  9. ^ Ramsay, Guy (1955). Aces All. London: Museum Press. Page 149.

Further reading[edit]

  • Reese, Terence (1966): The story of an accusation. London: Heinemann. – "On allegations brought against Terence Reese and Boris Schapiro. With portraits." OCLC 843053334
US edition, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967. Revised edition (2004), London: Chess & Bridge; London: Better Bridge Now, 2004, ISBN 978-0-9530218-8-8.
  • Truscott, Alan (1969): The Great Bridge Scandal: the most famous cheating case in the history of the game. New York: Yarborough. Second edition (2004), Toronto: Master Point Press, ISBN 1-894154-67-3.

External links[edit]