Terence Reese

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Terence Reese as a young man

John Terence Reese (28 August 1913 – 29 January 1996) was a British bridge player and writer, regarded as one of the finest of all time in both fields. He was born in Epsom, Surrey, England to middle-class parents, and was educated at Bradfield College and New College, Oxford, where he studied classics and attained a double first, graduating in 1935.


His father, the son of a Welsh clergyman, worked in a bank until he transferred to his wife's family catering business. Reese said "I played card games before I could read".[1] As a small boy, when his mother "issued the standard warning about not talking to strange men, my father remarked that it was the strange men who should be warned against trying to talk to me".[1]

His mother Anne ran a hotel near Guildford, and with it a bridge club, so Reese played in the earliest duplicate matches, around 1930. Whilst at Oxford he met some serious bridge players, amongst whom were Lt.-Col. Walter Buller, Iain Macleod and Maurice Harrison-Gray, the strongest player in the country at that time. Within a year of graduating and after a brief stint at Harrod's, Reese started working for Hubert Phillips's magazine and co-wrote his first book with him in 1937.[2] Phillips acknowledges that although the book is published jointly under their names, "Terence is the real author of the book",[3] receiving only assistance in planning contents and editing from Phillips. From that point on, Reese's profession was that of a champion contract bridge player and prolific writer on the game.

Reese joined the ARP a few months before the war, and was never inducted into the armed forces. He ended up working in the factory of Pedro Juan (a fellow bridge player), which manufactured black-out curtains. When a Ministry of Labour inspector turned up to check on him, a hasty phone-call was needed to get Terence into an office surrounded by ledgers.[4]

Reese had some hobbies; even those he pursued with typical commitment. He was always a cricket and chess enthusiast. After World War II he made a book on greyhound racing; later he became an avid football fan, reputedly supporting Queen's Park Rangers, whose ground was next door to the White City Stadium, a home of greyhound racing. He played various other games for money, especially canasta, poker and backgammon, and wrote books on them.

Reese edited the British Bridge World from 1956 to 1962. He married Alwyn Sherrington in 1970. They resided in London and later in Hove, Sussex, where he died of aspirin poisoning at home on 29 January 1996 at the age of 83. An inquest ruled his death accidental.[5]

Career as a player[edit]

As a bridge player, Reese won every honour in the game, including the European Championship four times (1948, 1949, 1954, 1963) and the Bermuda Bowl (effectively, the World Team Championship) in 1955—all as a member of the Great Britain open team. He was World Par champion[clarification needed] in 1961 and placed second in both the inaugural World Team Olympiad, 1960, and the inaugural World Open Pairs, 1962. He also represented Britain in the 1965 Bermuda Bowl and in five other European Championships.[clarification needed] He won the Gold Cup, the premier British domestic competition, on eight occasions.[6]

Reese last participated in international bridge at the 1976 World Team Olympiad in Monte Carlo, where Great Britain placed third.[7] He was Britain's non-playing captain in the 1981 European Team Championships in Birmingham, England,[8] placing second. Thus Great Britain qualified for the 1981 Bermuda Bowl, but the WBF credentials committee rejected Reese as captain, citing "writings and opinions expressed by Mr. Reese that were considered not in the best interests of the game", in the words of New York Times bridge editor Alan Truscott—primarily the "sordid picture of top-level bridge" presented by Reese and Jeremy Flint in their 1979 novel Trick Thirteen.[9] Britain appealed to the WBF executive council but Reese chose to remain home.[10]

Preferring backgammon as an alternative in his later years, Reese played little competitive bridge, owing in part to increasing deafness.[5][11] However, his career as a bridge writer continued unabated.

The Little Major[edit]

Main article: Little Major

The concept for "the Little Major was born"[12] in late 1962, while Reese was en route to a tournament in the Canary Islands with Boris Schapiro.

First with Schapiro and then Jeremy Flint, Reese initially created the Little Major bidding system as a warning of what would happen if the development of artificial bidding systems was allowed to go unchecked. However, under this camouflage, the system was a genuine attempt with interesting features. Ultimately, the system was abandoned when its two-year EBU 'A' license was withdrawn "on the grounds that not enough players were playing the system".[12]

Opinions of Reese[edit]

Reese's long-time partner, Boris Schapiro, put his opinion in a 1951 bridge magazine article:

"Terence Reese: brilliant, tenacious and imaginative; any amount of courage, very good bidder, immaculate dummy player and defender, never puts pressure on partner. Concentration first class; difficult to play against."[13]

Eleven years later, Schapiro still thought Reese was the best player in the country:

"Reese is still the best, and in my opinion by a greater margin than before. His dummy and defence are as immaculate as ever, and the old gentleman has actually polished up his bidding. Believe it or not, he has condescended to play 'fourth suit forcing' and Stayman, and I strongly suspect that by 1973 he will be giving the Baron system a close look."[14]

Upon Reese's death in 1996, Schapiro wrote:

"... Terence was the best player, one of only two geniuses I have known. The other was Lasker, the chess player. Terence was not a slow player but occasionally he went into a trance. I didn't mind and could sit there and wait. I knew that when he eventually played a card it would be the right one."[15]

Victor Mollo had this to say about Reese in 1967:

Terence Reese is, perhaps, the best bridge player in the world. Cold, aloof, dispassionate, he has many admirers... and a host of enemies. Intelligence of a high order ... the impression of a one-sided but very unusual personality.[16]

Alan Truscott wrote in The New York Times two weeks after Reese's death:

"Reese was even more famous as a newspaper columnist, a theorist and a writer. Two of his early books, Reese on Play and The Expert Game, were classics, and are still read by every serious student of bridge."[17]

The Buenos Aires affair[edit]

Reese's 1965 appearance in the Buenos Aires Bermuda Bowl was marred by an accusation that he and his partner Boris Schapiro were communicating illegally (i.e. cheating). At a hearing held at the tournament site in Buenos Aires, the World Bridge Federation (WBF) judged Reese and Schapiro guilty of transmitting finger signals to each other indicating how many hearts each held. The WBF banned them from the remainder of the Bermuda Bowl and ordered the forfeit of all matches in which they had participated up to that point; further punishment was left uncertain at that time.

An important factor in the Buenos Aires procedure was that the pair had not been given an adequate opportunity to defend themselves. The British team's non-playing captain, Ralph Swimer, had agreed with the accusation before discussing the matter with the players. The British Bridge League (BBL) subsequently convened their own enquiry into the matter in a manner which did allow the players to defend themselves.

After many months, and taking testimony from a number of eyewitnesses, bridge analysts, and character witnesses, the "Foster Enquiry", as it was called, concluded that Reese and Schapiro had not been proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and therefore acquitted them. The enquiry was chaired by John Foster, barrister and Member of Parliament, and General Lord Bourne. 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 was good or poor for his bid would be almost certain to bring good dividends.[18]

In his 1966 book, Story of an Accusation, Reese went through every single hand presented by the 'prosecution' and showing that the bidding was clear by the principles of the Acol system they were using, and several occasions when they might have used information about the heart suit had it been available. Alan Truscott provided his account in a 1969 book, The Great Bridge Scandal, concentrating on the observations and reaching the opposite conclusion.[19]

Neither side changed their opinions, and a considerable rift developed in the bridge world. The official World Bridge Federation position maintains the 1965 finding of guilty; but after representations from the British Bridge League and others, the WBF announced in 1968 "that the suspension was over, Reese and Schapiro would be allowed to play, but not together" in world championships.[20]

There have been other cases of accusations at the highest level, in one of which members of the famous Italian Blue Team were accused, again by members of the American team. The solution to this unsatisfactory situation came at last with introduction of bidding boxes and the system of movable compartments ('screens') which prevent players from seeing their own partners during bidding (a system only used at tournaments of the highest rank).

Flint's account[edit]

One other member of the British team, Reese's then main partner Jeremy Flint, gave a lengthy account of the accusation.[21] Flint starts by mentioning some facts that were known at the time, but may be forgotten now. The results of the BBL trials were: 1 Terence Reese—Jeremy Flint; 2 Kenneth Konstam—Boris Schapiro; 3 Albert Rose—Ralph Swimer. The BBL then announced the team, omitting Swimer and substituting Maurice Harrison-Gray. Swimer had to be content with being non-playing captain. In addition, Reese and Schapiro were hardly on speaking terms at the time; Reese's decision to form a partnership with Flint had been decided in 1962, and the pair co-operated to develop the Little Major bidding system.

Flint makes two main points (over and above points made by Reese) as follows:
1. The bitter quarrel between Reese and Schapiro "was surely not the perfect background for alleged dishonest complicity".
2. When Flint was playing with Reese in the closed room, Geoffrey Butler (BBL official) and Waldemar von Zedtwitz (senior American master and an officer of the WBF) came to watch. After the session Flint said to Reese:

"Terence, you realise we were being watched."
"Good gracious," he replied "Do you think so?"
"I suppose they must be considering banning the Little Major," I ventured.

"Reese is considered a fool by no-one [yet] according to his accusers he continued to exchange signals for the next seven days".[22]

Later accusation and denial[edit]

In May 2005, the English journalist David Rex-Taylor, a bridge player and publisher, claimed that Reese had made a confession to him forty years earlier.[23] This claim was made public after the deaths of both Reese and Schapiro. There is no corroboration to support this account. In contrast, Schapiro's widow, Helen, had stated that "at no point did Boris admit to cheating in Buenos Aires. To the contrary, he said there was never any impropriety."[24]

Career as a bridge author[edit]

Reese also had a second career as a bridge author and journalist, a career that lasted throughout his life. He was one of the most influential and acerbic of bridge writers, with a large output (over ninety titles[5]), including several books which remain in print as classics of bridge play. He was also the long-time bridge correspondent of The Lady, The Observer, the London Evening News and the Evening Standard.

Reese contributed to the Acol bidding system originally developed by Maurice Harrison-Gray, Jack Marx and S.J.("Skid") Simon in the late 1920s and early 1930s[25] and co-authored the first textbook on it with Ben Cohen in 1938.[26] Named after the Acol Bridge Club in North London (located on Acol Road at the time[27]), it became the prevailing bidding system in Britain and some other parts of the world. The book and its subsequent editions in 1939, 1946 and 1949 gave unity to what was otherwise a rather free-wheeling bidding system. His later adaptation of Garozzo and Yallouze's book on the Blue Club and his book on the Precision Club were widely used by devotees of strong club systems, and by their opponents as references.

The great success of Reese on Play (an outstanding text on dummy play and defence) was followed by an even more ambitious work. The Expert Game was the book which really made his name. As the title suggests, it dealt with card play at the highest level, including some ideas that were novel at the time, for instance, inferences from events that did not occur, and the principle of restricted choice. Examples of bridge logic abound in Reese, for instance, a player who overcalls but does not lead his suit is likely to lack one or two key honours; this concept is often called 'the dog that did not bark in the night' (after Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's Silver Blaze). Another form of logic can be seen in 'If it must be so, assume it is so'. His examples of counting (and other ways of drawing inferences from the bidding and play) spread such ideas from a coterie of masters in London (or New York) to a much wider group of nascent experts. For at least twenty years after this book was published, one could be sure that virtually every top-class player had studied it minutely.

Reese also had the distinction of creating several new genres of bridge book. The most significant was the 'Over my shoulder' genre, where the reader is taken through the master's thinking as the bidding and play proceeds through the hand. Play Bridge with Reese was the model for several such works. Develop Your Bidding Judgment was another such work.

Later, Reese made use of the growing library of hands from international competitions to create interesting quiz-type books, where the discussion was usually on the verso of the page which presented the problem. Famous Hands from Famous Matches was the first of these, followed by Famous Bidding Decisions and Famous Play Decisions, all written with David Bird. In his career as a writer, Reese had a number of co-authors, mostly highly competent players and writers, yet all his books were in his inimitable style. Another of his ideas was to raid the stock of hands in bridge magazine bidding competitions for interesting and instructive hands. What Would You Bid? was the result.

Reese also wrote books on poker, casino gambling, canasta and backgammon.


On right is probably the young Terence Reese during a practice match with Henry 'Pops' Beasley at Grosvenor House before the 1933 match v Culbertson


  1. ^ a b Reese (1977), p. 1.
  2. ^ Phillips, Hubert, and Terence Reese (1937). The Elements of Contract. London: British Bridge World. 271 pages.
  3. ^ Phillips and Reese (1937), Introduction by Phillips, p. vii.
  4. ^ Reese (1977), p. 27.
  5. ^ a b c Bird, David (2004). [Reese entry]. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Volume 46. ISBN 0-19-861396-2. Page 333.
  6. ^ The Official Encyclopedia of Bridge. Editions 1–4, New York: Crown, 1964–1984. Editions 5–6, Memphis: ACBL, 1994–2001.
  7. ^ World Bridge Federation results and participants, 1976.
  8. ^ European Bridge League results and participants, 1981.
  9. ^ Truscott, Alan (21 September 1981). "Bridge: Ban on Reese Had Roots In His Writings on Game". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-11-12.
  10. ^ Truscott, Alan (18 October 1981). "World Bridge Play Coming to County". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-11-12.
  11. ^ Reese (1977), p. 128.
  12. ^ a b Reese (1977), p. 112–16.
  13. ^ Schapiro, Boris (1951). "Knights of the square table". Contract Bridge Journal. Reprinted in Hasenson (2004), p. 63.
  14. ^ Schapiro, Boris (1962). Contract Bridge Journal. Reprinted in Hasenson (2004), p. 63.
  15. ^ Hasenson (2004), p. 149.
  16. ^ Mollo, Victor (1967). The Bridge Immortals. London: Faber. Page 85. (US edition, 1968). New York: Hart Publishing. Page 119.
  17. ^ Truscott, Alan (12 February 1996). "Bridge". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-11-12.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ Truscott (2004).
  20. ^ Truscott (2004), p. 194.
  21. ^ Flint (1970), chapter 8.
  22. ^ Flint (1970), p. 125.
  23. ^ Alder, Philip."Cheating Scandal From '65 Rears Head Again". The New York Times. 20 Jun 2005.
  24. ^ "The Buenos Aires affair: Card Tricksters". The Independent. 11 May 2005.
  25. ^ Acol Bridge Club Website.
  26. ^ Cohen, Ben and Terence Reese, The Acol Two Club: with an introduction by S.J. Simon, Leng, Sheffield, 1938. This was the first Acol textbook, its authors wisely disclaiming originality: "We do a job of reporting." It had a famous Preface, "Attitude of Mind" by Skid Simon. — Second and subsequent editions titled The Acol System of contract bridge. Joiner & Steele, London. — 2nd ed 1939; 3rd ed 1946, with 13 hands from the Waddington Par Contest; 4th ed 1949, with a selection of hands from the 1949 International Series; 5th ed [1956?], with a selection of hands from the 1955-56 international events and an Introduction by Guy Ramsey. The fourth edition introduced three new chapters on competitive bidding, mistakes to avoid, and two clubs over one no-trump (the Marx convention).
  27. ^ Francis, Henry G., Editor-in-Chief; Truscott, Alan F., Executive Editor; Francis, Dorthy A., Editor, Sixth Edition (2001). The Official Encyclopedia of Bridge (6th ed.). Memphis, TN: American Contract Bridge League. p. 14. ISBN 0-943855-44-6. OCLC 49606900. 
  • 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".
  • Hasenson, Peter (2004). British Bridge Almanack. London: 77 Publishing. ISBN 0-9549241-0-X. . 490 pages.
  • Reese, Terence (1977). Bridge at the Top. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-11123-8. 
  • 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.)

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