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The bridge genius John Collings (1933-2005)
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The bridge genius John Collings (1933-2005) died 15 years ago this month.

Here are some links to stories about him:

English Bridge Union obits BW thread on Collings & other illusionists

See the second article – here Photo here

Back in 1998 he kindly provided me with some colorful details of his life, and I wrote a short article about him (see below). Some of the details provided did not make it to the article, as they would contravene decency regulations.

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September 1998, England

John Collings, the Errol Flynn of the bridge world, is notorious for his swashbuckling bidding, his razor-sharp card play, and his outrageous womanizing.

A South London lad, he has many ex-wives and girlfriends scattered around the world. His only daughter has three children and he currently lives with his sister Barbara Luxton in Sutton, Surrey*. His bridge career spans 5 decades starting in the 1950s and included major partnerships with Ronnie Crown, Jonathan Cansino, Joe Amsbury, Paul Hackett, and Martin Jones. An early unsuccessful career in banking was interrupted by National Service; afterwards he became a ‘bridge bum’. This encompassed all aspects of the game: the tournament circuit, high-stake rubber bridge (including games in Switzerland with stakes in excess of £2000 a hundred during the late 70s) and management of clubs such as The London School of Bridge and the Double One Club in Abbey Road. His partnership with Cansino is legendary and many would argue that the illnesses that befell both of them ended the most formidable British partnership ever. Today he continues to compete at the highest levels with his protégé (Martin Jones) and is active on the lecture circuit.

Tell me about your partnership with Cansino? During the 60s we had wonderful successes. Jonathan could tell what I had, it wasn’t “telepathy” though, he just knew. He could tell when I was underleading aces. But sometimes things did go wrong, and here’s an example:

Jonathan was sitting North, and I was South:

West
AKxx
AKxxx
AQxx
Cansino
Qxx
xx
Jxxxx
742
East
J10xx
QJxxx
Kxx
6
Collings
xx
x
x
AKQJ109853
W
N
E
S
2
P
2
4
4NT
7
X
P
P
P
D
7X South
NS: 0 EW: 0

Stupid Jonathan bid 7. They led the ace of hearts and switched to a small spade. I put the queen up and did not look surprised when it won. I ruffed a heart, played the 3, and won the trick with the 7. Only 1900 in those days; they were laydown for a small slam. Ewart Kempson took me aside and said I should not be allowed to play for England, and don’t do it again.

Why did the partnership end? We had a wonderful partnership until he thought he was as good as me. It was the beginning of the end. Only Forquet, Belladonna, and Garozzo were better than me at the time. They are my super heroes - the only ones I am second-best to. I was the fourth-best player in the world.

But I thought bridge was a partnership game? In those days it was more of an individual game: you won matches on your own.

I have heard about your reputation as a womaniser. What have you got to tell me about that?It’s true. When I managed the London School of Bridge, there were some beautiful women there and picking up girls was very easy. One for the afternoon, one for the evening and then I had to go home to the wife. It was almost like forced labour for me. I used to enjoy it though.

Is this what nearly killed you? At 36 I had a massive heart attack. I was smoking 100 fags a day, drinking 14 coffees, and pursuing women. I was en route from Beirut to Geneva at the time. When we landed in Geneva airport there was an ambulance waiting for me, but they couldn’t carry me out of the plane, so I had to walk out. They took me to the hospital and gave me a shot of morphine and would not treat me until I had a bank guarantee - Michael Boulanger put up the cash. He was a very good friend of mine. Whilst in Paris, after the regular duplicate Michel and I used to go night clubbing at the Kit Kat Club. I let it be known that I had never slept with an Asian girl. One night I got to my room and I was nearly ready to get into bed when the door bell rang. Standing there was a beautiful Asian girl. Passion was beyond me and I ended up reading a comic all night. She couldn’t go home - otherwise she wouldn’t have got her money.

Why did you emigrate to Geneva, of all places? I was in deep trouble, on the run from a woman whose money I had spent.

Have you ever been in trouble with bridge authorities? One year I was playing with Paul Hackett in the World Pairs and we had the following sequence

Paul was West and I was East. The earlier rounds were irrelevant.

W
N
E
S
4
4
P
P
5
P
6

Paul said that my pass of 4 was 6-ace Blackwood! I tore up the cards and threw them into the sea. I got a severe reprimand from the WBF.

Why is it that you live with your sister nowadays? Five years ago I was in a bad way, with breathing, heart, and intestine problems. My home in South London was damp and in a state. I had gone there to die. But my sister asked me to come and live with her in Sutton and saved me.

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Author’s note: There are at least 4 versions of the 7 story in print and on the Internet. The text you see above is what he personally told me when we were chatting at The Spring Fours, in Stratford-upon-Avon, England.

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