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Post 12 - Bridge Correspondents - Miss Alice Mackenzie, John Beamish, John Darrack & A. G. Figgins - Saturday, 13th January 2018

Hello everybody,

I've been trying to gather in a resume of British Bridge correspondents writing articles in newspapers before the war.  I suppose writers can slip through the history books for lots of reasons, maybe because they did not compete, or were better writers than they were players, who knows.  And it's unlikely we will ever know the names of many of those who chose to write their articles unsigned.  Sadly for the history of our game, even when obituaries are recorded, they are often pretty sparse - sometimes I’ve had to go to, for example, Cricket or Chess databases for some critical information.  I hope you agree with me that our Bridge bodies could be rather more proactive in this respect.  There's much to do.  As time goes by, so the chance of recalling factual evidence recedes, even with the advent of computers.  Would it not be a good idea for Bridge organisations to begin a regular “We seek information about” column in their magazines or on their websites - most importantly, on the county websites ?  Here are four important Bridge writers - maybe I’ve missed an obituary published somewhere.  If not, can anyone add something please, other than details of cups and trophies won ?

i. Miss Alice Mackenzie.

Miss Alice Mackenzie began a series of advertisement in the “The Scotsman, Saturday, 3rd December 1932, page 1” :

                                         CONTRACT BRIDGE.

  Miss ALICE MACKENZIE, Culbertson Certificated Teacher, gives lessons at her own Home or Pupils’ Homes. Terms. “ASHBY”, 4 CRAIGCROOK KOAD, BLACKHALL. ‘Phone. 77538.

These adverts ran for a long time.  The final one was placed in “The Scotsman, Saturday, 9th October 1948, page 1” :

  CONTRACT BRIDGE.  Practice Class Commences WEDNESDAY, 15th October 2.45 at 44 MELVILLE STREET. Private Tuition. Miss ALICE MACKENZIE. Certificated Culbertson Teacher. Tel., 77368.

She took over the column from Mr. R. E Kemp.  Her first article appeared the week after his last, in “The Scotsman - Tuesday 8th December 1936. Page 13” :

                              SWING HANDS FROM HARROGATE.

  Accurate slam bidding is essential to success in duplicate.  It is always difficult to collect large penalties from good opposition so it generally falls to the slam hands to produce swings, and in many cases, one such hand may win or lose a match.  The hands discussed to-day are taken from the Invitation Teams-of-Four tournament held at the recent Harrogate Congress.

Her last article appeared in “The Scotsman, Tuesday, 28th December 1948, page 6” - it was called “Bidding the Opponents’ Suit”.  Here’s the follow-up article by someone called “R.G.M”.  It appeared in “The Scotsman, Tuesday, 4th January 1949” :

                                      The “Unbiddable Club”.

  In taking over this article from Miss Alice Mackenzie I am conscious that she has set a very high standard of interest and instructiveness, which I shall do my best to follow and attain, and I crave the indulgence of all readers if I fall short of this standard.

She was on the committee of the “Atholl Bridge Club”, who had premises in “Melville Street, Edinburgh”, and she ran a Bridge class there.  The club organised a well known cup, still competed for today - I think the first year was 1933-4.  One would think that Miss Alice Mackenzie would be pretty easy to trace - no such luck.

I’ve had communications with her newspaper - it transpires they hold no information about her.  Edinburgh Town Hall were very unhelpful.  The Scottish Bridge Union didn’t bother to reply after two attempts.  I’m deeply grateful to the National Library of Scotland, who did their very best to trace her, all to no avail.  When a name is rare, you can be very lucky finding someone in Ancestry or in the Newspaper archive - but not in this case. She was top flight - can you help please ?

ii. John Beamish.

This man is absolutely in the top rung.  There was a series of articles in “The Yorkshire Post” running before the following, all unsigned.  It could be they were written by John Beamish.  I have written to that newspaper but they have no records extant - oh dear. This is the first article that I’ve been able to trace under his name - it was in the “Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, Saturday, 3rd March 1928, page 8” :

                            AUCTION BRIDGE.  THE LAWS OF 1928.

                           CLEAR STATEMENT AND FEW CHANGES.

  All Bridge players now are, or should be, playing under the Portland Club Laws of 1928, which came into force on Thursday ; and since these laws are our standard and guide for some years (we hope so. at any rate, for we do not want a repetition of last year's uncertainties just yet), they call for close examination.

John Beamish appeared to be writing about Bridge right up to the start of the second world war.  His topics were very interesting and deserve re-examination, especially those on the history of the game.  His final column appeared in the “Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Saturday 18 December 1937, page 8”.  I can find none further :

                     BRIDGE Problems of Defence.  The Uses of a Yarborough.

  I SHOULD like to see players devote a good deal more thought than they generally do at present to problems of defence.  To anyone interested in the play of the cards it is the most fascinating department of the game : but too often when players have to defend a contract they follow rule blindly without pausing to think what the result may be.  Though American players frequently depart from rule in the initial lead, particularly the rule of fourth-best at no trumps, I think the table of blind leads is the soundest guide to opening play when the opponents have not bid.  But as soon dummy is exposed, the whole situation should be reviewed and the advisability of departing from rule carefully considered.

Search as I have tried through family trees and the like, I’ve not been able to identify who John Beamish really was.  The Leeds Central Library did their best to no avail but thank you to they.

iii. John Darrack.

Mr. John Darrack never wrote a Bridge book and it seems he has left little trace other than his newspaper articles.  The very first that I’ve been able to locate was in the “Western Daily Press, Friday, 10th January 1930, page 8”.  It was anonymous, but almost certainly by Mr. Darrack, because it announced his regular column which began the following week :

                            BRIDGE IN BRIEF.  Minor Suit Bidding.

  There used to be a tradition that a player who made a bid in a minor suit - Clubs or Diamonds - was asking his partner to bid no trumps.  Older players reasoned : “It is so very difficult to win in a minor suit that there is no point in bidding one except to imply that you have a good supporting hand for a no trump declaration should the partner be encouraged to venture into one”.  This convention no longer applies.  No first-round suit bids are made in Auction Bridge today that do not mean exactly what they say - certain tricks in the suit named, plus a certain outside trick. … [We have made arrangements for the publication each Saturday, commencing to-morrow week, of an article “How is Your Bridge ?” by John Darrack, a well-known writer on the game].

“John Darrack” is an extremely rare name and one has the feeling that it’s a pseudonym.  I’ve tried many avenues to find something about him, including appeals to his newspaper, to no avail.  There is a single such name on the 1911 census, but I’m pretty sure it that it should read “John Darrock”.

In this article on the 6th February 1939 in the “Western Daily Press”, he doesn’t mention Paul Stern by name :

  I have recently had the luck to meet a very sound Austrian bridge player, who has had to leave his country through no fault of his own.  I had the most interesting talk with him about the Austrian school of bridge, which has rightly won a great reputation for itself.  The root principle is that in most hands one partner acts as the leader, while the other gives all the information, both positive and negative.  The Austrians have undoubtedly achieved a great success in international bridge - and would continue to do were it not for international politics.

His final post that I can locate was in the ”Ballymena Observer, Friday 25th August 1939, page 2” :

                    SACRIFICE BIDDING.  A CASE FOR DISCRIMINATION.

  Readers of penny dreadfuls in their youth may still remember that sooner or later the hero was sure to be sentenced to suffer “the death by the thousand cuts”.  There is no need to go into the anatomical details beyond recalling that each cut, taken by itself, was far from lethal, and indeed trivial.  The cumulative effect was what really mattered. There is a counterpart to this in Rubber Bridge.

iv. A. G. Figgins.

Somehow, I suspect A. G. Figgins was a man !  To my knowledge, he first comes into the “range-finder” when he wrote two related articles for the American magazine “The Bridge World” - "Psychic Bidding With A Purpose, November 1932, No. 11" & "The Professor Looks At Lying, September 1933, No. 29".  This makes one think, perhaps, that he was American.

His first article that I can locate in Britain was in the “Lancashire Evening Post, Saturday, 20th October 1934, page 3” :

                                   Responding to a No-Trumper.

  I SUPPOSE most bridge players would be mildly surprised, to say the least of it, if it were suggested that they had anything to learn about bidding their hands in response to a partner’s no-trumper.  Yet in my experience the player who responds correctly to such bids is by no means common.  To begin at the beginning, it practically never pays to raise a bid of One No-Trump on less than two solid tricks.  For a double raise one should have three such tricks.

He developed his ideas on psychic bidding over the intervening years.  This is extracted from his article on the “Figgins’ Asking Bids” taken from “Contract Bridge Magazine, October 1948, Volume 2, No. 12, page 21” :

                                        Psyche-ward Ho.

  There is an old, and very true, proverb to the effect that a house built on sand cannot endure.  For the same reason, it is as certain as that night follows day that, as our bridge education progresses present methods of bidding are, (since they are founded entirely on a fallacy), doomed to extinction.  This fallacy is the assumption that bidding a suit implies the holding of a certain number of cards in that suit ; and is, of course, a survival from Auction Bridge, in which game it was perfectly valid.

  Bidding suits one does not hold in any strength is invariably termed Psychic, but this term is often inaccurate.  There are two varieties of these bids : viz., attacking and defensive bids.

The attacking bids are not as a rule psychic in the usual sense of the word but asking bids, of which the object is to ascertain the best contract for the combined hands to play them in.  The defensive bids are genuine Psychics, intended only as bricks thrown into the opponents’ bidding machinery, and the last thing the bidder desires is to be left in to play the hand.

He gives an example of ♠AQx AJx Kxx ♣AQxx, where he would open an “attacking” Psychic one Diamond !  He then says that with ♠xxx xx AKxx ♣AQxx, after opening a Diamond, and if partner responds with a Heart, the next bid should be an “asking” bid of a Spade.  You can read the article for yourself because the E.B.U. have made it available on their website.

I can guess who “A. G. Figgins” was.  It’s a very unusual surname, and I’ve only been able to locate an “Alexander George Figgins” matching those initials, but that may not be the right person.  But if this is he, then he was involved in a scandal reported in the “West London Observer, - Friday, 25th May 1956, page 7” :

                                Bedlam in a Kensington flat.

  Early evening scene in a seven-roomed Kensington luxury flat during which the tenant, a 31-year-old accountant, was alleged to have attacked his mother and then to have “hurled" a 62-year-old man to the floor, breaking his leg, was described in great detail at West London on Wednesday.

  The accountant, John McDougall. of Cumberland House, Kensington High Street, W. was fined £10 and ordered to pay £5 5s. costs for causing grievous bodily harm to Archibald George Figgins.  Walking into court with the aid of a stick, Figgins said that on February 6 he was lodging at Cumberland House with Mrs. McDougall, who was the defendant's mother.

Dangerous life, that of a Bridge correspondent !  If you have someone in mind who should be included in my book, I will try to do that - please let me know.

Thank you, BW, Ken in B..

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