By Peter Hasenson
Known to many in the bridge world as the former joint proprietor of St John’s Wood Bridge Club, Geoffrey won the Gold Cup in 1977 & 1983 (and was runner-up four times), Crockford’s Cup in 1974 & 1988, Robert Provost Cup (Spring Foursomes) in 1983 & 1986, Hubert Phillips Cup in 1989, Pachabo Cup in 1975, Eastbourne Bowl 1964 & 1972, Middlesex Cup in 1972, 1975 & 1978, many other tournaments and a great deal of money at the rubber bridge table!
Geoffrey was interviewed in Bridge Plus, August 1998:
Geoffrey and his wife Margaret have two daughters and 3 grandchildren and they live in Barnet. He is a tall, cheerful, good-looking man. He has had a successful career as the owner of a chain of betting shops and for 21 years he has been a director of one of London’s top rubber bridge clubs, St John’s Wood (known as ‘The Wood’). As a player, he has won every top event in England several times over - sometimes playing a simple rubber bridge style with no conventions at all. Highly respected amongst his peers, he has a reputation for being a sensible player with an excellent rapport with his partner at the table.
When did you start the game?
When I was about 13, I used to kibitz my father, who was a good player. During the war I served in the Army, joining the Gordon Highlanders after I left school. I was stationed in the Far East and then moved on to decoding duties at GHQ. After the war, I started playing bridge more seriously and took up tournament bridge. Ernest Senk, a close neighbour, and I played together a bit. When Margaret wanted to learn, Ernest taught her.
I hear that you and Margaret feature as characters in a Frederick Forsythe novel?
We met him on a cruise, and I am told that our characters are woven into a novel (Interviewer’s note: extreme modesty set in here and it was very difficult to find out more)
How did you come to be the proprietor of The Wood?
I had recently sold the betting shops and David Edwin was looking for a partner in the club. We got on very well together, perhaps partly because we never saw each other, as we took it in turns to be at the club. The London rubber bridge world is full of characters and we had a good time running the club. It’s now managed by Unal Durmus and still continues to be successful.
I’ve heard of rubber bridge games that go on and on. Are any particularly memorable?
There was one which started on a Friday night, the same four people playing throughout. By Monday morning two of the players had disappeared. One of the remaining players complained that there was no game for him.
Has anyone ever died at the table?
Yes, a small stake rubber player actually did. David Levitt said to him at the time “you can’t go yet, you’ve got to call last two hands”. Meanwhile, across the room someone yelled out “can’t you keep quiet there”.
Have you ever had to throw people out of the club, other than for reasons to do with bad debts?
There was an Australian fellow, high stake player, who used to break down if anyone bid a slam against him. You could see the tears running down his face. Eventually, I said to him “this game is not for you”.
Richard Sampson, known as Two-Jacks (because of what he claims is his poor card holding) was playing one day when he picked up a bad 27 count. There was a storm brewing outside. The Wood is in the basement of a large building, and suddenly the basement became completely flooded. All the players left, except for Richard. He sat there with his feet immersed in water, gripping his ‘bad’ 27 count. Eventually we persuaded him to leave.
Who were your partners at tournament bridge?
I have played with Joel Tarlo, John Collings, Gus Calderwood and Graham Cooke. Graham and I held the record as challengers in Bridge International’s Bidding Challenge for 13 months on the trot.
And finally, have you ever fallen asleep at the table at a major event?
Who told you that? Yes, its true, we were playing in the Continental Life Tournament in 1981 and the declarer took so long to play a card that I really did fall asleep.
Camrose Trophy Selections: 1981
Gold Cup winner: 1977 and 1983
Crockfords winner: 1974 and 1988
Spring Foursomes winner: 1983 and 1986
Hubert Phillips Bowl winner: 1989
Picture from Peter Hasenson