18th European Youth Team Championships Bulletin 9 - Tuesday, 16 July  2002

The All-Time Bridge Greats (8)

Terence Reese

Terence Reese (1913-1996), of London, England and latterly of Hove, was the finest player produced by Great Britain and one of the very best the world has seen.

Reese was one of the creators of and the first to write a book about the Acol System, which though refined over the years is still the standard domestic system in Britain today. He also wrote more than 100 other books and would almost certainly win a vote for best bridge writer of all time. Two of his books on play, The Expert Game and Reese On Play are regarded as classics and would be on many people's lists of ten 'must read' titles for the aspiring expert.

Reese was bridge correspondent of the Observer newspaper, the London Evening News (later the Evening Standard) and a number of periodicals. He was editor of British Bridge World from 1955 to 1962 and conducted regular radio programs about bridge. Blessed with a dry or sometimes acerbic wit, he was a regular and popular commentator at major international championships when he was not playing or acting as a non-playing captain.

As well as being one of the founding fathers of the Acol System, Reese also created a highly artificial bidding system called the Little Major, which he played at the top level. Supposedly, this was developed as a protest at the growing complexity and proliferation of destructive methods of bidding in the international game, but if so it had no positive effect, rather adding fuel to a movement that had already developed a life of its own.

As a player, Reese won more than twenty national titles including the Gold Cup, the British national teams championship, eight times. He won four European Open Teams Championships and one Bermuda Bowl in 1955, the only time to date that Britain has won an Open World Championship. He was also World Par Contest Champion in 1961 and won the Sunday Times Invitational Pairs event in 1964.

For many years Terence's partnership with Boris Schapiro was considered close to the best in the world. Then in 1965 the international career of both Reese and Schapiro came to a shocking end. While representing Great Britain in the Bermuda Bowl in Buenos Aires, Argentina, they were accused of cheating by the American team and bridge columnist of the New York Times, Alan Truscott, an ex-patriate Englishman.

The substance of the accusation was that the British pair were holding their cards in different ways on different hands, with a different number of fingers showing, sometimes spread and sometimes together. After comparing findings, the observers suggested that the information being passed was the number of cards held in the heart suit.

After having observers watching subsequent sessions, the World Bridge Federation called a meeting of the Appeals Committee and confronted the pair, both of whom denied the allegations. Despite their denials, the WBF Executive voted 10-0 with one abstention (Perroux, the Italian npc) that Reese/Schapiro were guilty. The evidence was turned over to the British Bridge League and Great Britain conceded all their matches in the championship.

After seeing the WBF report, the BBL set up an independent enquiry headed by Sir John Foster, Queen's Counsel, and General Lord Bourne. After more than ten months' deliberation, the Foster report found Reese/Schapiro not guilty of cheating. The reasoning behind this was that there appeared to be little or no internal technical evidence within the hands and play to suggest that the pair were profiting from any such signals.

Subsequently, the WBF reaffirmed their verdict made in Buenos Aires that cheating had occurred. In 1968 the BBL enquired as to whether a team including Reese/Schapiro would be acceptable at that year's Olympiad and were told no. Accordingly, Britain did not send a team. Later that same year the WBF Executive restored Reese/Schapiro to good standing on the grounds that their three year ban had been sufficient punishment. Neither, however, represented Britain again and their domestic appearances together had also almost come to an end.
Were they cheating? We are unlikely to ever be certain, though everyone has pretty entrenched views one way or the other. Reese and Truscott each wrote a book about the affair - reading them you might think they were discussing two totally different incidents.

There are considerable pressures in top-level bridge and success can bring financial rewards as well as trophies, so some will always be tempted. The observations of the different ways of holding cards are significant and if there was a correlation with the number of hearts held it looks damning, and yet there is so much more useful information that could be passed once a pair decides to cheat, so why choose the number of hearts in the hand?

  10 7 6 2
A 6
K J 10 5
10 7 3
J 5
K J 7
9 6 4 2
K Q J 8
Bridge deal Q 8 3
Q 10 4 3 2
8 3
6 4 2
  A K 9 4
9 8 5
A Q 7
A 9 5

My Reese hand is a beautiful example of a psychological ploy to give an extra chance of making a contract.

Reese played 4 on the lead of K. He ducked but won the club continuation, then cashed the ace and king of spades and the ace of diamonds. If the hand with the master trump also holds three or more diamonds the contract makes legitimately, but we can see that on the actual layout East can ruff the third diamond and lead a club to defeat the game.

Terence found a way to pull the wool over the eyes of the poor East player. After the A he led 7 to the king then played 10 off the table as though hoping to take a ruffing finesse to establish a diamond trick. East fell for it, discarding. Winning the Q, Reese wasted no time in crossing to A to pitch his losing club on the J and made his 'impossible' contract.

It is true that if East/West play length signals East should know how many diamonds declarer has and therefore know to ruff the third diamond, but it is a lot easier to say that than it is to actually do it at the table. None of us are used to playing against such tricky opponents.