In the early 1950s, a group of university students anxious to find alternatives to study, discovered bridge.
Dick Cummings’s mother, Evelyn, a keen player, suggested that we investigate the possibilities of duplicate bridge, so a few of us arrived one evening at the remarkably minimalist premises of the Sydney Bridge Club on the 3rd. floor of 333 George Street, Sydney. The few in question were Dick Cummings, Roelof Smilde and me.
There we met Tim Seres, already king of the Australian bridge world, who took us under his wing and changed the direction of our lives. We were then barely in our twenties; Tim was about seven years older.
I would like to say something about Tim both as a bridge player and as a person. The simplest way to describe Tim’s standing in the Australian bridge world is to quote Shakespeare: “He doth bestride the narrow world like a colossus”. Unarguably so much better than anyone else, Tim was one of the huge natural talents that very occasionally surface in competitive endeavours. Don Bradman as a cricketer is a convenient analogy. Moreover, it was not simply a matter of being a big fish in a small pond. After appearing on the world stage, when he and Dick travelled to the UK and Europe in 1958, his reputation quickly spread and he was later to be described in the Encyclopaedia of Bridge as “one of the world’s great players”. Years of performance in world and Far East championships as the linchpin of Australian teams added lustre to his international reputation. Tim’s contribution to Australian bridge was honoured a few years ago when he was awarded the Order Of Australia Medal.
If I were to list Tim’s successes at all levels of bridge competition, we would be here for a very long time indeed. Enough to say that he was the peerless Tim Seres. But competition bridge was not his first love. He was above all a rubber bridge player par excellence. Here a remarkable combination of skill, psychological insight and table presence ensured a winning path that continued right up to the time of his death, when he was 82 and in poor health. Back in the 1950s I would watch him play for hours – it was a fascinating experience. In 1958 he cut a swathe through the London rubber bridge scene, and so it continued. It must have been a pleasure to play against him, because the privilege did not come cheaply!
Tim, who was born in 1925 (a vintage year for bridge greats – for example witness Edgar Kaplan of the United States and Pietro Forquet of Italy) migrated to Australia from Hungary in 1947 with his brother, George, at the age of 22. His life had been severely dislocated in Hungary since the German occupation in 1944 and subsequent Russian takeover of that country and his survival experiences, often dangerous, of that period were to influence profoundly the course of his later life. His philosophy, to which he adhered unswervingly, was essentially to live on his own terms. He had a number of romantic encounters over the years, but did not marry. But it should not be thought for a moment that Tim in any sense belonged to the class described by Thoreau as living lives of quiet desperation. He had a happy and interesting life. Eupeptic by temperament, he was an intelligent, courteous and perceptive man of considerable personal charm. Despite his pre-eminence, he was never arrogant or overbearing at the bridge table. The combination of these qualities meant that he was very popular in the Australian bridge community, which believe me, was no mean feat!
While his personality ensured that he had many friends, Tim’s main emotional ties were with his late aunt, Betty Munk, with his brother George in particular, with George’s wife Marika and their children, Niki and Andi; with Mary McMahon, his great friend and bridge partner over many years; and with the late Dick Cummings, Roelof Smilde and me. Bob Robertson of South Australia, with whom he shared a passion for horse-racing, was another close friend.
If I may be permitted a personal reflection, Sunday mornings had a ritual in the Howard household. Tim would ring at precisely 10 o’clock and for the next hour or so we would review events, in the bridge world and beyond. My sadness in the death of my great friend of over fifty years is mitigated by the knowledge that had he survived his last grave illness, he would no longer have been able to live his life on his own terms, which for Tim would have been no life at all.
Kindly reproduced with permission from Australian Bridge