For those of us who play rubber bridge at TGR’s, the New Year began with the very sad news that Maurice Esterson had died. He was 89, but it was still completely unexpected. He was part of the club’s furniture — perhaps its most comfortable and precious item — and had been playing with his usual vigour just days earlier.
On the whole, we rubber bridge players are a grumpy lot, with fragile egos. Maurice was a rarity: a fine player (he represented England three times) with an even, kind temperament, always full of good humour, and universally liked and respected.
When I last saw him, we were making one of our favourite jokes about how fussy players become when deciding which chair to sit in at the start of a new rubber. Many devoutly believe the choice will affect their cards, and we named their religion ‘Seatism’. We cut each other as partners — and it was his choice of seat. ‘The Gods have given me guidance,’ he proclaimed, plonking himself in the nearest chair. ‘Face me!’ Well, perhaps the Gods really were listening, because he picked up this hand:
West led the ♦2. Maurice played the ♦9 from dummy, covered by East’s ♦Q, and then he paused for some seconds before carefully ruffing with the ♠9. Now he took the only chance he had: he played a low spade towards dummy and finessed the ♠7. When it held, he pushed another diamond through East, ruffing the ♦A. Now a trump to dummy’s ♠10 meant he could throw two losers on dummy’s diamonds. He never lost his magic touch. We’ll all miss him badly.