Bobby Richman died yesterday.

June 8, 2013 at 7:12 am 8 comments

Recollections of Bobby

hastily written before going to bed European time. Back in the morning.

G Ware (are there too many Wares on the bridge scene 🙂 ) said yesterday that for his generation Bobby was more important even than Tim and that’s true, not just because Tim was so much older, or because he wasn’t addicted quite as Bobby was to duplicate, but also because Bobby really did love kickstarting youngsters….and in….

1985 (?) Trials Brisbane….

….that’s what I was. I’d been playing about 3 years, recently moved to Sydney where my first introduction to the vibrant bridge community was Millhouse Road. It was one of the two bridge houses in the Double Bay area. The other was Bobby’s place. I had never played a natural system so Bobby learned Symmetric Relay, four card majors and it was a disaster. 10-15 HCP? Not even close. As he kept upgrading his junk and I kept overbidding in response we were always way too high. Late in Stage three, where we were still a bit of a chance, we played some friends who were determined to throw to us. Since they were coming about last, this was no great favour on their part and of course, in the event, they couldn’t even do that properly. The disasters included a 3NT redoubled. Declarer redoubled because, hey, why not, it was going down, might as well make it a BIG number. Only Bobby and I had one of those ‘does redouble mean your suit or mine?’ dilemmas and declarer had no choice but to notch up his contract. Of course, at the end of the event, I felt terrible because I’d let him down – we’d only come 6th or so.

Bobby was poor that tournament, so we shared a room: ‘don’t worry, I never sleep at night, I’ll probably do best in the bath with a bottle of champagne’. Okay Bobby…but if it’s all the same to you, I’ll be using the bedpan then. So poor was he, that he ate with Lavings when he could. Lavings was firmly into macrobiotic, which seemed to consist of lightly sauted root vegetables. The only vegetables that shouldn’t crunch when you eat them, but never mind that – I was invited, but even though I also had no money, I couldn’t bring myself to do that. I think it was the only time in my life I’ve eaten McDonalds.

Bobby at rubber.

I learned early on in my rubber career to be disciplined, play all day every day. Bobby was more of your ‘win a couple of rubbers and then go out for roast duck’ man.

Bobby at home

I shared an apartment with Bobby for a while, around 1994. He thought I was going to change his life. I was scared he was going to change mine. His office was his sofa, he would surround himself with the TV remote, the telephone, a big bottle of water. The doctor was in, there might have been a sign up. I was scared I’d end up obese and slothful. In the event, neither of us had much impact on the other. He liked my cooking enough that he paid me to keep cooking for him after I left.

Changing Bobby’s life.

Maybe I did something to change Bobby’s life and even make it longer than it might have been. I got him to take a sleep apnea test. Being fitted with a mask led to a transformation. Think about what that word means, it is probably overused, but this was. He went from a man who regularly played bridge asleep – I have no idea how he keep his cards in hand, but he never dropped them. He’d sit there, asleep, you’d say ‘your play, Bobby’ and he’d wake up, play a card, and go to sleep again – to wide awake, all because he started sleeping properly for the first time in his life. Even when he was a child, it turned out he was probably waking up THOUSANDS of times in a night. The doctor couldn’t believe he was still alive. Later, Bobby said he’d trained himself not to need the mask any more. I don’t  know if that was really true.

Bobby at the races and other methods of investing his money.

Bobby never did well enough at the things he could win at. Never well enough, that is, to cover the things he was addicted to and bad at. Or good at, but the edge just wasn’t there. He was never very happy with money in his pocket and races that could be supported. At the same time, he was scrupulously honest and never let anybody down financially – well, nobody he thought couldn’t afford it, at any rate. When the late eighties crash happened, most of his friends including bridge players, made sure they lost enough that their debts were written off. Not Bobby, he stopped the moment it was happening and spent the rest of his life paying off the losses he’d incurred. He was incredibly moral but in somewhat unexpected ways. It made him rather bitter that he paid whereas most people, including his mates, didn’t. But still, it didn’t stop him doing the right thing.

Bobby abroad

We met up in 1986 or so in Europe. You always had to look after your plans with Bobby in case he spent them on lunch. Seriously. This year we were going to a tournament in Avignon and met up in Paris beforehand. Bobby got there first and spent most of his money on roast duck. Some place where you pay a stupid amount of money and then you get a card saying you are the million and tenth person to eat the roast duck at…. Bobby actually got such a kick out of that sort of thing that he was probably the only person who got his money’s worth from the exercise. Avignon was a disaster (that’s another story) and then we had the bright idea of driving to St Moritz to stay at a friend’s place. I was plain terrified of driving with Bobby – not least because the very first turn onto the freeway we found ourselves going the wrong way – but we got there. Never fell down a mountain. But still, there we were and what to do? Bobby had no money and in any case was trying to diet. We weren’t exactly the mountain climbing types. There was supposed to be rubber bridge in St Moritz but not that we could find…

Bobby married

The invitation said ‘subject to psychosomatic weather conditions’. Nonetheless, it happened,  Bobby’s parents came. People took unkind but realistic bets about when it would end. One person that night gave up smoking for longer than the marriage lasted, another drinking. The fact is, it may seem, given Bobby’s obesity, to be an odd comparison, but he was like a bird in a cage. A beautiful cage, with a lovely wife, but caged none the less and he couldn’t do it. Women were wildly keen on Bobby, but in the end, he generally wasn’t able to give them the sorts of things girls want. He knew that. He’d tell them that. But they didn’t necessarily listen. I would no more have expected Bobby to be able to give normal relationship ‘things’ than a good dummy. I mean, it might happen, you might see the dummy he put down and say, ‘there. What was I worried about?’ But honestly. Still worry.

Bobby and the gaolhouse

Bobby had a never ending supply of stories, where often he was the butt of it all. One of my favourites was when he was playing in a world championship in France long ago. He was moving during the tournament from a posh hotel to a cheap one – the kind of wheeling dealing thing he was always doing. He’d been eating muesli in his room every morning in a bowl supplied by the posh hotel and decided that the practical thing to do was to pack it in his luggage and take it to the doss house where, after all, if they had crockery, it wouldn’t be as nice, would it? So, he’s in the foyer, he’s trying to check out and now he is confronted by the staff telling him there is a bowl missing. There was probably some diplomatic way out of this where Bobby could keep the bowl, but if so, Bobby missed the line. He insisted he didn’t have it and before you know it, in front of many of his friends from around the world, the staff is telling him if he can’t find the bowl, there is a police station that might help him find it – right there, pointing directly across the street at the flashing light of the police station. A hilarious nightmare the way Bobby tells it. Now, sweat pouring off him, starting to believe he might end up in gaol over this, he’s opening his suitcase, he can’t find the bowl…well, his suitcase was only so big, of course, he did find it. Utterly humiliated he finally managed to crawl away to his next insalubrious stop.

Bobby in business

When Bobby was in primary school, he discovered that his local bakery sold all the cakes half price at the end of the day. You might think you know what happened next….and you’d be wrong. I know it looks like he ate all the cakes, but in fact what happened was that he figured he could do a trade. Clearly Bobby was born a wheeler-dealer. He’d buy up the cakes, take them to school the next day and sell them at a profit. It was a tidy little enterprise that caused him soon enough to have a pile of money hidden under his bed. One day his mother came upon it and when she found out what was going on she (a) closed down the business and (b) put the money in the bank. It was still Bobby’s but Bobby didn’t see it like that. He used to have a pile of money under the bed, and now he didn’t. It was the last time he undertook business seriously. He saw the error of his ways.

Bobby as friend

Generous to a fault.

I imagine the number of Bobby stories in the world is practically infinite, I’d love to hear other people’s….


Entry filed under: history.

Guys, p-leeasssssseeeeeeeee More on Bobby

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Khokan  |  June 11, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    I played for the NSW team with Bobby as a team mate at the 1985 Interstate Teams. Bobby and I weren’t much more than passing aquaintances at the time. About a week later, we played rubber in the same game at Double Bay and I got hammered at the table. Bobby took me out to lunch the next day, wrote me out a list of don’ts at rubber, and bankrolled me for $300 – all when he didn’t have two cents to rub together (I had even less!). He was a stand-up guy, a real mensch.

    • 2. cathyc  |  June 12, 2013 at 7:28 am

      On the other hand, Khokan….maybe he just saw you as a….horse. I think that’s partly why he loved kiddies, everything is so much more of a gamble, it’s all exciting.

  • 3. Rena K  |  June 11, 2013 at 9:56 am

    Thank you Cathy for a wonderful article. Bobby was a ‘once in a lifetime’ person and we will all miss him. Many years ago he voted me ‘the world’s worse kibbutzer’ – some things never change!

  • 4. Gloria Peston  |  June 11, 2013 at 6:22 am

    Many many fond memories of sitting around with him in the round bar in Canberra…the consummate raconteur…although I hadnt seen him in quite a few years, he was from time to time mentioned in my dispatches for oneor another of his hilarious anecdotes. Vale Bobby.

  • 5. jill magee  |  June 10, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    bobby was incredibly modest. my first year playing bridge i did not know who he was and got up against him in the vic open pairs, bobby, playing with a client, he and client had a rkcb stuff up where one played 0314 and one played 1430, and the went off in a slam due to being off 2 key cards. at that time, i was so green i had never heard of 1430. i just thought he forgot the convention, so i tried to help by saying ” i have a good way to remember key card, 5C is zero or 3 and a club has 3 leaves, and 5D is 1 or 4 and a Diamond has 4 sides!” this said, with the best of intentions. Bobby looked at me, and smiled and said politely “Thanks very much! That’s really helpful. I’m gonna use that from now on”. And it wasnt till i got to the next table that my partner told me I’d just been giving lessons to one of the top players in australia. that’s how modest and gracious Bobby was.

    • 6. cathyc  |  June 12, 2013 at 7:23 am

      There is a famous Tim story like this too, wjere a kibbitzer gave him a similar lesson, I think it was something to do with blackwood too – anybody recall it?

  • 7. Kieran Dyke  |  June 8, 2013 at 7:26 am

    One thing about Bobby that will endure with me is the good humour with which he disarmed hostile or grumpy bridge partners – watching him work with, say, Sara was a treat.

    • 8. cathyc  |  June 8, 2013 at 7:32 am

      Mind you, sometimes he was grumpy himself. He went through long phases, Bobby, of different sorts of moods. I thought he was very different, for example, after his bypass than before….


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