Albert Benjamin

ALBERT BENJAMIN Creator of the "Benji" bridge bidding system

Born: 1 April, 1909, in Glasgow. Died: 17 January, 2006, in Westacres, aged 96.

NOT many bridge players actually devise a new system of playing bridge and even fewer have a system of bidding named after them. The genial Glasgow-born Albert Benjamin created what was originally called the "Benjaminised Acol" but was rapidly shortened to just the "Benji". It is thought he devised the system to combat the United States international team's repeated successes with the Weak 2 bid.

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The US team had caused such havoc at competitions, Benjamin created a slight variation on the popular Acol system and it was rapidly adapted at all levels of the game. Benjamin's variation denotes strength and is a hoped-for game call. If the bidder opens in either minor suit (ie clubs or diamonds) he shows strength whereas an opening in a major suit (ie hearts or spades) denotes weakness. It has become a much-used bid especially by international players. Even those who play round the kitchen table with a glass of claret have ventured to try out the "Benji".

Benjamin's mother was Siberian and his father, a jeweller in Glasgow, was originally Swedish. He won a scholarship to Allan Glen's School and in the early Thirties, for three years, read medicine at Glasgow University. However, there he discovered bridge and played it so successfully that he started, in 1937, writing an influential bridge column in the Evening Citizen, which continued until 1976.

Benjamin became a professional player and journalist but during the war he was drafted into the ambulance service. However, he found the meagre pay of 3 a week a touch inadequate so he started playing poker for money. It was not a game he much enjoyed (he labelled it "boring and soul-destroying") but he made a tidy income from it throughout the war and even paid a colleague to work his shifts so that he could add to his poker earnings.

After the war, Benjamin returned to journalism and playing bridge but was prudent enough to also set up a business supplying electrical instruments. He continued working in his business until he retired but it allowed him plenty of time to play bridge and manage the club he and his wife had set up in the late Forties. The Kenmuir Bridge Club was soon known as "Benjamin's" and it was there that he fostered the talents of the young Michael Rosenberg and Barnet Shenkin. Both of whom are now international players.

Benjamin was a gentle and much loved man. He played the game for the love of it and loved the challenge that every hand presents. He was dubbed the "Lion of the North" in bridge circles and this reflected the respect and admiration he had gathered over many years round the bridge table.

Benjamin represented Scotland on 28 occasions, and often captained the team. Despite the many fine games he played for Scotland, the story he loved to relate was when he was involved in a needle match with England in 1964. Scotland had never beaten the English team and on this occasion both teams were level with a few hands to play. At this crucial moment, Benjamin somehow managed to fall asleep. He was poked in the ribs and in a confused state blurted out: "No bid". The trouble was it was not his turn to bid and he incurred a penalty for bidding out of turn. Worse, he had a strong hand so that his partner's confusion was total. In the other room the Scottish pair were victorious so Benjamin's mistake didn't make any difference. It was a story he delighted in telling at seminars and bridge conventions.

Apart from his journalistic work, Benjamin contributed to many books on bridge and wrote World Tournament Bridge for Everyone. He played a formidable game well into his nineties and when asked how he kept so mentally alert he quipped: "I never played the Weak No Trump."

Benjamin married Judy Golombok in 1939. She died in 1986 and they had no children.