Akarana Bridge Club

Akarana Bridge Club History

John O'Gorman

12 January 2004

In the beginning ...
Inauguration
Lessons
Venues
Early success
Child Prodigies
Akarana's contribution
versus Blades
Later Decline


 1 In the beginning ...

In 1968 Sue Heard (now Sue Shearer) rounded up a group of her friends who played bridge and suggested that we form a bridge club for young people. She and her husband John invited a group of us to form a steering committee to set everything up.

The steering committee, as I remember it, comprised: John and Sue Heard, John Evitt, Bill Haughie, Barry McLean, Larry Simpson, and me. We were mostly in our twenties and met at the magnificent Heard homestead in Parnell and resolved to go ahead. We advertised in local newspapers. Sue's mother Mary King was secretary of the Auckland Bridge Club and she publicised the proposal through the bridge clubs. We intended to play on Sunday nights (as this did not clash with any other bridge club nights) at the Navy League rooms (where Ethel Pattinson had influence). Sue intended that the club would be called the Colts Bridge Club.

2 Inauguration

Our inaugural meeting was at the Navy League rooms on Tamaki drive on the 3rd Sunday in January 1969. An encouragingly good attendance of about 50 people got us off to a very good start. A committee was elected. After considerable debate about what we should call it, (some suggestions: Colts, Phoenix), Neil Solomon's proposal of Akarana was accepted. We duly became incorporated as the Akarana Bridge Club Inc and affiliated to the NZCBA.

The new club was to be a bridge club for young people but with no age restriction on membership. The only proviso to insure a young approach was that the committee be restricted to persons 35 years old or younger. With time, even this restriction lapsed. In keeping with the spirit of mildly rebellious youth was a relaxed dress standard. In the 60s and 70s bridge clubs in NZ insisted on ties and long trousers for men. Akarana allowed shorts and sandals and (horrors!) open necked shirts.

Another feature of Akarana was the alcohol and socialising at session end while the scoring was being done (often by Rob Jacobs). This was enhanced considerably by the abundance of another commodity totally lacking in the  mainstream bridge clubs - nubile women members! The pleasant atmosphere attracted may players some of them not so young. For example Andre Fudakowski was a Polish Cavalry officer from before the second world war. I still savour the memory of Mrs Billie Tohill, formidable resident director of the Auckland Bridge Club, descending in her night attire to expel the hard core remnants of Akarana at 4:00 AM after one of our sessions.

3 Lessons

As only half of the new members knew how to play bridge, from the very first night we offered lessons. There was no lack of volunteers from the luminaries of the bridge community of that era: We had a different volunteer every night. Names that I remember: Bruce Bell, Johnny Martin, Ailsa Hollis, Jocelyn Hutchinson (later Kinsella), Len McKillop then editor of NZ Bridge Magazine. We were very grateful for this support, but embarrassingly discovered that it was a not a good recipe for raw beginners to the game. Some tutors were expatiating in the intricacies of compound squeezes to people who had not yet learned to follow suit! This led to our having only two or three of our own members each giving a sequence of lessons.

4 Venues

The Navy League rooms were not entirely satisfactory. With bare wooden floors and a low ceiling, they were rather noisy. Each evening we had to set up the tables for play, then put them away at the end of the session. The room on the mezzanine floor where we had our lessons was very cramped.

In the course of our history we have moved premises three times. Our first shift was to Auckland Club where we flourished for two or three years. Then after a dispute about room charges, we moved to the second floor rooms in Queen's Arcade which we sub tenanted from the Central Birdge Club for two years. Finally Auckland Bridge Club offered very favourable terms for us to return to their magnificent premises in Remuera where we have remained to this day.

5 Early success

Akarana flourished through the 70s and 80s. We attracted hundreds of members culminating in one evening at Auckland club where we had 48 tables. Our members involved themselves enthusiastically in the tournament circuit and eventually we came to provide the bulk of the NZ open teams of the era. At the risk of offending by omission our early national representatives included John Evitt, Michael Cornell, Stan Abrahams, Malcolm Mayer, Lionel Wright, Bill Kun, Larry Simpson, Bill Haughie, Walter Linderman, Dave Mathews, Rob Jacobs, Malcolm Sims, Stephen Lester, Tom Jacob, Brian Mace....

Playing standards on club night rose inexorably until we had probably the best standard on club play in Auckland - this despite the fact there were always first year beginners competing.

It was readily accepted that Akarana had the best players: they dominated the national rankings, tournament prize lists, and national team personnel.

6 Child prodigies

Some of Akarana'a youngest members had outstanding success while still of school age. Malcolm Mayer learnt the game at Mt Albert Grammar School under the tutelage of Bill Kun. Later Ishmail Del'monte and Ashley Bach both gained NZ representative status and effectively become full-time professionals. Laura O'Gorman represented Cambridge University at bridge and they won the All England University Championship.

7 Akarana's contribution

Akarana has participated fully in the administration of Bridge at Centre and NZCBA level. Akarana open tournaments became known for the standard of food, drink, and hospitality. During the first years we held our annual party tournament at Sorrento. Later venues for this event included Carlton Rugby Club rooms, Waiheke Island, and of late the Auckland Bridge club rooms. Against the prevailing trends, we have promoted teams events annually along with innovations in format (Swiss with datum scoring, Swiss with multiple teams scoring, etc).

8 versus Blades

The success of Akarana led to the formation of a similar youth bridge club in Wellington called Blades. An annual fixture between the two clubs was held with the venue alternating between Auckland and Wellington. The format was five teams from each club competing in two sections: top two, bottom three. There was of course a party on Saturday night (which had a severe impact on the standard of play on the Sunday!). These events were a lot of fun and some of the teams acquired a special mystique. In particular Akarana team four was a constant from year to year: Wynn Jones, Brian Dingwall,John Marks, and Super Sinclair.

Sadly the Blades club went into decline and disbanded after about 10 years of operation.

9 Later decline

For Akarana the heady heights of the 80s had the seeds of destruction in them.

The first problem that became obvious was that we steadily lost the beginners soon after they came out of the classes we ran for them. This was because it was too daunting for them to compete with players of international standard. We tried separating beginners into a separate section, but that hurt the club socially.

The second problem was the changes in NZ society and business life during the boom of the mid 80s. Where previously young people had expected a slow and steady rise up the professional rungs of their career ladders expecting to advance only when superiors were promoted or retired, now the YUPPIE phenomenon was making 20 year old millionaires. Restrictions on weekend trading were abolished - destroying the traditional NZ weekend of sport and leisure. The sort of young person who would have played serious bridge in the past, now devoted himself single-mindedly to a career. People worked longer hours and forsook leisure for commercial or professional advancement. Strangely, these changes were not reversed by the stock market crash of 1987.

A third factor which has impacted on Akarana has been the rise of computer bridge. This has provided a way for people to play the game without social commitment and at odd hours.

Gradually the lack of new members has strangled the club. The expert players have drifted away as playing numbers declined. The club for young people has largely the same members it started with - but they are 30 years older! A distressing number of deaths of those in our ranks has caused further dwindling.

Another disappointing aspect of our decline is the dearth of the offspring of existing members playing the game. Efforts to entice them along have failed, probably because we not achieved the critical mass of numbers to keep them enthused.