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Gold Coast Congress History

The Gold Coast Congress – A History

Written by Tony Jackman for the 50th anniversary.

Our author Tony Jackman was, for a long time, convenor and ‘genial host’ of the Gold Coast Congress. Among his claims to fame – he is the only person to have played in all 49 congresses – so far. He also easily holds the record for most wins (six) in the Pairs Plate. This caused him to derive ‘Jackman’s Law –‘ It’s better to win the ‘Z’ grade than come nowhere in the Open’.

Finally wanting to give up the convening task 5 or 6 years ago, he called for a replacement. His GCC team member of many years, Therese Tully stepped back too slowly. She is now the big chief – and doing a great job.

Preamble: Med student’s common room, late 1958. A couple of us were sitting there, waiting for the poker school to assemble. Next one in said – “Mum taught me a new game last night – Bridge”. It wasn’t quite new, we’d played 500 and Solo, but for me that kicked off a love affair that endures 50 years on. Soon, med studies slipping away, I was involved with the now burgeoning bridge scene in S-E Queensland.

The game had almost died after the war, but the arrival from Scotland of the energetic and enthusiastic Dr. George McCutcheon changed that rapidly. He got new clubs started, then weekend congresses, first in Toowoomba, then in Brisbane. Tim Seres and Dick Cummings came up for the first Brisbane Congress. They endorsed McCutcheon’s view that a weeklong congress at a holiday venue would be viable. They were right!

Early Days – The Chevron: The first GCC was played late February 1962 – dead off season so prices were low. Venue was the Chevron Hotel in Surfers Paradise. Play was in a poky conference room below ground level. Still, it was large enough for the sixty-ish players who assembled. To my young eyes everything was hugely glamorous. I was playing, talking, drinking, eating for days on end with Queensland’s best and superstars from the South. All enjoyed, loved the Pink Elephant Bar, the beach and other Gold Coast attractions. They vowed to return, and spread the word. Queensland scored a never to be repeated double. Harold Hiley/ Bob Williams won the Pairs and, with George McCutcheon, Tony Jackman, Denis Priest and Bruce Meares, edged out Seres/Cummings with Ron McIntosh/ Jim Waugh (SA) in the team’s final.

We were off and running. By 1964 the Chevron had a fine new conference facility, great for the times and able to accommodate our steadily increasing numbers. It was on the Eastern side of their magnificent pool and garden complex. This was to be our playing venue until 1989. There are myriad stories about the pool area. I recall the great Queensland woman player Molly Dawson on the diving board of the top pool. She remembered she had her bath robe on so ­ still on the board ­ she removed it, pitching it back on the edge. However, at no stage did she take away the ever-present cigarette from her lips – it dived with her. There is still a mystery relating to which player caused the underwater viewing window in the pool to meet its demise in the early a.m. midweek at a ’60s congress. My understanding is that Roelof Smilde denies all knowledge of, or responsibility for the ensuing flood!

Numbers grew through the sixties. The format, effectively a five session (two qualifying, three final) pairs then three days of teams culminating in finals, followed by a celebratory dinner has been expanded but is still the basis. “If it ‘ain’t’ broke, don’t fix it”.

For many of the early years the team’s final was a clash between a Seres led group, usually with Mary McMahon, Roelof Smilde and Jessel Rothfield among others and a partially Queensland lineup of Tony Jackman, Frank Jarvis, Mike Robson with Don Evans and Ian Weiss. Most memorable was the 1968 final. It was our first attempt at Vu-Graph (Ed: in those days known as Bridgearama or Rama. A manual system where plaques representing each card were put up on a board with lights between each card which the operator would turn off as it was played – reported from the table by telephone) .

Unfortunately, we didn’t realize the procedures added a lot of time. The 40 board final started at 8.00 p.m., was halfway through at 11.15 p.m. with Tim’s team up 36 imps. Board 40 finished at 2.45 a.m. still with 200 people watching! We had clawed our way back and the result was ­ a tie! A four board playoff ensued immediately, our lot losing by 2 imps. We learnt – for following years the Vu-Graph became only 20 boards.

Various people ­ George McCutcheon, Arthur Hoffmann, Denis Priest and Jimmy O’Sullivan were convenors through the sixties. O’Sullivan, later to be ABF president for a decade, always at our congress and later many others, was renowned for his hospitality.

Then, for most of the seventies the convening responsibility was given to George Cuppaidge (and wife Patricia). The congress continued to grow and, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, spawned competition. The most notable is the Summer Festival now permanently held in Canberra in mid-January. Since its inception in Sydney in 1972 it has become a great success. These two events are, by far, Australia’s largest.

Through the seventies, the strength and size of the field continued to increase. Tim Seres and Mary McMahon were dominant winning both Pairs and Teams many times. In that period their team-mates often included Bobby Richman and Ron Klinger – both on their way to stellar careers.

But 1977 was ‘one to us’. For the last time – to date – a Queensland team took that Championship. My group ‘Tony Jackman/ Mike Robson, Ian Morris/ Mike Pemberton’, came from well back to grab the second finals spot, miles behind Tim. QBA VP Jan Kirk’s non-bridge-playing (but punter) husband, Arthur, got 50:1 against us in the final. We won ­ but it’s been a long time since those victory drinks.

Mid-term – Off to the ANA: In the early eighties the QBA Executive of the time had taken over the direct running of the Congress, notably via Reg Busch and Ivy Dahler. 1985 was most memorable – a long state-wide power strike was in effect and players had to cope with little light and no aircon during the pairs. The strike ended during the last pairs session and all was well by the start of the teams.

When Keith McDonald became QBA President, the executive decided to revert to giving the responsibility again to a convenor. As his VP (who believed VPs should be largely ceremonial), I suddenly had “an offer I couldn’t refuse”, and became Convenor/ Congress Chairman in 1988.

My first year at the helm came with one considerable shock. Early in the week the Chevron Hotel management advised that we had to move – their site was to be redeveloped. There were regrets – a great 26 year experience had come to an end. The new ANA Hotel became our next home from 1989. The new venue worked, and we had a happy partnership with the ANA Hotel. Growth continued. By 2001 we needed extra space. The Gold Coast International Hotel, 400 metres North, became a second site. New team’s divisions – Seniors and Restricted – were added that year, and similar pairs events in 2002

During my time, some seventeen years, I was aided by many good people. All were valuable but, most of all, was QBA manager Kim Ellaway – always efficient, nothing ever too hard. Richard Grenside (who had taken over from Ian McKinnon) was Chief Tournament Director until international commitments forced him to resign in 1997. Reg Busch, who had for many years been Assistant Chief Director (as well as numerous other significant Congress roles) took over for two years and was succeeded admirably by Laurie Kelso, still in the chair. Roger Penny, Michael Kent, Sean Mullamphy, David Anderson and Richard Ward were among other national directors who contributed much in my term. Locals John and Joy Carbis, now succeeded by Gerald Schaaf, were invaluable – players get sick, mistake the times or simply don’t turn up. Joy, unflappable, had always a Gold Coast substitute on hand to play (or work). Joan McPheat through much of my term and before has led our scoring team and did this magnificently. When she stepped down Martin Willcox came on board. The transition was seamless. Ray Ellaway was everywhere, and along, first with Judy Nothdurft, later with Sue Kelso, Sarah Jane Reid and Marg Jabore have given us meticulous floor management.

To my mind the hospitality aspect of the Congress ranks in importance with playing circumstances. We want – and mostly achieve this – our competitors to go home, perhaps thinking that they could have played better, but knowing that they have had a great time and certainly “value for money”. The then ABF Secretary Dennis Yovich wrote some time ago stressing the value of a final presentation. The Closing Dinner at the Gold Coast has for years been, in our view,  a big factor in the continuing success of the Congress.

Others who have contributed much in my term have been my wife Clare and our great friend Meta Goodman. Through the ANA years they ran the ‘Hospital’ – after session hospitality. Meta has been a driving force in making our Congress known overseas.

Leading overseas players Brian Glubok, Karen McCallum – both US – and England’s Richard King were early visitors. In 1994 we invited Larry Cohen and Eric Rodwell (with his soon to be wife Donna Burtt) to visit Queensland and play in the event. They were super guests and I, believe, “added value” – and glamour. The great Japanese player Akio Kurokawa has also made a couple of visits leading a party. Teacher/writer Phillip Alder combined a teaching tour with play, as later did then ACBL official teacher Audrey Grant.

During 1994 on a family visit to the UK I spent a day at the English Bridge Union (EBU) headquarters at Aylesbury (near Oxford). Then EBU Secretary, John Williams was most helpful and I left him an invitation. It essentially provided free entry (and much hospitality) to an EBU accredited team.

Soon after London solicitor Geoffrey Wolfarth brought out the first of such teams including, among others, Mark Horton and Brian Senior (and wife Nevena). Mark and Brian – apart from being great players – were editors of the two major English bridge magazines. They enjoyed their visits and the subsequent stories they printed gave the Coast increased recognition on the world scene. In 1997 the EBU returned (and upped) our offer. They then invited us to send “an Australian team with a Queensland flavour” to the major Brighton Festival. We accepted and Jim Wallis/Ish Del’Monte, Mike Robson and I enjoyed the occasion and the opportunity to proselytize.

In 1998 (and 1999) leading English professional Paul Hackett led teams including his twin sons Jason and Justin (world junior champions) to the event. They were to return along with other EBU teams. Bill Hirst/John Hassett, Mike Pomfrey/Ron Morrish were next. All proved popular and successful. Since then, Bill Hirst has acted as unofficial recruiter for the GCC in England and has brought out quality teams almost every year.

Slightly closer –‘across the ditch’ – New Zealanders had discovered the GCC. Much credit here goes to Jim Wallis who was a relentless advocate for us on his many trips to the NZ Nationals. Kiwi numbers at the congress now approach 200. They have had much success through the later ANA years. Some liked it here so much that they based in Australia. Stephen Burgess, Paul Marston, Ish Del’Monte and Ash Bach have been multiple winners at the Coast.

Triggered by long term CTD Richard Grenside’s resignation in 1997, my committee decided to create a Gold Coast Congress “Roll of Honour”. The Honour Board is on  display at the QCBC during the year and at the venue in the playing week. Those who rendered conspicuous service before 1997 are shown at the base and those who since have had to part company are listed separately above. We felt it our honour to add the names of Mary McMahon and Tim Seres in 2002. It was Mary’s last Congress. She had played in all 41 up to that year winning, mostly with Tim, a staggering 13 teams titles and six pairs.

Recent Times – Over to Therese and the Convention Centre: After the 2004 Congress it was obvious that our venues – two conference floors at both ANA and GCI – were almost at capacity and a site move had to be planned. Time for a ‘hospital pass’, as footballers say. I had decided to step down and this seemed the right time.

We were fortunate to find Therese Tully willing to take over. She has been in charge since then and has done magnificently. With her team, spearheaded by QBA manager Kim Ellaway and CTD Laurie Kelso, she coped with the last two crowded years at the existing venues, and managed the negotiations and planning for the impending move to the new Gold Coast Convention Centre at Broadbeach. There was some terror – Would the players like it?  Would they be happy with the available accommodation and eateries. Above all – Would they come? and then – Would they return? The answer to all these questions was a resounding ‘Yes’.

2007 was the first year there. The site proved superb. In one great room it has space for well over 400 team along with terrific aircon and acoustics. Parking is easy and, close at hand, there’s a wide variety of places to stay and places to heat.

On the playing front it’s now obvious that the GCC has become a true international event with great players from all over the world finding their way here. Therese, for many years a regular in Australian women’s team, has long been a driving force in popularizing our event overseas. A recent masterstroke was bringing the Yeh Bros Cup to the Gold Coast. Played just before our tournament, it brought many of the world’s best players here with most staying for the GCC. This influx is a little embarrassing for our own players – the visitors are often winners – but should also be an inspiration  The following tables, listing the Open Teams and Pairs winners demonstrating how internationals have dominated in recent years.

H W Hiley – R E Williams H W Hiley, A P Jackman, Dr G McCutcheon (c), B Meares, Dr D Priest, R E WIlliams
T Seres – R Smilde A P Jackman, Dr G McCutcheon (c) , Dr D Priest, T Seres, R Smilde
Mrs R Eaton – Miss M McMahon Dr E Auerbach (c), M Coltheart, Mrs R Eaton, Miss M McMahon
D Evans – I Weiss Mrs R eaton, D Evans, Miss M McMahon (c), T Seres, I Weiss
T Landy – Dr D G Neill Mrs R Eaton, D Evans, Miss M McMahon (c), T Seres, H Sloman, I Weiss
A J Selinger – G H Westcott J Fahrer, A P Jackman, Dr D Priest, A J Selinger, G H Westcott
Miss M McMahon – T Seres Miss M McMahon, J Rothfield, N Rothfield (c), W Scott, T Seres, R Smilde
Miss M McMahon – T Seres A P Jackman (c), F Jarvis, Dr B Meares, M Robson
Mr & Mrs R Stern Miss M McMahon, J Rothfield, W Scott, T Seres, R Smilde (c)
D Evans – I Weiss Miss M McMahon, J Rothfield, W Scott, T Seres, R Smilde (c)
Dr F Bellingham – H Hochmuch D Evans, A P Jackman, F Jarvis, J Lathbury, I Weiss
D Evans – I Weiss D Evans, A P Jackman, F Jarvis, I Weiss
Miss M McMahon – T Seres R Cummings, R Klinger, Miss M McMahon (c), T Seres
I McCance – W Scott R Cummings, R Klinger, Miss M McMahon (c), T Seres
Miss M McMahon – T Seres R Klinger, Miss M McMahon (c), R Richman, T Seres
Miss M McMahon – T Seres A P Jackman, I Morris, M Pemberton (c), M Robson
D Evans – P Lavings D Evans, P Lavings, A Ong, F Theeman (c)
Miss B Gill – P Jamieson R Klinger, Miss M McMahon, R Richman, T Seres
Mr & Mrs J Borin R Klinger, Miss M McMahon, R Richman, T Seres
R Richman – D Smith A Walsh (c), E Havas, V Cummings, W Scott
R Richman – J Lester T Seres, Miss M McMahon, T Bourke, D Smith
P Marston – S Burgess A Walsh, V Cummings, W Scott, E Havas
P Marston – S Burgess M Borewicz, R Richman, P Marston, S Burgess
D Greenwald – B Glubok A Webb, J Free, G Eggins, J Lowe
R Richman- S Burgess A Walsh, E Havas, V Cummings, W Scott
R Klinger – D Lilley T Seres, Miss M McMahon, K Hume, T Tully
J Borin – N Borin E Otvosi, S Burgess, R Cummings, R Richman
A Walsh – Mrs E Havas R Dalley, R Cummings, A Dalley, T Ong
R Richman – S Browne E Otvosi, S Burgess, S Browne, R Richman
J Borin – R Richman D Beech, L Beech, T Bourke, R Gallus, D Smith
D Beauchamp – U Durmus R Brightling, S Lester, C Quail, I Robinson, S Hobley
I Del’Monte – R Richman A Bach, M Mullamphy, I Del’Monte, R Richman
I Del’Monte – A Bach I Del’Monte, A Bach, R Richman, L Wright
= 1st P King – R Bentley = 1st M Watson – M Courtney I Del’Monte, A Bach, R Richman, M Mullamphy
B Senior – M Horton G Jesner, A Delivera, D Jesner, R Hills, T Antoff, K Dyke
B Polii – G Watulingas J Rothfield, C Rothfield, R Richman, H Grosvenor
R Richman – H Grosvenor A Mill, D McLeish, R Van Riel, F Beale, A Silver
R Brightling – S Browne A Reiner, P Newman, P Yovich, M Mullamphy, J Spooner
Z Huilin – T Ong P Hackett, J Hackett, J Hackett, R Harper, R Harper
T Jacob – R Jedrychowski I Del’Monte, E Erichsen, C Gower, C Convery
H Melbourne – M Pomfrey M Cornell, M Mayer, T Jacob, R Jedrychowsky
B Neill – R Klinger R Klinger, B Neill, Z Nagy, T Seres
R Jedrychowski – J Pszczola S Blackstock, S Henry, T Jacob, M Mayer
J Holland – M Brunner J Holland, M Brunner, P Marston, H Melbourne, John Armstrong
M Szymanowski – J Strepinsky J Holland, M Brunner, J Armstrong, H Melbourne, P Marston, H McGann
J Armstrong – H Melbourne B Hirst, P Hackett, Jason Hackett, T Hanlon
H McGann – T Hanlon P Marston, K McCallum, T Hanlon, H McGann
A de Livera – H Melbourne J Cayne, A Versace, A Zmudzinski, C Balicki, L Lauria, M Seamon
K Martens – D Filipowicz P Niedzielski, J Makaruk, K Martens, D Filipowicz

On most grounds, the Gold Coast (Surfers to the older folk) is an evident success. Outside bodies are aware of our event’s value. Queensland premier Anna Bligh has accepted the role of patron and Gold Coast’s mayor, Ron Clark has been a loyal supporter. Proof that the players love it is the ongoing growth.

Much of the credit is due, throughout its long history, to being able to maintain an efficient, stable and happy working team with only slow change and then with skills passed on. Recently Matthew McManus and Ed Barnes took over the scoring and David Stern became Bulletin Editor – no problems in either case.

We have a definite policy towards retaining the basic format. Changes are introduced, but slowly. In recent years, for example, we have moved to a longer finals series for the teams – now with six teams making playoffs. This has freed some time at the end of the week for extra events for those not in the finals. Most prestigious of these are the Ivy Dahler Butler Pairs and the Seres/McMahon Mixed Teams (the ‘Tim and Mary’) – both named in honour of long time Congress stalwarts. Specific events for novices, Pairs and Teams, were introduced in 2008. They went well and similar competitions for intermediates are now included. Other add-ons include ‘You ask, we answer’ sessions hosted by volunteer experts and extra walk-in pairs late in the congress.

In early days the ABF seemed unsure of how to view the Gold Coast Congress and was reluctant to accord it similar status to national events under its direct control. The reasons are now historical ­ the GCC was well under way before the ABF existed in its present form. Most of the apparent problems were resolved in John Brockwell’s term as ABF president.

The GCC it is now Gold Pointed, has Play Off Qualifying Points and is run totally in accordance with ABF regulations. The GCC usually returns a good profit, and this goes to the Queensland Bridge Association, who own and run the event. As well though, I note that payments (for Master Poiints and the Playoff Qualifying Points sanction fees) to the national body are close to $20,000 a year. My own belief is that our Congress has a different ­ I believe better ­ flavour to it than the other Nationals, and should continue in its distinct style.