Home > Member Services > Obituaries > Roelof Smilde

Roelof Smilde

1930 – 2017

Roelof Arend Smilde was one of the greats of Australian bridge.

He was born on September 15, 1930 in Hattem, Netherlands. In 1938 the Smilde family migrated to Australia. 

He was school captain of North Sydney Boys’ High School in 1947. He won a Commonwealth scholarship to the University of Sydney and began studying for an arts degree and took an interest in philosophy.

In around 1955 Roelof Smilde, Dick Cummings and Denis Howard, went to The Sydney Bridge Club then in George St to try their hand at duplicate bridge. At that club they met champion bridge player Tim Seres who took them under his wing.

These four bridge players began to play as a team of four becoming known as ‘The Big Four’ and they dominated the Australian bridge scene for some years. They changed partners within the group from time to time and sometimes had other players as teammates.  The bridge bidding system they used was the New South Wales system.

Roelof Smilde is mentioned numerous times in Cathy Chua’s The History of Australian Bridge (published 1993 by The Australian Bridge Federation). The NSW system attracted some controversy (see page 156 in this book) and never really took off.

Some items of interest:

  • He was part of a group of people known as The Sydney Push which was a predominantly left-wing intellectual subculture in Sydney from the late 1940s to the early 1970s. Wikipedia has a quite detailed page of information on the Sydney Push.
  • At various times he worked as taxi driver and as a casual labourer on the waterfront but from the late sixties he was a professional punter on the horses using a successful betting system.
  • The Australian Team at the 1964 Olympiad in New York was a five man team (Seres, Smilde, Cummings, Howard and Don Evans). Smilde became very ill near the end and unfortunately had to miss the last two days.
  • Smilde wrote the weekly bridge column in The Australian newspaper in the early 1970’s
  • He was part of the 1970 Australian Team that played two tests against a visiting USA Team that comprised Robert Jordan, Arthur Robinson, Dorothy and Alan Truscott plus Bill Root.
  • July 3, 1973 he partnered Tim Seres with teammates Dick Cummings and Edward Griffin in the Bridgerama Challenge (organised by NSWBA) at Sydney Town Hall. Bridgerama was an early version of today’s Vugraph. Their opponents were Jim and Norma Borin who had teamed up with Don Evans and Ian Weiss. Some 700 people (who all bought tickets to aid the Lady Mayoress Relief Fund) were in the audience. Commentary was by Ron Klinger.
  • The NSWBA Bridgerama unit had been donated by an unknown person. Much later Roelof Smilde was revealed as the benefactor.
  • 1976 he was part of the Australian team that played several matches against the visiting Lancia Bridge Team – Omar Sharif, Pietro Forquet, Georgio Belladonna, Benito Garozzo.
  • Denis Howard retired from International Bridge tournaments in 1976. After that Tim Seres played more with Dick Cummings. Smilde still played some tournaments with Seres and he also had tournament success with other partners including Bob Richman, Seamus Browne and Sue Hobley.

Left to right: Roelof Smilde, Pietro Forquet, Sue Hobley, Val Cummings and Omar Sharif with David Stern (the promoter and organiser) behind them leaning over –taken during the 1976 Lancia Bridge Team Tour.

I discovered duplicate bridge in 1970 and played against The Big Four from time to time mostly at the NSW Bridge Association in Sydney. Their Bridge skills were excellent but just as important – their behaviour and demeanour at the table was always of a very high standard. Dick Cummings passed away in 1999. Tim Seres passed away in 2007.

From the mid 1970s Roelof Smilde was in a relationship with top bridge player Sue Hobley and they had two children. They separated in 1986.

Roelof Smilde passed away on April 14, 2017 aged 86. He was survived by his younger sister Ursula Hiatt, two daughters Anna Bonnice and Nellie Hobley, and grandchildren Karl, Lilly, Bee and Max.

Peter Jamieson, Sydney NSW

Some of Roelof Smilde’s tournament bridge achievements:

Represented Australia in:

–          The Bermuda Bowl in 1971 and 1976*

–          The Olympiad in 1964, 1968, 1972, 1976* and 1980

                          * held in Monaco and played back to back during three weeks in May.

–          The Far East Teams in 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1984 and 1986.

He was a member of the winning NSW team in the Interstate Teams in 1958, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1975, 1976, 1980 and 1983.

He won the National Open Teams in 1974, 1976, 1977 and 1986.

He won the teams at the Gold Coast Congress 1963, 1968, 1970, and 1971 (he also won the Pairs in 1963).

He won the GNOT in 1986

He was NPC of both the 1977 Bermuda Bowl Team and the 1977 Far East Team.