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Seamus Browne

1952 – 2015

Seamus came to Sydney from Christchurch as a fresh-faced young man in the mid-1970s, eager to test himself across the Tasman. He began selling encyclopaedias door-to-door, but soon gravitated to Tim Seres’s rubber bridge game at Double Bay, where he would kibitz Tim for hours on end. A combination of natural talent and a keen thirst for knowledge meant that Seamus developed very quickly into one of the top players in Australia, both at rubber and tournament bridge. Seamus also became the quintessential bridge professional and was generally acknowledged as the best in the business.

In 1979, in combination with Egon Auerbach, Gabi Lorentz and Olek Minc, Seamus won the first Victor Champion Cup. Seamus’s next major result was making the NSW open team in 1980 partnering Roelof Smilde, with Tim Seres, Dick Cummings, Paul Lavings and Ron Klinger as teammates – a formidable squad. In those days it was said that making the NSW team was harder than making the Australian team. Winning the 1980 Interstate Teams was a formality and the team went on to represent Australia at the Olympiad that year in Valkenburg, Holland.

The next phase of Seamus’s bridge life was as a bridge professional partnering Frank Theeman. Although the Theeman team had various line-ups over a number of years, Seamus was the linchpin. One of Seamus’s great bridge qualities was that he could get the best from his sponsors and so it proved with Frank. The Theeman team won the 1983 National Open Teams and went on to win the Playoff that year and represent Australia at the Far East Teams.

Seamus could also play pretty well with his peers. In 1988, the great Zia Mahmood joined Theeman for the Expo Teams. A dream final for the event was set up when Theeman faced the powerful Truscott team of Alan and Dorothy Truscott, Joanna Stansby and Jan Martel, and Lew Stansby and Chip Martel. On one dramatic deal, Seamus heard Chip and Lew bid to six diamonds after his right hand opponent had shown a game force with diamonds and his left hand opponent had shown a positive response with long, strong clubs. Seamus was on lead with J106542 K2 54 A62 and led the H2 to the following layout:

Nil Vul
N Dealer
K 9
J 9 8 4
7 6
K Q J 8 3
J 10 6 5 4 2
K 2
9 5 4
A 6
[ 1 ] 8 7 3
Q 7 6 5 3
10 7 4 2
  A Q
A 10
A K Q J 8 3 2
9 5

This was a great lead as it might have given declarer a chance to misguess if dummy held Q10 in hearts opposite declarer’s ace. Alas, Zia wasn’t prepared for someone else to lead like Zia and he played low, which let the slam home and contributed to the Truscott team leading by 39 imps at three quarter time. Seamus and Zia, though, played a blinder against Chip and Lew in the last set to win the event for Theeman. Zia must have enjoyed playing with Seamus because he wanted to do it again.

After Frank Theeman died Seamus played in a number of professional teams, each for a relatively short period of time. In 1996, Seamus joined Carole and Jessel Rothfield’s team, a union that was to last for more than a decade. For much of this time Seamus was clearly the best-performing bridge player in Australia as he represented Australia in two Bermuda Bowls and one Far East Championship. Seamus also won a swag of national titles including a staggering five consecutive top-three finishes in the Butler Trials, 1996 – 2000.

In 2008, Seamus suffered major brain damage when he was hit by a truck while riding his motor scooter. Even though he was clearly not his usual confident self, at times he played bridge as well as he did before his accident, which was evidenced when he won the Interstate Teams in 2010. Seamus continued to live in Sydney for a while so he could play bridge professionally. However it became clear that Seamus was no longer able to look after himself and Margaret Burgess, his long-time companion, then looked after him in Christchurch. Margaret’s support for Seamus throughout their relationship and particularly after Seamus’s accident cannot be overstated. She was his rock and Seamus adored her children, Chris, Emma and Becky, and this feeling was totally reciprocated. Seamus’s daughter Eleanor also played a major part in looking after Seamus.

On a personal note, Seamus was the most erudite person I’ve ever known and he could talk about topics ranging from Isaac Newton to Izaak Walton with equal ease. His eclectic knowledge and engaging style was evident in his written work, as those who read his bridge articles in The Bulletin magazine can readily attest. Seamus reminded me very much of Somerset Maugham’s iconoclast from The Razor’s Edge, Laurence Darrell. Seamus’s brother Anthony recalled the time Seamus made a bet with his English teacher, the former All-Black captain, John Graham. To prove his point, Seamus wrote to P.G. Wodehouse. Seamus must have been gobsmacked to receive a letter back from Wodehouse, which backed-up Seamus’s view, so Seamus got to collect twenty-five cents from Graham!

In addition to his bridge and writing talents, Seamus was a gifted pianist and he particularly loved to play Schubert and Chopin. Seamus’s greatest quality, though, was his patience with Eleanor, Christopher, Emma, Becky and my own son, Abhishek, and Seamus’s willingness to teach them about almost anything. His influence on his daughter and Margaret’s children can clearly be seen in their willingness to help others and their success as individuals.

Seamus’s bridge skills, intelligence and quirky humour will be missed by us all.

Seamus Browne

Seamus teaching Abhishek Bagchi the finer skills of dummy play (2014)


International representation:

Bermuda Bowl: 1997 and 2000 with Khokan Bagchi
Olympiad: 1980 with Roelof Smilde
Far East Teams: 1981 with Roelof Smilde,
1983 with Frank Theeman,
1990 with Ervin Otvosi,
1994 with Ron Mann,
1999 with Khokan Bagchi

Wins in national tournaments:

Open Team Playoffs: 1980, 1983, 1990, 1994, 1997 and 1999
Autumn National Open Teams: 1994, 2001 and 2002
Australian Open Butler: 1996, 1997 and 1998
Australian Open Swiss Pairs: 2005
Bobby Richman (Gold Coast Open) Pairs: 1990, 1999
Gold Coast Open Teams: 1990
Grand National Open Teams: 1987 and 2008
Interstate Open Teams: 1980, 1997, 1998 and 2010
National Open Teams: 1983 and 2005
Spring National Open Teams: 1989 and 1998
Victor Champion Cup: 1979, 1996, 2003 and 2008
McCutcheon Trophy (most masterpoints): 1997

Khokan Bagchi