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This article, written by club member John Probst, originally appeared in the June 1997 issue of English Bridge.


Reproduced from English Bridge magazine by kind permission of the English Bridge Union.

A Bridge Mecca where Everyone Gets a Buzz

In my line of business I tend to spend a couple of days in a location and maybe not return for another five years. As with most bridge players the withdrawal symptoms usually set in about four o’clock on the first afternoon, necessitating a phone call to the local County Secretary, for a list of games in the area. As a result I must have played in hundreds of different clubs over the last twenty years. You know the sort of place I mean: church halls, converted town houses, purpose‑built premises, Derby & Joan centres, the list is endless.


There have been memorable games (Barrow‑in‑Furness, a trick two switch by partner on board one that stands my hair on end, 71.5%), and ones I’d rather forget (too many!) There have been nights (Aberdeen, 11 rounds, 11 pints apiece, 69.5%) which have ended at 5.00am in a night club! I know no other sport or game where one can walk into a room full of strangers, introduce oneself, and instantly be made welcome and spend a pleasant evening as if among friends. Yet when all’s said and done each of us has a bridge club we think of as home. For me it’s the Young Chelsea.

Warwick Pitch, the inspiration behind the club

Warwick Pitch, the inspiration behind the club


It was while I was driving along Harrington Gardens near Gloucester Road Tube, on my way to a game, I spotted a disused building diagonally opposite the Gloucester Hotel. As one does—one who directs, teaches, and so on—I thought that the building would make a good bridge club. It turns out that I am not the first person to have had that idea. In times to come English Heritage will put up a Blue Plaque on the site of the Hotel Eden inscribed: “Here, 8 May 1968, Warwick Pitch founded the Young Chelsea Bridge Club”.


Some years ago, when he and I were somewhat in our cups (perhaps I more than he) I asked Warwick why he started the club and he said it was all a bit of a mistake really. If the Young Chelsea is Warwick’s “mistake” it’s obvious who should have been the next Prime Minister! And yet Warwick is really very shy, hates making speeches, is not a proselytising club manager—not a born again bridge player. So just what is it that makes the thousand or so members of the YC so fanatical about their club?


In my search to find out what it is I’ve talked to many of the players who were there in the early days, to the thousands of visitors and to the young. I’ve written down some ideas.


The YC Members: There was the young player who in answer to the question in his application form, “How did you hear of the club?”, wrote, “Genetic Memory.” And an elderly couple up from the Shires for one of the Exhibitions who said, “So this is it. At last, Mecca.” There’s a member who almost only plays with visiting Americans, and another who produced cards from his bidding box that typically read, “One off in a lay‑down.”


The typical “partners wanted” list five minutes before the game time will have had as many as a dozen or 16 names on it. YC members decide they’ll play, phone up to go on the list, and then drive across London, knowing they’ll get the sort of game they like.


The YC in Print: There’s the young journalist who wrote an article, published in a national daily, highlighting the smoky basement card‑room in Earl’s Court where they were all playing bridge. (OK, Warwick. It’s only smoky on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and there is a non‑smoking section.) And another journalist with a daily column who printed, “One visit to the Young Chelsea gives me enough material for a month’s articles.”


The YC Proprietor: Warwick was born in Rhodesia and educated at Hertford College, Oxford, where he played a bit of kitchen bridge. While working as a student in a restaurant in the mid‑sixties he met a member of the Fourth Bridge Club. Playing there for a while he realised that bridge was an old person’s game and made a New Year’s resolution to give it up.

Elegance upstairs—far removed from the turmoil in the basement

Elegance upstairs—far removed from the turmoil in the basement


The same week he saw an advertisement for the Under‑30s Duplicate Club, went along and won the first duplicate he played in. Shortly afterwards, the table money got doubled from 2s 6d to 5s, so a small group from the Under‑30s looked for premises, which Warwick found at the Hotel Eden.


The name Young Chelsea was suggested, as Chelsea has a certain cachet… and thus was born the YC. The Fourth Bridge Club metamorphosed into the New Fourth and finally the Chelsea Club, and now meets for afternoon rubber bridge at, you’ve guessed, the Young Chelsea.


The YC History: Within a couple of years of the start of the club it acquired a lease on No 1 The Mansions in Earls Court Road and, contrary to the wishes of the local council, played there for another four or five years. Every now and then the council received enough complaints about the club to make an appointment to visit. The bridge member with the antique business would move all the bridge tables out, populate the room with period furniture and a coffee morning, disguise the bar as a broom cupboard and then Warwick would meet the Official and show him round his flat. Satisfied, the Official would leave and the bridge tables would return.


The cat‑and‑mouse game couldn’t last forever and in the nick of time the Zambezi Club (where Frederick Forsyth went to hire his mercenaries) burnt out. The YC members put up the £20,000 in debentures (1970 value) in a week to take on the lease and refurbish it, and that’s where the club still is.


The YC Marathon: The Marathon is over‑subscribed three months in advance, attracts high‑quality international players, and gets written up all over the world. You need to be certifiable to want to play non‑stop bridge for 24 hours. Why on earth do dozens of members, aged 16 to 80, turn out voluntarily at ungodly hours to help with the directing, scoring, catering and bar? Yet there’s never a shortage of helpers. One member arrives at 3.00am in full Sunday best, directs his only session of bridge of the year, and leaves for early Mass.

The bar—an atmospheric part of the club

The bar—an atmospheric part of the club


The YC Bar Staff: On one hand there’s Wendy, who’s been with the club for about five years, can’t and doesn’t want to play, who is a firm favourite with everyone. On the other I’ve seen grown men weep at the abuse that another of the staff hurls around. I suppose it’s fair to say that the really vitriolic stuff is saved for the regulars, and we all come back for more. There are very few complaints though. It’s just another quiet evening down at the YC.


The YC Directors: There is no doubt that the most successful clubs have a non‑playing director. Keeping the movement pretty much to time and being impartial with rulings is good business. So, one member got fined four times in an evening for misboarding and slow play and then bought the Director a drink to commemorate a club record.


There have been times when the Director would have won with the Match Point fines he’s collected for slow play. There are strange things that happen too, for example arrow‑switching a Butler movement to get a single winner is technically pointless, but the practice predates the Ark and will probably last till Armageddon.


The YC Fantasy: If you’re playing a private match and need a ruling, where do you phone? Seven of the nineteen referees in the EBU diary play regularly at the YC, and the club has seen most of the others. A few years ago there was a phone call from Switzerland from a player/director, who certainly wasn’t a member, who wanted the movement for a multiple teams that was starting in five minutes. Sure, someone knew the answer and told him.


The YC Satellites: Apart from the Chelsea Club, the Club de Bridge de Français de Grand Bretagne meets three times a week, so one can go along and ask the French the range of their No Trump, which is excellent for Anglo‑French relations. Whilst the London Leagues are full of YC teams, there is one Warwick has a soft spot for—Team YC French. The club is governed by the rules of the FFB so one doesn’t have to alert weak twos or Stayman. One can also join the International American Bridge Club that meets once a week and plays for ACBL Master Points.


The YC Atmosphere: Perhaps we’re getting close. The Tuesday and Thursday games are still friendly, social, simple systems games. (It probably was the YC that pioneered the idea in the late seventies.) The strong game nights are electric. In the Friday game, the silence as the players start the first board of the round would cause a tensionometer to bend its needle on the endstop. The members will comment that the boards are too flat unless there’s at least one with an 1100 both sides. I have overheard some of the weaker players refer to tables one to five NS as Amen Corner. I can see their point because, on a good night, there won’t be a player who’s not an international at these tables. You are guaranteed to get a bridge education in seventy‑five minutes that would take a year in a provincial club.


So, what is the YC? When I was asked to write this article, I thought it would be easy to define, but some months and dozens of interviews later I still don’t know. I do know that there’s no other club like it, that the ambience, the buzz, call it what you will, is totally gripping every night of the week, and I do know that offered a choice between heroin and the YC, the heroin habit would be a lot easier to kick.



Page last updated 25 July 2019