Barry Rigal is a man of boundless energy in the bridge world.
“I always wanted to find something to excel at,” Barry says. “I haven’t yet decided whether bridge is it. There is the beauty of the permutations when card combinations fall the way you want and for a short time, you think you understand the patterns and what the game is all about. Then the next board comes and you realize you were deluding yourself.”
Barry was born and grew up in central London. He has one older brother, two younger sisters and 10 nephews and nieces, all of whom still live in London. He was raised in a card-playing household – “knockout whist, oh hell, but not bridge.”
He attended what was generally considered the strongest academic high school in the U.K., studying math and Latin and Greek. “I was consistently at the bottom of my class,” he says. Looking for something to excel in, he first tried table tennis. “But I couldn’t smash the ball.”
Then he took up chess: “I could play chess, but clearly I wasn’t going to excel.”
Then his math teacher organized bridge games a couple of days a week during lunch. “I was hooked,” says Barry. “Bridge, chess and the occasional game of poker is how I spent my time – anything rather than working.”
Barry took his “Do as little as possible to get by” philosophy with him to Queen’s College at Oxford.
After university, Barry worked as a chartered accountant, first for Pricewaterhouse, then for Conoco. His chosen area of expertise was corporate tax work, which he specialized in even before qualifying, which was unusual at the time. But the area was critical to companies such as Conoco, for whom taxes were a major liability that drove decision-making.
“Under those circumstances, they listen to you,” he says. “I found it immensely interesting and enjoyable.”
Between 1982 and 1995, Rigal won more than 10 major British championships, including the Gold Cup, the Tollemache Cup and the Shapiro Spring Foursomes.
It was in Bal Harbour FL at the 1986 World Bridge Championships that Barry met Sue Picus. Sue, a four-time world champion, was also working in London at the time. They became friends and bridge partners and then started dating in 1992. Then Sue’s job took her back to the U.S.
While their transatlantic romance was working, “It took Conoco to step in and play Cupid,” Barry says.
In 1994, Conoco decided to close its London office. Rigal took the compensation package the company offered and moved to New York to be with Sue. At the same time, he made the fulltime career switch to bridge.
In 1997, Sue and Barry married. “We’re coming up on our 21st anniversary,” he says, smiling.
He is the president of the International Bridge Press Association, which is he says is the most time-consuming of his bridge responsibilities. He commentates vugraph presentations for the World Bridge Federation in addition to writing for the Daily Bulletins. He also writes the WBF World Championship books.
Barry ghostwrites a syndicated bridge column and writes for a number of publications including Bridge World and the Bridge Bulletin. Of the experts on the Bridge Bulletin’s It’s Your Call panel, Barry is always amongst the first to respond to the problems – usually turning around his answers the same day the problems are emailed.
Barry’s writing is chock full of British colloquialisms and spelling that sometimes need translation for U.S. audiences. “I depend upon my proofreaders to spellcheck my infelicities,” he says. Though it’s been nearly a quarter of a century, “I still think of myself as English, especially as regards the Ryder Cup.” While he doesn’t golf himself, he avidly follows the biennial contest between Europe and USA’s best golfers.
Between NABCs, WBF championships, EBL tournaments, the Gold Coast Congress in Australia and various invitational tournaments, Barry estimates he is away from New York six months of the year. He and Sue also make it a priority to spend time with their London family.
Periodically he and Sue headline bridge cruises. Next month they’re going to Vietnam and Thailand – “Sue will teach the beginners and I will take the intermediates. I’ll be able to tick another country off my bucket list.”
Barry has a favorite story. He leans back in his chair.
“When I was at Oxford, I read Latin and Greek for two years and classical Hebrew for two years,” he says.
After he left, Neil – a friend of his who planned to attend Oxford – asked Barry whom he might speak to about Hebrew. Neil was also interested in studying Arabic, so he got in contact with Mr. Jones, an Arabic professor.
At the end of the conversation, Jones asked Neil how he knew who to contact about the program. Neil named Barry.
“Barry Rigal!” laughed Jones. “The laziest man in Oxford.”
Look fast. There’s that twinkle again.