Erika "Rixi" Scharfstein

Is your surname Markus?

Research the Markus family

Erika "Rixi" Scharfstein's Geni Profile

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!

Erika Markus (Scharfstein)

Also Known As: "Rixi", "Rika"
Birthdate: (81)
Birthplace: Gura Humorului, Suceava, Romania
Death: April 04, 1992 (81)
London, UK
Immediate Family:

Son of Meschulem Scharfstein and Leah Scharfstein
Ex-husband of Salomon Markus
Father of Margot Markus
Brother of Eugenie Heller and Private

Occupation: author, Austrian and British international contract bridge player
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
view all

Immediate Family

About Erika "Rixi" Scharfstein

Rixi Markus was born as Erika Scharfstein on 27th June 1910 into a prosperous Jewish family in Gura Humora, Romania but moved to Austria where she first made her name at the bridge table. In 1938 she fled Austria and made her home in London where she remained for the rest of her life. Generally recognized as the top European lady player to date and a great personality, Rixi was the first woman to become a WBF Grand Master and was the leading woman in the WBF master point rankings from their inception in 1974 until 1980. Rixi was named International Bridge Press Association Personality of the Year in 1974 and was awarded the MBE for contributions to bridge a year later by Queen Elizabeth. For many years she organized a match between the two Houses of the British parliament.


Rixi Markus, 81, Bridge Grandmaster and Author By ALAN TRUSCOTT (New York Times) Published: April 06, 1992

Rixi Markus, the first woman to be named a grandmaster of bridge, died on Saturday in London. She was 81 years old.

Mrs. Markus had suffered a heart attack.

She was a winner of many national, international and world bridge titles and an organizer of matches, the editor of a bridge column and the author of eight books on the game.

Mrs. Markus, who changed her name to Rixi, was born Erika Scharfstein in 1910 in Gura Humorului, a town in Bukovina that is now part of northern Romania. She moved to Vienna at an early age and learned to play whist when she was 12 years old.

A decade later she became a star in the new game of contract bridge. She was the youngest member of the Austrian women's team that won the European title in 1935 and 1936 and the world title in 1937.

She married Salomon Markus, a businessman, in 1929 and a daughter, Margot, was born the following year. The marriage later ended in divorce in 1947.

On the day Hitler's forces entered Austria in 1938, Mrs. Markus left by train with her daughter and reached England, where she lived for the rest of her life. In 1951 she returned to international competition as a member of the British women's team and won another European Women's Championship, a triumph she was to repeat six more times.

Many of her successes were as a partner of Fritzi Gordon, another refugee from Austria, who died two months ago. They won the first World Women's Pairs Championship in Cannes, France, in 1962, and repeated that success in Las Palmas in the Canary Islands in 1974, a double achievement that has never been matched.

In 1974 Mrs. Markus became the first woman ever to be named grandmaster by the World Bridge Federation, and she was the world's top-ranked player among women for the next six years. She won another title at the World Team Olympiad in New York in 1964.

Her most renowned achievement was a 1961 victory in Britain's premier bridge event, the Gold Cup, an event that few women have won.

Mrs. Markus became the target of controversy when she supported two British players, Terence Reese and Boris Schapiro, who had been found guilty of cheating by the World Bridge Federation in the 1965 World Team Championships in Buenos Aires.

In an article in Bridge World, she wrote that the British captain, Ralph Swimer, had failed in his duties, and he sued her for libel. The suit ended in 1969 after a High Court jury was unable to agree on a verdict.

Mrs. Markus wrote eight books about bridge in addition to her autobiography, "A Vulnerable Game," published in London in 1988. She was the bridge editor of The Guardian in Britain from 1955 until her death.

She was also the chief organizer of the annual bridge matches between the House of Lords and the House of Commons. In 1975 Queen Elizabeth II named her a Member, Order of the British Empire, for services to bridge.

Mrs. Markus had no surviving relatives. Her daughter died in Los Angeles in 1976. _______________

one of the all time greats by Patrick Jourdain Ask any player who was the best woman bridge-player of all time in Europe , and top of the poll would be Rixi Markus . She was the most colourful as well as one of the most successful, winning seven European and four world titles for Britain , becoming the first Woman World Grandmaster. Before the Second World War she had won two European titles and one world title for Austria. She was born Erika Scharfstein on 27th June 1910 into a prosperous Jewish family in Gura Humora, a part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire that is now Romania . In 1916, ahead of the Russian advance, the family fled, eventually settling in Vienna . Here, by the age of 10, Erika was playing whist, and two years later, whilst holidaying with an uncle in the Netherlands , she picked up bridge. On returning home she kept the new hobby a secret from parents who "would not have considered it at all a proper pastime for a young girl". Erika went to a finishing school in Dresden . In 1928, aged only 18, she married Salomon Markus, a shoe-maker twice her age, who also played bridge. A daughter, Margo, was born in 1929 but the marriage proved a disastrous union - "Salo", the inferior player was jealous of his wife's skills, and accused her of flirting with whoever she happened to be playing, usually at the Vienna Bridge Club. After the third European Bridge Championship was held there in 1934, she joined the Austrian Womens team for the first European Women's Teams in 1935. Austria won that year and the next, and then had a stunning victory at the first Women's World Championships in Budapest in 1937. On March 11 1938, when Hitler's troops entered Austria , Rixi (as by then she was then known) was at the bridge table as usual. Her husband would not leave his business, and a few days later, as Hitler entered Vienna , Rixi, clutching her young daughter, some bridge trophies and 200 schillings, left on a train, fooling the authorities by going through Germany , and then Belgium , to London where her parents had settled in 1936. After a few months her husband joined her, but they separated soon after the outbreak of war. Rixi worked as a translator for the Red Cross, supplementing her winnings at the bridge table. She suffered more than her fair share of tragedy; her elder sister perished in a concentration camp, her father was killed in a car crash, and a love affair with Walter Carr, a member of a famous British newspaper dynasty, ended with his death from a brain haemorrhage. In 1950 Rixi became a naturalised Briton, joined the British women's team, and won the Europeans seven times starting in 1951 in Venice . She partnered Doris Rhodes and they were down at half-time in the final match against Denmark . The captain put Rixi back in with Fritzi Gordon as partner, and the session brought the gold medal for Britain . In her strong Austrian accent, a triumphant Rixi declared "Ve British are alvays at our best viz our backs to ze vall". Away from the bridge table Rixi was the most loveable and endearing of characters, a loyal friend always ready to leap to the aid of someone in trouble, but her partnership with Fritzi Gordon was one of the most excitable and voluble in bridge, acquiring the nickname of "Frisky and Bitchy". In 1962 they won both the World Women's Pairs and World Mixed Teams and followed two years later by winning the Olympiad in New York . At the 1974 World Women's Pairs in Las Palmas , they could be heard arguing from the farthest corner of the room, but they won by a margin that no-one has come near since. Rixi became the first Woman World Grandmaster. Their last major title was the Europeans in 1975. Later that year Rixi received an honour from the Queen, MBE (Member of the British Empire ) "for services to bridge". The next year, after the 1976 Olympiad in Monte Carlo , the partnership of Rixi and Fritzi came to an end. Tragedy also struck when Rixi's daughter, who lived in the USA , died of cancer. Rixi did not play international bridge again, but she continued to be a familiar figure at Congresses throughout Europe. Rixi had a 13-year romance with Harold, later Lord, Lever, a minister in the Wilson government, who was also a bridge-player. She launched the annual bridge match between the House of Lords and House of Commons that is still ongoing, with 15 wins for each this year. The stories of Rixi's colourful character are legion. When the captain enquired about the best line-up, Rixi would reply "I must play at both tables." She was the centre of numerous stormy scenes, even a famous libel case (the jury could not agree), but as Victor Mollo reported "more often than not they end with flowers". Her concentration at the table was ferocious, she had criticised the world's best players as if they were beginners, yet her friends knew her to be generous and loyal. None who met her can forget her presence. Rixi was bridge columnist for the Guardian newspaper from 1955 to the year of her death in 1992. She authored seven books, including an autobiography, "The Vulnerable Game". Biography by Patrick Jourdain, 4 April, 2004

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Markus [née Scharfstein], Erika [Rixi] (1910–1992), bridge player and writer, was born on 27 June 1910 in Gura Humora, then in the Austro-Hungarian empire (but now in Romania), the youngest daughter of Michael and Louise Scharfstein, a prosperous Jewish couple with interests in forests and vineyards. After the First World War the family moved to Vienna, where Rixi (as she became known) was educated in music, literature, and the theatre. She learned from one aunt to play poker, and from an uncle in the Netherlands to play whist at ten and bridge (plafond) at thirteen; she had natural card-playing sense. Her parents did not approve, but after attending finishing-school in Dresden (Frau Wallenstein's Pensionat for Jewish daughters of good families) she took up bridge in Vienna and was regarded as a prodigy.

Through bridge Rixi met Salomon Markus. Twice her age, and in the shoe business, ‘Salo’ first admired her ability but soon resented her success, objecting to her playing in coffee houses, surrounded by men. Rixi married him in 1928, partly to remain in Vienna after her parents moved to Berlin, but equally to continue playing. Marriage proved a complete disaster (the only mistake to which Rixi would admit). Pregnant at nineteen (her only daughter was born in 1929), she fell seriously ill. This ruined any chance of an active career and led her to become a professional bridge player in 1934.

Rixi caught the attention of Dr Paul Stern, who invited her to join the Austrian women's team, in defiance of her husband's will. Partnered by Ethel Ernst, she won the first European women's championship (Brussels, 1935) and the second (Stockholm, 1936), then the world women's championship (Budapest, 1937), her team remaining unbeaten in international play. The Anschluss ruined her plans for Oslo in 1938. She left for England, where her parents had moved in 1936, as Hitler entered Vienna. Her husband followed, but the marriage was dissolved in 1942. An elder sister, living in Poland, died in a concentration camp. Salomon Markus later became a millionaire property developer in Austria, and her daughter Margo led a glamorous life in America but died in 1976 from cancer, aged forty-six. Rixi had many affairs, including a thirteen-year alliance with (Norman) Harold Lever, Baron Lever (1914–1995), millionaire lawyer, Labour cabinet minister, and a bridge player of international class; but she never remarried.

Bridge offered Rixi an entry into society, through Lady Rhodes, Manning Foster, and other influential figures. During the Second World War she was a fire-watcher and translator for the Red Cross. Naturalized in 1950, she played for Britain, partnering Doris Rhodes in the ladies' team which won the European championship in 1951 (Venice) and 1952 (Ireland), and toured the USA in 1953. Her partnership with Fritzi Gordon [see below] began in 1951 when Sidney Lee, trailing Denmark in the final, successfully reshuffled his pairings. Universally known as Frisky and Bitchy for their free-wheeling style and willingness to confide to all that the other was ‘a selfish bitch’ (Daily Telegraph, 6 April 1992), the pair were a formidable partnership which often disintegrated, but both recognized the special chemistry that made them the top women's pairing of all time. Rixi's highlights included winning the European women's championship (1951, 1952, 1959, 1961, 1963, 1966, mostly with Fritzi); the gold cup (1961); the world women's pairs (1962, 1974); the world mixed teams of four (1962, with Nico Gardener); the women's team Olympiad (1964); and the inaugural European bridge cup (1974–5). Rixi had numerous victories in the spring foursomes and masters pairs, and the Whitelaw, Lady Milne, Queen's, and Hubert Phillips cups. With over 100 international and national titles, she was the outstanding woman player of her day; but Fritzi was close behind.

view all

Erika "Rixi" Scharfstein's Timeline

June 27, 1910
Gura Humorului, Suceava, Romania
Age 18
Vienna, Vienna, Austria
- 1992
Age 44
The Guardian
April 4, 1992
Age 81
London, UK