For 30 years (begining in 1942), Al Sobel’s columns, under the headings 30 Days, 60 Days, or 360 Days, were one of the most popular features of the Bulletin. The annual Sobel masterpieces served as a summary (albeit a somewhat subjective one) of the proceeding year’s doings in the world of tournament bridge.
I started off the year on the white sands of Sidney Beach, Australia, and I am writing this on Dec. 12 just after the radio announced that the 15th inch of snow has fallen on New York City. From my window everything is as white as it was the first of the year on the beach in Australia. In between those two white days, contract bridge had an exciting and spectacular year, as did all of us connected with the game. Let’s look at the record.
1960. The most important (to me) piece of news this past year is that the editors of The Bulletin, after 20 years of pleading by me, have changed my picture in the masthead of my column! I don’t know whether it was envy or sympathy but they still kept running that 1940s picture. I still haven’t seen the new picture in print but I have been assured that although I don’t look as youthful as I did in the former cut, I look sort of distingué as befitting a man of my 45 years. I wonder what that word means.
1960. The first Olympiad in bridge history was held this year. Twenty-nine teams from 25 countries were in competition in Turin, Italy, for the world’s title. Three of the four American entrants reached the six-team round robin and finished in third, fourth and fifth positions. The big upset, of course, was the sixth-place finish of the hitherto invincible team from Italy. This means that fifty thousand bridge players will now give up studying the Neopolitan System and start boning up on the victorious French team’s Canapé and Relay systems.
1960. In connection with the above, it was the first time ACBL chartered a plane to transport the players and officials to the International Match. Can you imagine some eighty-odd bridge enthusiasts on an eight-hour plane trip with nothing to do but discuss hands and systems? Wow!
Disasterproof for ’61
1960. Another record, and one of which we can be justly proud: this was the first time the League raised more than $150,000 for its annual charity contribution. (The beneficiary, The Disaster Fund of the American Red Cross, promised us through its president, General Al Gruenther, that they would personally see that no disaster would overtake our 1961 representatives at the International Match in Buenos Aires. I wonder if France, Italy and Argentina have been notified of this promise.) And for the first time, our beneficiary of the current charity year should be of immediate help to bridge players — namely Mental Health.
1960. And speaking of the International match in 1961, this was the first time that the team to represent the U.S. was picked by League officials rather than by winning the right in direct competition. Naturally the pros and cons of this have been discussed most vociferously the past year and particularly so in the past month, since the team was chosen. Speaking as a League member and not as an official, all I can say is, let’s give it a try. Every method used for the past six years has failed. Who knows, maybe this method will bring back the Bermuda Bowl to the U.S. after a dreary half-dozen years of defeat.
1960. This year marked tow firsts for the Bulletin. We never had 12 issues in a year before, and in two busy months the magazine ran to 64 pages. The only item that was reduced in our publication was my column — from Sixty Days to Thirty Days. Dammit.
Saved by a point
1960. This year saw the first League Intercity Match. As most of you know, the two cities were Los Angeles and New York. In fact there were two matches, one held in each city. The Angelenos won both by close margins — by 9 IMPs in L.A. and 1 IMP in N.Y. I almost had another first to add to this paragraph — the first time that a director’s penalty swung a match of this importance. I penalized the L.A. team 1 IMP for tardiness the fourth session after putting them on warning for being tardy at the second session. I am sure that, had the match ended in a tie or a 1 IMP victory for N.Y. because of the penalty, the Westerners would not have been known as the late L.A. team, but I would have been remembered as the late A.M. Sobel!
How they talk
1960. This year marks the first time that the President of ACBL came from New England. And what a godsend that proved to be. Frank Westcott, a true disciple of that other well-known New Englander, Calvin Coolidge, believes that one finesse is worth five minutes of speech-making. He must have attended 20 tournaments that I directed in 1960 and naturally was called upon at each one of them to make a speech. I venture to say his total talking time was 40 minutes. I might add that over a period of 20 years with other ACBL presidents, average on the board was over two hours! Laconic Cal had nothing on laconic Frank.
1960. Another first this year was the election of a Canadian to our National Board of Directors. And knowing the kind of capable and energetic legislator that Eric Murray is, I’m willing to lay a price that within a few years the name of our organization will be the Canadian Contract Bridge League, American Division!
1960. One of the sad items that I must report is that in the In Memoriam list posted each month in the Bulletin, more than 200 members of our league left our midst in 1960. Among notables on that list were the Grand Old Man of Bridge, Sidney Lenz, and the Co-Chairman of the National Laws Commission, Geoffrey Mott-Smith.
The Sobell Awards
That about completes the news events of 1960 bridge. I would now like to award the Sobell Prizes (spelt that way to make it euphonious with the Nobel Prizes) for bridge achievement in 1960. Remember, I have carte blanche doing this because I claim editorial immunity. If anyone objects, I dare him to write a letter. Nobody can be that conceited!
The player of the year. This award goes to Lewis Mathe, of Los Angeles, for a few reasons. First of all, he won the Open Team-of-four event in Coronado in 1959 and won it again in 1960 in New York. That wouldn’t be newsworthy in and of itself but he defended with three different teammates! Secondly, at the Olympiad in Italy, the foreign players in an unofficial ballot voted him the best American player in attendance. Third, I played with him as a partner in a rubber bridge game and he held my losses down to $13 which in my opinion makes him the player of the century! A Sobell prize to you, Lew, and justly deserved.
The winner of the year. This accolade goes to Robert Jordan, of Philadelphia. I am not too familiar with the statistics but, from what I hear, Bobby has the McKenney Trophy sewed up for winning the most masterpoints in 1960. In fact, if he keeps going in December as he did the rest of the year he will have enough surplus points to handle the McK. Trophy in 1961. I am told that he might amass 1000 masterpoints this year. That is fantastic. I remember back many, many years ago when you needed six points to become a Master. But you could win points only if you finished first or second in a National Championship! Bobby has broken all records this year and easily wins the Sobell Prize. Look out for him next year; remember that old-time movie, “Here Comes Mr. Jordan.”
The best tournament of the year. The Sobell Prize goes to the Republic of Texas tournament held July 4th weekend in Fort Worth TX. I’ve talked about this tournament every year since it’s inception. There’s more than plain hospitality at this party. It’s the novel way they do it. Each night there’s entertainment but in a different fashion. There might be a Vaudeville night, a circus night, a Monte Carlo night, or some sort of novelty idea, and then the piece de resistance is the Masquerade Party on Saturday night.
The best bridge column writer of the year. Modesty again prevents me from mentioning the winner of the Sobell Prize in this category.
The best bridge player on the ACBL staff. See above. (Note: Landy is not considered a member of the staff. Do you think I’m crazy?)
The best bridge hand of the year. I showed part of this hand in my column in the April Bulletin but never did publish the full hand because I promised it to Charlie Goren for Sports Illustrated. So for the benefit of those of you who never did see it here is a classic.
South’s hand is some kind of record in itself since South in all bridge columns holds the preponderance of the cards. The bidding was very simple. East opened with 1♠, West raised to 2♠ and East bid 4♠. North evidently didn’t like the sound of the auction, or maybe he fell in love with his 15 points, and doubled. North-South beat the contract one trick but South took all four tricks!
South opened the ♣Q which declarer let hold. That’s one trick for South. He shifted to the ♥10 which also held. Chalk up trick two for South. Next came the ♣2, with North’s king won by East’s ace. East then drew three rounds of trumps, finishing in his hand. He led a small diamond to the dummy, and South, astounded, won with the nine and cashed his fourth and setting trick — the ♣J. I wonder if South gave his partner hell for doubling with a trickless hand!
Thus endeth an exciting 1960 — a most interesting year. This will be the first time in six years that I spend the holiday season in the U.S. If I recover, I’ll be starting out the first weekend in January for a hectic series of tournaments. They’ll take place in Philadelphia, Huntsville AL (premiere), Jackson MS, and Nacogdoches TX (premiere). Please look for them in Thirty Days.