360 Days

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.

Well another year has gone by; I don’t know if anybody else noticed it, it sure went by mighty fast. I remember it used to take a whole 12 months to pass by, but now the seasons seem to be shortened and merge into one another. Be that as it may, I am ready once again to review the year of bridge, and award the annual Sobell Awards for noteable achievements in the gentle art of mayhem, known to many as contract bridge.

1967. The year tragedy struck the ACBL. I refer, of course, to the passing of Alvin Landy. It hit me harder than most; not only were we associates for 20 years but we were friends. I can honestly say that in all the years we worked together, we never really had a serious quarrel. Somehow or other, when we disagreed on procedure, sooner or later we hit upon a compromise or agreed with the other’s thinking. Also, we had the same sense of humor. Many a gag palmed off as my own in Thirty Days was actually pilfered from hi ad libbing. And many a speech he made contained a gag that I had invented just a few hours earlier. I mourn the loss of a great friend.

1967.The year of the great exodus. I mean, of course, the ACBL’s move from New York City to the wide open spaces of Connecticut. I am sure that the financial brains of the Board of Directors made a wise move, but it sure is tough on the old-timers like Dick Frey, Harry Goldwater, and me. To them, it means getting up at sunup to go to the garage and warm up their cars, to me it means grabbing two buses to make a commuters’ train and then being met by the League’s station wagon. One thing this has done for me is increase my knowledge of important things. I have three additional hours each day to do my reading and it has really helped. I know every bargain on sale at Macy’s and Gimbel’s, the standing in every baseball or football league, and every mishap occurring to Charlie Brown, Dagwood Bumstead and Dick Tracy. So, maybe the League’s move was a move in the right direction for me.

1967.The first time the Trials were separated from the Nationals. This definitely was a good move if the Trials are to be continued in the present version. There is a great deal of talk going on about changing the format — which change I heartily favor — but I will say that making a separate tournament of this important event helped a great deal. After the nine-day struggle was over, the contestants could look forward to going home and sleeping for a week instead of competing in the National tournament immediately afterwards as in the past. And what is more important, it produced the three best pairs to represent the United States in the Olympiad. Okay, I’m ready to hear from a lot of people that the proceeding statement is only one man’s opinion but this is the one column each year in which I dare utter what I think. It’s too bad that I won’t be writing Thirty Days when we come back in June with victor’s laurels so that I can gloat with a few “I-told-you-sos.”

(yes, the word “we” is correct. Following Charlie Solomon’s letter praising my adding “lust” to the Olympiad, as quoted in last month’s column, the European officials of course invited me to be on the directorial staff in Deauville, France, next summer.)

1967. The last year for which I will be writing 360 Days. Or as a matter of fact, any number of days. The powers that be have decreed that my column will be discontinued after I retire April 1. I wonder how many words I’ve written in 30 years of Thirty Days!

1967. No Tournament Committee meeting at Nationals. I am writing this column at the Nationals in New Orleans on Monday following the tournament proper. The final session of the Reisinger Board-A-Match team of four (13 tables) is going on and there hasn’t been one protest calling for a tournament committee meeting the entire 10 days. This is the first time, within my memory, that this has happened. I suppose there is a moral attached to this extraordinary occurrence. I don’t know whether we’re just lucky that no tough case came up or whether the prima donnas are mellowing as they’re getting along in years. I’ll bet that this record is not equaled by the Spring Nationals in New York!

And now we come to that exciting part of the year when I present the Sobell Awards for meritorious performance. I shall repeat what I say every year — If you don’t like my awards, go out and buy some for yourself and pick your own recipients. If I’d had to pay for these mythical awards this many years I’d have been a real buttermilk drinker because I couldn’t have afforded anything else.

The Man of the Year. This well-deserved award goes to Ossie Jacoby of Dallas, the first bridge player in history to amass 10,000 masterpoints. This would have been accomplished many years earlier but he was in the war for the duration (World War II that is; he only managed to sneak into World War I for a month at age 15). I can testify to this because at Richmond VA on Dec. 7, within 10 minutes after I made the Pearl Harbor announcement, Jake — who was then in the Naval Reserve — was out of the hotel and on his way to Washington. Then during the Korean affair, Jake went back in the service again for another long stretch away from the wars — oops, bridge wars I mean. Jake was a line officer — which means he served somewhere in the theater of operations. He and I have had many a spat in 30 years but have always made up with our relations none the worse for wear. I wish Jake would try, with that super-mathematical mind of his to figure out approximately how much those 10,000 points cost him in money. If it comes near to what I think it does, Mary Zita (his lovely spouse) will kick him out of the house. And so, Jake, a Sobell Award to you for this achievement.

The Player of the Year. This kudo goes to Barry Crane of California. He has made a shambles of the McKenney Trophy race and by so doing he gains his third Sobell Award. The year still isn’t over so I don’t know if he is going to break the record set by Hermine Baron in 1964, but in any event a well-deserved award to my good friend Barry.

The Hand of the Year. This title is a misnomer because it is really the hand of the past 34 years. It happened to me in Baltimore in a team game. I was sitting North; the opponents were vulnerable and we were not. List’ to my tale of woe:

Dlr: South ♠ —
Vul: E-W A K Q J 8 5 2
K Q J
 ♠ 8 6 4 ♣ A K Q ♠ A K Q J 10 9 5 2
7 6
10 9 7 6 3 2 A 8 4
♣ 7 3 ♠ 7 3 ♣ 10 5
10 9 4 3
5
♣ J 9 8 6 4 2
South West North East
Pass Pass 2 3♠
Pass Pass 4♠ 5(!)
Pass Pass ?

When the question mark reached me I did some tall thinking. This was the late ’30s and I was a budding bridge star. I could see that we could make only 980 because if my partner held the A I would have heard from him. I realized that if we could make 12 tricks against East’s 5 bid we would beat him 10 tricks, or a cool 1000 points. So, I drew gasps from three players at the table when I passed 5.

As per expectation we did beat him the grand, because the only trick he took was the A. I could hardly wait to get back to our partners and ask about this particular board. East on our team was Bill McKenney, executive secretary of the League at that time. I almost shouted, “What did you do on board 3?” His partner answered, “Minus 1010. Mac didn’t open his A and declarer discarded his three diamonds on dummy’s clubs!” If Mac hadn’t been my boss, I swear I’d have bopped him. So that, my children, is why I gave up bridge playing — losing the chance to become the first 10,000 pointer — and became a tournament director. All of you who have grudges against me for penalizing you can blame it on a bedded A in Baltimore in 1935. All of you bridge columnists who are going to filch this hand for your column should chip in and help defray the cost of this particular Sobell Award.

The Gag of the Year. This has not appeared in print before because it inly happened two weeks ago, and what’s more it is a true story. Steve Becker, head of the advertising department of the ACBL Bulletin, went to Kennedy airport in Mew York to board a 6 p.m. plane for the Nationals in New Orleans. It was just “one of those days” and after Steve had waited for four hours, the loudspeaker blared the announcement that the airport was going to transfer the passengers to LaGuardia Airport for boarding because the fog had lifted there. Steve boarded the bus and noticed that the crew was also being taken over there. One of the passengers asked the pilot what type of craft landed and flew from LaGuardia. He answered, “D.C. 9s and 727s.” After a moment’s pause, he muttered, “Come to think of it, it had better be a 727. That’s the only plane I know how to fly!” I’ll wager a Sobell Award that Steve wholeheartedly agreed with him.

The Column of the Year. I usually award this honor to the fellow who writes Thirty Days but this year I an going to change the procedure and award thousands (I hope) to the readers of this column. From what is told to me at tournaments by players who inform me that their maids, chauffeurs, husbands who-don’t-play-bridge, and children read my column and from what I can learn in my fan mail, I have a loyal group of readers. Therefore the Sobell Award goes to you — and you — and you.

That does it for 1967. As I mentioned last time, I leave for San Francisco and the Orient as soon as this tournament is over and will skip the February issue. However, I’ll be back for the next issue with a story of bridge in the Far East. Read about it in twice Thirty Days.