Lebensold: ‘Not my idea!’

Ken Lebensold

Imagine someone naming a convention after you because they erroneously thought you invented it. Next, imagine that you didn’t particularly like the convention, but it became popular anyway. And lastly, imagine that – adding insult to injury – they spelled your name wrong, and the convention has subsequently appeared on millions of convention cards with the misspelling intact.

Sound implausible? Not to Ken Lebensold.

Lebensold has not played duplicate bridge since the early 1980s, but he was an expert player who partners included Bart Bramley, David Berkowitz and John Solodar. He came to the NABC in Las Vegas to see Bramley inducted into the Hall of Fame, and he’s staying a few extra days to kibitz and visit with old friends.

But how did “Lebensold” become “lebensohl”? The answer comes from a piece written by George Boehm in the November 1970 issue of The Bridge World magazine where the convention first appeared in print. George, an expert player who lived in New York City, was the late father of current Bridge Bulletin columnist Augie Boehm:

About a year ago, my son Augie and I converted our crammed and smudged convention card into a gaudy “menu” with all our gadgets and gimmicks highlighted in red letters. At the start of the first match, a gaunt, Lincolnesque youth sat down at our table and began studying the new bill of fare.

“What’s this?” he asked, pointing to a red line that read “Lebensohl when you overcall our notrump opening.” 

“Oh, that’s just a little refinement Augie recently picked up in Boston. It’s the brainchild of a very bright MIT student named Ken Lebensohl.”

After explaining the convention, our opponent-to-be humpfed which incensed me not a little. “I’ll have you know, young man, that Ken Lebensohl is reputedly a fine player and a brilliant, though youthful, theorist.”

He replied quietly, “I’m Ken Lebensold, and I don’t think I’d want any part of your newfangled convention – even if you spelled my name right.”

Since Mr. Lebensold disowned the convention, we have decided to designate it “lebensohl” and to continue to use it without fee or license.”

Augie later added, “No, we didn’t consider naming the convention ‘Boehm.’ And we spelled it with a lowercase ‘l’.”

Here in Las Vegas, Lebensold still maintains that he had nothing to do with the 2NT-based gadget designed to handle interference over 1NT openings.

“It wasn’t something I formally worked on. It’s possible I had some discussions with other players about this idea, but that’s not my recollection,” he said.

Lebensold was amused to see that “Lebensohl” now appears on all ACBL convention cards, not only for 1NT interference, but also for handling weak two-bids by the opponents.

Lebensold has not been part of the tournament scene in decades. Why did he give up bridge?

“Bridge was a passion of mine, but in the early ’80s, I developed another one: meditation. I came to develop a greater commitment to meditation and expanded consciousness, and I found that bridge was too much of an attachment. Even playing less frequently or in less-formal settings was a distraction, so I reluctantly gave it up.”

Now 72, Lebensold lives in a small town in eastern Tennessee.