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.
All right, I know that the middle of February is not the proper time for a review of the previous year to appear, but after hearing my reasons I am sure you will forgive. I really have been on the go since Thanksgiving Day.
In order, it went something like this: establishing headquarters in New Orleans, directing the Fall Nationals, vacation in South America, the International Match, the Masters Individual, and a badly infected finger (my typing finger, too.) Case dismissed? O.K.
1956 was another banner year in the history of ACBL. In fact, if I felt like pulling a real corny gag I would call it the top-bannanner year of all. Let’s look at the record.
This past year saw the league operating from two main offices –one in New York and one in Los Angeles. These two offices are staffed by thirty-eight employees, an all time high for ACBL help. In addition, we had four auxiliary supply depots from which supplies for tournaments were shipped or carried — Ft. Worth, New Orleans, Cleveland and Bethlehem.
The old Executive Committee was changed to a National Board of Directors, and its personnel was increased from nine members to twenty-three. For the first time in history, the President of the League was chosen from this high-ranking body and not at large by a nominating committee.
We reached our peak in the Charity drive and were very proud to turn over $76,000 to the National Society for Crippled Children and Adults, Inc. As most of you know, our goal this year is $100,000 (heart Fund) and I am sure that next year in my 360 Days column I shall report another successful campaign.
For the record to date we must mark 1956 as having produced the two most successful National tournaments–the Summer tournament at New York City, and the Fall meeting in New Orleans. Both in attendance and hospitality these two tournaments surpassed anything previously held.
When the shipping department heard I was looking for records to publish in this column, they came up with the following vital statistics: 1393 prizes were awarded in NY and 706 prizes in New Orleans, both new all-time highs for Summer and Fall tournaments respectively. Thank You, Joe Colon, for this information, the column wouldn’t have been complete without it.
The year 1956 had its sad moments also. For the second time in succession we lost the International Match. This time it was to France, the match being played in Paris. They gave us a good pasting but I will say for the losing team–they upheld the highest traditions of American sportsmanship. When congratulations were in order, you would think our boys were glad to have lost the match, the sincere manner in which they shook hands with the French. What say we stop being such nice losers and try being gracious winners!
One more general note and then on to the Sobel awards for 1956. The first National Commercial and Industrial Team-of-four event was held (in conjunction with the Summer Nationals). The entry list of 39 teams looked like the Who’s Who of the business and industrial world. And what a pleasure it was to run the event. Every ruling (the few that there were) was accepted with a “Thank you, sir,” instead of the usual surly look that is given to the director by the side getting the adverse end of the decision. Let’s have more and bigger Commercial and Industrial Team-of-four events.
And now for the awards–let the orchids fall where they may.
The player of the year. No argument about this award. The McKenney Trophy and my orchid go to Tobias Stone (NYC) for a truly outstanding performance. He amassed the astounding total of 791 masterpoints during the calendar year. This not only breaks, but smashes to smithereens the previous record of 604 points compiled by Barry Crane in 1952.
As I figure it out, Toby must have spent the entire year either in an airplane or at the bridge table! This sounds like a hell of a way for a newlywed to spend his first year of marriage but the next paragraph will clear up the matter.
The female player of the year. A whole bouquet of orchids to Mrs. Tobias Stone (better known as Jan Gilbert, the paying teller on Break the Bank TV show). Mrs. Stone finished second to her husband in the race for the McKenney Trophy with 612.5 masterpoints, which total you will notice also breaks the previous record of 604 points.
But here is the remarkable part of Mrs. Stone’s achievement: she started the year with exactly one masterpoint to her credit. Some girls marry for money but this is the first case of one marrying for masterpoints. Incidentally, this is the best husband-wife performance since 1941 when Helen Sobel won this famous trophy and her husband finished 387th the same year.
The best male performance of the year. This really was a photo finish between two Philadelphians–John R. Crawford and Sidney SIlodor. This is their record: they both finished 1st in the Vanderbilt, 1st in the Open Teams, 1st in the Men’s Teams, and 2nd in the Life Master Pairs. Now their paths diverge: Crawford won the Life Master Individual and Silodor won the Master Mixed Pairs.
Since I’m paying for these orchids, I broke the tie with the following line of reasoning: Silodor won his event with one partner (Helen Sobel); Crawford won his with 52 different partners. Therefore Crawford’s task was 52 times more difficult than Silodors!
If anyone disagrees with this cockeyed line of reasoning let I’m buy another orchid and present it to Sidney. Mine goes to Johnny.
The best female performance of the year.For the umpteenth time this award goes to Mrs. Helen Sobel. Her 1956 record included a 1st in the Masters Mixed Pairs, 2nd in the Women’s Teams, 4th in the Master Mixed Teams, and most important, a tie for 1st in the Master Knockout Teams, later going on to win the playoff and becoming the first member of the fairer sex to represent the United States in an official International Match. An orchid well deserved. (Aside to Mrs. S: No, the donor will not exchange the orchid for a bottle of Arpege!)
The best tournament of the year. For the third year in succession this award goes to the Republic of Texas Tournament held in Fort Worth. This tournament is becoming more fabulous each year. A different social function each night, complete with costumes, scenery, lighting effects and professional entertainers are only part of the hospitality that goes to make this the most unique tournament of the year. In addition, there are cocktail parties, a brunch (with Bloody Marys and music), a banquet and buffet supper.
I only hope that some day Texas takes up its constitutional option of dividing itself into four states. Then they would possibly have four such tournaments as the Fort Worth shindig. A Texas sized orchid for the Republic of Texas tourney.
Best gag of the year. Many good cracks were pulled in 1956, but my orchid goes to Alvin Landy for his classic response when asked why the Mixed Pairs event always attracted such a large entry.
His bon mot: “It’s the only event in which you can’t get fixed by two little old ladies!”
I wish I’d said that. (Ed. note: Don’t worry Al — you will, at the next banquet you attend.)
Worst gag of the year. This orchid (slightly wilted) goes to the only double winner of the year–again. Alvin Landy. When he and I visited the new West Coast office last May, we noticed that the gardening hadn’t been completed around the building. We asked Tom Stoddard what kind of flowers were going to be planted. He said “Poinsettas.” Landy retorted, “Very appropriate. Red Point-settas no doubt!”
Alvin, how could you! Give me back the first orchid.
Best bridge hand of the year. For the first time since I’ve been writing 360 Days the award for this department goes to–me. I played this hand at a duplicate game down in Rio de Janeiro and I am very proud of the result because the line of play was suggested by the remarks made by my left-hand opponent. This doesn’t sound like much but you must remember that my opponent was speaking in Portuguese and I didn’t understand a word he was saying! The hand:
|♠ 8 7
|♥ 6 4
|♦ A 8 6 5 3 2
|♣ K 7 3
|♠ A K Q J 10 9
|♥ A K 8
|♣ A 8 4
I was the dealer in the South position and opened the bidding with 2♠. My vulnerable left-hand opponent immediately burst out with a Portuguese tirade directed at my partner, and I sensed he was trying to find out whether we were using strong or weak two-bids.
My partner bid 3♦ and then my Brazilian pal on the left really let loose some Portuguese histrionics. By this time I was convinced that only his vulnerability had kept him out of the auction. A couple of bids later I found myself declarer at 6♠.
The opening lead by John Barrymore of Rio was the ♦K. When dummy went down it looked like a very safe contract. Just win the ♦A, draw one round of trump, play the ♥A K, ruff the losing heart, get back to my hand with the ♣A, draw thw balance of the trumps, and give up a club at the finish. Or I could play for seven by winning the ♦A, ruff back a diamond, get to the dummy with the third heart, ruff another diamond and if they split 3-3, use the ♣K for the ultimate entry and discard my losing club on the diamond.
Which did I do? Neither! I let him hold the first diamond trick!
The cockles of my heart warmed up when East showed out on the first diamond. Eleven declarers played the hand at 6♠ and the 10 other were set. The reason? They know how to speak Portuguese–I didn’t. A little learning is a dangerous thing. I think I’ll take two orchids.
The best tournament director of the year. You guessed it!
The best bridge column of the year. You guessed it again.
And so passeth 1956. A very interesting and entertaining year. This year, 1957, brings up an anniversary for me. June of this year will mark my 25th year in bridge–a sort of silver anniversary. Maybe the editor will let me write a special column entitled Nine Thousand Days and I’ll get nostalgic and reminisce all over the place–with pictures. But for the present, a very Happy New Year to everybody from Sixty Days.