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.
This year will not go down in history as a very important or spectacular year as far as bridge was concerned. To me personally it was a miserable year and will be remembered as 1961 B.C. (B.C. stands for “broken cuboid” or, in plain English, “busted foot”). Talk about your three R’s — for six months I was plagued by the three C’s — a cast, cane or crutch. But that did not make or unmake bridge history so let’s turn the pages back and see what actually happened in 1961.
1961. The most exciting event of the 1961 bridge calendar was the moment when Dwight D. Eisenhower walked into the Sheraton Park Hotel in Washington to kibitz the Summer Nationals. I’m sure that every player, official, and spectator had the thrill of a lifetime when Ike acknowledged the ovation with that familiar wave of his right hand. That was his last act of celebrity. From that point on he became just another kibitzer name Joe and, according to Alvin Landy, whom he sat behind, he asked the same questions that “Joe” would ask. Because of his appearance, contract bridge received more front page newspaper coverage than any other bridge event since the Culbertson-Lenz Match.
1961. The year bridge players stopped being individuals and became automated robots with a number as their identification. To give this monster its full description, we now receive our masterpoints (sometimes) by Electronic Data Processing via International Business Machines operated by mere mortals. No more do directors have to exhort the players to please PRINT their names legibly on the entry blanks. From now on they can scribble their names in Sanskrit or Chinese just so those magic seven numbers can be read. Oh, by the way have you heard that 666 888 B is that way about 666 886 B? There’s a real affinity there — only two numbers apart where it really counts.
1961. Two firsts as far as the International Match was concerned. It had its premiere appearance in South America and four teams competed for the Bermuda Bowl, the most to vie for the championship in the finals. I was there at the time, at least in spirit if not in total body (remember B.C.) and was (1) charmed with the graciousness and hospitality of our Argentine hosts, and (2) proud of our boys who, although not winning the main event, won the hearts and respect of everyone there with their display of sportsmanship and conduct. Maybe it was because they didn’t understand the language of the other three contending countries and could only nod in amiable agreement anytime something was said. But whatever it was, they sure were the hit of the Pampas.
1961. The first time we attempted to use the British “trials” method of selecting our next team for the International Match (1962). It took place in Houston before the Fall Nationals and it was really an interesting event to direct. There were sixteen pairs playing and I might add that among the 32 players, there were at least 30 prima donnas. But I never had the slightest bit of trouble: they were as docile and agreeable as a class of novices aboard a cruise. They were always on time and the perpetual relays going on among four rooms were never held up because of undue slow play on the part of the contestants. It was a pleasure to do business with them and if they conduct themselves in the big match in February as they did in the trials, again the U.S. will have cause to be proud of our representatives. Whether we win or not is a different question. According to both players and officials, the “Trials” method is certainly fair. I will repeat the last sentence of my paragraph on the same subject in last month’s 360 Days column, “Who knows, maybe this method will bring back the Bermuda Bowl to the U.S. after a dreary seven years of defeat.”
1961. The year that bridge cruises came into their own. I went through every issue of last year’s Bulletins and discovered that there were seven cruises catering to bridge players and that they sailed from Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf ports. I venture to say that in 1962 there will be at least a dozen of them. And why not? Regularly — sanctioned masterpoint events (with unusual prizes) are held aboard the bridge jaunts and always under the supervision of an ACBL accredited director. I have a hunch that these bridge cruises are going to play a big part in the bridge curricula of the future. And again I ask – why not? The average cost of one of these two-week trips is $40 per day and for this you get a better-than-minimum stateroom with private bath, six meals a day, and all card fees included. Can you do much better than that at an ordinary weekend tournament? I doubt it. And you don’t have to worry about flying or driving late at night. You can also be sure that this is one tournament where your partner can’t walk out on you – that is, not without getting awfully wet.
That ends the general news of 1961. I told you it wasn’t a very exciting year. And now we will proceed to the important business on hand, and that is distributing the Sobell Prizes for outstanding bridge achievements in 1961. Again I claim editorial immunity; if you don’t like my picks, give your own prizes.
The player of the year. This award goes to Philip Feldesman, of New York. Phil has been a rubber bridge player for years but at the start of 1961 he suddenly decided to play some tournament bridge. The players at the Cavendish Club regretted this defection because there was always an aura of excitement in the rubber games that Phil lent his presence to. The top-notch tournament players didn’t mind his joining their ranks but after a few months they drew up a petition asking the Cavendish to take back their Mad Ayrab. He was almost unbeatable. In National play, he won the Life Masters Pairs, won the Masters Open Pairs, won the Masters Men’s Pairs and was just a few IMPs away from reaching the finals of the Spingold Master KO Teams. In Regional play, he won the Masters Pairs at the Eastern States in NYC and at Asbury Park NJ, captured both the Open Pairs and the Open Teams. Quite a record eh? And that is why he is unequivocally my “player of the year.”
In addition, he wins a second Sobell Prize — The Forgotten Man of the Year. Many years ago there was a football team that claimed this record — it was unbeaten, untied, unscored upon, and uninvited. Meaning to a bowl game, of course. That is what happened to Phil last year. Marshall Miles, with whom he qualified, had previously qualified twice with his regular partner, Eddie Kantar. This left the Ayrab as an “Odd Player” meaning he could only play in the trials if there was another odd player or if someone dropped out before the fourth round. Since neither of these eventualities occurred, the Sobell Prize winner of the year did not play in the “Trials.” This was probably done by some jealous League officials who wanted to disparage my choice of Player No. 1.
The winner of the year. Thirty years ago when I broke into contract bridge there were a few young players coming into prominence and who were challenging the well-known pros of that time. One of those upstarts was a young man recently out of Columbia University starting to blaze a trail of victories that, interrupted only by a war recess, is still continuing. For 1961, he garnered the McKenney Trophy, awarded each year to the player amassing the most masterpoints. In addition to this trophy he also wins the Sobell Prize as the winning player of the year. A salute to Ozzie Jacoby who after 30 years (the time that I know him) can still give a good account of himself at the bridge table, the pingpong table, the scoring table, the dining room table, and the quiz table. I’d be getting an inferiority complex if there wasn’t one table I could beat him at. Thank the Lord for the cocktail table!
The best tournament of the year. For the fifth year in a row this accolade goes to the Republic of Texas tournament held annually on the July 4the weekend in Fort Worth. Their entertainment starts where others leave off. The average hospitable unit will throw a few cocktail parties, a dance or two, and either a dinner or a brunch. The R of T tournament does all of this and in addition has a different kind of midnight fiesta every night. One night there might be a vaudeville show, or a circus or a night club extravaganza. Another night could be Monte Carlo night with all the appurtenances thereto. The Costume Ball is a must for one night and usually the last night of frolic is a salute to some country or group. Quite a program isn’t it? I’m sure you’ll agree that Fort Worth wins the Sobell Prize in this category.
The best column of the year. Modestly, I usually award this Prize to myself but I am afraid that for the first time in the history of 360 Days I must take backwater to a column jointly written by Harry Fishbein, Treasurer of the ACNL, Nat Cohen, Asst. Treasurer of the ACBL, and Harry Stern, CPA. I refer to the column called the Financial Statement and the terrific punch line, never qualled, that reads (in my own words) Profit for the year — Over $50,000! Gentleman — the Sobell Prize to you and may you win it again doubled for 1962. Ain’t I a good sport to give up my award to those guys?
The best tournament director of the year. Well, let’s not carry this being a good sport too far!
The best gag of the year. The gibberish that is sent in by Dear Richard’s 10 readers and called limericks. Now, mind you, I’m not getting jealous of this department because I realize that no one would read a limerick except a guy who writes limericks himself. But when people, whom you thought were avid readers of your column, greet you with, “Say, why don’t you get Barbara Alpren or Marlow Sholander to guest write your column sometime?” you do get sort of jittery. So, if you can’t fight ’em, join ’em! Just to show you how easy it is to write a limerick:
There once was a fellow named Sobel
Who wrote an interesting column
Along came the limericks
And stole all his readers
Now he alone reads Thirty Days.
The bridge hand of the year. This hand actually happened in 1962 but it was so close to 1961 that I am going to use it — and besides I’ll forget about it by next year.
|♠ 10 x x|
|♥ K x|
|♦ A K Q J|
|♣ A K Q x|
|♠ x||♠ A x x|
|♥ Q x x||♥ A J|
|♦ 10 x x x||♦ x x x x x|
|♣J 10 x x x||♣ x x x|
|♠ K Q J 9 x x|
|♥ 9 x x x x x|
This occurred in the Greater New York Charity Game and on this particular hand Harry Fishbein, sitting South, decided to open the auction with 4♠. Don’t ask me why — I’m glad he did it otherwise I wouldn’t have a hand of the year. After West’s pass, North took a well-calculated risk (knowing Fishbein) and bid 6♠. East promptly doubled and that was the final contract. West opened the ♣J and Harry won it and then proceeded to discard all six losing hearts on the good clubs and diamonds! It’s seldom if ever that you see a losing six-card suit discarded but to do it before trump is drawn is out of this world. This could only happen to Fishy. Whether you agree or not, it gets the Sobell Prize for the hand of the year.
And that ends the chronicles of 1961. I start off the New Year in Jackson MS, followed by Nacogdoches TX and then up North to ST. Paul MN. And if I have space I’ll give you some highlights of my Mediterranean trip. Look for it all in Thirty Days.