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 just can’t believe it! Another year gone by and here I am again switching from Sixty Days to the annual review of bridge. Nineteen Fifty-three marked a milestone in my life. I finally switched my age from 39 to 40. Why doesn’t Jack Benny yeild gracefully and do the same?
The year 1953 was a fairly exciting period in bridge activities. It saw the league turn over $38,000 to the American Heart Association. It saw a bridge hand printed in Time magazine
for the first time — a hand played by no less a personage than that great golfer and bridge player, President Eisenhower. And speaking of magazines, it saw a page spread of bridge pictures in Life magazine — also a first-timer. It saw 400 new clubs added to the ACBL roster. It saw the Summer and Winter Nationals played West of the Mississippi for the first time. It saw the Masters-Team-of-Four Championship institute a round robin for the eight surviving teams to determine the American representatives in the International match. It saw the publication of the Bulletin increased from six issues to nine issues per annum. It saw a six-man team of British women (silly language) visit the United States and play three matches against American women in different cities. And, following my prediction in last year’s annual review, it saw a group of youthful upstarts knock off the Masters Pairs, Masters Team-of-Four, Open Pairs, and a first and second for the McKenney Trophy.
The winner of the Masters Pairs in 1953 was William A. Rosen, of Chicago. It was a photo finish for the first time in the history of the McKenney Trophy, Rosen finished with 470.5 points, just nosing out Norman Kay of Merchantville NJ who piled up 462.5 points. I am going to leave this distasteful subject because I understand that the combined ages of these two two-headed infant prodigies do not equal the age of a certain bridge column writer who shall remain nameless — but I resent it nevertheless!
The player of the year award goes to a triumvirate, namely the afore mentioned Bill Rosen, Milton Q. Ellenby, of Chicago, and that time-hardened veteran, John Crawford, of Philadelphia. The former two won the Masters Pairs and Masters Teams, Crawford garnered first place in the Life and Senior Masters Pairs, and also the Open Teams-of-Four, Rosen is 24 years old, Ellenby is 29, and Crawford is — over 21.
The female honors of the year also ended in a three-way tie. The gals involved were Mrs. Gretchen (pronounced Gretchen) Feldstein, of Cincinnati, Mrs. Gratian (pronounced Gray-shan) Goldstein, also of Cincinnati, and Mrs. Henry (pronounced Edith) Kemp, of New York. The Cincinnatians won the Women’s Pairs and the Women’s Teams-of-Four; Mrs. Kemp won the Mixed Teams-of-Four, and tied for second in the Masters-Teams-of-Four, the highest position a member of the distaff side reached in this Blue Ribbon event. For diplomatic reasons, ages will not be mentioned in this category!
The prietties player of the year (or handsomest, depending on whether it was male or female) was the chimpanzee who played against Goren and Jacoby in the St. Louis zoo during the Summer Nationals. He, or she (oh, hell, let’s call the chimp “it” — and who cares about a chimpanzee’s sex, except perhaps another chimpanzee) was very well behaved, but was not too ethical. At one time, it jumped into Jacoby’s lap to get a peek at his cards. Knowing Ozzie the way I do, I would say that would be impossible even for a high I.Q. chimpanzee.
The best “foreign” player of the year was our ex-prexie, Ben Johnson. He played in Hawaii and Mexico and at both tournaments won ever event he played in — three at each of them. Too bad he doesn’t understand English and do better among his American compatriots!
The most-wanted job of the year was that held by Ewart Kempson, of London. He was the non-playing captain and chaperone of the six charming British women who came over for three unofficial matches mentioned elsewhere. I offered Capt. Kempson the ACBL surplus, my apartment, my liquor cellar, and 200 masterpoints for the job but with typical English hauteur he spurned my offer. A fine way to cement Anglo-American relations!
The best trip of the year was my junket to Hawaii. There, my friends, was a wonderful trip. From the moment I set foot on Hawaiian soil to the very last lei, I had the time of my misspent life. The fun starts the minute you take off from Los Angeles on the Pan-American Clipper. This plane has a cocktail lounge on the lower level, and although there are no windows, the scenery is still purty. I met some of the pretty scenery and one word led to another cocktail and before you know it, you hear “Back to your seats, please, we are approaching the Honolulu airport.” I never did get to see the Pacific Ocean from the air.
Incidentally, before we took off I met a charming old lady who asked me if this trip was non-stop to Hawaii. All I could do was fervently answer, “I hope so!”
A large delegation of Hawaiian bridge players were at the airport to greet us, and we soon had half a dozen leis around our necks. The women kissed us and the men embraced us. Please, no remarks, it’s an old Hawaiian custom.
We were driven to Waikiki Beach and check into the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Folks, as you know, I go to a great many hotels but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anything as sumptuous and beautiful as this Royal Hawaiian hotelery. It is the last word in charm, graceful living and hospitality. The quaint costumes worn by the bellboys and chambermaids (all natives), the room furnishings, the fresh flowers every day all over the place, the food, the Hawaiian music and dances at all times, the beach with the outrigger canoes and surf boards, and a dozen other equally attractive features make it the garden spot of all time as far as I am concerned.
Then, too, there was the thrill of seeing all the sights I’ve always heard about — Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head, Schofield Barracks, Waikiki Beach, the pineapple plantations, sugar cane fields and the honkey-tonk bistros in downtown Honolulu (my favorite spots, naturally).
The people there couldn’t be nicer. There was a party every day between sessions and after the night session. You didn’t have to dress up for the parties because it is practically an insult to the hostess if you don’t show up in native garb — the men wearing Aloha shirts, the women, mous-mous dresses. The latter are those long Oriental kimono-like dresses that almost swept the floor.
Oh, yes, we also had a bridge tournament. The entry list looked like a roster of the United Nations. It was quite a chore writing up such names as Watanabe, Anastapopolous, Chu Ki Chen, Lalakaluna, Cohen and some real Polynesian monikers like Ben John, Tom Stoddard, Max Manchester, John Kunkel, Cliff Johnson among others. Some day in the dim future when I get tired of running bridge tournaments and writing Sixty Days, I’m going to settle down and live in — take a guess — New York City, of course! Aloha, Hawaii.
The ruling of the year took place in our nation’s capital at a sectional tournament. I was called over to a table and given the following facts. West was the dealer and opened the bidding. North, who was busy writing up the pick up slip on the previous board, finished his job and asked her, “What did you bid?” She said, “1♦.” The other player, including her partner, piped up simultaneously that her first bid was 1♣. I looked at her hand and saw the following collection of garbage:
♥ 7 3
♦ 8 6 5 3 2
♣ A 7 5 4 3
I realized that if I were to give the book ruling, namely, that she could bid anything she wished and bar her partner from the auction, I would be acting against the principle of all ruling that the non-offending side should be protected. Barring her partner would be tantamount to helping her psychic bid accomplish more than it ordinarily would. So I discarded the rule book and gallantly announced I would asses no penalty. Her first bid of 1♣ would stand, and I would supervise the auction to see that her partner did not take advantage of the illegal information given him. The auction then went happily on its way:
I slunk away from the table before the hand was played out. Needless, to say, East took an awful beating — down 900. The West player came over to me later and asked, “You don’t think I made those two bids on purpose, do you?” I assured her, “Of course not. That’s why I didn’t assess any penalty!” To this day I wonder if a rules committee would have upheld my decision.
Well, let’s call it a year. Nineteen fifty-four is now merrily on its way. I soon will be merrily on my way also to Chattanooga TN, Jackson MS (what-again!), Baton Rouge LA and points East and West. But more of that in Sixty Days.