ACBL Bridge Beat #139: Wrap-up

The world’s most challenging mental sport, bridge is a game of skill, communication and infinite possibilities. Millions of people worldwide play and enjoy the competitive aspects of tournament or “duplicate” bridge.

Bridge is on the rise as more and more Baby Boomers learn – and learn to love – the world’s most popular card game. The ACBL has amassed a rich history and seen groundbreaking advances with computers and the Internet. A wealth of great leaders – and some “interesting” personalities – are all part of the world’s largest and most influential bridge organization.

ACBL traces its history from the organization of the American Auction Bridge League in Hanover NH at the 1927 congress (tournament) of the American Whist League, by a group sparked by Ralph R. Richards, including E. J. Tobin, Robert W. Halpin, Henry P. Jaeger and Clayton W. Aldrich.

Contract bridge was introduced at the second congress, held in Cleveland in 1928, during which year the infant organization acquired the services of William E. McKenney, whose originality, drive and organizational ability did much to establish ACBL.

The increased popularity of contract bridge led to the name change to American Bridge League in 1929. A merger of this group with the United States Bridge Association (USBA) was effected in 1937, with McKenney, first named executive secretary in 1929, remaining at the helm of the organization until 1947.

In 1948-1949, a major reorganization of ACBL was carried out by Waldemar von Zedtwitz, as president and chairman, aided by the steering committee of Robert J. Gill, Ralph Gresham, Lee Hazen, Bertram Lebhar Jr., Raymond J. McGrover and Albert H. Morehead and the Bylaws Committee headed by Lawrence Weiss of Boston.

McKenney was succeeded by Russell J. Baldwin, who was business manager until his recall to active duty with the U. S. Army in 1951, at which time Alvin Landy was named acting business manager. In 1952, Landy was advanced to the position of executive secretary, remaining in that post until his death in 1967.

Tom Stoddard, then executive administrator, served briefly as interim executive secretary until Easley Blackwood was appointed to that post in 1968. Blackwood retired after three years. Richard Goldberg, assistant executive secretary under both Landy and Blackwood, was named as Blackwood’s successor. Goldberg served as executive secretary until he retired in 1984. His successor was Ralph Cohen, who served for two and a half years.

Cohen was succeeded by former ACBL President William Gross. Gross retired in 1991. He was replaced by Stephen Signaigo, a Memphis businessman. Signaigo’s successor was Denis Howard of Australia, former president of the World Bridge Federation.

Howard served as interim chief executive officer for six months in 1992, at which time Roy G. Green became the chief executive officer. Green’s background was in banking and real estate. When Green retired in 1998, he was replaced by David Silber (1998-2001). Wayne Hascall served as interim CEO until Jay Baum took over CEO duties in 2002. Baum announced plans to retire in 2012, and in 2011 a committee began searching for his replacement. Robert Hartman took over as ACBL’s chief executive officer on Nov. 7, 2011.

ACBL membership grew spectacularly from the 270 who joined the American Auction Bridge League to more than 15,000 in 1947. Following the 1956 merger with the Pacific Bridge League, which became ACBL’s Western Division, growth accelerated to 170,000 in 1970 and approached 200,000 in 1993. Membership currently stands at just over 166,000 Members.

Two major forces in ACBL’s growth are the Masterpoint Plan and the Rankings, both of which were important considerations in ACBL’s consolidation with USBA and the Pacific Bridge League. In 1961, the huge task of issuing and recording members’ masterpoints was computerized.

Many other jobs formerly done manually now are done by the computer – mailing labels, new member welcome cards, membership cards, membership renewal notices, Unit report forms, special lists such as new Life Masters and Top 500 leaders, club sanction renewal forms, transaction journals, newsletters, masterpoint updating, scoring at tournaments, inventory control, sales, cash receipts, accounts payable, etc. The monthly ACBL Bridge Bulletin is the most widely distributed in the world.

ACBL’s scope and influence has increased substantially. Beyond the authorization and supervision of bridge tournament activities from the level of North American and regional championship tournaments to the games run in some 3200 duplicate clubs, ACBL activities include formulation and publication of the Laws of Contract Bridge (rubber) and the Laws of Duplicate Bridge; conduct of charity games and other activities which have raised millions of dollars for hundreds of charitable purposes; sanctioning online games; cooperation with other national bridge organizations through membership in the World Bridge Federation; and hosting three World Team Olympiads (1964, 1972 and 1984), three World Pairs Olympiads (1978, 1986 and 1994), two Venice Cups (1978 and 1981) and nine world championships for the Bermuda Bowl.

ACBL Headquarters in Horn Lake MS currently has a staff of about 60 employees and supports more than 170 tournament directors in the field. The ACBL continues its mission to promote, grow and sustain the game of bridge and serve the bridge-related interests of its Members.

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