Bridge Vanderbilt, Culbertson and Goren leave marks on game
This Sunday we continue our look at the history of bridge, taking up in the 1920s with the invention of the modern version of contract bridge:
• In 1925 Harold S. Vanderbilt successfully synthesized various existing versions of bridge whist into a new form of the game. There was still bidding to name the trump suit. But now not only did bidding have to be precise, bidding to the highest contract you think you can make and not getting credit for certain tricks toward game unless they were bid, but the concept of vulnerability was added along with new refinements in the scoring system. And in the new version, you not only bid games but also slams (taking all or all but one of the tricks). The new version was first played on a cruise ship on Nov. 1, 1925.
And behold, contract bridge was unleashed upon the world. The game’s popularity skyrocketed in only a few years.
• But now that the rules of the game had been changed to provide more interest and opportunity for complex strategy, that wasn’t enough. The next stage of the exploding popularity of bridge was the arrival of “bridge personalities,” colorful experts who knew how to market the game and themselves to the public.
The first big name in contract bridgewas Ely Culbertson, who might even have taken it as a compliment if you called him an egomaniac. He started the first bridge magazine, The BridgeWorld, which is still publishing. His “Contract Bridge Blue Book” came out in 1930.
• The American public was transfixed by high-profile bridge matches including the CulbertsonLenz match in 1931. Bickering and conflict was a godsend for bridge. Indeed, bridge became a household word, and playing bridge was viewed as a mandatory social skill.
• The game’s top players today are not widely known among the public at large. However, entrepreneurs Bill Gates andWarren Buffett play from time to time.
• As formal bridge tournaments began, several organizations competed for primacy. But from 1937 onward, the American Contract Bridge League was the big kid on the block and remains so today. The publicity afforded to tournaments further increased interest in the game.
• Here was amental contact sport that anyone of any age and physical condition and sound mind could play. The first international championships were post-World War II, with theWorld Bridge Federation being founded in 1958.
• Although Culbertson came first, it was Charles Goren who truly propelled the game, with his success as a player, his lectures, his daily bridge column that appeared in hundreds of newspapers as well as dozens of books.
For decades, the various editions of “Goren’s Bridge Complete” were considered the leading books on the game. It ran 600-700 pages and could be an intimidating tome. Goren was known as Mr. Bridge.
• Bridge was a different sort of game. This wasn’tMonopoly or Risk or any of the popular board games where you read several pages of rules and started to play.
Former ACBL District 17 president John Van Ness of Aspen once noted, “We don’t play bridge because it’s easy. We play bridge because it’s hard.”
Here was a game that had all the mathematical and psychological complexity of games such as chess or Go or any other game you could name, yet had a great social dimension, as well.
Speaking of Tournaments: It’s been quite a run. Denver had a sectional tournamentNov. 12-15 and the nationalsNov. 26-Dec. 6, leaving just enough time to open the presents and celebrateNewYear’s before heading back to the bridge table for another sectional Jan. 7-10 at the usual Jefferson County Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall site, 15200W. Sixth Ave. in Golden.
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