360 Days

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.


Once upon a time there was a great philosopher who said something like “When one is young, a day seems like a year; as one grows older, a year seems like a day.” He must have been a pretty wise bird because, believe me, the ink had hardly dried on last year’s Three Hundred and Sixty Days column when the editor of this comic sheet had a whim I should do another one — and that so-and-so has a whim of iron! So, let’s go back through the records of the past year and see what happened in the world of bridge.
1954 was not a very spectacular year. It started off with the comparatively youthful team of Lewis Mathe, Don Oakie, Cliff Bishop, William Rosen, Milton Ellenby, and Doug Steen winning the World’s Championship at Monte Carlo, this being the fourth straight victory for American teams in international competition.
1954 saw a phenomenal growth in the American Contract Bridge League and its Western Division. Between the two of them, the membership soared to 50,000. Four hundred new member clubs signed up and 450 new tournaments were sanctioned. The year saw a net profit of $27,000 on the books as against a $2,200 loss in 1953. It may be a coincidence but 1953 was the year I had my apartment redecorated and air conditioning installed.
Charity also had its day in 1954. The ACBL was proud to turn over to March of Dimes a check for $52,000, representing a thousand dollars for every card in the deck — no joker. Maybe, this year we’ll raise $1,000 for every card in a Canasta deck — oops, I’m sorry, I’m not supposed to use that dirty word in this publication.
1954 saw, for the first time since Asbury Park, all the contestants in a National Tournament (Atlanta) play in one large room. It was a pleasure to make an announcement once and not go through a labyrinth of kitchens, storage rooms, corridors and elevators to make the same announcement six times. The year saw a super record-breaking Summer Nationals at Washington with a total turnout of 4,498 tables. The highest sessional attendance was a mere 299 tables. This could have been more but all the members of the staff made up a pool at the start of the week and I happened to pick 299. As soon as this was reached I gave Sadie Machlin orders to close the entries even though it was 15 minutes before game time. The members of the staff can’t read English so I am safe in divulging this information.
The above are the highlights of the year. I am now going to hand out the Marilyns (that’s the equivalent of Oscars in the movie business, except built better and nicer looking) to the deserving individuals.

The player of the year. The first Marilyn (is there another?) goes to “Curly” David Carter. His haul for 1954 was 1st in the Masters Pairs (Flight A); 2nd in both the Open Pairs and the Masters Knockout Teams; 3rd in the Mixed Teams; 4th in both the Men’s Teams and Open Teams. Whew! What a year. I wonder why it is that when he is my partner at rubber bridge I always lose. All right, all right, I know the answer. Let us charitably say that I hold bad cards.

The femal player of the year. The next Marilyn goes to a comparative newcomer to bridge, Mrs. Helen Sobel. (What does she want with a Marilyn?) Mrs. S garnered a 1st in the Mixed Teams; 2nd in the Women’s Teams; 4th in the Open Teams; 6th in the Open Pairs. In addition, she was chosen as the Woman Bridge Player of the Year by the N.Y Herald Tribune.
The most spectacular performance of the year. This Marilyn goes to the five-man team (What are five fellows going to do with one Marilyn?) of Lewis, Mathe, John Moran, Cliff Bishop, William Rosen and Milton Ellenby for their record in the Maters Knockout Teams-of-Four. They swept through 11 straight victories, four in the knockout rounds and seven in the round robin. With the caliber of play nowadays, I doubt if this record will ever be duplicated. What happened to them in the International Match shouldn’t happen to a Russian Team.

The tournament of the year. The Texas Regional at Fort Worth over the July 4th weekend wins this Marilyn. (How am I going to divide one Marilyn among 50 committee men and women is beyond me. Any suggestions, Texas?) I raved about this embroglio in my September column so I’ll forgo any further description.

The most honored player of the year. A Marilyn to my good friend and associate, George Beynon, for being made the Honorary Member of the League for 1955 and also for the honor accorded him at a huge bridge party on reaching his 90th birthday. (Aw, write your own gag about a Marilyn and a 90 year old guy.)

The best tournament director of the year>. Ahem!
The best bridge column of the year, Ahem!
The best bridge-playing director. Ahem!
The biggest money-losing director of the year. Phooey!

The best bridge hand of the year. Since no names are mentioned in connection with this hand it means I have one Marilyn left over. I’ll give it to the person who will honestly admit that he (or she) would have had the presence of mind to carry on as did the South player in the following opus:

♠ A Q 10 x x x
x x x
x x
♣ A x
♠ J x x x
A Q x x
♣ x x x x

The setting is a duplicate game. Vulnerability, unimportant; and South is dealer. A round has just ended and N-S are alone at the table discussing what tricks they could have won the previous hand had a certain lead been made. North asked, “What would we have taken if you opened a club?”

South went into a huddle, and while he was deep in thought the new E-W pair reached the table. All four of them picked their hands out of the board, with South still cogitating. He suddenly came to a decision and started to tell his partner what tricks they could have won. He started with “Two hearts.” when suddenly to his dismay and horror, West continued the auction with a pass, and his partner bid two spades!

South, at this moment, wished he had never been born. In the minds of the three other players, he had made a legal bid when it was his proper turn to bid. If it turned out that E-W had the preponderance of cards, particularly in hearts, he might be accused of having advanced information on the board, or other nefarious crimes.

He quickly decided to go through with it, and, after East’s pass, bid 3♠. North Blackwooded with 4NT. South gulped and dutifully responded with 5. Nothing daunted, North with an opening two-bid opposite him, bid 5NT. South quickly bid 6♣ showing no kings, and North, a little taken aback by this abrupt ending of his grand slam dream, bid 6♠.

East opened the ♣K and as soon as the dummy went down a simultaneous call of “Director” went up from East, West and North.

The director was, of course, helpless and for East-West’s sake could only hope the set would assuage the their ruffled feelings. But, I suppose, by this time you’ve guessed the answer. West held the ♠K, East the K and the slam was as cold as the looks E-W when they left the table.

Well, that was 1954. I still have some unfinished business to take up in my next column, namely the tournaments I attended in the latter part of the year at Detroit, Atlantic City, Memphis and Cleveland. These four plus two this year at Jackson MS and Chattanooga TN, will just about fill up Sixty Days.

The Zoom Room is available Monday through Friday, 3:30 pm-5:30 pm (Eastern).

Getting help is easier than ever with the ACBL Zoom Chat service.
Simply click the "Join Zoom Chat" button below to be taken to our dedicated zoom room.
Once there, click the "Launch Meeting" button to start your session. To hear us and vice-versa - don't forget to "Join with computer audio."

If the Zoom Room isn't available and you need answers, you can email us at membership@acbl.org.

Join Zoom Chat