Archive for August 2012
Barry Crane, widely recognized as the top matchpoint player of all time, was a successful director/producer of film and television. He is one of a small group of world champion bridge players whose presence enhanced many tournaments while they maintained active and highly respected careers outside of bridge.
Crane became ACBL’s top masterpoint holder in 1968, a position previously held only by Oswald Jacoby and Charles Goren. Crane amassed points at an astounding rate until, at the time of his death, he had 35,138, more than 11,000 ahead of any other players. On July 5, 1985, Crane was the victim of a brutal, unsolved murder.
Frank Stewart reported in the 1985 August Bulletin:
“The shocking and tragic circumstances surrounding Crane’s death have left many ACBL members, as well as others in a state of disbelief and mourning. Crane’s body was found on the afternoon of Friday, July 5, in the underground garage of his Studio City CA home. He had been bludgeoned to death.
“According to Police Lt. Ron LaRue, there was no readily apparent motive for Crane’s killing. The body was found unclothed and wrapped in a sheet. Bloodstains made it appear that the body had been dragged from a third floor bedroom to the garage. The bedroom showed signs of a struggle, and an object d’art stained with blood, which could have been the murder weapon, lay on the floor. Crane’s wallet was missing, but the house showed no signs of being ransacked.
“The body was discovered shortly before 3 a.m. by Crane’s housekeeper. There was no sign of forcible entry.”
Crane’s bridge career spanned almost four decades, beginning in the late Forties when he won his first regional. In 1951 when he was 23, his team finished second in the Vanderbilt Knockout Teams and he became ACBL Life Master #325.
He subsequently won 16 NABC titles – the first in 1953 and the last in 1983. He won the Open Pairs seven times, the Master Mixed Teams three times, the Mixed Pairs three times and the North American Swiss Teams, the NABC Men’s Pairs and the NABC Men’s Swiss Teams once each.
Records indicate the Crane won more than 1000 tournament championships, some 700 of which were pairs titles at the regional or higher level.
Crane won the McKenney Trophy six times, and was runner-up six times. He exerted so much influence on the race that after his death it was renamed the “Barry Crane Top 500.”
World-wide recognition came to Crane when, at the 1978 World Championships, he and Kerri Shuman (now Sanborn) ran away with the World Mixed Pairs in a field loaded with international stars. This stunning victory, by more than five boards, further enhanced Crane’s claim to the title of world’s best matchpoint player.
Despite his bridge addiction, Crane had an abiding passion for his work. It never bothered him when he couldn’t go to a tournament, because his job was his prime interest. He usually could arrange his TV production schedule so he could attend most tournaments for a few days.
A habitual weekend commuter, he said he would travel anywhere within flying distance for a regional and anywhere within driving distance for a sectional.
Many of the personal and professional attributes that led to Crane’s success in television carried over to his remarkable mastery in the world of tournament bridge.
In his TV classic, Mission Impossible, Crane’s contributions were many and varied. He produced the show, directed it, wrote it and advanced many innovative ideas to both the script and the remarkable technology.
Crane was once asked why he didn’t write up his bidding style and publish it. He never bothered, he said, because the financial rewards from such a book wouldn’t have been worth his time. He could bat out a script for a show that would make more money in less time.
In many respects Crane was an A-1 ambassador and publicist for bridge all over North America . No one gave as many interviews to the media in as many different cities and towns.
One Crane obituary recalled the words of S. J. Simon, who said that there are two kinds of bridge players – the Parrots and the Naturals. “Barry Crane,” the story said, “was a Natural. We shall not see his like again.”
In the beginning*
It should be no surprise that the first bridge exhibition to be staged for a large audience should have as its producer Ely Culbertson. More than a bridge player, teacher and author, Culbertson was first and foremost a showman — bridge’s own P.T Barnum. Determined to make bridge a spectator sport, Culbertson challenged an English squad captained by Lieutenant-Colonel H. Beasley to a duplicate match for what he decided would be titled the World Championship. He planned to stage the London event on a spectacular scale.
Gordon Selfridge made his fabulous department store available for the match, providing the scale. Culbertson provided the spectacle:
I saw in my mind’s eye a gigantic electric board where every bid and play could be followed as clearly as though they were sitting the room around the players. I have tried many such boards and brought one from America to London. Just imagine! While we experts battled in sound proof rooms, several thousand people in an adjoining hall followed every bid and play. I can foresee the day when such a board will automatically be connected by wire with hundreds of similar boards so that every bid made will be heard around the world. (The Bridge World, August 1933)
Rex Mackay further describes the 1933 scene in his book, The Walk of the Oysters:
By an ingenious system of periscopes, and an even more ingenious arrangement of refracting mirrors, the actual contestants themselves could be seen playing at the table. There was at all times a commentator standing at the score-board — himself an expert — who gave a running explanation of the bids and plays as they were made and comment on each hand when it was finished.
The six-day match drew more than 27,000 kibitzers to Selfridges; so many more people were left outside that traffic had to be rerouted. Newspaper headlines cried “Street Crowds Cheer Scores” and “Scorers Mobbed by Excited Spectators.” The Daily Express called it “The Most Amazing Bridge Match Ever Played.”
In the years following the 1933 match, a similar, non-electronically operated display board with jumbo playing cards was employed to broadcast major matches to large audiences. Rather than periscopes and mirrors, however, what Terrence Reese calls “a fishbowl (a glass-fronted panel in which the players were visible to the audience)” was used. (Bridge at the Top).
Though he wasn’t alive to take credit for it, Culbertson’s innovation was the prototype for Bridge-O-Rama (or bridgerama in Britain), the chosen means of broadcasting bridge to live audiences at major bridge events through the mid-Sixties.
Devised in Italy and first used in the 1958 World Championship, Bridge-O-Rama played out on a huge electronic board placed center stage in a theater setting. The display board held frames in which the four hands were placed and the representations of the individual cards were lighted.
The board also included devices for indicating which card won a trick, tricks won by declarer or defender, the contract and other information.
The bidding was posted manually on smaller boards off to the side. A director in the open room used a microphone to communicate bids and card play. The lights on the display board were controlled by a bank of switches, and as cards were played, they were dimmed. The Bridge-O-Rama auditorium also featured fish bowls for the players so that the audience could watch them at work.
When he wasn’t playing, Reese was amongst the most sought-after commentators from the mid-50s through the mid-70s.
The invention of the overhead projector in the early Sixties ushered in the vugraph era, and the unwieldy Bridge-O-Rama eventually went the way of the dinosaurs.
For the 1991 World Junior Championships in Ann Arbor, Fred Gitelman (founder of Bridge Base Online) took it upon himself to develop a vugraph program written for DOS (the operating system PCs used before Windows). “To the best of my knowledge, that was the first time software had ever been used to present vugraph at a major tournament,” he says. “Before that, technologies like overhead projectors were used.” Impressed with the possibilities the software offered, the ACBL — funded by a bequest from the estate of Peter Pender — contracted with Gitelman to develop the program further, improving both the function and the graphics, and eventually, to rewrite the program as a Windows application.
“As far as I remember, Pendergraph was used at the ACBL NABCs through most of the Nineties and at the 1994 World Championships in Albuquerque,” Gitelman recalls.
Gitelman describes BBO and Pendergraph as two completely different applications. Pendergraph was designed only for onsite vugraph presentations. The only commonality the two programs have is the programmer. While Pendergraph has been retired in favor of BBO to broadcast NABC matches, the vugraph hall at all NABC sites is now called the Peter Pender Memorial Vugraph Theater in honor of the player whose grant helped advance vugraph technology.
The advent of the computer age led to a number of vugraph innovations. One such advance was Bridgevision. In addition to the computerized presentation of the bidding and hands and the live commentary, roving cameramen filmed the players and televised the images to an avid audience.
In issue no. 13 from the 2001 World Championship (Paris) Daily News, Jean-Paul Meyer wrote “Thanks to the VuGraph”:
You cannot hold a good championship without a VuGraph. The more efficiently it works, the better it is for players, spectators and journalists. . . . Perhaps it’s not for me to say, but the French Bridgevision gave a brilliant performance producing thousands of results and startling images. The cameramen often got laughs from the audience with well thought out and amusing shots.
Masters at the mike
Many well-known players have made their mark as vugraph analysts. Barry Rigal is considered one of the top commentators in the world. Larry Cohen and his pre-retirement playing partner David Berkowitz make a vugraph presentation a show worth paying to see; their collaboration has been likened to Abbott and Costello with vast bridge expertise. Eric Kokish, Kit Woolsey, Michael Rosenberg, Billy Eisenberg, Karen Allison, Chris Compton, Bart Bramley and George Jacobs have all added vugraph analyst to their list of bridge accomplishments. Before his death in 1997, Ron Andersen was widely admired as a panel show host, NABC moderator and chief vugraph commentator for WBF and European championships.
However, discussion of vugraph commentators would be incomplete without singling out “the grand daddy of them all,” Bridge World editor/publisher, multiple NABC champion, 1979 International Bridge Press Association Personality of the Year and ACBL Hall of Famer Edgar Kaplan.
“Beyond all of Kaplan’s other accomplishments, what made him the idol of the masses was his peerless work as a vugraph commentator,” reads the tribute to Kaplan that appeared in a 1997 World Bridge Championship Daily Bulletin (ed. Henry Francis). “His dry wit and flawless timing kept vugraph audiences enthralled around the world. He was droll without being aloof and projected a deep knowledge of the game without being pedantic.”
An Internet search of Kaplan turns up dozens of pages of his quips and quotes. Here are but a few from the 1980 Olympiad in the Netherlands:
“I don’t think anyone in this tournament can bid diamonds to show diamonds. We lost the club suit in the 1950s. Now diamonds are gone and hearts are sinking fast.”
“He may bid and he may not. I believe that covers all the possibilities.”
“When in doubt, put the opponents on lead. Why should you make the mistakes?”
“He’s preserving his options to misguess the diamonds.”
“East is wondering why he didn’t pass one spade. So am I.”
* As noted in Bridge Beat #95:Teaching Bridge, Kate Wheelock invented the forerunner to the vugraph – the Whist-o-Graph in 1886 for use in her classes.
Throughout history, card cheats have always been held in contempt. So it is with bridge.
The Laws of Contract Bridge are not designed to prevent cheating or to provide redress. The lawgivers have taken the view that it would be wrong to accord cheats a status by providing legal remedies against their activities. This also is the policy of the ACBL: Exclusion from membership is the penalty for premeditated cheating, but cases of momentary weakness often are dealt with by temporary suspension. “The penalty of cheating is exclusion from society,” wrote the great whist authority, Cavendish.
At rubber bridge, cheating is not a problem. Short of actually manipulating or marking the cards, it is too difficult for a lone player to cheat effectively. The fact that good bridge is so exact an art militates against cheating, for a player who makes bids or plays that are against the odds but prove consistently successful soon excites suspicion. Cheating in clubs is therefore rare.
Traditional forms of cardsharping are unrewarding in bridge because each deal is almost equally important. A sharper can hardly make a killing by waiting for a suitable opening as in such games as poker, and if he just happened to pick up good cards every time he dealt, his career would be short-lived.
The dealing of seconds, therefore, the classic technique of the cardsharping aristocracy, is not an effective means of winning. (An accomplished sharp, dealing from a marked pack, sees when a high card is about to go to an opponent, and deals that opponent the next card instead, keeping the high card for himself or his partner.) For the same reason, another time-honored device of sharps, ringing in a cold deck, will not yield a reward commensurate with the risk.
The fact that duplicate is a game for fixed partnerships as opposed to the cut-in style of rubber bridge makes dishonesty more practicable.
Cheating at duplicate is by no means easy to define. Although the Laws do not recognize cheats, the section on the proprieties defines two main types of improper conduct: breaches of ethics and breaches of etiquette. Breaches of ethics are commonly thought of as unfair practices that fall short of deliberate cheating, but it is possible for the difference to be one of degree only. For example, a pair who take note of inflections in bidding would be considered unethical, while a pair who set out to impart similar information by secret signals would be considered cheats.
The following are some examples of infringements peculiar to the tournament world. By their aggravated nature they can be classified as cheating. Methods used by cheats have involved cigarettes, cigars, pens, pencils, scorecards, finger positions, grip on cards and use of left or right hand. All these were eliminated by the use of bidding screens in high-level events. The screens restrict the cheater visually.
Players have been caught using stacked decks, sometimes by inserting decks that have been previously prepared. In other cases, players in Swiss teams have refrained from redealing boards with which they were familiar from a previous round. In still other cases, players have been observed shuffling the cards in such a way that the dealer or the dealer’s partner is dealt a specified card.
Many tournament procedures have been devised that are unobtrusive but effective safeguards against cheating. Thus, in the Laws of Duplicate, some of the examples cited as irregularities are anti-cheating safeguards. These are:
90 B.3. Any discussion of the bidding, play or result of a board, which may be overheard at another table.
90 B.4. Any comparison of scores with another contestant during a session.
90 B.5. Any touching or handling of cards belonging to another player.
The first teacher of games in the bridge family was also one of the most successful. The “ladies of good family” to whom Edmund Hoyle taught whist were charged at the rate of one guinea an hour, equivalent to at least $100 an hour in modern terms. Hoyle’s celebrated Short Treatise, published in 1743 and a bestseller for more than a century, was intended as a textbook for his students.
The first professional teacher of whist in America was Miss Kate Wheelock, who began teaching in Milwaukee in 1886. She achieved immediate success, touring the continent to lecture in all the principal cities. The Whist-o-Graph she invented for use in her classes was the forerunner of the vugraph used by ACBL in modern times. She was the first woman to be made an associate member of the American Whist League, and Cavendish called her, “The Whist Queen.”
Whist teaching was a highly suitable occupation for ladies of some status and education who needed to supplement their incomes, and many others followed Miss Wheelock’s example.
The first prominent male teacher was Charles Stuart Street of New York City, who began in 1890. The most successful teacher of bridge whist and auction bridge was Joseph B. Elwell. Among his most prominent successors was Josephine Culbertson.
In the Twenties, Milton Work and Wilbur Whitehead organized conventions for teachers, issuing certificates to those who had completed courses. A similar procedure was followed later by Ely Culbertson, and later still by Charles Goren, who was one of the highest-paid teachers of all time before he decided to concentrate on writing. The American Bridge Teachers Association (ABTA), founded in 1957, holds an annual convention immediately preceding the ACBL’s Summer North American Bridge Championships.
Many persons turned to bridge teaching as a temporary occupation during the Depression years, and at its peak, membership of the Culbertson National Studios totaled some 6000. The number of bridge teachers dwindled markedly when prosperity returned, but increased again in the postwar years, particularly after Goren’s point-count methods gained general currency.
In the Sixties and Seventies, the number of teachers continued to grow. Their ranks included many players of the highest quality. These teachers popularized the playing lesson for students with tournament ambitions. ABTA activities for bridge teachers flourished and certification by this organization was thought by many to be a prerequisite for professional bridge teachers.
In the late Eighties, ACBL contracted with Audrey Grant to write a series of beginning bridge textbooks and teacher manuals. Through a program known as the TAP, new bridge teachers were recruited and taught to teach bridge effectively using the ACBL materials. These teachers became known as Accredited Teachers and numbered more than 4500 by the mid-Nineties.
In Europe, as in the United States, major steps have been taken to put major teaching programs to work. According to José Damiani, former president of the World Bridge Federation, the French Bridge Federation is among the leaders in bridge education. Damiani wrote as follows in the European Bridge League Review: “To make a success of such a challenge, a definite consistency between the mini-bridge taught to students and a complete teaching system of training for instructors was needed. Rigorous methods were used to obtain the magnificent results achieved by the French Bridge Federation.”
In the Netherlands, a similar approach has produced excellent results. A high percentage of the population of the Netherlands play bridge as a result of the Dutch teaching program.
Some years ago, bridge leaders in Poland succeeded in setting up a school championship with more than 3000 finalists.
Many other countries have outstanding teaching programs, and bridge is thriving in those countries – New Zealand, Norway, Denmark, Italy, Iceland, Sweden and Australia, to name a few.
Homer Shoop (1912-1991) of North Webster IN played tennis at Wimbledon, bridge in Biarritz and gave thousands of dollars to fund youth scholarships in the sports he loved. Shoop began his banking career at the age of 12 and by age 20 was running his hometown bank in Lawrence MI. In his late twenties he parlayed real estate, stock and railroad investments into a sizeable fortune. At age 32, he retired to play tennis, but missed banking. He bought his first bank in 1946. This was the headquarters for the International Palace of Sports and the Sports Museum, which he founded. For almost two decades, the International Palace of Sports designated a $1000 King/Queen of Bridge scholarship in the name of an ACBL member who was a graduating high school senior. Shoop was Senior Player of the Year in 1989 and 1990. His intentions were to donate a trophy for this honor, but ACBL’s restrictions on new trophies did not allow that to happen. In addition to his bridge accomplishments, Shoop held various national and international tennis titles. In 1989 he was elected into the Dade County International Players Tennis Center Hall of Fame.
Oswald Jacoby (1902-1984) was one of the great players of all time. He first achieved international preeminence as the partner of Sidney Lenz in the famous Culbertson-Lenz Match of the early 1930s. Having already established himself as a champion at both auction and contract bridge, Jacoby next became a member of the famed Four Horsemen and Four Aces teams. His selection by Lenz over players of greater experience and with whom Lenz had practiced partnerships was early recognition of the brilliance and skill that were later to bring Jacoby to the top of the ACBL’s list of all-time masterpoint winners.
During a career that spanned seven decades, Jacoby won 27 North American Championships, including seven Spingolds, seven Vanderbilts, and two Reisingers. Between 1929 and 1937 he won 11 National Championships of ACBL forerunners – the USBA, the ABL, and the AWL. The first time he played matchpoints, Jacoby won his first pair tournament – the Eastern Championship Goldman Pairs.
With the outbreak of World War II, Jacoby placed his bridge career on hold for four years. He played infrequently in the late Forties, and returned to active duty during the Korean War. During this time, fellow great Charles Goren had amassed a huge lead as the all-time masterpoint holder. After two years in Korea, Jacoby returned to active play with the goal of overtaking Goren on the masterpoint list.
By 1962, he had done so. He won the McKenney Trophy (now the Barry Crane Top 500), a contest for amassing the most masterpoints in a year, four times in five years (1959 through 1963) at ages 57, 59, 60 and 61. In 1963 he became the first to acquire more than 1000 masterpoints in a single year (1034). He surpassed the 10,000-point mark in 1967, at which time he retired from active competition for the McKenney Trophy.
Dick Frey said, “Oswald Jacoby was a mercurial individual who had to be the best at everything and was the most intense person I have ever known. His mind was so lightning-fast that his tongue could never catch up, but his swift and accurate thinking gave him a tremendous advantage in all the games at which he was a great champion. Lots of folks thought he was cocky, and for sure he was. He wasn’t modest. He had nothing to be modest about, yet he was content to let the record speak for itself. And what a record it was! Outwardly he was tough, but he had a marvelous sense of humor and he was essentially warm and tender.”
In a 1978 Sports Illustrated article, Roger Dionne wrote: “Now at 75, Oswald Jacoby will bet you on backgammon, bridge and poker, or who can multiply 647,992 by 435,638 fastest in his head, and the odds are he’ll take your money. Bridge players respect him, admire him, even love him. Everyone has learned something from Jacoby, has kibitzed his masterful play, has read one of his dozen-odd books, has studied his syndicated columns, has used his numerous bidding innovations. Few have not been beaten by him at something – bridge, backgammon, gin rummy or pinochle – or even at tennis, or who would win the World Series. But there was no one, absolutely no one, who could keep up with the man, with his 100-mph speech, his dizzying leaps of logic, his enthusiasm, his ebullience.”
Jacoby’s last major title came just a few days before his 81st birthday. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when his team (Bill Root, Norman Kay, Edgar Kaplan, and Richard Pavlicek) pulled off a stunning victory in the Reisinger.
Jacoby pioneered many bidding ideas, including Jacoby 2NT (game-forcing raise of a major), Jacoby transfers and weak jump overcalls. He invented the use of 2♥ as a double negative response to 2♣ with 2NT a positive heart response and 2♦ as the usual waiting bid.
In 1984, Boyce Hollerman concluded Jacoby’s eulogy with, “Somewhere, right this minute, some little ladies are leaning over a card table and one of them has just said ‘Alert!’ and has answered, ‘that’s the Jacoby Transfer’. And Jake, looking down on the opposite cards, is shaking his head and saying, ‘She hasn’t got the hand for it.’”
Although no longer commercially produced, Autobridge is a device invented in the Thirties, and still with a following, used for self-teaching bidding and play. A starter Autobridge set included the game board and deal sheets for beginning to average players or intermediate to advanced players. Additional lesson sheets on assorted topics such as deceptive plays, trump management and matchpoint tournament play were available from Parker Brothers for $2.00 a set.
Autobridge works by inserting a deal sheet into the game board so that only the player’s own cards are shown. As the deal progresses, the player finds that his bids and plays are automatically corrected, and that the bids and plays of the other players are automatically revealed. The board and deal sheets are accompanied by a booklet, in which the hands are set out and the bidding and play explained by experts.
Experts who have composed Autobridge hands include Ely and Josephine Culbertson, Albert Morehead, Richard Frey, Charles Goren, Alfred Sheinwold, Alan Truscott and Barry Rigal.