When he first rose to bridge prominence, John Crawford was known as a boy wonder. His tournament record – three world titles and 37 North American championships – proved he was no flash in the pan.
When he died of a heart attack on Valentine’s Day in 1976, the 60-year-old Crawford was eulogized as one of the brightest stars of bridge.
Handsome and debonair, the irrepressible Crawford first attracted attention in 1934 when he and a teenage partner nearly broke up a tournament with their daring psychic bidding and imaginative play.
Three years later he was consorting with the likes of Charles Goren, B. Jay Becker and Sidney Silodor.
Crawford was known for his table presence, epitomized by the following story of his exploits in a high-stakes rubber bridge game. Late in the evening, Crawford reached a grand slam in clubs holding seven clubs to the A-K-Q-10 opposite a singleton. If he made the contract, that deal would be the last of the night, so when Crawford noticed that the kibitzers had not stirred, he drew the inference that the slam was not a lay down. Backing his judgment, Crawford played the singleton trump from dummy and finessed the 10, the only play to make the slam since his right-hand opponent held four clubs to the jack.
Crawford became Life Master #19 in 1939, the youngest of the select group of early Life Masters. In 1950, 1951 and 1953, he was on the winning team in the Bermuda Bowl. He and his teammates so dominated bridge in the 1950s that they won the Vanderbilt Knockout Teams five times in six years, a feat that has never been approached.
Crawford won the Chicago Trophy (since 1965 the Reisinger) ten times. The first of those wins, in 1937, came when he was only 22. At the time, he was the youngest player ever to win a North American championship.
He won the title the following year, then flew to Pittsburgh from a Florida honeymoon to defend it successfully again in 1939. Crawford’s last victory in the prestigious event came in 1961.
In 1957, Crawford held all five national team titles at once: the Vanderbilt, the Spingold, the Chicago (now Reisinger), the Men’s and the Mixed.
Never at a loss for words, Crawford brimmed with confidence and hubris. He was once approached at a tournament by a player who wanted his opinion on a hand.
“Before you give me the hand, who’s my partner supposed to be?” Crawford asked.
“It’s unimportant,” answered the player.
“I have to know,” said Crawford. “It might make a difference.”
“Okay then – another good player. Make it yourself or your twin brother.”
“Who are my opponents?”
“If you insist on that, too, make it two more Johnny Crawfords.”
Said Crawford: “I’m sorry, I wouldn’t play in that game, it’s too tough.”
An expert in many card games and forms of gambling, Crawford lectured extensively during his wartime Army service in an attempt to help service men avoid being cheated.
Crawford helped found the New York Card School in 1950. He moved to New York City from Philadelphia in 1959.
His writings include Crawford’s Contract Bridge, How to be a Consistent Winner in the Most Popular Card Games and books on canasta and samba.