History can be unkind. A talented individual in any given field of human endeavor is often remembered for generations for one well-publicized failure rather than an entire lifetime of achievement. Such is the fate of bridge great Sidney Lenz (1873–1960).
An author and champion player of whist and all forms of bridge, Lenz was also expert in many other games and sports. Wealthy as a young man, Lenz devoted his life to competition, writing, reading and travel.
He was skilled at bowling, chess, tennis, golf and table tennis, often competing in each of these contests with the stars of his day. In 1909 he became engrossed in whist and the next year he won the American Whist League’s principal national team championship. Altogether he won more than 600 whist and bridge competitions.
Lenz had remarkable versatility in intellectual, coordinative and athletic competitions. Professional magicians considered him the best amateur ever elected Honorary Member of the American Society of Magicians. His special skill at dealing seconds impelled him to refuse to play card games for stakes.
Whist and bridge were his greatest loves, however, and he thought of himself primarily as a bridge player. Lenz wrote several books on auction and contract bridge. Lenz on Bridge (1926) is ranked as a classic.
Lenz joined the advisory council of Bridge Headquarters in 1931 and contributed to the bidding method called the Official System. When the legendary Ely Culbertson announced his plans later that year for a challenge contest to demonstrate the superiority of his system versus the Official System, Lenz represented this group in the world-famous Culbertson-Lenz match. Lenz acquired lasting fame from this match despite his loss.
The technical contributions of Sidney Lenz to contract bridge are hard to define. His effort to introduce a new call, the “challenge,” to replace the takeout double, was unsuccessful. His bidding system at contract bridge, the “1-2-3,” gave way to the artificial 2*C* bid with intermediate (strong) two-bids in other suits.
The Lenz echo, a distribution-showing high-low from a four-card holding, remains standard among experts. Lenz disclaimed credit for this, saying it was standard among whist experts and he merely taught auction players to use it. In 1965 he was elected to the Bridge Hall of Fame.