Howard Schenken, the bridge player’s bridge player and one of the all-time greats, was an original member of the Bridge Hall of Fame and a major player for more than five decades.
In a poll taken among leading Life Masters in the early Forties, the question was asked: “If you were playing for money or your life, whom would you choose as your partner?”
The vote was overwhelming: Howard Schenken.
Perhaps the greatest recognition, however, came from members of the Italian Blue Team who said, “If your team had had another Schenken, we never could have won.”
Aside from his brilliant play, Schenken’s outstanding characteristic was his impassive calm at the table. As declarer, it was impossible to tell whether he was in a comfortable contract or an impossible one. The result was that he often performed the impossible.
He was a formidably difficult opponent but a remarkably easy partner. On the Four Aces, for example, he was the only one who could and did play with every other member of the team (David Bruce, Michael Gottlieb, Oswald Jacoby and Dick Frey).
Schenken’s tournament record was outstanding: he won the first “official” World Team Championship, defeating the French champions of Europe in 1935. He won the Bermuda Bowl in 1950, 1951 and 1953. In addition, he claimed 10 wins each in the Vanderbilt and the Spingold and five victories in the Life Master Pairs (played for the von Zedtwitz Gold Cup).
When the rank of Life Master was created in 1936, selection was based solely on success in national events. Schenken was named Life Master #3.
He standardized and popularized the weak two-bid and was the first American expert to realize the enormous advantage the Italian teams enjoyed with their strong opening bid of 1*C*. He incorporated it into his Schenken Club System.