For 30 years (beginning 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.
Wow! As I was sitting here doping out a lead-in paragraph, I happened to look up at the calendar — December 7, 1966! Just 25 years ago this very day, I made that fateful announcement at the Nationals in Richmond VA that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Naturally, this stirred up memories, one of which was that Lt. H.J. Vandersluis of the ARmy (now a retired general) and Ozzie Jacoby, a reserve office in the Navy, had to leave the tournament immediately because the president had recalled all active and reserve officers in all services. Jacoby at that time was second in the Open Pairs (semi-final session) with B. Jay Becker, but the latter had to drop out of the event because of the rule barring substitutes in a championship finals. I just looked up some statistics and discovered that we had 130 pairs entered in that 1941 event. We have more people on the scoring and caddy staff at a Nationals nowadays.
I wonder how many of you readers were at Richmond that eventful day, I’m going to form a club and hope you’ll join if you were there. The name of the society will be SCAPHA, 1941, which means Sobel’s Contemporaries at Pearl Harbor Announcement, 1941. If you can prove you were there, you will qualify for a North-South seat for the rest of your bridge days — at your age, you’ll need it!
Another year has gone by — rather a quiet year but the seeds were spread for many big changes in the ACBL. Many of these ideas sprang from the imaginative mind of our president, Eilif Andersen, of Los Angeles. Incidentally, having a president from that thriving metropolis now completes the cycle of the five largest cities in the country. We have had presidents from NYC, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit. Let’s review the year and see what happened.
1966. The first Nationals in Louisville KY, and I’m sure that everyone who was there will not regret the choice. We have heard how well they treat horses there in Derby time but our four-legged friends would be green with envy of the hospitality that was tendered the bridge players. It really was a run for the Four Roses — every brunch time , cocktail hour, and in the post mortem tome of a bridge player’s day.
1966. The first time in at least eight years that the Board of Directors met without Max Manchester, of Portland OR, Jim Ferguson, of Pittsburgh and Harry Fishbein, of NY, there to proffer their wise suggestions. Not only were they missed at the regular meetings but also at the extra curricular meetings where, as in the Senate cloakroom, so many of the laws a promulgated and passed.
1966. The first time a chairman was elected to handle the gavel at the Board of Governors meeting. Lew Mathe, of Los Angeles, was named the first prominent chairman of this group.
1966. The first time that qualifying rounds were played in the International Team Trials. Sixteen pairs started and after a fifteen-session round robin six pairs were eliminated and the remaining 10 played another round robin. We will not know whether this method was a success until early next June — when we meet the Italian steamroller, again.
1966, The first six-session Board-A-Match Team of Four Championship. Again, only time will tell whether a step was taken in the right direction to build up a game that is at such variance with the IMP type of scoring that we must use now when we play in International competition. IMP games throughout the United States have made terrific strides in 1966. They have started at the club level and are being played at local, sectional and regional tournaments with quite some regularity. Elsewhere in this issue you will read of the new regulation allowing IMP games while other championship games are being played. This should be a big help in developing a new generation of IMP players.
1966. The first time that a major transportation strike occurred before, during and after a National Tournament. It really raised havoc at Denver but, nevertheless, the majority of our traveling players showed up. They came by way of Canada, Mexico and Texas. We only had four cancellations and not a single “no show” in the Life Masters’ Pairs. However, the players and officials spent almost as much time in the airline offices as at the bridge tables. And received a blue standby card instead of red points.
1966. I must close the 1966 review on a somber note. The ACBL tournament direction staff suffered a heavy loss during the year. No longer with us are John Pike, Sr. Chief Director of the Mexican Bridge League, Spencer Kapp, Los Angeles, Associate National Director; Joseph M. Matthews, Fort Worth, Associate National Director; Margaret Armstrong, Detroit, Regional Director; Sally Lipton, NY, Regional Director; David Eyre, Chicago, Regional Director.
Well, that’s a brief but, I hope, comprehensive review of 1966. We now come to that interesting feature, at least to me, when I pass out the Sobell Awards for meritorious achievement durng the past year. I have been disagreed with many times in the past as to the proper recipients of these awards but I always give the same answer. These awards are mine and if you don’t agree with me, go out and but your own awards. Alons
Player of the Year. For the first time in the history of the Sobell Awards, this particular one goes to a player form across the seas. He came over from England early this year and after following the tournament trail assiduously, accomplished the almost impossible feat of becoming a Life Master in 11 weeks. You can imagine how difficult this task is when you consider the fact that an intelligent tournament director and brilliant columnist couldn’t accomplish it in 33 years. I won’t mention this person’s name because I don’t want to disparage anyone connected with the ACBL that long. Besides why should I let my — I mean, his — readers know that he isn’t a LM. A well-deserved Sobell Award to Jeremy Flint, of England and lately of Mercer Island WA.
Best Columnist of the Year. This year the Sobell Award for the best columnist is awarded posthumously to the greatest writer of this year, last year, the year before and the past 30 years: Albert Morehead.
Best Gag of the Year. Again, we travel across the seas for a Sobell Award. This one goes to Benito Garozzo, of the famed Italian Blue Team. He was playing in the Blue Ribbon Pairs with Omar Sharif, the noted movie star, who has been nominated for an Oscar but never a Sobell award. Having originally passed an eight-card suit, Garozzo bid 3♥, and the lady in the last position doubled. Two more passed and Dr. Zhivago prescribed a rescue which was promptly doubled. Benito went back to 4♥, doubled, and down one. In the post mortem, the lady apologized, “If I had known you were Garozzo, I never would have doubled.” Garozzo looked sadly across the table and said, “Evidently my partner also forgot!” A Sobell Award to our charming Italian friend — considered by many to be the best player in the world.
Best Tournament of the Year. This award goes to the deep South. I attend many tournaments each year and it is difficult to decide which one entertains best. But at this particular tournament, it was not how much they did as to how they did it. From the moment you stepped into the lobby of the Marriott Motor Hotel, you knew you had “come home.” All the big shots of the League were there, but it made no difference to the Hospitality Committee whether you were one of them or a neophyte East-West player looking for a partner; the welcome carpet was spread out for you. They even did the same for the damned Yankee Chief Tournament Director and his entire staff. I am happy to present this Sobell Award to the Mid-Atlantic Regional held at Atlanta GA.
The Best Swindle of the Year. This was almost perpetrated on your writer at the Nationals at Pittsburgh by a viper held to my bosom for lo, these many years — Jerry Machlin, by name. It started the morning of the “big game” between Notre Dame and Michigan State. This ex-nephew of mine came up to me and said, “Uncle Al, I’ll bet you that either Notre Dame loses its first game of the year or Michigan State loses its second game of the year.” I should have smelt a rat but there’s a little bit of larceny in the best of us, and I thought that maybe he thought that Michigan State had lost a game already. We made a small wager and he giggled and said, “Pay me. Michigan State lost in the Rose Bowl New Year’s Day which is this year so one of my statements must come true!” Two Sobell Awards to Notre Dame and Michigan State for playing that unforgettable tie and winning the bet for me and preventing the year’s greatest swindle from being perpetrated on an innocent uncle who never tries to take advantage of a victim.
The Hand of the Year. This occurred in the finals of the International Trials. I don’t dare give you the five results for fear that you might wish we had some other method of choosing our International Team. Here is the wildest board seen in years:
|Dlr: East||♠ Q J 8 7 5|
|Vul: All||♥ A 8 6|
|♦ A Q J 3|
|♠ 10 9 6 2||♠ A K 4 3|
|♥ —||♥ K Q J 9 5 4 3|
|♦ 6||♦ —|
|♣ A Q J 10 9 5 4 2||♣ K 8|
|♥ 10 7 2|
|♦ K 10 9 8 7 5 4 2|
|♣ 7 6|
One pair reched the 7♣ contract — unbeatable when played from the East side of the board. But he went down one also. Although doubled at 7♣ by South (which, for some strange reason means “I have no double”), declarer evidently thought it was a psychic “no double” and passed the ♥K through him, allowing North to win with the ace. Some night before starting to play , put these cards in a board, and as each new group of four comes into the club, have them bid and play this Sobell Award hand. I’ll bet you get no two results alike.
Well, that does it for 1966. It was a great year for me except for a slight hip injury. I hope you had a good year, and wish you all a better one in 1967. I’ll be welcoming it on the S.S> Independence sailing Dec. 20 for Europe and North Africa. Since I won’t be writing a column next month, you’ll be hearing from me in Sixty Days.