Bridge: Barclay’s Top Ten for 1932-33

August 12, 2008 at 1:08 am Leave a comment

Some time ago I wrote a book Fair Play or Foul which looked at various cheating controversies in bridge. I provided additional information on a website I had at the time, but as happens, the website has ceased to be. Not long ago a player in the US wrote to ask for the following article and so I figured it should go here. I will post more historical bridge material here when I can.

First up is a 1930s article, which became infamous for failing to give Culbertson the acknowledgment he considered was his due. Culbertson was prepared to do pretty well anything to be seen as the top player in the US. Bridge was big bucks in the 1930s. It was a rage which consumed the Western world and Culbertson wanted every last dime there was to be extracted from the addiction. Not surprisingly, this article invoked Culbertson’s wrath.

Barclay’s Top Ten

The First Ten in Contract Bridge for 1932-33 by Shepard Barclay [The Saturday Evening Post Saturday 25 March 1933 p. 32 and p. 76]


Honourable Mention: Walter J Pray, Joseph E Cain, Harold S Vanderbilt, S
Garton Churchill, B Jay Becker, Charles F Lochridge, H Huber Boscowitz,
Samuel Fry Jr., Richard L Frey, Louis J Haddad, Henry P Jaeger, Edward C
Wolfe, Mrs Olga J Hilliard, Mrs Philip Hal Sims, Mrs Olive Peterson, Mrs
Jay S Jones, Mrs Marie Black, Mrs Norman N Newman.

Present Holders of National Championships

American Whist League

Teams-of-Four: Philip Hal Sims, of Deal, New Jersey; Willard S Karn, David Burnstine and Howard Schenken, of NY.

Pairs: Walter J Pray and Joseph E Cain, of Indianapolis

American Bridge League
Teams-of-Four: George Reith, of NY; B Jay Becker, of Philadelphia; Waldemar von Zedtwitz, of NY; and S Garton Churchill, of Brooklyn.

Pairs: Philip Hal Sims, of Deal, New Jersey, and Willard S Karn, of NY.

Teams-of-four Challenge Championship: Michael T Gottlieb, Theodore A Lightner, Oswald Jacoby and Louis H Watson, of NY.

Masters Individual: Howard Schenken of NY.

Masters Pairs: Michael T Gottlieb and Theodore A Lightner, NY.

Mixed Teams-of-Four (Men and Women): Mrs Olga J Hillard, Samuel Fry Jr., Mrs Marie Black and H Huber Boscowitz, of NY.

Mixed Pairs (Men and Women): Mrs Norman N Newman, of Montclair, NJ, and Charles F Lochridge, of NY.

Women’s Pairs: Mrs Jay S Jones and Mrs Olive Peterson, of Philadelphia.

Vanderbilt Cup
Teams-of-Four: Philip Hal Sims, of Deal, New Jersey, Willard S Karn, Harold S Vanderbilt and Waldemar von Zedwitz, of NY.

This year, nobody can argue about who stands at the top in contract bridge. Last season there was some disagreement. The actual record in national championship play showed one man with a definite advantage over all rivals, whereas another one was rated above him in the opinions of leading players. Now both opinions and the year’s results coincide. Philip Hal Sims of Deal, on the New Jersey coast, is the contract champion for 1932-33, no matter what method is used to rank the players.

During the season there were eleven national contract championship events, two of them conducted by the elder organisation, the American Whist League; eight by the younger American Bridge League, and one a strictly independent contest, that for the Vanderbilt Cup. Mr Sims and his favorite partner, Willard S Karn, of NY, shared in the winning of three out of eleven. Since no other player garnered more than two of the ranking events the Sims-Karn combination held a clear edge over all rivals. The only way of settling the question of superiority between them is to consult the returns from the one contest in which they were opposed to each other, the national individual masters championship, just as was the case with them last year. Then Mr Karn landed top ranking because he won the event. This time Mr Sims outfinished him, taking eighth place, while his teammate was eleventh.

Had neither player played in that contest, the testimony of non-national tournaments would have been required to unbalance their budget. On that basis, Mr Sims would win in a walk for he tore triumphantly through a great series of games, winning the metropolitan individual championship in decisive style and a flock of auction competitions. If his record in little social tournaments and his overwhelming success in rubber play could be counted, it would show this tremendous figure of a man bestriding the entire contract field like a Colossus.

There can be no doubt that the Sims-Karn pair is the most formidable in the brief history of contract bridge to date, considering not only their individual skill as bridge geniuses but the amazingly efficient methods by which they cooperate to wreak the discomfiture and downfall of their opponents. One fact even more striking than their unparalleled series of victories is the almost unbelievable achievement of never finishing with a minus score on any entire set of hands in any competition. Not once have their opponents hroughout a competition scored more points against them than they themselves have amassed. The net total margin standing to their credit in championship play would be almost impossible to calculate for the two seasons they have been together, but if they had played for a spool of thread for each 1000 points they would have enough to weave a good size carpet.

A Driving Finish

Probably their most spectacular single accomplishment came in the finals of the last Vanderbilt Cup event. Their team of four was 225 points behind as the closing session of fifteen hands began. When the ultimate card had been played at both tables, there was an excited effort by the contestants at each to find what those at the other had done. Messrs. Harold S Vanderbilt and Waldemar von Zedtwitz, their teammates, had made a score of 5810 points plus on the N/S cards in their room. When Messrs Sims and Karn said they had tallied a plus score of 260 on the E/W cards of the same deals at the other table, Baron von Zedtwitz had to exclaim: Why, that’s impossible on those hands. But it had actually been done, and the team defeated formidable rivals by a margin of 5845 points, gaining 6070 points on the last fifteen hands, an average of more than 400 points to a deal.

Ranking the players for the other places among the first ten is by no means such a simple thing as picking the top two. Some definite way of considering the relative importance of the different events must be employed to avoid dependence upon mere personal opinions. Even then, plenty of fault will be found with such a list, because it does not take into account all events played during the year, including sectional, state and city tournaments. With all that criticism, a fair-minded man must agree in advance, and, in fact, must go still further and declare that there are undoubtedly plenty of players who do not enter the championships at all, but who would acquit themselves with high credit if they did. This point gets proved every once in a while when some newcomer enters the lists and proceeds to prove right off the reel that he is nobody’s easy prey.

Western and Southern players also have plenty of grounds to kick about any ranking based on results in the so-called national tournaments. Most of the events are held in the East, which gives bridge addicts in that end of the country an overwhelmingly unfair advantage in the greater opportunities they possess to play frequently and roll up a record of conquests. Perhaps some day the national championships will all be on a basis of qualifying play in different parts of the country, the winners to meet for final decision at some chosen place, as was the case with the so-called Winter Championship held in January, which took the winners from eleven cities into combat at Coral Gables, Florida for the Miami-Biltmore Trophy presented by Henry L Doherty, president of the Florida Year-Round Clubs. An extension of that idea may produce incontestable champions and, better still, render such rankings as this one superfluous. But until that time arrives, bridge players in general will wish to have some line on who is who relatively among the stars, and will want to get it from one who can be unbiased while considering the best evidence bearing on the subject.

Hows and Whys of Ranking

If a rating of the bridge players were based on caliber of competition alone, other events besides those labeled as national would have to be surveyed. It could be argued quite successfully that the Eastern championships conducted by a committee headed by George Reith are just as hard to win as any nationals. But if the Easterns were counted, so must be the Westerns. So, then, must be various other sectional tournaments. It would be impossible to decide where to draw the line without unfairness to somebody. Hence, with no plea of perfection in method, the ranking of the first ten for 1932-33 is based entirely on the list of winners in the eleven contract contests with claims to national nomenclature….

It will be noticed that, next to Messrs. Sims and Karn, who participated in the winning of three of these eleven events, there are four players who can boast two victories apiece. They are Howard Schenken, Michael T Gottlieb, Theodore A Lightner and Waldemar von Zedwitz. Why, then, are these four not rated
on a par? For the simple reason that bridge players want to know if any of them had some slight advantage over the others in the season s record. Mr Schenken is listed in third place just below the two leaders, because one of his two national victories was in what must be considered the most important single event of all, in its effect on a player’s rank, the individual masters championship, in which twenty-five picked experts, all present or past holders of open national titles, took part. Messrs. Gottlieb and Lightner are named above Baron von Zedtwitz because one of their two wins was in the next most important single event, from the standpoint of influence on the standing, the masters pair championship, for the gold trophy which von Zedtwitz himself donated. The tie between these two is broken in favor of Mr Gottlieb because he finished better than his teammate in the individual – fourth as against Mr Lightner’s seventh. If a general bridge ranking were made, counting auction as much as contract, von Zedtwitz would be away up in it, because he made a magnificent record in the auction events, but this rating is for contract bridge alone.

Quite a number of players participated in single triumphs in national tournaments. Of these, David Burnstine is rated best – in seventh place – because his one victory was abetted by a clear-cut second place in the individual masters. George Reith is put next because his win was supplemented by getting a team into the final play-off of the national challenge championship. Both his entry which won and that which was an unsuccessful finalist were hastily got together at the last moment – a habit for which he has become notorious in recent years. Messrs. Oswald Jacoby and Louis H Watson are put in the list of the top ten in preference to others with single national successes because they were close up at the finish of a larger number of other events.

In the entire first ten there are only two new names – that of Mr Gottlieb, who played only a little in tournaments the year before, and then with none too great success, and that of Mr Watson, who never before had won a national event. Mr Gottlieb had previously been ranked among the very great players because he was on the team which won the Vanderbilt Cup three years ago, but Mr Watson has just come into the circle of players of highest rank. He is one of the younger crop of stars, and plenty more will be heard from him if he keeps on as he threatens to.

Walter J Pray and Joseph E Cain, of Indianapolis, emphatically earned their places at the top of the honourable-mention list by their unexpected and spectacular triumph in the pair championship of the American Whist League. Theirs was the first national win by Indianapolis players since Mrs Kay Coffin and Mrs Grace Buschman of that city participated in an auction-team victory in 1928. They later went East to Deal to play in the individual championship and furnished several of the thrills of the event by having the best scores for particular sessions. Mr Pray landed in a tie for fifth place in it with Baron von Zedtwitz.

Ten of the players whose names are found among winners of the various national events are newcomers to that list. Besides Messrs. Watson, Pray and Cain, these are Harold S Vanderbilt, B Jay Becker, S Garton Churchill, H Huber Boscowitz, Samuel Fry, Jr., Mrs Olga J Hilliard and Mrs Marie Black. Undoubtedly, the most notable addition to the list of masters – players who have won national events – is Mr Vanderbilt. For years he had been a tremendous factor in the game, with his introduction of contract to his set in Newport, which gave it its big start here; his getting up of the original scoring table; his bidding system, his book and the donation of his cup, but his friends had begun to despair of his ever winning a national title. They feared that his competitive career might be like that of the late Sir Thomas Lipton, who might have won the America’s Cup if Mr Vanderbilt had not steered the great yacht Enterprise so skilfully in the last series of races. Each year Mr Vanderbilt played for his own trophy – not in any other national events – but did not come close to winning. His triumph this season, with Baron von Zedtwitz as his partner and the great Sims-Karn pair as teammates, must be accorded as the most popular victory of the entire program. He and Baron von Zedtwitz used the time-tested Vanderbilt system of bidding, while their mates employed the now famous Sims system.

Several of those listed for honourable mention did not win any of the national events of the season. They performed other feats, however, which entitle them to plenty of credit. Richard L Frey, of NY, finished third in the individual masters, after being second last year – truly a great record. Louis J Haddad, of Chicago, landed tenth place in that difficult competition. Henry P Jaeger, of Cleveland, had the best score of all in the concluding session of the event. Edward C Wolfe, another Clevelander, was a member of the top- score pair in two of the team-of-four events in the American Bridge League national tournament and failed to win only because the other pairs of his two teams were not in form. Mrs Dorothy Rice Sims, wife of Philip Hal Sims, made the best record of the three women players among the twenty-five contestants in the individual masters event.

It is impossible this season to name either of those two famous rivals, Sidney S Lenz and Ely Culbertson. Mr Lenz teamed with his old partner Commander Winfield Liggett, Jr., to play in the pair event of the Eastern Championship tournament at the start of the period which this ranking covers. They won it in emphatic fashion, and there is no telling what this pair would have done had they entered together in a lot of the other contests, but they did not. Mr Culbertson did not get back into play again, after the marathon match, which the public somehow took so seriously, until near the fag end of the season. He then took the place of Mr Watson on the team which had won the American Bridge League’s national challenge championship, playing with Oswald Jacoby as partner and with Michael T Gottlieb and Theodore A Lightner as mates, and participated in both the Vanderbilt Cup and the league’s national team-of-four championship.


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Bridge: what line do you take? Now the ANC is over – part one

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