Bridge–Ely Culbertson was its Donald Trump

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August 15, 2015

There are parallels in the Trump effect on the Republican establishment and the Culbertson effect on the bridge establishment back in the 20s. Culbertson was the Donald Trump of contract bridge.

As a political junkie and a sociable bridge junkie about to write my last book on bridge, I’m following the Trump phenomenon on TV, and boning up on the Culbertson phenomenon by reading Culbertson’s autobiography The Strange Lives of  One Man. It should be required reading for the ACBL Board and any fan of bridge with a concern for its future. 

The American Whist League was the bridge establishment organization back in the 1920s. Left to the AWL, oh how different would contract bridge be today? That new game would never have reached the fad popularity it did from the 20s to the 70s, old ladies like me would still be playing auction bridge–if we played any bridge at all.

As it is, we in our 80s and 90s are the lingering last remnants of 20th century social bridge, as the fad it once was and entirely due to Culbertson. Somewhat due also to Goren who emulated him in marketing bridge. After which the ACBL took over the marketing of bridge and marginalized the general public Culbertson and Goren had embraced.

The ACBL chose a charismatic teacher–Audrey Grant–but, it seems to me, never used her full potential to reach the general public by adopting the term American Standard Bridge instead of calling her system Grant . . . or even Audrey’s system.  She has broken free these days from ACBL officialdom, but that opportunity to replace the name Goren, with Grant, as the personification of playing bridge in the mass mind, was lost.

To this day, social players rarely use the term American Standard. You need a person, ACBL, to make bridge a household word as it once was!

Culbertson, as the amazing PR person he was, instinctively knew that. As you will read in his autobiography, Culbertson got into bridge teaching because he was dead broke. He knew he had to sell to a mass audience of potential social players and gamblers not the relatively small world of serious American Whist League players, if he were to survive financially.

The ACBL needs to market beyond that small world of serious bridge . . . that is, if you want to live up to your stated mission: “The mission of the ACBL is to promote, grow and sustain the game of bridge and serve the bridge-related interests of our Members.”

As opposed to the stated mission of the English Bridge Union: “. . .  a membership-funded organisation committed to promoting the game of duplicate bridge.”

What is the mission of the ACBL?










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