22. Bridge: The Bridge Battle of the Century

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In blog #21, I quoted British blogger Mark Pharaoh saying:  ” What bridge needs to make it cool are “events that engage the human need to belong.” I would add to that–we need a populist tournament that engages the interest of ordinary bridge players and gives them that feeling of belonging to a larger bridge-playing world. Like weekend golfers watching Tiger Woods.

Back in 1930, the Bridge Battle of the Century did that for bridge–and far more.

So what can be learned from the Bridge Battle of the Century and adapted to  create a “populist” bridge tournament for 2012? A tournament that would appeal to ordinary and competitive players alike, and intrigue non-players to take it up? Here’s some facts about the Battle of the Century taken from a Bridge Guys website article. (see below for URL)

  • Back then Ely Culbertson goaded the bridge establishment, and finally offered a 5 to 1 bet with the Sidney Lenz faction that–in a long series of pair-against-pair matches–his Culbertson System would prevail over the Lenz team using the Official System  created and blessed by the bridge establishment.
  • They agreed, after long negotiations, to play 150 matches of rubber bridge–four matches a week over six weeks in December 1930 and January 1931.
  • Of the 381 games played, Culbertson partnered with his wife Jo in 88 and with Theodore Lightner and Waldemar Von Zedtwitz for the remaining 62. Lenz partnered with Oswald Jacoby for 103 games and with Winfield Liggett for the remainder when Jacoby resigned over some disagreement.
  • There was masterful PR and publicity provided by Culbertson all along the way. The negotiations were lengthy and played out in public. The contest was promoted by Ely as a match between “a young loving married couple” against “12 jealous authorities” representing the bridge establishment–a grudge fight.
  • “Coverage by the press of the nation was stupendous.” Reporters were assigned, newspaper personalities wrote articles, the technical set-up to give play-by-play coverage was provided by Western Union and Postal Telegraph.
  • “A continuous line of the rich and famous” moved in and out of the hotel drawing rooms where the games were played to provide continuous publicity throughout the long contest

When it was over, says the article, the single most significant feature of the entire historic bridge event, “Was the enormous impetus it gave bridge when the game’s popularity was already great.” http://www.bridgeguys.com/CGlossary/CulbertsonLenzMatch.html


Discussion to be continued in #23-1.












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