07. Sociable Bridge: Vanderbilt’s Invention–Contract Bridge

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Harold Vanderbilt is credited with inventing contract bridge in 1925. He never did claim he “invented” a new game–all he did was combine  elements of auction, the French game Plafond, and added new scoring rules. The effect, however, was revolutionary, as if he’d invented an entirely new game.

Here’s the euphoric reaction from Elmer Davis, a writer of that day: “Contract Bridge is to Auction as Clos du Vougeot to Home-Made Wine.” Contract a fine wine–classy, a game for elites and experts; auction had become plebeian, taken up by too many middle class women–home-made wine.

Because, in part, of its illustrious inventor and his world-class bridge and social connections, the new game took off quickly. By 1927, laws of contract bridge were established in both America and England. In 1928 Harper’s Magazine ran an article, “The Buncombe of the Bridge Table” in which Philip Curtiss complains bitterly about the pressure in his upscale social circle to take up contract bridge.

So how could it be that in 1928 Priscilla Publishers would come out with a new book, How to Entertain at Home, “An Auction Bridge Lunch” complete with instructions on how to play auction bridge? The answer is that contract bridge had not yet penetrated the mass of middle class bridge players, for whom the book was intended.

A “bloodless revolution over the card table” is the phrase used by bridge writer George Copeland in 1930, to describe what was happening to bridge. In his New York Times article, “Partisans of auction and contract are now having it out over the bridge table,” he describes hostesses increasingly faced with a dilemma. Shall we play auction tonight, or contract bridge? Copeland  predicts victory for the newcomer–all the skilled players have already moved on to contract bridge, the rest are learning the new game “as fast as they can.”

The bridge teacher leading the revolution was Ely Culbertson.

11 Responses to 07. Sociable Bridge: Vanderbilt’s Invention–Contract Bridge

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  6. I just realized this comment was made recently on one of my past series of blogs (Bridge Table Chronicles), and want to belatedly thank you! One of these days I’d like to turn that series into an E-Book for convenient reading. I DO THINK the whole history of social/sociable bridge is interesting which is how come I got hooked on it and wrote my book.
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