22. Sociable Bridge: Charlie Goren & Helen Sobel

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In my book about the pop culture of bridge, I do include what was happening in the serious bridge world occasionally. The emergence of Goren as America’s future bridge teacher to the masses (replacing Culbertson) qualifies–and he, like Ely and Jo Culbertson, frequently partnered with a woman, Helen Sobel.

Charles Goren had been making a name for himself amongst the world of tournament players as far back as 1937. Then he began writing books for the general public offering a new way (different from Culbertson) of evaluating one’s bridge hand and bidding.

Never as flamboyant as Culbertson, Goren understood (and emulated) that part of Ely’s success was because he targeted women players, the ladies-only-bridge-club crowd, in promoting himself.

He chose well-known literary figures to write introductions for his bridge books during the 40s–playwright George Kaufmann for Better Bridge for Better Players in 1942. He chose the hugely popular (with women) best-seller novelist Somerset Maugham to write the introduction for Standard Book of Bidding in 1944. Maugham also wrote the perfect bridge article about that book for Better Homes & Gardens to appeal to its women readers saying at one point,”If I had my way, I would have children taught bridge as a matter of course, just as they are taught dancing.”

And Goren was noted for his attitude toward women players. Bridge writers Alan and Dorothy Truscott commented about Charlie,  “Unlike most of his contemporaries, Goren played happily and successfully with women partners.” In the 40s Helen Sobel, a frequent bridge partner of Goren’s, rose  in status to replace Jo Culbertson as THE woman tournament bridge player.

Dubbed “cool Helen” by the media, she was an ex-chorus girl, a tiny and chic blonde who looked, it was said, like British stage and screen star Gertrude Lawrence.

Does such a partnership exist in today’s competitive bridge world?




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