The Bridge Match of The Century 1931 Culbertson vs Lenz
Background to The Match
1931 Contract bidding had become so standardized that confusion arising from the use of a myriad of bidding systems no longer exists. This standardization had come about through a general and universal acceptance of the Approach-Forcing principles of bidding as the solid foundation upon which all contract bidding was built.
It was essential to the popularity of Contract that this standardization should take place. It was obvious that no expert or group of experts could accomplish such a result. However, the hundreds of thousands of Bridge players could and did.
The first symptoms of this attitude of the public mind became apparent soon after the first edition of the "Contract Bridge Blue Book," written by Ely Culbertson with the assistance of Josephine Culbertson. This was in the fall of 1930. Within three months, the "Contract Bridge Blue Book" had reached its fourteenth printing. The Bridge-playing public had found what it sought in the Culbertson Approach-Forcing System.
As the sales of the "Contract Bridge Blue Book" increased, so did also the number of contract players. When Culbertson 1930 offered a handy summary of his system in the form of a pocket-sized book entitled "Culbertson's own Summary, it took a place beside its big brother as a record-breaking bestseller. For more than a year the Culbertson books led the list of bestsellers-fiction and non-fiction. It illustrated to what an amazing extent the public had standardized contract bridge bidding.
There were, of course, a number of people who had been making a livelihood writing books on Bridge. It was natural that the universal demand for Culbertson's books should cause the sale of the other books to dwindle to the vanishing point.
Faced with the prospects of oblivion, a number of these writers met and decided to evolve a "new" system for the public. They elected to christen this offspring with the high-sounding title of the "Official" System.
Culbertson was generously invited to join this eleemosynary group, which was organized under the modest name of "Bridge Headquarters, Inc." As contract bidding had already been standardized by the public, Culbertson could not see that bridge or the public could benefit.
Culbertson feared that the so-called "Official" System might confuse the public and retard the progress of bridge. He could not see how a heterogeneous collection of discarded theories could be of any value to bridge players, regardless of the high-sounding Official title. To prevent unmeasured harm being done to bridge, Culbertson decided to eliminate any possible confusion by settling the question once and for all.
It was for this purpose that Culbertson 1931 challenged the Advisory Board of Bridge Headquarters Inc, to match between players of the "Official" System and members of The Bridge World Team-of-Four, which had won every national championship title by using the Approach-Forcing System of bidding.
As Sidney Lenz was by far the most noted player of the "Official" group, Culbertson addressed his challenge to him. He offered to wager $10,000 to $1000 for a duplicate match for teams-of-four, or $5000 to $1000 for a pair-match of 150 rubbers-total points scored by each side to determine the winner. Culbertson made the provision that all winnings would go to charity. Lenz finally accepted the latter proposition.
Under the final arrangements it was agreed that the match was to consist of 150 rubbers with Culbertson and Lenz playing the entire match. Josepine Culbertson was to play at least 75 rubbers as her husband's partner. The first half of the match was to be played at the Hotel Chatham and the second half at the Waldorf-Astoria, both located in New York City. More info about the match is available on the video.
In the biography about Culbertson, "The man who made Contract Bridge" by John Clay, there is a chapter with 25 pages about the match. It can be read online at the Internet Archive.
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