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Like all good players, Eisenhower has his idiosyncrasies, too. He maintains an imperturbable calm when looking over his cards and bidding. But when his time comes to make a key play he is not much different from the "not-through-the-iron-duke" players of the old school. An opponent describes Ike's mannerism: "The card rises vertically in the President's hand, then describes a 90-degree arc. It hits the table with a thump, upsetting ashtrays and opponents."
Most experts rank Ike just behind General Al Gruenther in skill, and this is high praise. Charles Goren calls Alfred Maximilian Gruenther "the best of the nonprofessionals," and the reader may remember that Gruenther, while a young instructor at West Point, was adjudged good enough to referee the Bridge Battle of the Century (SI, Dec. 20, 1954) and other big matches.
Ever since bridge first appeared, it has served as a popular off-duty pastime for world leaders. U.S. Secretary of State Christian Herter played not once but several evenings at a recent Geneva conference. Herter and his partner, Livingston T. Merchant, now undersecretary of state for political affairs, bid and made a small slam in diamonds, playing against British Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd and French Foreign Minister Maurice Couve de Murville. After five evenings of bridge Lloyd paid his losses to Herter: one Swiss franc and 50 centimes, or about 35 cents.
Maxim Litvinoff found himself playing bridge on June 22, 1941, and had just bid a small slam in clubs, doubled, when there was a shouting in the streets. Litvinoff opened the window and learned that the Nazis had invaded Russia. He abandoned the hand and went straight to his office. In later years, when Litvinoff told the story to Ely Culbertson, the American champion told him: "If you could resist the temptation to play a small slam, doubled, then you're not a bridge player."
The lure of bridge crosses all lines of endeavor. The Polish diplomat and pianist, Ignace Paderewski, had a fierce case of bridge fever. Once an interviewer interrupted a Paderewski bridge game to ask the great man if he had any message for his American friends.
"Yes," said Paderewski. "Tell them that I made a small slam, doubled. That will please them."
The late Chief Justice Fred Vinson of the U.S. Supreme Court was a bridge nut, and once made a vulnerable grand slam with Goren as his partner. "The key suit was hearts," Goren remembers, "and I decided I would test his memory. He had the queen, the 8, 5 and 6. I asked him an hour after the game what his heart holding had been, and he said, 'Queen, 8, 6, 5. It is indelibly inscribed in my memory,' he said."
Another time, Goren found himself in a hot game with members of the Brooklyn Dodgers. "We played on top of a trunk in the players' dressing room—the baseball man's accustomed card table," Goren wrote later. "In the course of three rubbers manager Walt Alston kept shuffling his lineup. I played with and against Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Gino Cimoli, Ed Roebuck, the manager himself and coach Billy Herman. Duke Snider, Charlie Neal, Don Zimmer, Jake Pitler and perhaps half a dozen other knowledgeable kibitzers left no doubt that bridge is this team's favorite card game."
Nor were the Dodgers any slouches, Goren learned to his dismay. On one hand he laid out a brilliant plan of strategy, only to have Billy Herman break it up with what Goren described as "a beautiful fallaway."
Goren has played with more celebrities than any other bridge champion, partially because he is the king and partially because he takes a childlike and refreshing pleasure in hobnobbing with names. Here is his run-down on some of his partners.