At a small team event in his home town of Dallas, one of the most famous figures in bridge, Oswald Jacoby, recently achieved a goal that no one has before—he won his 10,000th master point. This is a formidable total, one never even envisioned when the master-point system was first started 31 years ago, and it is fitting that the resident genius of the bridge world, my friend Ozzie, should be the man to break the five-figure barrier.
When the word genius is used in regard to Jacoby, as it often is by fellow members of that tight society that perches at the top of the competitive-bridge pecking order, it does not refer exclusively to his ability with cards—indeed, as in most sports, any bridge master is likely to contend that his own genius is unsurpassable. The reference is, instead, to the peculiar mathematical wizardry that Jacoby has displayed all his life. It was his mathematical brilliance that helped him become an international bridge personality nearly 40 years ago. The tricks he could perform with numbers, with words, with codes were stupefying then and are today. For example, Jacoby is still remembered in insurance circles as the first man to pass the actuary's examination at the age of 21.
It was in Jacoby's first big year, 1931, that he hit the front pages as the partner of Sidney Lenz in the "Bridge Battle of the Century"—the 150-rubber challenge match against Mr. and Mrs. Ely Culbertson. Part of the battle turned out to be between Ozzie and Lenz, with Jacoby withdrawing from the partnership, un-quietly, after 103 rubbers. This breakup came as no real surprise, for the mercurial Jacoby was not the type to long endure the complaints of an impatient partner, especially one being needled to anger by the deft jabs of Culbertson.
It is as true today as ever that there is nothing predictable about Jacoby, and nothing placid. He is a restless partner, impatient when the hands are routine and likely to jump up from the table the minute he is dummy, leaving the room to see if something interesting isn't happening somewhere that he should know about. I still recall the memorable occasion on the final day of the 1941 Winter National Championships in Richmond. Word came of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Jacoby stood up, immediately found a substitute to play for him and left at once for Washington. What he did during the war he has never described exactly, but one of the reasons his name does not appear in the recent book The Codebreakers is that the Director of Naval Intelligence asked Jacoby not to talk if approached.
In the course of his distinguished career Jacoby has feuded with Culbertson, with me and with a number of notable partners and teammates, but I think it is safe to say that he never has had a partner who failed to appreciate his skill or trust his judgment. That includes his wife, with whom he was playing the night he won his 10,000th point.
The hand at right is from that session. Jacoby made a routine opening bid of one diamond. When he then rebid his diamonds in the face of West's strong no-trump overcall, it became obvious to Mrs. Jacoby that he had a long, self-sufficient suit. Confident of this, and feeling that her hand must represent the balance of power placed where it would do the most good, she redoubled in spite of holding only a single trump.
Jacoby ruffed the second spade lead and easily maneuvered to cash three top hearts, trump another spade and, after winning a club finesse, ruff a third club. West had nothing left but his four trumps and could not prevent declarer from scoring the queen of diamonds as well as the ace. The contract was thus made with two overtricks.
Compared to Jacoby's many brilliant coups, it was a simple hand. But it gave him considerable pleasure, for when it came time to compare the results with his teammates, his son Jim and daughter-in-law Judy, Jim said sadly, "We can't win this board; I doubled 'em in two diamonds and they made it." "That's all right," said Ozzie. "The same thing happened at our table, but my partner redoubled!"
Jacoby will be 65 in December and, after his success at Dallas, my longtime rival and even longer-time friend announced his retirement, if not from all tournament play, at least from the demanding business of the master-point race. I am happy to welcome him to the sidelines, the vantage point from which I have been observing most events since my favorite partner, Helen Sobel, remarried and more or less dropped out of tournament competition. But I suspect that, as I do, Oswald Jacoby will sally forth now and then for a tournament just to prove that he can keep pace with the best of them.