Oswald Jacoby, captain of the U.S. bridge team, stood in the lobby of the Foresta Hotel in Stockholm last week, betting he could throw his 10-krona bill farther than anyone could toss a five-krona bill. Winner gets to keep both, naturally. Nearby, members of his team, otherwise known as the Dallas Aces, dressed in their uniform of the day—light blue blazers with the gold Aces' emblem and gray slacks—were pitching coins toward a wall, closest takes all. If you value your kronor, do not play these games with Ozzie and the Aces. After you flutter your five-krona bill about two feet or so, Ozzie will roll his bill into a ball and toss it all the way over to the front desk. Sucker play. As for the Aces, they can pitch a one-krona coin half an inch from the wall all night long. Double for leaners.
Ah, yes—there was also some bridge at the Foresta last week, and those who challenged the Aces would have done better pitching kronor. Teams from Nationalist China, Italy, Brazil and Norway gathered for the Bermuda Bowl, which is the world championship, and the Aces made it look like batting practice. After a nine-day round robin in which the Aces finished far ahead of everyone else, the two top teams—the U.S. and Nationalist China—met in four final matches played over a two-day period. Except for the first match, which the U.S. lost 13-7, it was no contest. The Aces won the second by 18 to 2 victory points, the third 20 to minus 2 and the fourth 19 to 1 to give the U.S. the title for the first time since 1954.
Early in the third match on the final Thursday, Jim Jacoby, son of Ozzie, and Bobby Wolff bid and made a grand slam while the Chinese went down at six. Bam! Thereafter, the Chinese resistance fizzled out completely, and the Aces piled up the score. Before the last match, the cumulative point score was 45 to 13, and China was helpless. In the last 32 deals, Robert Hamman and Mike Lawrence actually experimented with the Roman Club, with no less an expert in that system as commentator than Giorgio Belladonna. The official margin by which the Aces brought home the Bermuda Bowl was 64-14.
What was missing from this year's championship was the Italian Blue Team, players like Belladonna, Forquet and Garozzo, who have dominated world bridge since 1957. In their places were names like Barbarisi, Morini and Cesati—Italians, yes, but not necessarily bridge players. No one in Stockholm was certain why the Blue Team had decided to stay at home. Some said it had gotten into an argument with the Italian Bridge Federation, while others pointed out that the team had thought for years about quitting, and this year just happened to be it. In either case, without the Blue Team, and with Norway representing the second European spot instead of possible strong teams from England and France, the competition, as one of the Aces put it, had "all the feel of a minor league duplicate tournament."
So the Aces are the new world champions, and what could be more natural than a head-to-head match between them and the Italian Blue Team? Anyone thinking of staging such a challenge match is just a few hundred thoughts behind Ira Corn, the 300-pound Dallas millionaire who founded the Aces, pays them and issues them daily directives that sometimes include items such as "shoes will be shined." Underlined, yet. Ira may be a little slow going up stairs, but he can think with the fastest of them, and what he is thinking now—has already set up, in fact—is a television series involving the two teams. It will take three weeks or so in the shooting, run maybe 13 weeks on television and offer $150,000 to the winning team. Bridge has been televised before with moderate success, but Corn, with typical enthusiasm, claims he will introduce a few new devices that "will make this thing more exciting than ah, er—than five football games."
And that's not all. Corn has invested a bundle in the Aces—he gave each of the six a $1,000 bonus for winning in Stockholm—and now he is anxious to turn them into a profit-making organization. On June 1, more than 30 U.S. newspapers started carrying Bridge With the Aces, a column written by Eddie Kantar but bearing Corn's byline. Now that the Aces are champions, the world can brace itself for a flood of instructional. There is no game the Aces cannot tell you how to play better—backgammon, gin rummy, poker and, of course, bridge. In fact, if Ira Corn feels there are enough krona pitchers around, the Aces will show you how they do it.
The Aces arrived in Stockholm three days before play began so they could have time to adjust to the five-hour time change and to the short summer nights. Bridge players are used to going to bed at dawn, but in Stockholm dawn was at 2:20 a.m., and by 4 the sun was hot. The trip over was noteworthy on two counts. Olof Palme, the prime minister of Sweden, was on the same plane, and so the flight was delayed an hour and a half while the baggage was searched for possible bombs. At the airport in Stockholm the Aces were greeted by students carrying a large banner on which was written: BEKAMPA U.S.A. IMPERIALISM, a Swedish version of Yankee Go Home. The sign was undoubtedly intended for the attention of the prime minister, but it served as a warning to the Aces that in Stockholm they would not be the sentimental favorites. As it turned out, the Aces not only won the title but unanimous praise for their unfailing courtesy at the table.
All five teams, as well as a large army of camp followers—wives, girl friends, rooters, bridge officials and columnists—stayed at the Foresta, a mighty fortress of a hotel equipped with a roulette wheel, a blackjack table and dozens of slot machines. Ordinarily, such toys can keep bridge players amused indefinitely, but at the Foresta, the roulette paid off at only 20 to 1, the blackjack had house rules that favored the dealer and the slot machines delivered slugs that could only be spent inside the hotel. The games were judged as having no class and were boycotted.
The Foresta also had a swimming pool, and that was most certainly not boycotted. Every morning you could find members of the Aces or their families lounging in the hot sun. Jim Jacoby would play backgammon with his mother, their jaws tense with battle. Bobby Goldman, Mike Lawrence and Billy Eisenberg, all bachelors, would make periodic visits to check out Sweden's famous blondes. Or brunettes. Or redheads. Betsy Wolff, wife of Bobby, described one day the problem of buying uniforms for the Aces, including an extra one for Coach Joe Musumeci. "Ever try finding seven identical ties?" she asked.
Robert Hamman showed up one day to report on his trip to an art museum. An art museum? Tell us later, Robert. But wait. It seems Robert's wife Barbara had insisted on the trip, and Robert sort of tagged along and was at least holding his own when they turned the corner into a room and—bingo—let's hear it for modern Swedish art. Which of course had everyone by the pool anxious to make a trip to that museum as soon as possible.