SI Vault
Albert Morehead
June 13, 1955
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June 13, 1955

Ike's Favorite Bridge Hand

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During the war, when he was working long hours seven days a week, Ike had few possibilities for bridge but whenever possible he would assemble the best players among his staff officers and have a game. It was almost his only effective form of relaxation. Since bridge itself is a difficult and nerve-straining game, especially when played seriously, this may seem like a paradox; yet the explanation is simple. In his official capacity, Eisenhower was constantly faced with tough decisions. Any decision, if wrong, could cost thousands of lives. The most relaxing thing he could do was to play a game in which the problems were tough, the solutions difficult, but the consequences of error were just a few hundred harmless points written down on a scorepad.

Eisenhower learned to play bridge in 1917, shortly after he and Mamie Doud were married. Bridge was then (and to a large extent still is) a necessary accomplishment in the itinerant officer society of the Regular Army. Occasionally officers and wives play together in mixed games, but most of the Eisenhowers' bridge through the years has been divided by sexes, the men in one game and the women in another. While their husbands were overseas during the four long years of World War II, a group of Army wives who lived in Washington including Mrs. Gruenther and Mrs. Clark played bridge several afternoons each week and occasionally Mamie dropped in.

Eisenhower is the first bridge-playing President. Harding and Truman were both first-class at poker, which Ike does not play. FDR used to take a stub of a pencil and laboriously work out the bridge hands (he called them "whist hands") published in the Sunday morning papers, but he never actually played a bridge game while he was President and seldom before that. Taft and Hoover both tried bridge but neither of them cared much for it.

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