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Judging by this last furious fortnight, it seems that the whole of Britain is one seething card table.
A conference of playing-card manufacturers from 30 different nations listened politely to my opinion of the future of cards and card games. I told them not to worry, but I am certain they took greater comfort from seeing the crowds that overflowed the 500 kibitzers' chairs ranged outside the "fishbowl" at Selfridges department store in London. Inside that fishbowl, bridge stars of 24 different countries went on view as they battled for the British Bridge World Challenge Cup. My partner, Helen Sobel, and I (pictured above, playing against England) were fortunate enough to win this cup with a score of 1,027. The other U.S. team of Martin Cohn and Sanford Brown was runner-up. Belgium placed third and France fourth. Twenty-four countries competed under their national flags, making the hall look like an arena for the Olympic Games.
Everywhere I went, I found evidence to prove that London bridge is not slipping. Quite the contrary.
It was not always thus. From 1930 on, if you heard an Englishman slowdirging London Bridge Is Falling Down, it would have been reasonable to presume that he was a devotee of the pasteboard wars, lamenting the low estate of Britain's contract-bridge fortunes. As late as 1950, when the present-day formal world championship team-of-four matches were inaugurated in a three-cornered match played in Bermuda, Britain's representatives had their ears pinned back not only by the victorious American team—on which I had the honor of playing—but also by the Swedish-Icelandic team.
To a nation that buys the most bridge books and playing cards per capita, that supports two bridge magazines, and whose regional matches, involving England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, are virtually international as well as internecine, such a state of affairs was intolerable.
Irate citizens wrote letters to the London Times complaining about the method of selecting the British team; there were dark hints that some players might have broken training; it would not surprise me to learn that embarrassing questions had been raised in Parliament.
In the next few years, matters took a turn for the better. Early in 1955 a British team broke our strangle hold on the Bermuda Bowl and carried it back across the Atlantic for the first time since it had been put into play.
Today an English pair, Terence Reese and Boris Schapiro, rank among the four or five most successful partnerships in the world; the best English team ( Reese and Schapiro, playing with Kenneth Konstam, Adam Meredith, Nicco Gardener and Alex Rose), recently met the teams of 16 other nations in the European championship at Vienna and emerged without a defeat.
Although Britain lost not a single match in the Vienna tournament, which selected Europe's representative for the forthcoming world championship, curiously enough her team could finish no better than third.
In team-of-four competition, each deal is played in one room and replayed in the other, with the players seated so as to eliminate the luck of the deal.