Greatest Bridge Players of All Time

In 2015, Brian Senior, himself an accomplished championship bridge player and editor as well as publisher of the annual official Bridge World Championship book under the auspices of the World Bridge Federation, published a 70-page booklet in which he listed the 20 individuals he regarded as the best bridge players of all time.

  • Harold Vanderbilt 
  • Ely Culbertson 
  • P. Hal Sims  
  • Howard Schenken
  • B. Jay Becker
  • Charles Goren    
  • Helen Sobel Smith
  • Terence Reese
  • Rixi Markus 
  • Giorgio Belladona
  • Pietro Forquet 
  • Benito Garrozo 
  • Omar Sharif   
  • Edgar Kaplan
  • Bob Hamman
  • Mike Lawrence
  • George Rosenkranz
  • Zia Mahmood
  • Jeff Meckstroth
  • Geir Helgemo

A previous issue of Bridge Trivia featured Harold Vanderbilt, the millionaire who invented the scoring system for Contract Bridge. Another name familiar in the list is the movie actor, Omar Sharif, who allegedly learned the game of bridge on the movie set of the film, “Dr. Zhivago.” There is a lone woman in the list, Helen Sobel Smith, considered to be the “greatest woman bridge player of all time,” having won 35 North American Bridge Championships. She was a long-time bridge partner of Charles Goren, the familiar American bridge columnist.

But the man who played the major role in the popularization of Bridge game was Ely Culbertson who is widely regarded as “the man who made contract bridge.” He called his constructive bidding system the Official System, which did not ingratiate himself to other bridge players.

Culbertson was born Elie Almon Culbertson in Romania in 1891 to an American mining engineer father and a Russian mother. He was educated at the Sorbonne in Paris and at the University of Geneva and fluently spoke several languages – Russian, English, French, German, Czech and Spanish. He made his living from his winnings at auction bridge and poker. He was a showman, rich and extravagant but he lost and gained fortunes several times. In games, he partnered with his wife, Josephine, and together they published several bridge books, the most popular of which was “Culbertson’s Bridge in Ten Minutes” published in 1951, four years before his death.

Ely Culbertson
Ely Culbertson
Helen Sobel Smith
Helen Sobel Smith
Omar Sharif playing bridge
Omar Sharif