The Bridge Battle of the Century

Between December 1931 and January 1932, the bridge game dubbed “The Bridge Battle of the Century” by the newspapers, played out at two New York City hotels.

At the time, Ely Culbertson dominated the game but others resented his claim that his bidding system was the “official system”. Culbertson challenged Sidney Lenz, the leader of the group of players opposed to Culbertson’s system, to a match, betting $5,000 against Lenz’s $1,000, with the money going to charity whatever the outcome.

The match was played as a rubber bridge, with 150 rubbers in all. Culbertson played 88 of these rubbers with his wife, Josephine, while Lenz played for the first 103 rubbers with Oswald Jacoby who developed some of today’s most commonly used bridge conventions, such as Transfers and Bidding Up the Ladder, that are used in responding to strong opening bids, such as 1 or 2NT and 2♣. The match referee, Lt. Alfred Gruenther, later became a 4-star general and Supreme Allied Commander Europe between 1953 and 1956.

Oswald Jacoby resigned after the 103rd rubber following an acrimonious difference of opinion over a defensive play with Lenz. According to Gruenther, Jacoby said: “ I made a play that only twelve players in the country would understand, and unfortunately, Mr. Lenz did not seem, at that particular moment, to be among the twelve.”

Culbertson’s team won the match by 8,980 points, thereby cementing the superiority of his bidding system.