Charles Goren is the world's leading authority on contract bridge. Beginning this week, he becomes Sports Illustrated's special correspondent on this and other card games.
Below, Mr. Goren is introduced to our readers by the famous writer, his good friend and frequent bridge companion, Mr. Somerset Maugham.
Goren has wasted no time in giving Sports Illustrated some important bridge news. On pages 16 and 17 he announces 10 changes in his celebrated bidding system.
Not all of his contributions to this magazine will be as technical. Mr. Goren is no professorial graybeard. His sense of humor is as sharp as his mind. In our issue of October 14 he will discuss his philosophy of bridge. Thereafter, he will write every week for Sports Illustrated in an intimate, instructive and entertaining vein.
Charles Henry Goren (pictured at right) was born in Philadelphia on March 4, 1901. He was introduced to bridge while he was studying law at McGill University. His first session was disastrous. He was thoroughly trounced by his opponents and laughed at by his girl. By 1931, though, he was competing in tournaments and when, in 1936, he published his first book on the subject, "Winning Bridge Made Easy," Goren decided to abandon his legal career and devote his life to teaching and playing bridge.
Although Goren had moderate success during the next 13 years, it was not until 1919, with the publication of his book on point count bidding, that his name became a household adjective. Goren's point count system made him world famous. It also made him rich.
At 56, Goren is still a bachelor. Once a chain cigar smoker, he now refrains. He rarely drinks. When he plays bridge, which is now limited almost strictly to tournaments, he wears glasses. He enjoys golf, but rarely breaks 100. He hasn't missed a Broadway play in 25 years. But most of fill, he is a bridge player, the only player in history who has won every major championship now in play.
I have really no business to write a preface to these contributions of Charles Goren's to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. My only excuse is that the little I know of bridge I learnt from him. But I remain a very indifferent player. The only thing on which I can, perhaps, flatter myself is that though I never get any better, I never get any worse. For one reason and another it has been my good fortune to play now and then with pretty well all the best players in the world, and though I have invariably lost my money to them I have enjoyed it. I have found them easier to play with than with players of my own humble class, and nicer; for they expect you to make mistakes and, though they don't like it (you can't expect them to do that), they take it in their stride. Once Charles Goren told me in a casual sort of way that if I played an easy hand as well as I played a difficult one, I wouldn't be a bad second-class player. I accepted the mild criticism with proper modesty. I know very well what he meant. When I'm playing a hand I'm satisfied to make my contract and don't bother by a neat finesse, say, to make the extra trick or two which at the end of the session may result in a pleasant financial difference.
I am an ardent reader of the books that are written on this fascinating game. They make excellent bedside reading. They are both exciting and soothing. They enable you to bear a bad cold in the head with patience and a peremptory demand for income tax with fortitude. When I study a hand played by experts at an international tournament I am filled with envious admiration of a subtlety that I cannot hope to emulate. For instance, when North deals and after two or three rounds of bidding realizes that West is void of clubs and consequently bids a small slam, I gasp. How did the expert know? He will tell you that it was only a matter of counting, and you are just as much at a loss as you were before.
I have read many books on bridge, if not with great profit, certainly with great interest, but there is one matter that, naturally enough, they never deal with, but now and again the ordinary player finds himself obliged to deal with it, and I, for my part, have never discovered how to do so. A good many years ago, before the last war, I had a friend staying with me on the Riviera who was a very good player. He would have been even a better player if he had not thought himself a good deal better than he really was. We were invited to lunch in Cannes and to spend the afternoon at the card table. On our way home in the car, my guest said to me: "Will you be offended if I say something to you about your friends?" "I'm sure I shan't," I answered. "They were cheating," he said. I burst out laughing. "Of course they were," I replied. "We all know that." For a moment he was stunned. "Why d'you play with them then?" he asked. "Well, you see," I said, "I like playing bridge, and it's not so easy just now to get a game. I get a certain amount of fun in watching them. I play with them a lot and I watch them carefully. I know they cheat, but for the life of me, I can't see how they do it. I find it gives the game a peculiar interest." "Well, I don't think you ought to have asked me to play with them," said my friend. I tried to placate him. "After all," I said, "we didn't lose much. They gave us double Martinis to start with, a slap-up lunch with a particularly good bottle of white Burgundy and old brandy with our coffee. At 6 o'clock they regaled us with champagne cocktails. With the cost of everything on the Riviera they can't have made anything worthwhile on balance." "But you said they were rich people," my guest said. "They are," I answered, "much richer than you or I." "Then why do they cheat?" he asked. "Because they like to win. Money doesn't come into it." My friend didn't see my point.
Of course, not everyone is as clever as the people I have been talking about. I know one lady who has a tidy mind. If her opponents had won the call and the player, after the first card was led, set out his dummy, she would say, "How untidily you arrange the cards," and would neatly place them in order. It occurred to me that her husband and partner was apt, when he got the lead, to play a card of the suit that the lady had touched first; and on one occasion, when the said partner seemed to hesitate, I murmured: "Your partner wants you to lead a heart." This seemed to take him back. "Why d'you think that?" he asked me, with what I can only describe as a hollow laugh. "Because it's the one lead that will break the contract," I answered. He did the only thing he could do in the circumstances; he led a spade and I made the contract.
I have only one more story to tell of this kind and I have done. I happened to be sailing from somewhere in the South Seas on a tramp that took a few passengers. On this occasion there were only four of us, all men; two were brothers, the third and myself strangers. It was a long sea journey and it was a comfort to discover that we all played bridge. The two brothers asked us if we minded their playing together and, as there seemed no reason why they shouldn't, we agreed. We played in the morning, we played in the afternoon and we played in the evening. My partner and I lost fairly consistently and after three or four days I said to him: "We seem to have very bad luck." "The game's crooked," he growled. "Well, I thought it might be, but I didn't like to suggest it," I said. "Crooked as hell," he repeated. "Well," I went on, "I don't know what we can do about it. We can't very well refuse to play with them, and besides, we've got 10 days more on board; what on earth can we do with ourselves all the time?" "There's nothing to prevent us from getting a bit of our own back if you're willing to collaborate," he said. "I don't think I quite understand," I answered. "It's perfectly simple," he explained, looking at me straight in the face. "They're a pair of crooks and we must play their game." "I don't think I'd know how," I smiled. "I'll tell you," he said. "If you have from 13 to 15 points you bid a no trump; if you have from 16 to 18 points you bid one no trump; you give me priceless information. I give you the same information if I've got the goods. Who's going to notice that in one case you've bid a no trump and in the other one no trump? Not a pair of cheap crooks like our fellow passengers. In the long run we'll skin them." I hesitated. "I'm afraid I couldn't quite bring myself to do that," I said. He shrugged. "Well, if you like to lose your money, that's your business. But why the hell should you lose mine?" He walked away in a fine temper.
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