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Ely  CULBERTSON

Nei vent'anni che precedettero l'ultimo conflitto mondiale, Ely Culbertson è stato il bridge.

Nacque a Poiana Vărbilău  in Romania il 22 luglio 1891 da madre russa (Xenya Rogoznaya) e padre scozzese (Ahilon), seguì il padre, che era un ingegnere minerario, in Russia dove questi era incaricato dello sfruttamento di un giacimento petrolifero.

Godendo della cittadinanza statunitense fin dalla nascita, si iscrisse prima all'Università di Yale e poi a quella di Cornell, ma rimase solo per pochi mesi in ognuno di questi prestigiosi atenei.

 Seguendo il padre nei suoi spostamenti professionali, ebbe modo di frequentare l'Università di Ginevra ed il Politecnico di Parigi e di acquisire una  variegata cultura ed uno senso di internazionalità che in seguito gli fu di grande utilità.

 Era dotato di una straordinaria attitudine per le lingue, parlava fluentemente il russo, l'inglese, il francese, il tedesco, il ceco, lo spagnolo e  l'italiano, inoltre aveva la capacità di comprendere e sapersi esprimersi in slavo, in polacco, in svedese e in norvegese, infine, per averle  studiate a scuola, conosceva abbastanza bene anche il latino ed il greco!

 Quando, dopo la rivoluzione russa, la sua famiglia fu privata di tutti gli averi sul territorio che furono confiscati dal governo, Ely costretto a seguire il padre nelle sue  peregrinazioni europee, aveva cominciato a mantenersi con i proventi del gioco delle carte per il quale mostrava una grande  predisposizione.

 Nel 1921 si trasferì negli USA andando a vivere nella città di New York, dove incontrò e sposò Josephine Murphy Dillon che, a quel tempo, era direttrice di un'affermata scuola di bridge e, forse, era anche la miglior giocatrice americana.

 Quando nella seconda metà degli anni '20 dello scorso secolo, il contract bridge iniziò a sostituire l'auction bridge, Ely seppe intuire le  grandi potenzialità nascoste in questa trasformazione e seppe cavalcare con lungimiranza ed abilità l'onda del momento, diffondendo un  suo sistema di gioco che lo rese presto famoso in tutto il mondo.

 Determinante fu la sua azione nel propagandare il nuovo bridge, togliendogli la nomea di gioco d'azzardo e dimostrando che meritava di  essere coltivato per la sua capacità di sviluppare le facoltà intellettive dell'individuo.

La fondazione della prestigiosa rivista "The Bridge World" avvenuta nel 1929 lo aiutò non poco in questa opera di divulgazione, per la quale risultò però determinante il successo riportato nelle famose sfide d'oltreoceano che fecero seguito alla tripla vittoria del Culbertson Team nei NABC's del 1930 (Vanderbilt, Asbury e Reisinger) e che decretarono la capitolazione del bridge inglese.

Ma fu la pubblicazione del suo "Contract Bridge Blue Book" che riportava il suo personale sistema di licitazione e che vendette oltre mezzo milione di copie dopo aver fatto registrare migliaia di prenotazioni già alcuni mesi prima della sua uscita, che lo consacrò autorità indiscussa del gioco su base mondiale.

Con grande intuito, vide immediatamente come le carte plastificate avrebbero presto soppiantato quelle in uso è fondò una fabbrica di carte da gioco la "Kem" che ebbe grande successo.

La sua crescente notorietà provocò la coalizione dei suoi avversari che cominciarono a mettere in dubbio la presunta superiorità del suo sistema licitativo.

Ely reagì sfidando il più noto di questi Sydney Lenz, e scommettendo 5.000$ contro 1.000$ sull'esito di una tenzone che avrebbe visto contrapposta una squadra che usava il suo metodo a quella del suo antagonista, al quale lasciò completa libertà nella scelta dei suoi partners. Lenz non poté esimersi e così venne disputata quella che fu definita e che si ricorda ancor oggi come "La Battaglia del Secolo", essa consacrò definitivamente Culbertson, che non perse l'occasione di stupire le folle facendo giocare nella sua squadra la moglie Josephine.

 Al "Blue Book", seguirono prima il "Red Book" sul gioco della carta e, poi, il "Golden Book", un manuale completo sul gioco e, incredibile a dirsi, furono, nell'anno della loro uscita, entrambi i libri più venduti in assoluto negli Stati Uniti.

 Divenuto ricchissimo, divorziò da Josephine che gli aveva dato due figli (Bruce e Joyce) e, anche se continuò ad avvalersi della sua collaborazione professionale, si risposò nel 1947 con una donna molto più giovane di lui: Dorothy Renata Baehne che gli diede altri due figli Fifi e Bruce (a dx foto delle nozze).

Nell'ultima parte della sua vita, abbandonò il bridge agonistico per dedicarsi con scarso successo alla carriera politica. 

 Dopo la sua morte avvenuta il 27 dicembre del 1955 a Brattleboro una cittadina del Sud del Vermont, ebbe l'onore di essere il primo personaggio ad essere ricordato con un busto di bronzo nella "Galleria della Fama" di New York quando questa venne istituita nel 1964.

 Ancor oggi non si vede chi abbia avuto maggior merito di Ely nella diffusione di questo splendido gioco. 

 Suo fratello Sasha fu un affermato violinista ed insegnante di musica (foto a sx).

  Perhaps the most colorful and flamboyant figure in the history of bridge was Ely Culbertson. His career was so varied that it defies a brief synopsis, but in the world of bridge Culbertson is remembered as an extraordinary organizer, player and — above all — showman.

His success in all of these endeavors made Culbertson fabulously wealthy even at the height of the Great Depression.

A self-educated man, Culbertson was also an author and lecturer on mass psychology and political science. He was born in Romania but was an American citizen from birth by registration with the U.S. consul, being the son of Almon Culbertson, an American mining engineer who had been retained by the Russian government to develop the Caucasian oil fields and who had married a Russian woman, Xenia Rogoznaya, daughter of a Cossack atamon or chief.

Culbertson belonged to a pioneer American family who settled about Titusville PA and Oil City PA. Later he joined the Sons of the American Revolution to refute rumors that he had changed his name or falsified his ancestry.

He attended gymnasia in Russia and matriculated at Yale (1908) and Cornell (1910), but in each case remained only a few months.

Later (1913-14) he studied political science at l’École des Sciences Economiques et Politiques at the University of Paris (Sorbonne) and in 1915 at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, but he was largely self-educated, and the erudition for which he was admired can principally be attributed to a self-imposed and invariable regimen of reading a book designed to improve his knowledge at least one hour before going to sleep each night. In this he was aided by an aptitude for languages.

He conversed fluently in Russian, English, French, German, Czech, Spanish and Italian, had a reading knowledge of Slavonic, Polish, Swedish, and Danish-Norwegian, and had a knowledge of classical Latin and Greek.

In 1907 Culbertson participated as a student in one of the abortive Russian revolutions. He pursued his revolutionary ideas in labor disputes in the American Northwest and in Mexico and Spain (1911-1912), serving as an agitator for the union and syndicalist sides.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917 wiped out his family’s large fortune there, Culbertson lived for four years in Paris and other European cities by exploiting his skill as a card player.

In 1921 he returned to the U.S. , almost penniless, and continued to derive his chief living from winnings in card games. In 1923, having acquired some reputation as a bridge player, he married Mrs. Josephine Murphy Dillon, one of the highly reputed bridge teachers in New York City.

Together they became a successful pair as tournament players and bridge authorities. Between 1926 and 1929, the then new game of contract bridge began to replace auction bridge, and Culbertson saw in this development an opportunity to overtake the firmly entrenched authorities on auction bridge.

Culbertson planned a long-range campaign that included the construction of a dogmatic system, the publication of a magazine to appeal to group leaders in bridge, the authorship of a bridge textbook to serve as a "bible", an organization of professional bridge teachers, a dramatization of himself and his wife as largely fictitious personalities and the expansion of the appeal of bridge by breaking down religious opposition to card playing. The plan proved conspicuously successful.

Culbertson founded his magazine, The Bridge World, in 1929. Through the same corporation he published his earliest bridge books, all of which were best sellers. He manufactured and sold bridge players’ supplies, including the introduction of Kem playing cards, maintained an organization of bridge teachers (Culbertson National Studios), which at its peak had 6000 members, and conducted bridge competitions through the United States Bridge Association and the World Bridge Olympics and American Bridge Olympics.

In its best year, 1937, The Bridge World, Inc., grossed more than $1,000,000, of which $220,000 were royalties payable to Culbertson before profits were calculated.

As a regular tournament competitor Culbertson had the best record in the earliest years of contract bridge. In 1930 he won the Vanderbilt and American Bridge League Knockout Team events, also the ABL B-A-M Team event, and finished second in the Master Pairs.

That year he led a team that played the first international match, in England, and defeated several teams there. In 1933 and 1934 his teams won the Schwab Cup.

Culbertson seldom played tournament bridge after 1934, but he was second in the ABL’s 1935 matchpoint team contest and in the International Bridge League’s first intercontinental tournament in 1937. Culbertson continued to play high-stake rubber bridge until about two years before his death.

The success of Culbertson’s Blue Book in 1930 caused the established auction bridge authorities to join forces to combat his threatened domination of contract bridge. Culbertson countered by challenging the leading player among his opposition, Sidney Lenz, to a test match, offering 5-1 odds.

Culbertson’s victory in this match, played in the winter of 1931-32, fortified his leading position. The great publicity accorded the match enriched Culbertson; he and his wife both acquired contracts for widely syndicated newspaper articles, he made a series of movie shorts for $360,000 and he received $10,000 a week for network radio broadcasts. In 1935 Culbertson tried to recapture the magic of his match against Lenz by playing a similar match against P. Hal and Dorothy Sims, but although the Culbertsons won this match also, there was no such publicity advantage as accrued from the Lenz match.

The publicity accorded Culbertson throughout his professional career can be attributed equally to his unquestioned abilities, his colorful personality and his grandiose way of life. Culbertson lived in the grand manner, with total disregard of expense whether at the moment he happened to be rich or penniless.

Once he strolled into Sulka’s (then) on Fifth Avenue in New York and bought $5,000 worth of shirts. He smoked a private blend of cigarettes that cost him $7 a day. When he decided to buy a Duesenberg automobile in 1934, he did not sell his Rolls Royce but gave it away.

His home for years was an estate in Ridgefield CT, with a 45-room house, several miles of paved and lighted roads, greenhouses, cottages, lakes and an enclosed swimming pool with orchids growing along its periphery.

He always had caviar with his tea and made special trips to Italy to buy his neckties. When he died in 1955, he owned five houses for his own use --- four of them with swimming pools. But Culbertson rationalized these extravagances as publicity devices. He actually lived in one small room with a cot and a table, and he spent most of his time pacing the floor and thinking.

In 1933, when a newspaper reporter asked him, "Mr. Culbertson, how did you get ahead of those other bridge authorities?" he answered, "I got up in the morning and went to work."

Culbertson’s contributions to the science of contract bridge, both practical and theoretical, were basic and timeless. He devised the markings on duplicate boards for vulnerability and the bonuses for games and partscores.

He was the first authority to treat distribution as equal or superior to high cards in formulating the requirements for bids. Forcing bids, including the one-over-one, were original Culbertson concepts, as were four-card suit bids, limited notrump bids, the strong two-bid and wholesale ace-showing including the 4NT slam try.

These were presented in the historic Lesson Sheets on the Approach-Forcing System (1927) and in numerous magazine articles written by Culbertson in the Twenties and early Thirties. Specific bridge principles attributable to Culbertson, separately described, include among others Asking Bids, the Grand Slam Force, Jump Bids, and the New-Suit Forcing principle, which Culbertson first introduced and later repudiated.

In 1938, with war imminent in Europe, Culbertson lost interest in bridge and thereafter devoted his time to seeking some grand achievement in political science.

To affect world peace he proposed international control of decisive weapons and a quota for each major nation in tactical forces. After formation of the United Nations, to which Culbertson’s ideas made a discernible contribution, he persisted in a campaign to give it adequate police power.

At one time 17 U.S. Senators and 42 U.S. Congressmen subscribed to a proposed joint resolution of Congress advocating Culbertson’s proposals. But in the course of these activities Culbertson lost his position as the leading bridge authority; by 1950 or earlier, Charles Goren had surpassed him in the sale of books and other bridge writings and in the adherence of bridge teachers and players. When a bridge Hall of Fame was inaugurated in 1964, nine years after his death, however, Culbertson was the first person elected.

Though never an ACBL Life Master, he was named Honorary Member in 1938. Ely and Josephine Culbertson were divorced in 1938 and in 1947 Culbertson married Dorothy Renata Baehne, who was 35 years younger than he.

There were two children by each of his marriages. Culbertson suffered in later years from a lung congestion (emphysema) and died at his last home in Brattleboro VT of a common cold that proved fatal because of the lung condition.

Minor works by Ely Culbertson, such as paperbound books and pamphlets, are literally too numerous to mention, and all or nearly all were written by members of Culbertson’s staff, as also were most of the newspaper and magazine articles published under Culbertson’s name from 1932 on.

Earlier articles in bridge periodicals were written by Culbertson, as were the following of his major books, each of which was published in many editions: Contract Bridge Blue Book, 1930; Culbertson’s Self-Teacher, 1933; Red Book on Play, 1934; The Gold Book or Contract Bridge Complete, 1936; and Point-Count Bidding, 1952. Culbertson’s autobiography, The Strange Lives of One Man, was published in 1940. His principal works on political science were Total Peace, 1943, and Must We Fight Russia?, 1947.

  Ely Culbertson (22 juillet 1891 - 27 décembre 1955) était un expert américain au bridge.

Il naquit à Poiana Vărbilău en Roumanie d'un ingénieur des mines américain et de sa femme cosaque.

 Il fréquenta l'Université de Genève et aussi L'École des Sciences Économiques et Politiques de Paris. Il fonda et édita Bridge World, un magazine, et écrivit de nombreux articles de journaux et de livres consacrés au bridge. Plus tard, il abandonna les cartes.

  Ely Culbertson (* 22. Juli 1891; † 27. Dezember 1955) war ein US-amerikanischer Bridge-Experte.

Culbertson wurde als Kind von Almon Culbertson, eines amerikanischen Ölingenieurs, und dessen russischer Gattin Xenia Rogoznaya in Poiana Vărbilău in Rumänien geboren. Ab 1921 lebte er in New York und bestritt sein Lebensunterhalt mit dem Kartenspiel (Poker, Bridge etc.). 1923 heiratete er Josephine Dillon (geb. Murphy), die erfolgreichste und bestbezahlte Bridgelehrerin in der Stadt. Die neue Entwicklung reizte ihn und er sah sich in der Lage sich gegen die arrivierten Autoritäten des Auktions-Bridge durchzusetzen. Sein Plan war ein verständliches Bridge-Bietsystem zu erfinden, ein Bridge-Magazin zu gründen, ein Buch über Bridge, als „Bibel“ zu schreiben und eine Organisation von professionellen Bridgelehrern ins Leben zu rufen, und last but not least, sich und seine Frau als von Legenden umwobene Stars aufzubauen. Er hat alle seine Ziele realisieren können. Er machte Reklame in der 1929 von ihm gegründeten Monatszeitschrift „Bridge World“ für sein „Approach Forcing System“. Das System war überschaubar, die Prinzipien klar, aber trotzdem unterschied sich sein System in wesentlichen Punkten von den anderen auf dem Markt vorhandenen Systemen nicht. Was entscheidend war, ist die Tatsache, dass es Culbertson gelang sein System durch spektakuläre Erfolge populär zu machen.

Eine erste und gute Gelegenheit bot sich 1930, als er mit seinem Team nach England fuhr um ein Herausforderungsmatch gegen die Engländer zu spielen. Bei der Überfahrt in der Schiffskabine beendete Culbertson noch das letzte Kapitel seines Buches „Contract Bridge Blue Book“, dessen Erfolg oder Misserfolg vom Ergebnis des anstehenden Kampfes abhängig war. Das unter großer Publicity verlaufene Match gegen das englische Team von Colonel Buller endete mit einem erdrutschartigen Sieg für das Culbertson’s Team, es gewann mit 4800 Punkten. Verständlicherweise wurde das „Blue Book“ ein Bestseller.

Die früheren amerikanischen Bridgeexperten, (nicht zuletzt auch aus wirtschaftlichen Gründen, weil die Abnahme ihrer Bücher deutlich zurückging,) formierten sich und holten, im Rahmen einer Anti-Culbertson Aktion, zu einem Gegenschlag aus. Culbertson ergriff die Flucht nach vorne und forderte die Exponenten von der Gegenbewegung zu einem Match heraus.

Nach langen Verhandlungen über die Austragungsbedingungen fand der Kampf im Dezember 1931 in New York statt und wurde auf einer Distanz von 150 Rubbern ausgetragen. Das Interesse der Bridge-Öffentlichkeit war auf dem Höhepunkt angelangt. Bei diesem „Bridge-Kampf des Jahrhunderts“ spielte Culbertson über die Hälfte der Rubber mit seiner Frau und die übrigen mit Theodore Lightner, Waldemar von Zedwitz, Howard Schenken und Michael Gottlieb. Seine Gegenspieler waren Sidney S. Lenz und dessen Partner Oswald Jacoby, der später durch Winfield Liggett Jr. ersetzt wurde. Culbertson setzte 5000 $, Lenz 1000 $, aber das Geld sollte nicht dem Gewinner, sondern einer Wohltätigkeitsorganisation zugute gekommen.

Das Medienecho des Matches war in der gesamten amerikanischen Presse frenetisch. Auf den ersten Seiten der Zeitungen erschienen lange Berichte über den Kampf. Nach 27 Rubbern lag das Culbertson-Team über 7000 Punkte zurück, aber sie kämpften unermüdlich. Der lange Kampf hatte auch psychische Folgen, von denen die Gegenmannschaft betroffen war. Die Fassade der Partnerschaft Lenz – Jacoby zeigte erste Risse und als beim 103. Rubber Lenz seinen Partner scharf kritisierte, stand dieser auf und ging. Zum Schluss nach 150 Rubbern hatte Culbertson seine Gegner mit 8980 Punkten geschlagen.

Bridge wurde populär wie nie zuvor und zur Freizeitbeschäftigung der Massen. Und gleichzeitig war der Weg für Culbertson frei, das Gegenlager brach in sich zusammen. Ganze Zeitungsketten brachten seine (später durch seinen Stab geschriebene) Artikel. Für Rundfunksendungen erhielt er 10 000 $ pro Woche.

Culbertson’s riesige Popularität war einerseits dem Bridgeerfolg zu danken, aber eine mindestens genauso große Rolle spielte seine große psychologische Fähigkeit, sich durch die Medien, vielleicht in dieser Form zum ersten Mal im 20. Jahrhundert, als „Megastar“ aufzubauen. Seine geschickt in die Presse gestreuten abenteuerromanartigen Details aus seinem Leben, die eine Mischung aus Realität und Fiktion bestanden, verfehlten die Wirkung auf das große Publikum nicht. Durch seinen Presseagenten, Benjamin Sonnenberg ließ er überraschende Einzelheiten aus seinem Leben verbreiten, z.B. dass er im Kaukasus aufgewachsen sei und mit professionellem Kartenspiel eine Gruppe von Revolutionären finanziert habe. Seine Geliebte sei ermordet worden. Wegen eines Mordanschlages auf den Gouverneur habe er im Gefängnis gesessen. In den Vereinigten Staaten sei er von den Universitäten Yale und Cornell relegiert worden. Er habe in Mexico bei einer Revolution mitgekämpft, später in Paris an der Sorbonne studiert, sich schließlich in den Vereinigten Staaten niedergelassen, um in Greenwich Village Bridge um hohe Einsätze zu spielen, wobei er ständig 15 im Kaukasus lebende Verwandte finanziell unterstützte. Der Effekt wurde durch seinen individuellen und verschwenderischen Lebensstil, dessen Einzelheiten man ebenfalls aus der Presse erfuhr, noch mal gesteigert. Die Realität war anders, er bewohnte im Riesenhaus mit 45 Zimmern nur einen einzigen Raum, der sehr spartanisch mit einem Feldbett eingerichtet war.

Die erste große Konkurrenz erschien in der Bridgewelt in Person von P. Hal Sims. Er war ein hervorragender Spieler, hatte ein eigenes System veröffentlicht und gewann zahlreiche Turniere. Culbertson roch Lunte und verbreitete über Presse und Funk, dass er mit seiner Frau bereit wäre gegen jeden ein Match zu spielen. Sims biss an. Sie spielten mit den eigenen Frauen gegeneinander, die Culbertson gewannen über 150 Rubber überlegen mit 16 130 Punkten. Die Revanche von Sims lehnte Culbertson ab.

Ebenfalls mit diesem Trick zog er sich aus der Affäre als ein Team, „Four Aces“, bestehend aus hervorragenden Spielern (David Bruce, Richard Frey, Oswald Jacoby und Howard Schenken), ihn sogar mit 5000 Punkte Vorgabe herausfordern wollte. Er lehnte den Kampf, nicht fair, aber geschäftstüchtig ab.

Culbertson war trotzdem auf dem Höhepunkt seines Ruhmes. Seine sämtlichen Bücher waren Bestseller. Eine seiner Konventionen, die bis heute aktuell ist, benannte er nach seiner Frau „Josephine“. Seine Bridgelehrerorganisation hatte bis zu 6000 Mitglieder. Diese wurden mit dem Culbertson’s System vertraut gemacht; nach der Ausbildung erhielten sie ein Diplom, das sie dazu berechtigte, sein System zu lehren. Die „Bridge World Inc.“ brachte nicht nur sein Bridge-Magazin heraus, sondern stellte auch alle möglichen Bridge-Artikel, einschließlich der recht teuren „Kem“-Spielkarten aus abwaschbarem Plastikmaterial her. 1937 musste die Gesellschaft von ihrem Gewinnen 220 000 $ an Culbertson abführen.

Um 1938 begann Culbertson jedoch langsam das Interesse an Bridge zu verlieren und beschäftigte sich immer mehr mit der Politik. In dieser Zeit ließ er sich auch von seiner Frau scheiden. Sie blieben jedoch weiterhin in geschäftlichem Kontakt.

1952 erschien noch sein Buch „Point Count Bidding“, damit folgte er dem Trend der Punktrechnung und gab seine Trick-Bewertung auf.

In seinen letzten Jahren litt er an einem Lungenemphysem und verstarb schließlich an den Folgen einer gewöhnlichen Erkältung. Seine Ex-Frau überlebte ihn um ein knappes Jahr und erlag einem Hirnschlag.

Culbertsons Verdienst in der Geschichte des Bridge ist unbestreitbar. Er war der Wegbereiter für Vanderbilts geniale Verbesserung des nicht sonderlich interessanten Auktions-Bridge. Ohne ihn wäre das Bridge nie so populär geworden. In ihm fand sich ein Promoter für Vanderbilts Erfindung, der nicht nur die Weiterentwicklung des Spiels sondern durch die entsprechende (mit finanziellem Gewinn verbundene) Publicity zur weiten Verbreitung dieser Aktivität beitrug.

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