Since the dormant ACBL Bridge Hall of Fame was brought back to life in 1995, more than 100 players have been recognized as worthy of special honors for their exploits at the table and for their contributions to the game.
On Thursday night, Chip Martel, Jill Meyers, Billy Rosen (von Zedtwitz Award) and Peggy Sutherlin (Blackwood Awar) were added to the list of achievers in a celebration capped off by the presentation of the Sidney H. Lazard Jr. Sportsmanship Award to Bob Hamman, who was elected to the Hall of Fame 15 years ago.
As emcee David Sokolow pointed out, the ACBL Bridge Hall of Fame, with only 118 members, is “very selective.”
Martel was the first to be introduced. Lew Stansby, with whom Martel played for 35 years, recalled playing with his friend for the first time in 1977 at a sectional in Berkeley CA, where Martel earned a degree in computer science.
They won the event they played in and were consistent winners for more than three decades, including five world championships and more than 20 North American titles.
Martel, Stansby said, always made it a priority to be prepared for unusual systems, a philosophy that paid off more than once. “It was amazing how much defense he could discuss in a minute,” Stansby said.
“The best bridge decision I ever made,” he added, “was to play with Chip.”
When he took the podium, Martel said he felt the same about his longtime partner. “Without my successes with Lew,” he said, “I would not be here today.”
Martel related that his bridge career started 45 years ago when he took Alfred Sheinwold’s classic, “5 Weeks to Winning Bridge,” off his mother’s bookshelf. “It changed my life.”
Martel added: “It has been a great ride, which I hope to continue for some time to come.”
Meyers was introduced by one of her early mentors and now her brother-in-law – John Swanson, a member of the winning team in the 1987 Bermuda Bowl.
Swanson said Meyers, the most decorated woman in world championship history with seven gold medals, has talent and has capitalized on her opportunities to win because she has the desire to achieve and the willingness to work hard.
“She put herself through law school at night while working for Columbia Pictures,” he said.
Meyers met Swanson at a bridge club where she and her sister Nina went to play, not knowing it was a duplicate game. Swanson later married Nina.
“How lucky I was as a beginner,” Meyers said, “to have a champion player marry into the family.”
Meyers gave top credit to her husband, Sidney Brownstein. “Without him, I wouldn’t be standing here.” Brownstein, she said, encouraged her to pursue her goals “and gave me the space and support to do it.”
She said that on their first date, she asked her future husband what he likes to do. “He said, ‘I like to laugh,’” she said. The two are enjoying their life together “and still laughing,” she said.
Meyers also gave thanks to one of her longtime partners, Ed Davis, who she described as super competitive in just about every aspect of life.
Another mentor, Meyers said, was John Mohan, with whom she won the Kaplan Blue Ribbon Pairs in 1999. “If Ed Davis was my teacher,” Meyers said, “John Mohan was graduate school. He gave me great bridge ideas. I taught him how to bake a potato.”
Recalling that she became a Life Master 40 years ago in Las Vegas, Meyers said, “It is such an honor to be standing here.”
The Blackwood Award, presented to Sutherlin, goes to an ACBL member for significant contributors to bridge independent of bridge play. She was presented by Joan Jackson, a frequent partner.
Jackson noted that Sutherlin has volunteered for many tasks, including work on the ACBL Laws Commission, the Board of Governors for Districts 16 and 21, the Competitions and Conventions and Ethical Oversight committees and many others.
“Whenever asked, she was always available without asking for anything in return,” Jackson said. The two played on the winning team in the 2000 Women’s Teams in the World Bridge Games, formerly the Team Olympiad.
Jackson said the Blackwood Award does not take into account bridge expertise, but she said Sutherlin “is a world-class player and a world-class friend.”
Sutherlin is known to speak directly, a trait she exhibited when she applied for a job as a flight attendant for American Airlines. It appealed to her because of the chances for travel to bridge tournaments. “Why,” she was asked in her job interview, “do you want to be a stewardess?”
Sutherlin’s reply: “So I can go to bridge tournaments.”
“My life has been great,” she said, “the bridge has been great because of all of you. Thank you for such wonderful memories.”
At the beginning of the evening, Ralph Katz related a conversation with Billy Rosen, this year’s recipient of the von Zedtwitz Award, given to members who would have been considered for the Hall of Fame in their heydays but who no longer play much.
Katz said that, Rosen, on being informed that he won the award said, “Why are you doing this to me?” When Katz said he didn’t understand, Rosen quipped, “This is going to cost me a fortune. Do you know how big my family is?”
Ron Smith, Rosen’s presenter, said he played with Rosen in a regional in Chicago only a week ago. “We won,” Smith said, “and Billy carried the team.”
Smith said Rosen was a natural at bridge but did not receive as much acclaim as others because “he is a person who devoted his life to his family and his job and didn’t just play bridge all the time.”
Rosen said Katz’s anecdote wasn’t exactly accurate, “but I did think it.”
In winning five of his eight North American championships in the 1950s, Rosen got to know many of the game’s now-deceased superstars, among them Charles Goren, Edgar Kaplan, George Rapee and Barry Crane. “It was so much fun playing against them,” Rosen said, “and learning from them. I’m so old I call Bob Hamman ‘kid.’”
In accepting the von Zedtwitz Award, Rosen said he felt like President Barack Obama when he received the Nobel Prize for Peace. “I’m not quite sure I deserve it,” Rosen said, “but I’m not going to give it back.”
Hamman was introduced by Ron Von der Porten, his partner in winning the Kaplan Blue Ribbon Pairs in 1986.
Von der Porten said Hamman is a great player “but he’s not perfect.” As evidence, he told the story about his team’s match Hamman’s squad in the final of the 1971 Vanderbilt Knockout Teams. Von der Porten was playing with Chuck Burger, Ira Rubin, Kyle Larsen, Paul Soloway and Eddie Kantar. Hamman’s team was the Aces: he, Bobby Wolff, Billy Eisenberg, Bobby Goldman, Jim Jacoby and Mike Lawrence.
After the first-quarter scores were compared, the Aces were leading 96-2. “Hamman insisted it was 96-1,” Von der Porten said, “but it wasn’t. Nobody beats this team 96-1.”
Von der Porten said that at one point in his career, Hamman did a big favor for many young players. “When we were all quitting our jobs and quitting school, Bob did the unthinkable – he got a job.” In so doing, Von der Porten said, “he gave the rest of us a chance.”
When he took the stage to accept the sportsmanship award, Hamman said, “Thanks, Ron, for a reasonably good intro.” The Vanderbilt score, Hamman noted, “was actually 97-1”
Hamman said he couldn’t figure out why he was chosen for the award that honors Sidney Lazard’s late son. “Maybe it was because I have gone two to three years without considering attempting to murder a partner,” Hamman said.
Still in a joking mode, Hamman said, he finally figured it was because of a night at a steakhouse in New Orleans when he and Lazard ordered the Porterhouse steak for three “and I let him eat a third of it – and I did not deprive him of the opportunity to pick up the check.”
On a more serious note, Hamman said, “This award is very significant. It means a tremendous amount to me.”