Crea sito

Portrait of Helen Sobel

Posted on 06 April 2010

leggi articolo in italiano »

Helen Smith was born in Philadelphia in 1910. She had four husbands, the second of which was Alexander Sobel, a world class bridge player; that is why we call her Helen Sobel.  

Helen was a beautiful woman: she worked for a variety show and she also made an appearance in the Marx Brothers’ film ‘Animal Crackers’, in 1930. In this period, she learned bridge from another chorus girl. Helen never played with her bridgeplayer husband: she was too strong for him.

 In 1937, Ely Culbertson called her for playing in the team which had to compete the world championship in Hungary. She teamed up with Paul Vogelhofer, a young man less strong than he looked like. Track of Vogelhofer was lost after 1937, he’s no longer even in the Official Encyclopedia. The 1937 American team was the leading one, but its strength, apart from Vogelhofer, was mined by Culbertsons’ crisis, a crisis in playing as well in the marriage. Ely and Josephine divorced a few months later. Despite these limits the Americans managed to run the playoff against Austria but there was their road’s end. Probably, the Austrians were less strong individually but they had an higher bidding system.

 By the forties, Helen won everything in the USA; her partner was the number one: Charles Goren. True to tell, Oswald Jacoby was stronger than Goren, but he played seldom because when USA went to war he gave everything up volunteers to army.

  In 1957 Helen again took the field for the world championship, now it is called “Bermuda Bowl”. The Americans present just one fixed couple which was Ogust-Koytchou and four players which will play according to their mood. The others were Goren, Seamon, Leventritt. Italy will win.

 In their book “Bermuda Bowl” (1999 Five Aces Bookks, UK), Brian Senior and Henry Francis indicate two main reasons of the defeat. Namely, they were the lack of fixed partnerships and the superiority of Italian bidding systems: the Neapolitan Club and the Roman Club. For the second time Helen is only runner up for reasons not depending by her. Admittedly, none could defeat thatItalian team. They were: Pietro Forquet with Guglielmo Siniscalco; Eugenio Chiaradia with Mimmo D’Alelio; Giorgio Belladonna with Walter Avarelli. These names have been the starters of the “Italian dinasty”, so called by Senior and Francis.

 After 1957 Helen still plays and wins, but she will never enter again in the Bermuda Bowl team, also because the partnership with Goren crashed. In Richard Powell’s novel “Tickets to the Devil”, Helen and Charlie are recognizable as Carol and Ace; in the fiction, they felt out because an unlucky lead by a stiff king. Some years later, they meet again in the Spring Nationals: she’s now a famous champion, he’s walking on sunset boulevard. Carol, who still loves him, shall offer herself as bridge partner for renew his glory times.

 Helen wins her last title in 1968: the mixed team championship. The teammates were Jacoby, Oswald and Jim, and Minda Brackman. About this victory, Oswald Jacoby will say: “Helen was so sensational. She won it. We were just her teammates”. A year later Helen Sobel, 59 yo, died by cancer in Detroit. Today, she’s regarded as the stronger woman of all times.


The book: Winning bridge, by Helen Sobel. 1950 Peter Davies editor, London. 253 pagg.

 Helen Sobel enters the bridge playing in the eyes of a child that enters a new world. From chapter one: “I discover the end play”:

 “I think that bridge really got into my blood a certain day in the thirties when a world-shattering incident occurred:

I was declarer in a six-spade contract, doubled my right hand opponent. He had actually turned up with the QJ10 of trumps – I had cashed the ace and king – and I was disconsolately sure that he would turn up with the king of hearts, over dummy’s ace-queen.

Simply to delay the awful end as long as possible, I gathered in my tricks in diamonds and clubs; then (hoping my partner would not be too disagreeable about my slam bid), I was just about to take the necessary heart finesse when the Vision Appeared!

I led a trump. East was “in”, and his forced heart return, to dummy’s tenace, made me tingle with delight and self-appreciation.

That, so far I was concerned, was the Birth of the End Play (perhaps it’s needless to say I hadn’t been playing bridge very long). My chagrin and deflation can be imagined when I discovered, a few days later, that the end play was the standard equipment for even semi-experts…”

The child grows and become a woman provided of great technique and subtle psychology. On chapter 18, “How to foul your partner”, she treats about deceptive defence:











In East, we have Q105 in a suit. The deuce is led from dummy; many players would play the 10, instead the 5, for make muddy the water. The limpid Helen, instead, plays the natural 5; the declarer finesses the jack and he’s quite happy of the success. He’ll draw the ace and Helen – no longer so limpidly – suggests to throws out the queen. Let see now if the declarer will guess in west 10873, or does not.

 Sure to have this women at table, as opponent, would have been a nightmare. Sure to have her as partner would were a delight. Howard Dietz, a strong dilettante (journalist and film writer, author of the Metro Goldwin Mayer slogan “Ars Gratia Artis”, surrounding the lion), has said of Helen: “If you aren’t able to play well with her, you aren’t able to play well”

  (Sources: Official Encyclopedia – ACBL Hall of Fame – Alan Truscott: “A Viennese Victory”, New York Times 21 giugno 1987, pag. 154 – Brian Senior and Henry Francis: “Bermuda Bowl” (1999 Five Ace Books, UK).


(Visited 981 times, 1 visits today)

Comments are closed.

Giorgino Duboin’s column

Italian style 02The Neapolitan Club staff is honoured to welcome a new illustrious contributor: Giorgino Duboin. The great Italian champion will write a series of articles mostly dedicated to his international bridge activities. Duboin’s Column »

Norberto Bocchi’s column

MyWay-logoThe great Italian champion Norberto Bocchi contributes articles on a regular basis to Neapolitan Club. Norberto refers in his column ‘My Way’ to political issues which may arise in the bridge world and sometimes he describes interesting hands. Read Bocchi’s column»   Read Bocchi’s interviews»

Rhoda Walsh Notes

Rhoda_WalshWalsh No Trump Notes by Rhoda Walsh: a study on No Trump openings with their developments  in uncontested and contested auctions. Table of Contents »
Annotations by Rhoda Walsh on the 1 Notrump game forcing  response in the "2 over 1 game forcing system" (Walsh System).Table of Contents»

Simply the Best

Best articles by Paolo Enrico Garrisi: open »

Let’s talk to the Champions!

Best interviews run by Laura Camponeschi: open »

Momorizing at Bridge

Are there techniques to develop some specific memory? Could be possible to make a choice of what might be more useful to memorize? Read what the champions say: open »

Silvio Sbarigia


SILVIO SBARIGIA is a pharmacist; he was born in Rome and lives there. He has won the European championship in 1975 with legendary Blue Team, runner up at 1974’s and at Olympic games of 1976.  Sbarigia is member of Neapolitan Club Technical Commettee. His bridge problems aren’t difficult; just we need to think on a plan and to avoid the instinctive playing. Bridge quizzes by Sbarigia »

Laura Cecilia Porro

Laura-Cecilia-Porro 142
Content Protected Using Blog Protector By: PcDrome.