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Portrait of Oswald Jacoby

Posted on 28 April 2010

  leggi in italiano »
by Turbin, translated by Carol Sims

OSWALD JACOBY (1902-1984) The most gifted bridge player of all times, he had an impetuous and generous nature. In 1917, at age 15, he enrolled in the US Army, lying about his age, and fought in the First World War. On December 7, 1941 he was playing, and winning, the American bridge championships at Richmond, Virginia, when the speaker made a dramatic announcement: the Japanese air force had attacked Pearl Harbor.

He got up from the table, returned immediately to his home in New York and the next morning signed up. He started playing again only at the end of the war, and within a few months he was number one again.


Jacoby never won the World open championship, but not because he didn’t deserve to. In 1937 the first edition of this competition was held in Budapest; his team had won the playoffs but was unfairly excluded by Culbertson, who at the time managed the national team. After the war the championship was not held again until 1950; Jacoby was called to participate but a few days later the Soviet Union attacked Korea and as you can imagine, he couldn’t resist signing up again for the third time, turning down the invitation to the competition. He never won the world title but had an even greater satisfaction, a prize which the gods grant to few persons: in 1970 and 1971 the coveted cup was won by his son Jim.


Oswald Jacoby invented transfers on a 1NT bid, and in fact they are correctly called “Jacoby transfers”. We Italians erroneously call them “Texas”. The other convention which he designed in cooperation with his son was the Jacoby 2NT jump raise, that is, a 2NT reply to an opening in a major suit, showing trump support and game force.



This convention solves a problem for the respondent: how to describe a strong hand in which the only biddable suit is that of the opener, i.e. our partner opens 1 spade and we have:

AJ63 AQ5 9742 ♣A4

We don’t have an acceptable bid: 3♠ would be invitational, not forcing, and a change of suit at the 2 level requires 5 cards, or if there are only 4, the holding in the suit must be very good. A jump to 2NT shows in fact a good support of 4 cards in the opening suit, and possibility of slam. Since it is forcing the 2NT jump may be made with any kind of hand when there is support, but normally it is limited to a 4333 or 4432 hand with support of 4 cards.


In the original convention the opener replies as follows:

New suit at level 3 shows a singleton in the suit;

New suit at level 4 shows a void in the suit;

Repeating the opening suit at level 3 shows 17 or more points without singletons or voids;

Repeating the opening suit at level 4 shows 12-14 points without singletons or voids;

3NT shows 15-16 points without singletons or voids.


There are many variations, the most common being that of Charles Martel (known as “Chip”), winner of three world championships. In the Martel variation the opener replies as follows:

3 ♣ shows minimum opening hand;

Repeating the opening suit: singleton in clubs with a hand over the minimum;

New suit at level 3 (except for clubs or opening suit), singleton or void in a hand over the minimum;

New suit at level 4: a real suit with a good hand.


Other variations (Bergen, Rigal, Swedish, Walker) are more complicated. It is not advisable to play the Jacoby 2NT jump with occasional partners: not only is there the risk of misunderstanding the variation, there is also the problem of “recovery”. Agreement must be reached on what to do if the respondent has a hand for which a normal reply would be the natural 2NT, i.e. a balanced 4432 hand with 2 cards in the opening suit.




This is the world open championship held in odd-numbered years. The first edition after the war was held in Bermuda in 1950 and the governor of the island gave a cup to the winners. This cup, which is still passed around from winner to winner, gives the name to the competition. The USA has won 17 times, but on three occasions the team included Canadians.

Italy has won 14 times, France twice; Great Britain, Brazil, Netherlands, Iceland and Norway have all won once. As you can see the Bermuda Bowl is almost a private matter between Italy and the USA. The 2009 edition was won by the USA who beat Italy in the final round. Italy’s last victory was in 2005 when we beat the USA in the final round. It should be mentioned that the first world open wasn’t held in 1950 but in 1937, in Hungary: Austria won both the open title and the women’s title.



This is the world women players’ championship. Women may also play in the Bermuda Bowl which is open. The first edition after the war was held in Venice in 1974 which gave the competition its name, but it doesn’t appear that the mayor of Venice donated a cup. Today the Venice Cup is also held in odd-numbered years at the same time as the Bermuda Bowl. The USA women players dominate without much competition: they have won 10 of the 17 editions. Great Britain and Germany have won twice, while France, Netherlands and China (the current holder of the cup) have all won once. Italy has won only two second places, long ago in 1974 and 1978.


Sources: 1) ACBL Official Encyclopedia of Contract Bridge.VI ed. 2001. 2) “A Different Kind of Game-Forcing Raise” by Jim Jacoby – 1969. From “In their own words” 3) Amalya Kearse’s “Bridge convention complete”. 1991 Devyn Press.


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