37th World Team Championships Page 6 Bulletin 9 - Monday 31 October 2005

The BLML - SS Finland Challenge

The game of bridge was conceived and formalised by HAROLD STIRLING (MIKE) VANDERBILT on 31 October 1925 onboard the SS FINLAND in the PANAMA CANAL.

Yachting was a major sport and pastime for wealthy families in the USA during the 30s. As an adult, Harold S. Vanderbilt pursued his interest in yachting, winning six ‘King's Cups’ and five ‘Astor Cups’ at regattas between 1922 and 1938. In 1930 he achieved the pinnacle of yacht racing success by winning the America's Cup. His victory put him on the cover of the September 15th issue of Time magazine. Harold Vanderbilt won the prestigious event three times in a row, taking it again in 1934 and 1937. His wife, Gertrude ‘Gertie’ Lewis Conway became the first female to compete as a fully-fledged team member in an America's Cup yacht race. They were both elected to the America's Cup Hall of Fame.

Vanderbilt was also a card-game enthusiast who, in 1925,invented contract bridge. Harold S. Vanderbilt perfected a new form of the game, embodying the plafond principle butincluding the element of vulnerability and producing a scoring table that corrected the major faults in plafond. He succeeded so well that his game of contract bridge became the staple diet of card players everywhere. Afterward, he wrote:

"Many years of experience playing games of the Whist family were, I think, a necessary prelude to acquiring the background and knowledge needed to evolve the game of Contract Bridge. Starting as a young boy about 70 years ago, I have played successively over the years Whist, Bridge, Auction Bridge, and Plafond. I compiled in the autumn of 1925 a scoring table for my new game. I called it Contract Bridge and incorporated in it, not only the best features of Auction and Plafond, but also a number of new and exciting features; premiums for slams bid and made, vulnerability, and the decimal system of scoring which by increasing both trick and game values and all premiums and penalties was destined to add enormously to the popularity of Contract Bridge.

"An ideal opportunity to try out my new game presenteditself while I was voyaging shortly after completing my scoring table with three Auction Bridge playing friends on board the steamship Finland from Los Angeles to Havana via the Panama Canal, a nine-day trip. At first, we were at a loss for a term, other than game in, to describe the status of being subject to higher penalties because of having won a game. Fortunately for us, a young lady on board the Finland solved that problem by suggesting the word ‘vulnerable’.”

"We enjoyed playing my new game on board the Finland so much that, on my return to New York, I gave typed copies of my scoring table to several of my Auction Bridge playing friends. I made no other effort to popularise or publicize Contract Bridge. Thanks apparently to its excellence, it popularised itself and spread like wildfire."

No world-popular game in history, certainly none in the whist family, can so accurately pinpoint its conception and the first time it was ever played.

Recent research has established that the SS Finland reached Balboa on October 31, 1925, too late to proceed through the Canal or for passengers to go ashore. Francis Bacon III, in 1975 the then sole surviving member of Vanderbilt's foursome, recalled that on that night the lady who suggested ‘vulnerable’ was allowed to join their game of plafond and attempted to suggest some exotic and impractical changes based on a game she said she had played in China. This soirritated Vanderbilt that the next day, while the Finland passed through the Canal, he worked out the scoring table for contract which, except for notrump tricks then being valued at 35 points each, remained virtually unchanged half a century later. On that night, November 1, the game became Contract Bridge, scored under Vanderbilt's new rules.

Within two years, three codes of laws had been produced for the new game. Those of Robert F. Foster and the Knickerbocker Whist Club (both 1927) were withdrawn in favor of the more authoritative code issued by the Whist Club of New York. In 1928 the game was adopted in the major New York clubs, and late that year the first National Championship was held.

Harold Stirling (Mike) Vanderbilt donated the Vanderbilt Trophy to go to the winners of the USA national team-of-four championship. In 1932 and again in 1940, he was part of a team that won his own trophy and he penned several books on the subject. In 1969, the World Bridge Federation made Vanderbilt its first honorary member. When a Bridge Hall Of Fame was inaugurated in 1964, Vanderbilt was one of the first of three persons elected. His trophy remains one of the most prized in the game.

To commemorate the birthday of the Sport of Contract Bridge, 31 October 1925, our good friend Herman de Wael. Organises a Simultaneous Tournament on or around 31 October.

In honour of the ship on which the Sport originated, this tournament is called the SS Finland Challenge.

The first staging of this event was on 31-10-1997 andinvolved 13 centres in 6 countries on 4 continents and a total of 263 pairs participating.

For more information contact Herman at: hermandwskynet.be

Page 6

  Return to top of page
<<Previous Next>>
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8
To the Bulletin's List