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THE BRIDGE WORLD

THE MASTER SOLVERS CLUB CONTEST

HISTORY AND PAST CHAMPIONS

At the back of the first issue of The Bridge World, published in October 1929, "In the World of Problems" challenged the reader with 21 questions. Prizes, and membership in the "Expert Solvers' Club" (and variations on that title) were offered for the best sets of solutions. Many phases of bridge were covered, and the settings were about equally divided between contract and auction bridge. This column, or its equivalent, has appeared in every issue since. The first Bridge World Standard was introduced the following month with the announcement, "Unless otherwise specified all problems . . . are based upon the Forcing System in Contract and the Approach System in Auction." The December 1929, issue included the first solutions to earlier problems and the first Honor Roll. The unattributed official answers were presumably the work of "team Culbertson." In January 1930, the column solicited problems from readers. One problem, which included a matchpoint duplicate aspect, was attributed to a reader.

With new problems, old problems, Honor Rolls, occasionally lengthy Conditions of Contest (which changed frequently, if not dramatically), and, especially, longer and longer explanations of solutions (now sometimes bylined as by Ely himself), the column grew in size. In May 1930, the title was changed to "Our Problems." In June 1930, the first overall winner (of a six-month contest) was announced. In 1931, the event was reorganized to run on a half-calendar-year basis: January to June, July to December. (A slightly different "Holiday Contest" covered the gap.) The May 1931 problems included a double-dummy problem by Dr. Emanuel Lasker, one of the greatest chess players in history, who had been befriended by Culbertson in time of need. Somewhat mysteriously, the column shrank in size. By August 1931 it was back almost to its original space, and occupied less than two (oversized) pages by January 1932 (but the Honor Roll appeared separately).

Things got reorganized in the July 1932, issue, under the heading "Our New Problem Contest," by Samuel Fry, Jr. A new six-month series began, with 10 problems per month, covering all phases of bridge. Bidding questions were still mainly quizzes on the current version of the Culbertson system. A Solver was marked correct or incorrect on each problem. (Previously, there had been an occasional problem with multiple credits.) Under its new name (it kept the old one in the Tables of Contents, though), the article once again gradually increased in size. In later 1932, the number of submitted solutions rose dramatically (to over 400), and, in November, the feature was renamed, "Our Problem Contest." The next year, the contest became annual, and the new name was, "Our Problem Contest for 1933." There were eight problems per issue, labelled (A) through (H). With time, the prizes had evolved. Some now were engraved certificates of membership in the "Master Solvers Club." In February 1933, the article was titled "The Master Solvers Club" for the first time, and it was now directed by Fry.

During 1933, the size of the column stabilized. Typically, each solution's explanation was one long paragraph, but an occasional one was longer. In November, Albert H. Morehead replaced Louis H. Watson as The Bridge World's technical editor. By 1934, there were over 800 sets of answers received each month. Some problem sets featured multiple-part problems, thus a maximum score of more than eight. In April 1935, the Culbertson System of 1935 became the new "Bridge World Standard." In March 1938, asking-bids, having become optional devices in Culbertson, were removed from official MSC methods. By this time, auction bridge was gone.

In March 1939, The Bridge World switched its format to a smaller, digest-size page. However, the MSC problems did not always occupy their own page. Fry was titled "Problem Editor" on the masthead. The length of the MSC, including Honor Rolls, averaged about four or five of the smaller pages. Having settled into this mold, the Club continued in fairly constant form for several years. Trends were noticeable only over long periods of time: there were a higher percentage of questions about bidding (often seven or eight out of eight); the problems became more and more a matter of judgment rather than system, notwithstanding the occasional claim that "the entire staff" agreed on each answer. And the average length gradually rose; at times, the department covered 6 or 7 pages. The number of entries from Solvers fluctuated.

But changes did come. In January 1945, Fry, breaking with the tradition that said there was one right answer to a bidding problem (which stemmed from the idea that a bid either conformed to Culbertson methods or it didn't), introduced part-credits, which he used in the scoring the following month. Each problem carried a maximum credit of 100, so the top score became 800. In part, this may have stemmed from Fry's occasional need to defend himself when his own view seemed not to match the official Culbertson system pronouncement. Soon thereafter, in the September 1946 issue, there was another major change: "The Master Solvers Forum," a letters column spun off from "Readers' Forum," allowed Solvers to argue with the director. This column, which was unsigned but carried Sonny Moyse's unmistakable stamp (in later years, he was listed as "moderator"), was often quite lengthy. On its maiden voyage it occupied four-and-one-half pages, and it was often longer.

In June 1948, after a 16-year stint as director, Fry was forced by business commitments to give up the directorship. He was replaced by Albert H. Morehead. For a while, Morehead ran the Club in the same style as Fry, though his analyses of the alternatives were sometimes longer, and thus some of the columns occupied significantly more space than in the past. By this time, the problems were all in bidding (or, very occasionally, an opening lead) and there were more than one thousand Solver answers to each set. The clerical work involved in scoring caused occasional delays in the posting of the Honor Roll.

Big changes were to come under Morehead's directorship. In July 1951, explicity acknowledging that there was a consulting panel of experts, the director provided a chart of their choices. Furthermore, the votes of the 17 panelists were used, in part, to determine the scoring. (A sampling of Solvers' votes also appeared, though not for the first time.) In the ensuing months, the panel grew larger. In September 1951, Morehead, acting on a reader's suggestion, announced that any action supported by a panelist would receive a positive score. At the same time, he made this the official MSC policy: The scoring would be based on the panel answers, but with revisions by the director allowed. In November 1951, and occasionally in later months, Morehead used a few very brief quotes from comments supplied by some panelists. In April 1952, he gave his own idea of the correct scoring when he disagreed with the panel--but his personal scoring was not used in the contest, a major change from the earlier rules. At times, the quoted comments were a little longer. But it was not until November 1954 that A.H.M. formally converted the MSC into a panel show. He wrote: "This month we shall do what we probably should have done long ago: let our panelists take over a large share of the argumentation whenever they so elect." Although there are only about 10 quoted comments in that month's discussion, it clearly marks the beginning of the Master Solvers Club as we know it today, in the form that has been widely copied by magazines and other publications.

Through the fifties and early sixties, the panel sometimes grew larger, sometimes grew smaller, sometimes remained stable. However, the number of quoted comments gradually increased, and this, combined with Morehead's directorial analysis, pushed the size of the column to new heights. Some of this space came at the expense of the Master Solvers Forum, which became smaller (and sometimes disappeared altogether). In May 1956, the Club (including vote chart and Honor Rolls) occupied 15 pages (there is no Master Solvers Forum). It had clearly become a major element of the magazine. Over the next 10 years, Morehead developed his new art form into the most popular bridge feature ever. In 1959, after there were so many answers submitted to the 1958 contest that the clerical staff had been overwhelmed by the scoring, Solvers were required to keep their own scores.

At times, after the MSC was well established in its modern form, Morehead was hard-pressed by outside business affairs. William Grieve, Edgar Kaplan, Jeff Rubens, and Morty Rubinow filled in as guest directors. When Morehead died, in 1966, Moyse directed briefly. Then, upon his semi-retirement in January 1967, Sonny shared the directorship in rotation with Howard Schenken, Alfred Sheinwold, and Alan Truscott. Each month, there were seven bidding problems and one opening-lead problem. The first, 1968, version of Bridge World Standard based on polls of experts and readers was introduced shortly thereafter. Later, new polls produced Bridge World Standard versions in 1984, 1994 and 2001.

Moyse died in 1973, Schenken in 1979; Robert Wolff and Jeff Rubens assumed their quarter-directorships. Eric O. Kokish replaced Sheinwold in 1980, and Kit Woolsey took over for Truscott in 1984. After 20 years of service, a longer period than any other director to that time, Wolff retired after the 1993 MSC year; his position was filled by David Berkowitz and Larry Cohen, the MSC's first tandem director. With the July 2007 issue, Berkowitz became the sole representative of the tandem.

The death of Edgar Kaplan, who had been editor and publisher of The Bridge World for more than 30 years, in September 1997, led to a reorganization of the magazine's Editorial Department, with Kaplan's duties taken over by other staff members. One of these adjustments (in December 1997) led to Larry Cohen's becoming Problem Editor (rejuvenating Sam Fry's old position), with major influence over the selection of problems to be used in the Club. Cohen's supervisory role lasted through the 2006 problems, at which point Michael Becker took over the job.

The surviving editor, Jeff Rubens, Kaplan's long-time co-editor, instituted a policy of broader perspectives in several of the magazine's areas. This included guest directors in the Master Solvers Club: Bart Bramley, Danny Kleinman, Steve Landen, Karen McCallum, and Barry Rigal. Beginning with the January 2005 issue, the Club switched from a four- to a six-director rotation; Bramley and Kleinman became the two new permanent directors.

PAST MSC CHAMPIONS

October 1929 - March 1930: A. N. Cowperthwait
April 1930 - October 1930: George S. Coffin
January 1931 - June 1931: Five-way tie
July 1931 - December 1931: Rektor A. Midsem
January 1932 - June 1932: Gaylord A. Smith
July 1932 - December 1932: Robert V. Menary
1933: Lowell G. Harder
1934: J. D. Curphey
1935: Delbert J. Hayford
1936: E. A. Knight
1937: Ralph A. Cash
1938: Louis L. Rosen
1939: F. W. Hughes
1940: Dr. Frederick Spearing
1941: F. W. Hughes
1942: Albert J. Ward
1943: Victor Romano
1944: Victor Romano
1945: Mrs. J. O. Gaynor
1946: Louis L. Rosen
1947: Harold H. Harvey
1948: Renato Cusano
1949: Chris Hebert
1950: Mat L. Green
1951: Mrs. William Savery
1952: Harold H. Harvey
1953: Mrs. Julian Barth
1954: Edward Langer
1955: Edward Langer
1956: K. W. Robertson
1957: K. A. Burnham
1958: John H. Watson
1959: Dorothea Woodington
1960: Dorothea Woodington
1961: Don Hartman
1962: Albert E. May
1963: Gerald A. Caravelli
1964: Lawrence Simon
1965: H. Olin Sweet
1966: Richard Halperin
1967: Miles Storfer
1968: Harry Philp
1969: Dean Duncan
1970: Stanley Slater
1971: Arnold Malasky
1972: Arthur Turcott
1973: Hugh B. Levy
1974: Murray Schlanger
1975: William S. Truman
1976: John & Marilyn Rosenschein
1977: Doris Orlett
1978: Michael DiCenso
1979: John C. Arledge, III
1980: Hal Antonson
1981: Howard Goldrich
1982: Alan M. Beir
1983: Norman A. Nason
1984: Bruce Rogoff
1985: Bruce Rogoff
1986: John R. Crigler
1987: Greg Mackey, tied with Tom Dodd & Chris Habegger
1988: Tom Dodd & Chris Habegger
1989: Tom Dodd & Chris Habegger
1990: Dana R. Reinhart
1991: Pat Gelman
1992: Manfred Michlmayr
1993: Bob Holl
1994: Manfred Michlmayr, tied with Dr. Fumio Yagi
1995: John Blubaugh
1996: Mark J. Bartusek
1997: Gary Powell
1998: Richard J. Margolis
1999: Richard J. Margolis
2000: David Liss
2001: Steve Clark
2002: Larry Rosenberg
2003: Don Stack
2004: Russell Shoup
2005: S.D. Gohel
2006: David Rowntree
2007: David Rowntree
2008: Ed Lewis
2009: Stan Slater
2010: David Rowntree
2011: David Rowntree
2012: John Maki
2013: Jon Nance
2014: Harry Steiner
2015: Jonathan Green
2016: Mark J. Bartusek

MSC HISTORY AND
PAST CHAMPIONS

The Bridge World's Master Solvers Club is the world's longest-running bridge feature. A new set of problems has been featured in The Bridge World maagzine every month since October 1929.