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Charles Goren

Charles Henry Goren (March 4, 1901 - April 3, 1991) was an American bridge player and writer who significantly developed and popularized the game. He was the leading American bridge personality in the 1950s and 1960s - or 1940s and 1950s, as "Mr. Bridge" - as Ely Culbertson had been in the 1930s. Culbertson, Goren, and Harold Vanderbilt were the three people named when The Bridge World inaugurated a bridge "hall of fame" in 1964 and they were made founding members of the ACBL Hall of Fame in 1995.

According to New York Times bridge columnist Alan Truscott, more than 10 million copies of Goren's books were sold. Among them, Point-Count Bidding (1949) "pushed the great mass of bridge players into abandoning Ely Culbertson's clumsy and inaccurate honor-trick method of valuation."

Early years

Goren was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Russian Jewish immigrants. He earned a law degree at McGill University in Montreal. While he was attending McGill, a girlfriend (or "a young hostess") laughed at his ineptness at the game of bridge, motivating him to immerse himself in a study of existing bridge materials. (The young hostess laughed in 1922. The game was auction bridge, "which became contract bridge later in the decade".)

When he graduated, he was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar and he practiced law for 13 years in Philadelphia. The growing fame of Ely Culbertson, however, prompted Goren to abandon his original career choice to pursue bridge competitions, where he attracted the attention of Milton Work. Work hired Goren to help with his bridge articles and columns, and eventually Goren began ghostwriting Work's material.

Work was one of numerous strong bridge players based in Philadelphia around the 1920s. He became an extraordinarily successful lecturer and writer on the game and perhaps the first who came to be called its "Grand Old Man". From 1923, the same year Goren graduated from law school, he had popularized the 4-3-2-1 point count system for evaluating balanced hands (now sometimes called the Work count, Work point count, or Work points). His chief assistant Olive Peterson and young Goren established a partnership as players.

Work was the greatest authority on auction bridge, which was generally replaced by contract bridge during the late 1920s. Goren "became Mr. Work's technical assistant at the end of the decade".

As a player Goren's "breakthrough" was the 1937 Board-a-Match Teams championship (now Reisinger) won with three other Philadelphia players: John Crawford, Charles Solomon, and Sally Young.

His breakthrough as a writer may have been when Culbertson moved a newspaper bridge column from one syndicate to another. The Chicago Tribune and the Daily News of New York picked up Goren.

Bridge contributions

After Milton Work died in 1934, Goren began his own bridge writing career and published the first of his many books on playing bridge, Winning Bridge Made Easy, in 1936. Drawing on his experience with Work's system, Goren quickly became popular as an instructor and lecturer. His subsequent lifetime of contributions to the game have made him one of the most important figures in the history of bridge.

Goren became world champion at the Bermuda Bowl in 1950. Goren's books have sold millions of copies (especially Winning Bridge Made Easy and Contract Bridge Complete); by 1958 his daily bridge column was appearing in 194 American newspapers. He also had a monthly column in McCall's and a weekly column in Sports Illustrated.

His television program, Championship Bridge with Charles Goren, was broadcast from 1959 to 1964 on the ABC network. It featured numerous appearances by top players and segments with celebrity guests such as Chico Marx, Alfred Drake, and Forest Evashevski, among others.

Goren's longest partnership was with Helen Sobel, but he also famously partnered actor Omar Sharif. Sharif also wrote introductions to or co-authored several of Goren's bridge books, and was also co-author of Goren's newspaper column, eventually taking it over in collaboration with Tannah Hirsch.

Point count system

As he continued writing, Goren began to develop his point count system, based on the Milton Work point count, as an improvement over the existing system of counting "honor tricks". Goren, with assistance, formulated a method of combining the Work count, which was based entirely on high cards, and various distributional features. This may well have improved the bidding of intermediate players and beginners almost immediately.

Four-card suits

Goren also worked to continue the practice of opening four-card suits, with an occasional three-card club suit when the only four-card suit was a weak major. In this, he was following the practice established by Ely Culbertson in the early 1930s. Later on, he continued this practice, resisting the well-known five-card majors approach that has become a major feature of modern Standard American bidding.

Opening a four-card suit can improve the chances of the partnership identifying a four-four trump fit, and the four-card approach is still used by experts today, notably by most Acol players. It is claimed that the drawback of the four-card approach is that the Law of Total Tricks is more difficult to apply in cases where it is used. However, the five-card majors approach became popular before the Law of Total Tricks was propounded.

Other contributions

In addition to his pioneering work in bringing simple and effective bridge to everyday players, Goren also worked to popularize the Precision bidding method, which is one of many so-called big club or strong club systems (which use an opening bid of one club to indicate a strong hand).

Legacy

Goren died on April 3, 1991, in Encino, California, at the age of 90. He had lived with his nephew Marvin Goren for 19 years. While few players "play Goren" exactly today, the point-count approach he popularized remains the foundation for most bidding systems.

During the month of Goren's death, Truscott followed his obituary with a bridge column entitled, "Goren leaves behind many fans and a column with an international flavor". His business interests had been "managed by others" since his retirement "a quarter of a century ago", according to Truscott. "The Goren syndicated column now has an international flavor: It carries the bylines of the movie star Omar Sharif, an Egyptian who lives in Paris, and an entrepreneur, Tannah Hirsch, a South African who came to the United States via Israel."

Bridge accomplishments

Honors

Awards

Wins

Runners-up

Publications

The earliest British edition in WorldCat records is Better Bridge for Better Players: the standard book of play, intro. Culbertson, fwd. Kauffman (London: Walter Edwards, 1947), OCLC 836591784
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