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The Aces (Formally Dallas Aces)

By John Swanson,

Houston, Texas


The Aces, known originally as the Dallas Aces and also U.S. Aces, was the world’s first professional bridge team. It was founded in 1968 by sponsor Ira Corn, a successful businessman. Although Ira had been introduced to bridge only few years before, he had become an enthusiastic player. He had been inspired by watching the 1964 Bridge Olympiad in New York City as the Italian Blue Team had run roughshod over the field and had demonstrated a team spirit which was seemingly lacking in the other entrants.

Why couldn’t the U.S. produce such a team? Ira had an idea: bring together a group of young, superior bridge players, work hard, and defeat the Italians. He had the financial resources to put the idea into being. There were already U.S. teams composed of professional players plus a sponsor who played on the team. These groups changed composition from year to year, making it difficult to maintain a team spirit. More important, the players didn’t work on their partnerships to a degree which was necessary to defeat the Blue Team.

The idea fermented for three years until Ira was introduced to Bobby Wolff at the 1967 Pittsburgh Summer Nationals. Bobby was already one of the top players in the country and was also from Dallas. It was natural that Ira discussed the idea of a sponsored team with Bobby. He was talking to the right person. In addition to his other capabilities Wolff, was and is an unrivaled bridge enthusiast and sound administrator. He proved this by becoming an officer in Michigan General, Ira’s holding company. He also has recently completed a successful term as President of the World Bridge Federation. Wolff immediately enrolled Jim Jacoby, son of bridge legend Oswald Jacoby, and a top player in his own right. Together they drew up a list of players who might be interested in forming the team Ira had in mind. The candidates must already be among the best in the country or have shown the potential of becoming the best. They must also be willing to move to Dallas and work hard on a regime of serious practice and even physical exercise. In addition to the prospect of being on what was planned to be the best team in the world, as incentive they would be paid a monthly salary up to $1000. That amount may seem minuscule today, but in 1967 it was a livable income for an aspiring bridge professional.

Bob Hamman and Eddie Kantar of Los Angeles were approached by Corn and Wolff. Kantar, already a very successful player and writer, was not willing to leave the Los Angeles area. He didn’t need help from Corn. Hamman thought the idea intriguing, but was not impressed with some of the players Corn had already enlisted. For the first year, 1968, the team consisted of Wolff, Jacoby, Mike Lawrence, Bobby Goldman, and Billy Eisenberg. Corn had envisioned himself as a possible sixth member but realized quickly that he was far short of the experience and bridge talent needed to win at the top level. Hamman was impressed with the early results of the new team and agreed to join the Aces before the year ended, moving to Dallas with his family.

The Aces began to enjoy the success which Ira had envisioned, winning a number of national team titles and the Bermuda Bowl in both 1970 and 1971. However, the Italian Blue team did not compete for the title in either of those two years. When the Blue Team reentered the World Championship arena, they defeated the Aces in the 1972 Team Olympiad and the Bermuda Bowl Championships in both 1973 and 1974. The greatest successes of the Aces came in those first few years, although they remained the team to beat until they disbanded. The composition of the team changed beginning with Eisenberg’s departure after the 1971 Bermuda Bowl. He wanted to leave Dallas and had a number of other opportunities to make a living in the world of bridge. Eisenberg was replaced with Paul Soloway for the remainder of 1971, but Paul also left after the 1972 Olympiad. He was replaced with Mark Blumenthal. About this time Corn, due to financial reverses, decided he could no longer afford the luxury of paying a salary. This resulted in the departure of Jacoby, then Lawrence, and finally Goldman and Blumenthal, all of whom needed bridge as a revenue source.

Eric Murray and Sami Kehela, Canada’s leading pair, were added in 1974. Soloway and John Swanson were added for 1975 replacing Goldman and Blumenthal. The partnership of Hamman and Wolff had become the anchor pair, the only original members remaining on the team. It is noteworthy that although Soloway and Swanson played as members of the Aces for three national teams events that year, the Bermuda Bowl team of 1975 was not connected with Corn or the Aces in any manner. Soloway and Swanson, together with Kantar and Eisenberg had won the Grand National Teams and then the trials. Hamman and Wolff were added as a third pair for the Bermuda Bowl. The identical situation occurred in 1977, although then Hamman and Wolff were added before the trials.

The Aces were dissolved after the 1977 Summer Nationals but were reformed one year later, this time as a four man team, Hamman-Wolff playing with Fred Hamilton and Ira Rubin. This foursome performed quite well and in 1979 they were back in the team trials with Mike Passell added to play with Hamilton and Paul Soloway added to play with Rubin. This was Soloway’s third time to join the team. They won the trials easily but lost to the French in the 1980 Team Olympiad. 1981 was the last hurrah for the Aces. It was a good one. With Alan Sontag, Peter Weichsel, Michael Becker, Ron Rubin and, of course, Hamman-Wolff, they again won the trials and this time finally defeated the Italian Blue Team. Sadly, Ira Corn, age 60, passed away before the victory. It was the end of an era.

The C.C. Wei Precision System Team There was another, similar team formed in 1970 by C.C. Wei, a Chinese-born American shipping industry entrepreneur, to play his new Precision System and thereby garner publicity. This team was second only to the Aces in the U.S. while they were in existence, demonstrating the soundness of Corn’s concept. Steve Altman, Tom Smith, Joel Stuart, Peter Weichsel, and David Strasberg, all relatively unknown at the time, won the Spingold in 1970. With Gene Neiger replacing Strasberg they successfully defended the title in 1971. Alan Sontag was added to the team in 1972 and they won the Vanderbilt.

The Precision team was dissolved by Wei in 1973, possibly because they had been unsuccessful in the team trials. Instead, Wei sponsored the Italian Blue Team on the condition that they switch from their home grown systems to the Precision System. Three years of continued Blue Team triumphs did absolutely nothing to prove the effectiveness of the Precision System. The youthful U.S. players had already demonstrated that. What it did prove was that the Blue Team superiority was not based on a bidding system.

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