Kansas City & Unit 131 Bridge History
Four Great Bridge Players From The Past
Kincaid - Hubbell - Bombeck - Rosenschein
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There have been so many memorable bridge players that have played in Kansas City and are |
now playing in the invitational open pair bridge game in the SKY. Here are four of the great
ones whose stories were put together by Bill Muir with help from bridge friends for the Daily
Bulletin when Kansas City hosted the Spring Nationals in March of 2017.
Arthur Kincaid |
I REMEMBER ARTHUR KINCAID |
The image is still clear in my mind - Arthur Kincaid sitting straight up in his chair, a fringe of
white hair encircling a bald head, peering through old-fashioned spectacles at cards held
upright by both hands, bidding in a bass monotone and pitching his cards backhanded on the
table with the trajectory of horseshoes. Convert this image into a freeze-frame photograph or
picture and it would call to mind Grant Wood's American Gothic.
I think that this image lingers because it contrasts so vividly with the actuality of Arthur
Kincaid. When he graduated from law school, he couldn't immediately find a job. He ran for
public office and was elected one of the youngest members ever in the Missouri House of
Representatives for the district that included his hometown of Liberty. He served there from
1937 to 1943.
Arthur was the First Gentleman of District 15, the Norman Kay of the Midwest. How apropos,
then, that Norman Kay himself described his memories of Kansas City bridge to me by citing
the "tough teams with (players such as) Hubbell, Bombeck, Kincaid and Crooks." He was no
extrovert, but one cannot imagine a more genial man - quicker to smile or slower to anger.
Like Kay, Arthur compiled an enviable championship record. Though his second-place tie in
the Spingold in 1953 (along with fellow Kansas Citians Hubbell, Bombeck, Bobby Nail, and St.
Louisian David Carter) was his high-water mark nationally, he won a flock of regionals, many
with his longtime partner Richard Ayres of Topeka, KS. His bridge style resembled Kay's - a
solid bidder, perhaps verging on the stodgy, who took all his tricks and then some. This made
him particularly successful - or deadly, to his opponents - in team events.
Another similarity to Kay was the multiplicity of Arthur's successful partnerships. Arthue had
a knack for playing harmoniously and successfully with talented players whose large
egos sometimes made them abrasive. And to top it off, he maintained both a successful
marriage and bridge partnership with his beloved Marion.
In the late 1950's and early 1960's, Arthur joined fellow Kansas Citians John Hubbell and F.
Ayres Bombeck on the rotating panel of experts for the Bridge World Magazine
Master Solvers Club.
John Hubbell |
WE REMEMBER JOHN HUBBELL |
Kansas City's best bridge player in the 1940's, 1950's, and 1960's was John Hubbell. He earned a
living playing money bridge and running his bridge club. His outward demeanor was described
as gruff or intimidating at the table --- and aloof or unapproachable away from it. Especially in
his later years, he would seem to have fallen asleep as he was considering a bid or play. He
would famously allow his cigarette to burn down, the ash curving lower and lower, precariously
hanging on --- until it would fall off --- perhaps into an ashtray, perhaps not.
It is proverbial that old time experts were masters of card play - and Hubbell served as a model
for this template. Among the rank-and-file, the saying was "Never double Hubbell". Hubbell
earned his reputation by bringing in many an unlikely contract - thanks to information gained
by the double. As a bonus, the reluctance to double Hubbell gave him a license to push his
opponents around in the auction.
Hubbell's greatest triumph was his victory in the 1954 Life Masters Pairs, playing with St. Louis's
bridge titan, David Carter. The pair gained temporary possession of the magnificent trophy
donated by Waldemar von Zedtwitz. The cup was stolen while on display at the bridge club
Hubbell ran on West 39th street in Kansas City. It was never recovered, but von Zedtwitz
covered the cost of a replacement.
Hubbell and Carter also won the Werner Men's Pairs (later Open Pairs) in 1957, and the two
joined with Kansas Citian F. Ayres Bombeck for consecutive second-place finishes in the
Spingold in 1953 (a four-way tie) and 1954 (a three-way tie). Arthur Kincaid of Liberty, MO was
also a member of the 1953 team.
Hubbell and Carter's second-place Spingold finish in 1952 earned them a spot in the
international Trials to determine the American team for the Bermuda Bowl. In the late '50's and
early '60's, Bridge World Magazine included Hubbell (along with Bombeck and Kincaid) among
the rotating expert panel whose answers to bridge problems provided the basis for its
Master Solvers Club.
Brad Furnish, with Margaret Ewing, Carroll Frogge, John McDaniel, Jerry Mandelkehr, Bill Muir.
F. Ayres Bombeck |
WE REMEMBER F. AYRES BOMBECK |
Ayres Bombeck was acknowledged by most to have been the second best player in Kansas City
during its "rubber bridge era" of the 1940's, 1950's and 1960's --- bowing only to John Hubbell.
Money bridge games attracted some of the very best players, including Bobby Nail (who later
moved to Houston) and David Carter (from St. Louis) as well as host of other local experts. And
even being compared to John Hubbell ? That was considered high praise.
A liquor store owner and proprietor, Bombeck habitually carried a loaded sidearm. Given that he
was likely to have been drinking at any time of the day or night, there were at least two incidents
at local tournaments where Ayres pulled the gun and was waving it around. In one case, he had
returned late to the evening session of one event and was about to have his seeded table
reassigned. However, the director was persuaded in short order to give it back to him. This casts
a different light on "intimidation" and the concept of "zero tolerance".
Don Stack recalls partnering Bombeck in a Bridge Calcutta with money prizes for high finish. He raised
Ayres' jump shift in diamonds---his second suit---on Qxx. Ayres held AKxx. The auction then wound its
way to a Grand Slam in diamonds---which depended on the 3-3 diamond break. When he saw the
dummy, Don says, "Ayres merely raised those bushy Groucho Marx eyebrows of his --- but I knew
what he was thinking. Lucky for me, the suit broke and the Grand Slam rolled in". Would knowing
that partner is carrying a loaded pistol affect your bidding? Lee Magee went to many tournaments
with Ayres and before leaving town they would back up the car to his liquor store and "load up".
Another typical "Ayres" story: Entering the clubhouse after a round of golf at the country club
Ayres overheard another golfer comment to his companion, "I wish we could find some pigeons to
play rubber bridge". Ayres hastily approached them and said , I overheard that you wanted to
play some bridge and I think I can find a partner. What do you have in mind? Chicago?" "No.
We'd like to keep our partnership intact---and play a set game." The player that Ayres was able
to scrounge up was David Carter! Early on, after Carter stroked in a doubled heart game---end-
playing one of the unlucky opponents---Ayres pulled him away from the table---telling the
opponents, "we have to get a couple of system issues straightened out." He told David, "Look, pal.
We're playing for high stakes here. Please. No more end plays, no squeezes, and damned few finesses!"
Ayres stood out as quite a character during an era full of them. He won the Faber Cup in 1948
(BAM teams). Other high finishes in national events included 2nd-Cavendish Trophy in 1954 (Fall
National Open Pairs, which later became the Blue Ribbon Pairs);T2nd/5th-Spingold 1953;
T2nd/4th 1954; T2nd/5th-Marcus Cup 1963(BAM teams). He's a key figure in a memorable
Kansas City bridge history.
Margaret Ewing, Carroll Frogge, John McDaniel, Jerry Mandelkehr, Bill Muir, Don Stack.
John Rosenschein |
I REMEMBER JOHN ROSENSCHEIN |
"Big John", a larger than life figure on Kansas City's bridge scene during the 1970's and 1980's was
my "Most Unforgettable Character" (apologies to Reader's Digest).
Due to the aggressive bidding style favored by John and his favorite partner and wife, Marilyn---
combined with their thirst for high-level competition---John found himself in pressurized
situations where he could savor the opportunity to let the drama build. At a critical moment in a
GNT district final, John needed 4 tricks in a side suite where the holding was xx opposite AKQ10 to
make a slam that would likely decide the match. He studied awhile, lit a cigarette, studied some
more---and walked away from the table. When he returned a few moments later, he led a club
and studied some more. Finally, he called for the 10---which won the trick. "Well, it had to be
there for a reason." Did he go set occasionally? I suppose so. But very seldom against me.
John was a big man with appetites to match. He enjoyed life in general---and a good meal in
particular---as much as anyone I've ever known. He sought out the best restaurants wherever he
happened to be. Gambling of all sorts intrigued him---sports books, dog races, horse races.
You name it.
Both his parents, George and Jane, became Life Masters in 1956(#1024 and 1040, respectively)
---so John's pedigree was strong. He lived in expectation of inheriting a small fortune from
this father who was a sock manufacturing magnate in St. Louis. Unfortunately for John,
his mother out lived him.
In addition to bridge, John was a top notch bowler and excelled at intellectual pursuits too---
"Trivial" or otherwise. For me, recalling a "bucket list" trip that included Montreal (the Expos),
Saratoga Springs (playing the ponies), and Cooperstown (Baseball Hall of Fame) brings back
many fond memoroes. He's legendary to me---so may the legend of "Big John" live on.