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Pop History: Nonillion-to-one Bridge Mystery (Sports Illustrated, January 24, 1955)

Before I leave for vacation, a little anecdote from the 1955 Bermuda Bowl wherein Great Britain ended the USA's winning streak that dated back to the first event in 1950. At one point in the tournament Alvin Roth noticed that he held a hand exactly the same as one he had held two hours earlier, on a different board. (Most anecdotes about these types of incidents that I've seen resulted from recycled boards not being reshuffled before being put into play in a later event.) While the boffins computed  the astronomical odds against this happening with the aid of an IBM computer that no doubt took up a large room and consumed more power than a small town (amusingly, Sheinwold produced more accurate numbers probably by multiplying in his head or on the back of an envelope), one Sports Illustrated writer put on his deerstalker and came up with a hypothesis for how it could have happened without being a "nonillion-to-one" chance.

Also, aluminum duplicate boards are mentioned; have you played with those lately? Our unit obtained a dealing machine relatively recently; for the first several years I played we were still using the old aluminum boards with felt backing and making up computer-dealt boards by hand at the table from the paper slips at the start of every round of a tournament.

As usual, there is a link on the right to images of the original pages, which are slightly faded but quite legible on my monitor. As a bonus, if you look at them there is a diagram reconstructing how the situation came to happen, pictures of the members of both teams along with brief bios, and a supplementary article on the next page summarizing the 1955 match and Bermuda Bowl history to that date.

The bios are interesting in that the majority of players had what we like to call "day jobs" outside of bridge altogether (and some with bridge day jobs such as Reese would have had a lot of non-playing things to do in the run of a day).

Other features include Nobel Prize winning novelist William Faulkner's impressions from his first time seeing a hockey game, an article about Eisenhower's private golf course at Camp David, a one-pager about how blazers (!) were the latest in sporting wear, and ads for 1955 Studebaker cars, Chris Craft boats, and US savings bonds featuring Annie Oakley (who apparently once shot the ash off the end of a cigarette in Kaiser Wilhelm II's mouth!).

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