The Dallas Aces ( … And Then There Were Five)
Before continuing with this historical accounting of the original Dallas Aces, I must fess up to my inspiration. It emanated from my two “Lees” — originally Ray Lee, in his blog on “Bridge Jeopardy” on August 10th and then a follow up email from my computer Guardian Angel, Luise Lee, who always bails out my blogs and comments when in trouble.
Ray’s Question No. 10 about the Aces found me on Bobby’s den sofa for over an hour listening again to the saga of Bobby’s many mind-boggling experiences stemming from his association with Ira and the original formation of the Aces — far from what the public knew or the history books reveal.
Thus, I decided to fill you in a few interesting tidbits which have been left out of the bridge annals. At the end of 1968 (after Ira was placed on the Disabled List — so to speak), Bobby played with Jim Jacoby while Bobby Goldman, Billy Eisenberg and Mike Lawrence wheeled in a threesome for some practice sessions. However, it did not take long before the Aces became whole again as Hamman reconsidered in early 1969, joining the team playing with Lawrence (along with Jacoby/Wolff and Goldman/Eisenberg).
Hamman had a previous commitment that year (and a great one at that with Eddie Kantar) where they qualified to represent the country so he did not play full time as an Ace until after that. The Aces first success came in 1970 in Stockholm with the above three twosomes and won again in 1971 in Taiwan. However, Hamman was now playing with Eisenberg and Lawrence with Goldman. It is of further interest to note that all three celebrated pairs were employing different approaches: Jacoby and Wolff (Orange Club); Hamman and Eisenberg (Black Club); and Lawrence and Goldman (Aces Scientific). In fact, I recall Goldman going public with a book of the same name.
All was not peaches and cream in ’71 despite their victory. Hamman and Eisenberg were having a tough go of it and did not play most of the last few sessions. Sometime after their return to the States, Billy left Dallas and headed for California where he either met or resumed his friendship with Hugh Heffner of Playboy Bunny Fame and Billy was no stranger to the scene. As I recall, Billy also won a major backgammon tournament — a man of many talents. Billy was one of the most charming, entertaining and likeable persons I ever met and he would be a popular celebrity anywhere he chose to settle.
As an aside, I must mention that I knew Billy, as they say, way back when. In Philadelphia, my late husband Norman and I were friendly with a promising ‘unknown’ by the name of Bobby Goldman and our good friend Gabby Coren had played against Billy Eisenberg in New York and made what we in call in Yiddish a “schitach” (matching up two likely mates). Eisenberg was already an Ace and it was his influence that convinced the group to select his former partner Goldman to join them — over another talented contender. No one can deny that it is a small world. I didn’t even know Bobby Wolff — but I had the inside scoop on how Goldman and Eisenberg latched onto each other.
After Billy’s departure, Soloway joined the team — playing with Hamman (a partnership that reunited on the Nickell team after Bobby got ‘dumped’ — partly by obvious political pressures from other teammates with whom he was not in good favor). Also, in all fairness to Bob, he was just itching to try lots of those new fangled conventions. That was (and is still not) my Bobby’s cup of tea — so Hamman turned to a player who was amenable to Bob’s bent.
1972 was the year the Aces, as we knew them, took off in different directions. However, Hamman and Wolff gravitated to each other and the media seemed to refer to all future teams on which they played as The Aces. They did remain a revered partnership, believe it or not, for twenty-six years.
The well was running dry for Ira and the salaries were ebbing. My husband was drafted by Ira to work for Michigan General; Bob Hamman went off into the insurance business which he had been building up in California when invited, but declined, to become an Ace in ’68. Hamman’s eventual success was not impeded by the sheer, cold facts that Ira was a substantial client; Bobby Goldman, a very bright young man with computer and mathematical skills (and with recommendations and plaudits from Ira) went into some other successful venture; Mike Lawrence went back to Berkeley; and Jimmy Jacoby returned to the tournament trail which he happily gave up when Bobby asked him to join The Aces.
Today, of the six original Dallas Aces, Jacoby and Goldman are gone. Jim died in 1991 at the age of 58 and Bobby (endearingly called “Goldie”) passed on in 1998 at 60. Eisenberg, Hamman, Lawrence and Wolff are still busy plying their respective trades in some fashion.
The Aces on Bridge Column, started by Ira, was bought out by Bobby from Ira’s Estate when he died in 1982 and with Joe Musumeci’s help collaborated on it for a couple decades. Ira would be pleased to know it is still appearing in well over a hundred newspapers all over the world (and also can be found on our bridgeblogging site courtesy of United Media/United Features and Ray Lee).
That, my friends, was what true unadulterated professionalism was all about way back them. Once Ira took a back seat to his six expert representatives (though not willingly, for damn sure), The Dallas Aces emerged as the first all-professional bridge team in the world and owe Ira Corn a debt of gratitude for allowing them to make bridge history. Ira passed on fourteen years after he put the Aces on the map and was deservingly inducted into the ACBL Hall of Fame a year or so after it was resurrected in 1995 after a thirty year hiatus. Ira’s dream came true albeit not exactly as he envisioned its unique Place in the Sun.
To my knowledge, the only other uncontaminated professional team is the one Madame LaVazza, the lovely Italian coffee magnate, created – where she metes out the salaries to her beloved sixsome and beams as she proudly roots and cheers from the bleachers. No strings attached!