Judy Kay-Wolff

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!


7 Comments

ReneeAugust 15th, 2010 at 6:49 am

The Dallas Aces were before my time. I have two questions? (1) How many Aces were there?; and (2) I once heard something about some kind of cardinal bridge sins with which they were associated. What were they and do they still apply?

Judy Kay-WolffAugust 15th, 2010 at 8:31 am

Good questions, Renee:

I was not around at the time (at least in the Dallas area) but my present marital ties gives me license to answer straight from the Lone Wolff’s Mouth:

The original Aces (Bobby, Jim Jacoby, Billy Eisenberg, Mike Lawrence and Bobby Goldman plus Ira Corn) were the initial cast. As you read, Ira, within months was forced to accept the realization the team could not attain the heights to which he aspired as long as he remained a playing member. Thus, in disappintment and reluctance, Ira exited the original Dallas Aces he had so fervently dreamed about.

Luckily, Bob Hamman who was invited in the first round, but declined, had a sudden change of heart, and the following January rounded out the three pairs. (Wolff/Jacoby; Goldman/Eisenberg;Hamman/Lawrence). They remained intact until after the two world championships they won in 1970 and 1971, but after the second victory, the team known as The Aces started to disband — with Billy Eisenberg the first to go (off to California — which turned out to afford him a wonderfully exciting Life after the Aces).

Soloway replaced Eisenberg — but was not an “original” Ace. He partnered Hamman (with Wolff/Jacoby and Goldman/Lawrence). Others followed — like Mark Blumental, Fred Hamilton, Mike Passell, John Swanson, Alan Sontag, Peter Weichsel, Ronnie Rubin, Mike Becker, Eddie Kantar, Sami Kehela, Eric Murray and probably more. Ira appeared at many later tournaments rooting them on — and sometimes even acted as Captain but no longer under the guise of “The Dallas Aces.”

But — make no mistake, just because most teams with Hamman and Wolff (who remained joined at the hip for 26 years) were sentimentally referred by the media as Aces, the teams bore little or no resemblance to the original design of Ira Corn.

Your second question alluded to what were known as The Seven Deadly Sins and taken at face value:

1. No-win declarer plays.

2. No-win defensive plays.

3. Bidding without values.

4. System violations.

5. Unilateral actions.

6. Mechanical mistakes.

7. Impulsive actions.

(Nos. 1 and 2 were judged not by the result, but whether the play made couldn’t have been right. Perhaps much of their success was attributable to strict adherence to these principles!)

Hope I have answered your questions.

LuiseAugust 20th, 2010 at 8:06 am

Judy,

According to this website: http://www.bridgeguys.com/Glossary/AcesTeam.html, The last team to bear the name of “The Aces” was: Hamman-Wolff, Alan Sontag-Peter Weichsel and Mike Becker-Ronnie Rubin (Team formed in 1981). Ira Corn died in 1982, and this team went on to win the 1983 Bermuda Bowl and, apparently, dedicated their win to Ira Corn.

What happened after that? Is that when Bobby and Bob went their separate ways?

Gary M. MugfordAugust 21st, 2010 at 11:55 am

Judy,

As you know, I was a fan of the Dallas Aces. Not so much the team, as the name. I have long maintained that Bridge’s biggest issue with getting attention at national championships is that the winning team (identified usually by the captain/sponsor’s name) is known to bridge players and the immediate families of the team members.

Bridge would be much more attractive to the non-Bridge media, if it was the Dallas Aces beating the Miami Southern Stars in the final of whatever event. Or if the Michigan General Aces took out the Reinhold Bear Barons. It might only result in a small mention in their home-town newspapers, but the chances they would appear would be enourmously increased over the current day’s versions.

Imagine if teams named Apple and Microsoft made it the the final? Pepsi and Coca-Cola. New York and Los Angeles.

Going from Ira Corn’s Aces to Dallas Aces was a part of what made the Aces famous. The capabilities of the world’s first all-pro team was more important. But from a publicity standpoint of view, the Dallas Aces part was very important. Heck, I knew of them before I played my first game of home bridge.

I’ve said my piece on the matter. Again. Keep on blogging.

GM

Jim PriebeAugust 25th, 2010 at 11:36 am

Judy

This is great stuff.

Jim

Evie RosenSeptember 11th, 2010 at 12:25 pm

WHAT A FASCINATING TIME THAT HAD TO BE…I ONLY WISH I HAD BEEN APART OF THE BRIGE WORLD THEN…HEARING TOLD BY YOU AND BOBBY WHEN WE VISITED WITH YOU SEVERAL YEARS AGO WILL HAVE TO DO…HOW LUCKY TO BE MADE PRIVY TO THESE EXCITING TALES

Jerry SchmittJuly 7th, 2016 at 11:15 pm

A friend tells me that Ira Cohen (not Corn), lately from Bakersfield, CA, before that from the Los Angeles area, once filled in briefly for one of the Aces during a World Championship. I didn’t believe him and put up the princely sum of a dime that I was right. Can you help me? I hate to lose bets. Thanks

Leave a comment

Your comment