The All-Time Bridge Greats
P. Hal Sims
Phillip Hal Sims (1886-1949) was one of the very best American
Whist players and later a member of the highest ranked team, the
Knickerbocker Whist Club team, at Auction Bridge. That team included
some other great names of the time: Sydney Lenz, Winfield S. Liggett,
George Reith and Ralph Leibenderfer.
Born in Selma, Alabama, Sims represented American banks in various
foreign countries from 1906-1916, then, in 1917, while a member
of the US Army Air Corps, he met Dorothy Rice, whom he married.
Dorothy was also to be one of his major bridge partners in years
After World War One, Sims devoted most of his energies to sports
and to bridge. As well as being a champion at all forms of bridge,
he was an all-around games enthusiast and very talented at a variety
of athletic pursuits. He won many medals for trapshooting and held
a national record, posted consistent scores in the mid-seventies
on the golf course, was a mean billiards player, and had won many
tennis trophies in his younger, and slimmer, days.
By the advent of Contract, Sims was a giant of a man, both intellectually
and physically. Standing at six feet four inches and weighing around
300 pounds, his sheer presence could cow the more faint-hearted
of his opposition before a card was played.
His favourite intimidatory pose was to rock backwards and forwards
in his chair a couple of times, take a mouthful of iced liquid from
a tall glass, and then look challengingly at each opponent in turn,
all the while his teeth audibly crunching the ice.
If the above picture makes Sims sound a rather daunting personality,
it should be added that he was actually a very popular man, a great
raconteur and possessed of enormous personal charm.
And while he was not averse to taking what psychological advantage
he could, Sims was also a very fine technical player and, as we
have seen with Culbertson, such table manners were not frowned upon
as might be the case today. He was an expert on percentages and
the laws of chance and had a prodigious memory and sharp eye. He
was noted for being able to spot any marked deck of cards used against
him very quickly and on one occasion while playing in a tournament
he reeled off his opponents' cards exactly. Then he called the tournament
director and explained that he had recognised the deal as one which
had been played some days before and which had not been redealt.
Along with Willard Karn, David Burnstine and Oswald Jacoby, Sims
formed a team which came to be known as the Four Horsemen. From
1931-33 they dominated the tournament scene, winning many of the
major domestic events.
When the Four Horsemen split up, Sims began to play more and more
of his bridge in partnership with his wife. Despite the self-publicising
efforts of Ely Culbertson, the Sims System still had the largest
following among the expert community up to 1935. Then Hal and Dorothy
played a big challenge match against the Culbertsons.
The 150-rubber match resulted in a convincing win for Ely and Jo
by a margin of 16,310 aggregate points and the Sims System soon
faded out of use among experts and the masses alike.
Hal and Dorothy made a contrasting pair at the bridge table. Hal
was a fine declarer and extremely accurate defender and took few
chances, preferring to utilise his familiarity with the percentages
of a situation.
In contrast, Dorothy was only a moderate card player and liked
to 'bid them up'. Her greatest strength was probably her knack of
steering the auction so that her stronger partner tended to become
Dorothy is also credited with introducing the psychic bid to the
game. For a few years, psyching was very much in vogue and could
be very effective when well timed. Of course, the bridge authorities
did not police psyching situations in the way that they do today.
It was quite acceptable to make allowances for the possibility of
partner's having psyched in a way which would not be permitted now.
So, the odds in favour of psyching were considerably better than
they are today.
Sims himself was not averse to psyching but he had the discipline
to live with whatever situation his psych put him in and see it
through. Take this hand where he partnered the formidable Waldemar
Dealer South. E/W Vul.
ª A Q
© A K 9 7 5 3 2
§ A Q 6
ª 10 9 3
© Q 10 8
¨ K Q 10 7
§ 10 5 4
||ª 6 4 2
© J 6
¨ A J 9 5
§ J 8 7 2
ª K J 8 7 5
¨ 6 4 3 2
§ K 9 3
When you psych your hope is that the hand belongs to your opponents
and that you will disrupt their bidding. You do NOT want to hear
a strong response from partner. Here, Sims opened the South hand
with 1ª as dealer and Von Zedtwitz responded 3©, game-forcing and
showing slam interest. Sims rebid his spades and bid them a third
time when Von Zedtwitz bid 4§. Finally, he was raised to 6ª. Sims'
discipline in keeping the bidding open earned him a rich slam bonus.
West led king and a second diamond, forcing dummy to ruff. Sims
cashed the other spade honor, played a club to his king and drew
the outstanding trumps, then ruffed out the hearts and got back
to dummy with §A
to cash them - no problem.
After the Culbertson match, Sims played tournament
bridge only occasionally, concentrating on his golf. He died of
a heart attack while playing bridge at the Havana Country Club,
where he and Dorothy used to spend their winters after the end of
World War Two.