Helen Sobel Smith

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Helen Sobel Smith
BornHelen Elizabeth Martin[1]
May 22, 1909
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
DiedSeptember 11, 1969(1969-09-11) (aged 60)
Detroit, Michigan
OccupationBridge player
Jack White
(m. 1927; div. 1930)

Alexander M. Sobel
(m. 1937; div. 1945)

Stanley Smith (m. 1966)
The winning Austria open team at the 1937 world championships: Karl Schneider, Hans Jellinek, Edouard Frischauer, Paul Stern (captain), Josephine Culbertson (US), Walter Herbert, Helen Sobel (US), and Karl von Blöhdorn. Missing: Udo von Meissl.

Helen Elizabeth Sobel Smith (née Martin; May 22, 1909 – September 11, 1969) was an American bridge player. She is said to have been the "greatest woman bridge player of all time"[2] and "may well have been the most brilliant card player of all time."[3] She won 35 North American Bridge Championships, and was the first woman to play in the Bermuda Bowl. She was a long-time partner of Charles Goren.


Sobel Smith was born Helen Martin in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Cornelius and Ethel Martin (née Murphy).[4][1] Her father, whose own father had emigrated from England, was working as a machinist when Helen was born in 1909, joining a 5-year-old sister, Dorothy.[5]

Helen was a chorus girl in her youth. At age 16, she was already performing with the Marx Brothers in shows including The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers. She only knew only how to play Pinochle and Casino until another chorus girl taught her bridge:[2] she took to the game like a duck to water. From that moment on, there was no doubt about her future.[6][7]

She started earning a reputation in the mid-1930s, winning her first national championship in 1934. After a brief marriage to a Jack White that ended in 1930, she married bridge player Alexander M. Sobel (1901–1972), a former vaudeville performer who found better work in the Depression as a tournament director. Though she and Sobel eventually divorced in 1945, she achieved most of her success under the name Helen Sobel.[7]

Sobel and Sally Young won the annual North American women pairs championship (now Whitehead Women's Pairs) in 1938 and again in 1939. That year Young became the first woman to achieve the rank of ACBL Life Master; Sobel became the second in 1941. (They were 17th and 25th overall, of whom the first twelve preceded ACBL.)[8]

From 1943 to 1946, Sobel teamed with Young, Emily Folline, and Margaret Wagar to win the women teams four years in a row (Sternberg Women's Board-a-Match Teams, now a knockout format named for Wagar).

She married Stanley Smith in 1966, and retired for two years. She died in a Detroit hospital at the age of 60 after a long battle with cancer. The monthly ACBL Bulletin remembered her as a player "without a peer among women and very few peers among men. Helen played like a man, it was true. But she also played like a lady." '[9]

Sobel Smith was inducted into the ACBL Hall of Fame in 1995, when the League established that honor by adding eight names to a list of nine whom The Bridge World had recognized in the 1960s. She was then the only woman among the 17.[10] Her Hall of Fame citation paraphrases and quotes The Bridge World editor and publisher Edgar Kaplan: "Helen's style was frisky and aggressive – so aggressive that 'some of her male partners were intimidated. These guys felt they were playing in the Mixed Pairs and they were the girl.'"[9]

"In my lifetime", the citation also quotes Kaplan, "she is the only woman bridge player who was considered the best player in the world. She knows how to play a hand."[9]


Once Helen Sobel wearied of a female kibitzer who was all but sitting in partner Goren's lap. When the woman asked Sobel, in the middle of a hand, 'How does it feel to play with an expert?' the best female player in bridge pointed to Goren and said: 'I don't know. Ask him.'

— Jack Olsen, Sports Illustrated[11]

Bridge accomplishments[edit]


  • ACBL Hall of Fame, 1995[10]





  • All the Tricks New York: Greenberg, 1949), 245 pp. – "With post-mortems by Charles H. Goren and Howard Dietz." LCCN 49-10646
British edition, Winning Bridge (London: P. Davies, 1950), All the Tricks OCLC 8911985
Revised edition, All the Tricks (New York: Cornerstone Library, 1961), 186 pp. – " 'I find I had to do very little changing or revising or updating.'—Foreword." OCLC 316832771


  1. ^ a b Name: Helen Elizabeth Sobel [Helen Elizabeth Martin]. Born May 22, 1909. FATHER: Cornelius Martin. MOTHER: Ethel Martin Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Immigration Cards, 1900-1965
  2. ^ a b Francis, Henry G., Editor-in-Chief; Truscott, Alan F., Executive Editor; Francis, Dorthy A., Editor, Sixth Edition (2001). The Official Encyclopedia of Bridge (6th ed.). Memphis, TN: American Contract Bridge League. p. 738. ISBN 0-943855-44-6. OCLC 49606900.
  3. ^ The Bridge World, Volume 41 Number 1, October 1969, p. 3.
  4. ^ Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Marriage Index, 1885-1951
  5. ^ 1910 United States Census
  6. ^ Karpin, Fred L. (October 12, 1969). "At the Bridge Table, She Was a Giant!". The Washington Post.
  7. ^ a b Sheinwold, Alfred (October 12, 1969). "Death of Helen Sobel ends brilliant career". The Los Angeles Times Home Magazine. p. 41.
  8. ^ "First 100 Life Masters". Glossary and Library [L]. Bridge Guys (bridgeguys.com). Retrieved 2014-11-01.
  9. ^ a b c "Sobel-Smith, Helen". Hall of Fame. ACBL. Retrieved 2014-12-22.
  10. ^ a b "Induction by Year". Hall of Fame. ACBL. Retrieved 2014-12-22.
  11. ^ Olsen, Jack (May 23, 1960), "The Mad World Of Bridge", Sports Illustrated, Time, Inc., 12 (21), p. 42

External links[edit]