Helen Sobel Smith

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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 Sobel Smith[1] (1910 – 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 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.[4] 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." '[5]

"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."[5]

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.)[6]

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).


Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Helen was a chorus girl in her youth. She appeared in several stage shows, the best known being Animal Crackers with the Marx Brothers. 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.

Smith died in a Detroit hospital at the age of 59 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." '[5]


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[7]

Bridge accomplishments[edit]


  • ACBL Hall of Fame, 1995[4]





  • 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. ^ The Official Encyclopedia of Bridge (ACBL) lists her as "Helen Martin Smith (Mrs. Stanley, formerly Mrs. Al Sobel and Mrs. Jack White)", and the ACBL Hall of Fame lists her as Helen Sobel-Smith. In practice she was universally known as Helen Sobel after she achieved fame under that name in the 1930s.
      The World Bridge Federation lists her as "Helen Martin Smith (Sobel)" but its biography omits "Smith" by mistake and begins, "Helen MARTIN (Mrs. Stanley, formerly Mrs. Al Sobel and Mrs. Jack White) of Detroit ..."
  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. ^ a b "Induction by Year". Hall of Fame. ACBL. Retrieved 2014-12-22.
  5. ^ a b c "Sobel-Smith, Helen". Hall of Fame. ACBL. Retrieved 2014-12-22.
  6. ^ "First 100 Life Masters". Glossary and Library [L]. Bridge Guys (bridgeguys.com). Retrieved 2014-11-01.
  7. ^ Olsen, Jack (May 23, 1960), "The Mad World Of Bridge", Sports Illustrated, Time, Inc., 12 (21), p. 42 

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