THE PRESIDENCY: White House Bridge Player

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For outdoor relaxation, there is nothing Dwight Eisenhower would rather do than tee up a golf ball and whap it down a fairway. For indoor escape from tension, he likes a few rubbers of bridge. In the White House, Saturday night is usually bridge night. The evening begins about 5 o'clock, in the solarium on the White House roof, is interrupted for a snack or buffet supper, then may continue down in Ike's second-floor study until 10 or 10:30. Guests arriving for a bridge date are likely to find the host waiting for them at the card table, impatiently riffling the decks.

Classic & Sound. Ike has been playing bridge for more than 25 years, ranks as an expert just a shade below tournament class. His game was once described by Ely Culbertson as "classic, sound, with flashes of brilliance." His favorite bridge partner, NATO's General Alfred Gruenther, is one of the few military men who have long been regarded as better than Ike at the game.* After one crucial hand, in which they were soundly set, Partners Eisenhower and Gruenther mulled over the game play in an exchange of letters that went on for two years.

Chief Justice Fred Vinson, once a favorite of Harry Truman's at the poker table, is a regular at Ike's bridge table. A crackerjack player, good-humored Fred Vinson has never been known to get openly riled at a partner's misplay. Another regular is Air Secretary Harold Talbott. who has a competitive spirit to match Ike's, and plays an equally smart game. Among occasional players: Treasury Secretary George Humphrey, Under Secretary of State Bedell Smith; Banker Clifford Roberts; Newspaper Executive William E. Robinson, Bridge Master Oswald Jacoby. (Says Jacoby: "The President plays better bridge than golf; he tries to break 90 at golf; at bridge you would say he plays in the 70s.")

Sphinx & Thumper. Eisenhower has his own operational code for bridge: "Play every hand," he says, "as part of a lifetime bridge career. The result is more slams, less sets, and a fine average record." He will take reasonable chances based on a knowledge of mathematical odds; when alternative lines of play are before him, he chooses the one with the more favorable odds (for an example, see box on a recent Eisenhower slam bid). His defensive play can be rough and bold. Recently he went all the way to six hearts to prevent his opponents from taking the bid and rubber. With excellent playing, he went down only one trick; the small penalty for down one was more than offset by the failure of his opponents to make a decisive score.

Ike maintains a sphinxlike calm when examining his cards on the deal. His manner is similarly detached during the bidding. But his play is marked with barrack-room gusto, particularly when he produces the trump that his opponents have failed to snare, or when he makes his slam or sets his opponents. An old bridge friend says: "The card rises vertically in the President's hand, then describes a 90-degree arc. It hits the table with a thump, upsetting ash trays and opponents."

*Al Gruenther's biggest moment among the masters: the grudge match between Ely Culbertson and Sydney S. Lenz (partners included Mrs. Culbertson and Oswald Jacoby), in which Lieut. Gruenther, then an instructor at West Point, acted as referee.