Jacoby, James Oswald (“Jim”)

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Jacoby, James Oswald (“Jim”)

(b. 4 April 1933 in New York City; d. 8 February 1991 in Dallas, Texas), contract-bridge champion, developer of bidding methods, and author.

Jacoby was the elder of two sons of Oswald (“Ozzie”) Jacoby and Mary Zita McHale. His father, an actuary, was one of the best contract-bridge players of all time. His mother was a homemaker except during World War II, when, like many other women, she worked outside the home to help the war effort.

Jacoby entered the University of Notre Dame in 1949 but left during his junior year to study briefly at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, then volunteered for the U.S. Army. He served as a private, mostly at Fort Meade, Maryland. In 1955 he returned to Notre Dame and received a bachelor’s degree in English in 1957. He married Judith Mudd in La Plata, Maryland, on 14 June 1958. They had one son.

One reason it took Jacoby seven and a half years to get his college degree was that he began playing bridge obsessively shortly after he arrived at Notre Dame. Playing with Ben Fain, George Heath, Paul Hodge, and his father, in 1955 he won his first major bridge title, the Chicago Trophy (after 1965 called the Reisinger Board-a-Match Team Championship). He won the Reisinger twice more, in 1970 and 1977. Altogether he finished first twenty times in national or international competition. He won the North American Men’s Pairs in 1956; the Vanderbilt Knockout Teams in 1965, 1967, 1971, and 1982; the Master Mixed Teams in 1968; the North American Men’s Teams in 1968, 1972, and 1973; the Spingold Knockout Teams in 1969; the World Mixed Teams in 1972; the Grand National Teams in 1981; the North American Men’s Teams in 1985; and the World Team Olympiad in 1988. He shared five of these twenty victories with his father.

Perhaps the most notable of his victories was his membership in the team that twice won the Bermuda Bowl, the irregularly scheduled world bridge team championship. After the once-dominant U.S. team had lost the championship to Italy for ten years in a row, Ira G. Corn, Jr., a wealthy Texas entrepreneur, decided to buy the services of the brightest young American bridge experts to bring the Bermuda Bowl back to the United States. In 1968, along with Bobby Wolff, Billy Eisenberg, Bobby Goldman, and Michael Lawrence, Jacoby was a founding member of Corn’s professional bridge team, the Aces. Joe Musumeci joined as coach later that year and Bob Hamman joined as a player early in 1969. The Aces won the Bermuda Bowl in 1970 and 1971, then finished second to Italy in 1973.

Throughout his four and a half years with the Aces, Jacoby was partnered mostly with Wolff. Prompted by Goldman and Eisenberg to improve the accuracy of their bidding, Jacoby and Wolff invented a version of the strong-club bidding system, called the “Orange Club” because the Aces wore orange jackets. Strong-club systems are very popular, especially in Europe and Asia, but can be difficult to master. The main features of this variant are that an opening one-club bid shows at least 17 high-card points, responses show controls, and an opening one-no-trump bid shows either 13-15 or 16-17 high-card points. Jacoby and Wolff used this system when they won the world championships; later, Wolff played it with Hamman.

Jacoby won the Sally and Harry Fishbein Trophy in 1968 for the best individual performance at the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) summer national championships. He won the Barry Crane Trophy in 1988 for the most ACBL master points accumulated in a year. At the time of his death, his total of 25,226 ACBL master points was fifth on the all-time list.

Jacoby worked as a stockbroker but generally earned his living from bridge and backgammon. His uncanny last-minute triumphs at backgammon earned him the nickname “Hero.” He enjoyed most sports and frequently attended the opera. He often served on the ACBL board of governors.

Many of Jacoby’s accomplishments were family projects. He and his father invented Jacoby transfer bids and Jacoby artificial two-no-trump responses. Both of these conventions became indispensable to serious bridge players by the 1980s. With his father he cowrote Win at Bridge with Jacoby and Son (1966), Win at Bridge with Jacoby Modern (1970), Improve Your Bridge with Oswald Jacoby (1983), and Jacoby on Card Games (1986). With his mother he cowrote The New York Times Book of Backgammon (1973). His father, likewise an expert in backgammon, wrote the introduction. He published Jacoby on Bridge (1987) under his own name, but his mother copyedited it and his father’s influence is obvious on every page. Beginning in the late 1960s, Jim cowrote “Jacoby on Bridge,” the Newspaper Enterprise Associates syndicated column that his father began in 1950. After Ozzie’s death in 1984, he continued the column alone until his own death.

Jacoby died at Doctors’ Hospital in Dallas of a rapidly metastasizing osteosarcoma that had been diagnosed only a week earlier. He is buried in Calvary Hills Cemetery in Dallas, near his parents.

Jacoby’s bridge accomplishments were always overshadowed by those of his father, but that never seemed to bother him. In contrast to his father’s well-known impatience, Jacoby was calm and easygoing, almost to the point of laziness. Yet he did not always take criticism of his bridge game well. His apparent lack of seriousness disguised a tremendous talent and a vigorous competitive spirit. Opponents would sometimes underrate him and suffer the consequences of that misjudgment. Partners enjoyed playing with him because of his imperturbable and reassuring manner at the table.

The archives of the ACBL are the best source of further information. Jacoby’s memoir of his father in Jacoby on Bridge also reveals much about himself. Bob Hamman’s autobiography, At the Table (1994), contains many insights into Jacoby’s life and character. A feature story is in the Contract Bridge Bulletin (Mar. 1997). Obituaries are in the New York Times (10 Feb. 1991) and Contract Bridge Bulletin (Mar. 1991).

Eric V. D. Luft