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Ely Culbertson is considered by many the father of modern Contract Bridge. He was born in Romania in 1891 but was an American citizen from birth. Although he attended both Yale, Cornell, the Sorbonne and the University of Geneva he didn't remain for very long at either place and was largely self-educated. He did travel a lot though, could read and speak Russian, English, French, German, Czech, Spanish and Italian fluently. As if that was not enough, he also had working knowledge of Slavic, Polish, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Latin and Greek.

He nurtured some radical ideas in his youth and supported the syndicalist movement. However, during the Russian Revolution the family fortune was lost and they were all forced into exile in Paris. To sustain himself, Ely became a professional card player, and a pretty good one at that. He eventually moved to New York, where he met Josephine Murphy Dillon, a professional teacher of Auction Bridge. They married in 1923 and became one of the most successful pairs of their time, although Josephine was considered the better of the two.

During the second halt of the 1920-ies, Contract Bridge grew in popularity and Ely became determined to establish himself as an auhtority figure and build himself an empire. In 1929 he founded The Bridge World, one of the most influential bridge magazines ever. It is still published despite some monetary troubles early on. His book Contract Bridge Blue Book (1930) became a bestseller and lay the groundwork for modern bidding systems. Among other things he introduced the concept of jump bids and new-suit forcing.

However, as Ely's influence grew it threatened to overturn the balance of the bridge scene. As a response, other bridge authorities banded together and devised the Official System of Contract Bridge Bidding during the 1931 and 1932. Ely challenged his leading opponent, Sidney Lenz to a widely hyped (it became known as 'The Match of the Century') test match in the winter of 1931. He won a decisive victory, but in the end it only served to strengthen the opponents.

Ely didn't play much tournament bridge, preferring rubber bridge (he was a professional gambler, remember), publishing books and holding seminars. He was much sought after and was well aware of it; there are many stories about his extravagant habits and exploits. For example, he always demanded three hotel rooms when traveling: one to sleep in, one to work in and one to greet visitors in. He also made regular trips to Italy to buy neck ties. When he died he owned five different estates, four with swimming pools.

During the Second World War he gradually gave up bridge in favor of social studies, another field where he seemed to wield some influence. He was a strong proponent of the United Nations.

Ely Culbertson died in 1955. He was the first person to be elected into the Bridge Hall of Fame, when it was founded in 1964.

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