Jimmy Jacobson played in the Parker Brothers-sponsored American Ping-Pong Association's first annual Metropolitan Ping-Pong Championship, held Mar. 24-28, 1930, at New York City's Pennsylvania Hotel, and was beaten in an early round by one, Dave Pressberg, of the N. Y. Hakoah Club.
However, by the next 1930-31 season, Westchester County's New Rochelle, N.Y. City Champion Jacobson had improved to the point where, in Neil Schaad's unofficial (but only extant) Rankings of this early time, he was U.S. #5, right behind the Hakoah Club's best player, Bronx Champion Sam Lieblich. Jimmy achieved this high ranking in part because, in the Paramount Miniature Golf Course Tournament (quite a title for a table tennistournament, eh?), he'd gone five games with Marcus Schussheim, the undisputed #1 player in the country, and then had reached the quarter's of the APPA's first National Ping-Pong Championship, held again at the Pennsylvania Hotel, Mar. 25-28, 1931, where he again gave the eventual winner Schussheim (17, 19) trouble.
After the APPA's New York beginnings in 1928, ping-pong had also gotten big in the Midwest. The best Chicago-area players of the 1930-organized Western Ping-Pong Association would form a Ping-Pong liaison, a fraternity of sorts, with the New York Westchester group to hold the first Intercities (later known as the National Team Championships, then the U.S. Open Team Championships).
In this initial two-teams-only match-up, Jan. 16, 1932, in Chicago, which early table tennis historians Louis E. Laflin, Jr. and Peter W. Roberts say "attracted nine hundred paid admissions, while hundreds were turned away," New York (that is, Westchester: Jimmy Jacobson, W.C. "Chet" Wells, Neil Schaad, and Don Conner) would defeat Chicago (Coleman Clark, J.R. Leininger, Dougall Kittermaster, and D.W. "Diggory" McEwan), 6-4, before a gallery that "was on its feet a good part of the time, cheering and shouting at the top of their voices." There'd apparently been no problem accomodating spectators in the afternoon when Clark had won the warm-up Singles tournament, beating Jacobson in 5 in the semi's and Wells, 3-0, in the final. But for the much anticipated East-West evening matches (this time Clark lost to Jacobson), "the circus seats erected in the ballroom of the Interfraternity Club adjoining the Palmer House" were "totally inadequate" to handle the crowd.
Two months later, in New York's plush Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, under the appreciative eye of George Swinnerton Parker watching from a lavish box, Coleman Clark would win the APPA's National Championship over Abe Krakauer, a New York University student who was probably still managing the Game Room at Schussheim's Tompkins Square Boys' Club. Said young Krakauer, a former member of the swim team at DeWitt Clinto High School and a sometime (bantamweight) sparring partner for his brother Archie, "I almost collapsed after five close sets with Jimmy Jacobson ten minutes before I started against Clark at 2 o'clock in the morning." Jacobson, I might add, in the quarter's had ousted Court Gerstmann, heretofore considered behind Schussheim, the second best player in the country, 18 in the 5th.
The Westchester players fought it out in the first time Men's Doubles event with Westchester Closed Champ Jacobson and George T. Bacon, Jr. downing Wells and Schaad in the final in straight games. Clark says in his Modern Ping-Pong ( 1933) that Jacobson and Bacon "signaled to one another before every service so that the other might know where to expect the return from the type of sidespin imparted to the ball."
Jimmy had what Clark calls not so much a "freakish" as an "unorthodox" grip: "[he] puts his thumb along the edge of the bat with his forefinger stretched along the middle of the blade...[then] strikes the ball on the same side of the racket from either side of the body." He thus anticipates the "windshield-wiper" grips of the U.S. Champions in the 1970's and early '80's, Danny Seemiller and Eric Boggan. Jacobson "blocks with the greatest nonchalance the hardest slams," says Clark, and can "put away for keeps the set-ups."
William R. Stewart, one of the first organizers of the USTTA, also speaks of Jimmy's fast, flat kill shots, and adds that he quite unstylishly hits "backhand and center alley returns from a stooping position with his racket in front of his face." By season's end, the APPA would rank Jacobson U.S. #2.
At the Mar. 10-12, 1933 APPA National's, held in the Grand Ballroom of the Palmer House, one of Chicago's finest hotels, Defending Champ Clark again reached the final--but this time he lost to the much younger Jacobson, who only the week before had been upset in the third round of the Eastern's by the APPA's #30-ranked player, New Yorker Murray Waldman. Jacobson's toughest match in these National's was his semi's against Wilmette, Illinois schoolboy Billy Condy, whom Clark described as having "the most marvelous array of knuckle-ball serves I have ever seen."
A number of very good players--more perhaps in the Midwest than in the East--tried to incorporate this extra knuckleball spin and deception (in which the ball is shot like a marble from the fingers) into their serves. In the Jacobson-Condy semi's match, Clark says he saw Condy "win five consecutive serves outright":
"...They would jump one way and then the other, and try as he would, Jimmy, great defensive player that he is, could not cope with them successfully until the match had advanced far into the third game. At the beginning Jimmy was so dumbfounded that he couldn't refrain from holding up the game a moment to emit a hearty laugh which at once made him a great favorite with the gallery."
Singles winner Jacobson and his New Rochelle partner George Bacon, Jr., the Defending Doubles Champions, lost their title to the experienced Chicago team of Paul Pearson and Edwin "Tiny" Lewis, for three years running the Western Open Doubles Champs. The fact that Pearson and Lewis and so many of the top players in the early '30's played penholder suggests how much influence the earlier one-bounce "Tennis Service" from below the surface of the table sometimes had in fashioning both the player's grip and stroke.
In the fall of '33, National Champ Jacobson started off the season by winning the (Oct.) Westchester Open. But then at New Rochelle (in Nov.) he was upset by shovel-grip winner (he used only one side of the racket) Joe Blatt, the Mt. Vernon, N.Y. Champ whom Jimmy had beaten in the final of that summer's Peekskill Invitational.
Earlier that Aug. Blatt had reeled in the first annual Silver Cod Quinela tournament by 3 a.m.--outlasting Jacobson and the rest of the Westchester best.
"'Silver Cod'"? you ask. The trophy was in the shape of a fish. The Women's titleholder won the "Brown Dolphin."
"A 'Quiniela?'" you ask. "What's that?" Answer: five winners of Preliminary Pools (round robins) play as follows. Winners of Pools 1 and 2 start off the deciding matches. The winner then stays at the table, while the others take turns playing him until he's defeated; then that winner is in turn challenged. The title goes to whoever wins five (not necessarily consecutive) matches first. Try this endurance-type tournament today!
Jacobson had been able to beat Condy to win the National's, but the next knuckleballer he faced--17-year-old Brooklyn Boys High School student Melvin Rose, playing in his first tournament--at the Jan. 3-5, 1934 (5th) APPA New York Metropolitan Open, proved too tough. This "startling upset" prompted one reporter to write:
"Jacobson is a tall, sardonic youth of twenty years, who is...a sophomore pre-law student at New York University and claims New Rochelle as his home. He has been playing ping-pong seven years....
Jacobson and Rose made an odd picture as they faced each other across a table beneath the bright lights of the hotel ballroom. Jacobson was a study in brown, his shoes, trousers and shirt being of that hue. He plays with one shirt sleeve rolled up, runs his fingers through his hair often and is very serious.
Rose featured a black and white polo shirt and a bright grin. He smiled through the entire match and obviously had Jacobson distracted. As in billiards, ping pong's chief strain is mental....
...Rose [who routed Jacobson 21-8 in the 5th game]...has a smashing forearm shot, a beautiful backhand return and a decidedly difficult spin serve.
This spin serve is causing a furor in ping pong ranks. When the ping pong powers gather this spring it is believed that they will abolish the spin serve as being unfair...."
A month later, on the Feb. 3-4 weekend at the Hotel Morrison in Chicago, leading APPA Eastern players--Jacobson, Sam Silberman, Al Goldman, and Alan Lobel--would lose (Westchester) New York's twice-won Intercity title to an in-depth strong Chicago team of Clark, Condy, Carlton Prouty, Jerry Lavan, and Robert Ratcliffe.
For the first time, this tournament would be more like a real Intercities, more like the National Team Championship it would become, for, instead of just two cities being represented, now there were seven.
In the final Chicago-N.Y. tie, not only did Condy (with a 12-2 record, second only to Jimmy McClure's) wreak revenge on Jacobson who'd defeated him in last year's National's, but Prouty beat him too. Since earlier Jacobson had lost matches to two Ohio players, Merle Arens and Cal Fuhrman, you might say the National Champion was not just having a 5-8 "off" weekend, but that if opportunities for competitive play increased (as they certainly did with the opening up of round robin play in this Intercities), then players everywhere would be getting better?
Jacobson, however, did give McClure, playing with a sandpaper racket, his only loss--but it was the first match McClure played, and he lost it deuce in the 3rd. "Many of the experts who watched his play," wrote one observer, "were of the opinion that McClure's failure against Jacobson was caused largely by stage fright at meeting the National Champion." However, how disconcerting it must have been to play Jacobson and his strange "windshield-wiper" style for the first time. "Jacobson was the best basement player I ever saw," Sol Schiff in his reflective 70's would say. Moreover, later at this tournament, in an Indianapolis-New York-St. Louis playoff for second place, McClure scored a retaliatory win over Jacobson.
The 1933-34 season continued to be a disappointing one for Jacobson. In March he lost in the final of the APPA Eastern's to Sam Silberman. And in defending his APPA U.S. Championship in April at the Hotel Carter in Cleveland, he needed 5 games to stave off Cleveland's best player, Jack Boksenbom, in the quarter's, then fell to Condy in 4in the semi's. As a result, in the APPA Rankings, he dropped from #1 to #11.
One of the APPA's last tournaments before Jacobson, Ruth Aarons, and others joined the USTTA in the fall of 1934 was the Aug. 4 annual Provincetown, Massachusetts Quiniela tournament. Perhaps it was this summer in Provincetown that Jacobson, collegiate-like, is "towing a six-foot shark around behind his Ford--towing it with legitimate fisherman's pride at first, and with growing consternation as he was faced with the problem of disposing of it"?
At the Jan., 1935 Chicago Intercities, New York (Sol Schiff, Abe Berenbaum, Harry Cook, and Jacobson) won the title 5-3 over St. Louis, though Jimmy, otherwise undefeated, lost all three of his matches to the very strong St. Louis players, Mark Schlude, Dick Tindall, and Bud Blattner.
Six weeks or so later, at Trenton, N.J., Jimmy's teammate Berenbaum beat him in the final of the Eastern's.
Then, in the Apr. 5-7, 1935 National's, played at the Stevens Hotel in Chicago, Jacobson again drew Jack Boksenbom, but this time in the 8th's, and this time lost to him in 5.
Although the official USTTA season didn't start until Sept. 15, early and late August tournaments drew some fine players. Having been granted USTTA permission to play in the Provincetown "Silver Cod" Quiniela, Hungarian immigrant Sandor Glancz (1933 World Doubles Champion with Victor Barna) was himself anything but a "fish," for he won five matches in a row, beginning and ending with Jacobson, to take the title.
But at the end-of-August Chautauqua, N.Y. tournament, Jacobson rebounded with a final-round win over U.S. Boys' Champion George Hendry. This tournament was historically memorable, for it marked the USTTA's initial nation-wide rigid enforcement of the so-called "bat rule": "After the ball has been put into play if a player strikes the ball with his racket on the fly, no matter where he, his racket or the ball may be, he loses the point. Even if the ball is clearly out and he stops the ball with his bat he loses the point." It would be 58 years before another USTTA E.C. would rescind this long often controversial and unpopular rule.
After the 1935-36 season proper had gotten underway, Jacobson beat fellow Westchesterite George Bacon to win the Providence, R.I. Southern New England Open.
Then in early Jan. he joined Sol Schiff, Abe Berenbaum, and Lou Pagliaro on a long "sleet-covered and blizzard-swept" trip to Chicago's Lake Shore Athletic Club's Intercities. New York again won the title, but this year Jacobson, with an unimpressive 6-4 record that included a 19, -20, -19 loss to Earl Coulson in N.Y.'s 5-4 win over Indianapolis, didn't play the deciding tie against St. Louis.
Three weeks later, at Washington, D.C., the American Zone Championships were held. This tournament offered a free trip to the World's to the winner of the Men's (but not the Women's) Singles. Schiff won it, and also the Doubles with Jacobson, and so was feeling real happy until just before he was to sail for Europe, he was suspended by the Association for signing a contract with Parker Brothers.
At the Apr. 2-4, 1936 Philadelphia National's, Jacobson got a break when U.S. Team Member Dick Tindall was upset by New York's YMHA player Tommy Sylvester. This allowed Jimmy to rather easily reach the quarter's, where he had the undoubtedly mixed pleasure of losing to the eventual winner, the celebrated Victor Barna. For the third straight season he was ranked just outside the Top 10.
At the 1937 start-of-the-year Intercities in Chicago, Jacobson, who of course had won the 1933 APPA Championship at the Palmer House, was quite conspicuous by his absence. According to tournament committeeman Reginald Hammond, Jacobson's failure to make the New York Team he'd been on the last two years "hurt Intercity publicity tremendously," for Jimmy, who'd played in all five previous Intercities, had "always been 'news' in Chicago."
News he must have been, too, with his strange style, to the two newly arrived foreigners come to play in the Apr. National's--the 1936 World Champion, Standa Kolar from Czechoslovakia, and the 3-time World's Men's Singles runner-up, Laszlo "Laci" Bellak from Hungary. Though Kolar, who, with Sandor Glancz and Laci, was on a Tour of "40" cities in the U.S., would eventually lose in the final to Bellak, he was earlier (-10, -19, 15, 15, 18) almost fatally slow in adapting to Jacobson's unorthodox attacking strokes.
And Laci, who always made everyone laugh, might himself have been the butt of a sorry joke or two since, at the April 30-May 1 Eastern's at Trenton, he came -8, -14, 19, 12, 18 even more perilously close to losing to Jimmy than Kolar did. The Czech, meanwhile did lose--to Schiff, deuce in the 4th. But Kolar/Bellak beat Schiff/Jacobson in the Doubles final.
For the second year in a row Jacobson wasn't on the New York Intercity Team, for by this time he'd entered Harvard, and so, with Les Lowry, and the resurfacing Alan Lobel, 1934 National APPA Doubles Champ with Sam Silberman, was playing on the Boston team. However, because so many teams now wanted to enter the limited to-7-teams Intercities, Boston, in an Eastern Zone play-off in Nov., played host to Philadelphia. The Philly players, Izzy Bellis, Joe LeBow, and Gene Smolens, "drove all night through a nor'wester" to Boston and lost 5-4--with Jacobson winning all three of his matches.
St. Louis succeeded Chicago in running these Jan., '38 Intercities and, though they offered all teams hospitality, Boston finally decided they couldn't or didn't want to come. Waiting until almost zero hour, they didn't give those Philly players who'd earlier persevered for hours through that winter storm, time enough to take their place, and if a Detroit team hadn't come to the rescue, the 7-team carefully-worked-out-schedule would have been severely disrupted.
Though I presume Jacobson was still going to Law School, he found time to play in both the fall Southern Open, where he was the losing finalist to Schiff, and in the winter New England Closed, where he was the losing finalist to Lowry. In the Feb. Eastern's, Jimmy teamed with Les to win the Men's Doubles in a 19 in the 5th thriller over Schiff and Lloyd Waterson (who back in 1933 with Ralph Langsam had won the NYTTA National Doubles). And he also got to the final of the Singles before again losing to Sol.
Teenager Lowry played in the '38 Philadelphia National's, but Jacobson did not. However, as someone said, Jimmy has this "perennial ability to stay in the running" and so his ranking (U.S. #12) continued to remain constant.
With the start of the '38-39 season, in hurricane-hit Boston, at the early fall Massachusetts Open, Frank Filipek upset Jacobson in the semi's. But in the late Oct. Southern New England Open at Providence, Jimmy almost did a little upsetting of his own --extended New York's Johnny Abrahams, U.S. #8, to 5. And at the Dec. Greater Boston Closed, while Jimmy lost the final to Lowry, he did win the Doubles with young newcomer Frank Dwelly.
Since Jacobson again didn't enter the '39 National's, he was obviously more or less confining his play to the New England area, and would receive Insufficient Data in this year's Rankings. However, after the season-ending Toledo National's in mid-March, Jimmy did play in three consecutive April tournaments.
At the New England Open at Cambridge, he predictably lost to Lowry in the semi's, and he and his old partner George Bacon did well to get to the final of the Doubles before being beaten 24-22 in the 4th by Lowry and Dwelly.
But in the Western Massachusetts Open at Fitchburg the following weekend, Les, repeatedly forced back "20 feet" from the table, -19, 17, 18, -26, 19 barely won a marathon final from Jacobson--which, in Fitchberg anyway, was officially important enough for the mayor himself to present the trophies.
And in the Apr. 29th Southern New England Open, as Providence would have it, the inactive, unranked Jacobson showed even more what he could do. He beat U.S. #12 Charlie Schmidt in the quarter's, 2-1, beat U. S. #13 Lowry in the semi's, 3-0, and beat #9 Cartland in the -19, 18, 21, 22 up-for-grabs final.
This it would seem might be Jimmy's final moment of glory, since now, for some reason, he chose to forego playing in New England; instead limited himself to playing in three consecutive Newark, N.J. tournaments. He lost to former U.S. Boys' Champion Cy Sussman in the final of the Oct. 7-8 Evergreen Open (the Evergreen Courts venue on Market St. was the Essex County Headquarters). In the Jan. 20-21, 1940 Garden State Open he was beaten by Dan Klepak, whom he'd defeated at the Evergreen. And in the Mar. 30-31 Atlantic Coast Open he was again beaten by Klepak (who incidentally was proud to say that in a Lido Beach Hotel exhibition he and his partner were once billed above Danny Kaye). With the help of these tournaments, Jimmy's 1939-40 Ranking--his last--was U.S. #22.
That summer Jacobson did play in New England--in the annual Quiniela vacation tournament at Provincetown, and was beaten by U.S. #15 Johnny Abrahams, 3-0.
Being a New Yorker, he also entered the 1941 National's at the Manhattan Center. He drew Schiff in the 8th's and was beaten 3-1. However, in the 16th's he pulled off a surprise 19-in-the-5th upset over Bill Price.
Insufficient Data--that was now the USTTA's perennial assessment of Jacobson. But we know better. We have plenty of 10-year data on him. And he was still in the running--at least for one more big tournament. The Apr. 10-12, 1942 Detroit National's--was this a present to self? And to...? In the Doubles his partner was none other than the 1940-41-42 U.S. Singles Champion Lou Pagliaro. In the quarter's they beat Price and Allan Levy, and in the semi's they beat Lowry and Hungarian star Tibor Hazi, before losing to the Defending team of Cy Sussman and Eddie Pinner.
Not a bad finish to a youthful career. And then?...What happens to Champions when they leave the table tennis world? Some do quite well. Years later, Sandor Glancz reported that Jimmy Jacobson was the owner of Pocket Books, Inc.