Probably many readers won't even remember Barry Crane, as he never played in international competition and has been dead since 1985. But perhaps some can answer my question anyway. I had only been playing about 3 years when Crane died.
I had gone to only one nationals, and lived in the east while Crane was in California, so I never played against him, or even at the same tournament he was at. Crane's reputation was that he got outstanding results against weak players, and at matchpoints. While he was not exactly awful in more serious competition (he reached the finals of the Vanderbilt at the last nationals before his death), his strength was definitely NOT strong IMP games.
My question is - just WHAT did Crane do that enabled him to win all those matchpoint games? If you asked, for example, "What is the distinguishing characteristic of Bob Hamman" most would answer "He plays the spots off the cards." For Meckwell it would be "They bid on air, and somehow manage to make all these 23-point 3NT contracts, and have the precision system that never stops growing." For Zia it would be "Flair and table presence." What would it be for Crane?
Barry Crane was the best match point player ever. He didn't just win countless match point events, he destroyed them. Just about every regional pairs event he entered he would finish about one board to two boards ahead of the second place finisher. Crane consistently finished in the top 2-3 places in the McKenney Race for the most master points won in a year for about 20+ years before he died. This accomplishment is even more amazing as he was mainly a part time player. While the pro's could play all week on a regional to amass their points, Crane could only play during the weekends. Crane if he wanted to could have won the McKenney for at least 20 years straight. Mike Jones, one of Crane's partners, told me that if the top second place contender for the McKenney didn't respect him and ask for Crane's permission to win the McKenney he would simply win the McKenney himself that year.
It is a mistake to think that Crane prospered only in weak tournaments against weak players. He has won numerous tough National and International pairs events. Further, Crane got his results playing with a wide variety of partners of different strengths. Many champions have gotten their results primarily playing with just one or two other champions. Not Crane, he frequently won major events with non-champion players. As a pairs player, Crane would easily have to be a world champion for all time.
I have often heard from many strong imp specialists who would say "It's amazing the stuff he gets away with in pairs against the weak players!" Therefore, they would infer Crane could not play imps. They would seem to forget that since Crane was a regional weekend player, Saturdays was always a pairs event, while Sundays was usually a Swiss team event so a substantial part of his master point totals came from his frequent victories in swiss events. In national events, I don't think Crane got the respect of the strong imp specialists so his teams were just a cut below the best. However, his teams did manage to get to the round of 16 or above a good number of times and sometimes his teams might reach the finals. There are few imp specialists that have done that well.
From kibitzing him over a dozen sessions, I think part of Crane's success in pairs came from he was a superb card player and I don't mean in a technical sense. I doubt if he worked out the last tenth of a percentage point between line A and line B. But he was a fast player could smell the winning line even if technically an inferior one by analyzing the tempo in which the defenders bid and played their cards. Crane was also a master at getting the opponents to make a mistake.
Another part of Crane's success was his ability to size up his opponents and know how to vary his tactics. Most stronger imp players when they play pairs play basically play each pair as if they were the same decent opponent. Of course, against pigeon mama papa pairs he bid "unsoundly" but he did not make the last fatal mistake and more often than not he killed them. Against the stronger pairs he would be more conservative and bid more down the middle.
Another major part in Crane's success was his ability to train his partners to behave. There was never any question as to who was the boss of the partnership and his partner's learned how not to "hang" him. Crane's partners would have 12-13 hcp but they would always learn to invite game as Crane could easily be opening on a subminimum hand. Crane was also an aggressive competitive bidder but he was always in quickly and got out quickly. HIs partners were expected to do so also. One of his commandments was: "The three level was dangerous." so raising Crane to the three level was out unless you had the absolute nuts. Another Crane commandment was: "Only Jesus saves." which meant partner was never allowed to take a sacrifice. One of his other commandments was "Don't play me for any cards!" so in a close situation his partner was expected to settle for the surest plus score.
Finally, another factor to Crane's success was his table presence. Crane's table was always intimidating. There would be usually a contingent of kibitzers. He would dress impeccably. He would exude a very self assured confidence and bid and play quickly. Often, the opponents trying to keep pace would give away some key information about their hands when they couldn't maintain the tempo. Sometimes Crane would get in trouble but even if Crane was in dire trouble he never let any one else sense it. More often than not his opponents would let him off the hook. Because Crane's table and reputation could be so intimidating, sometimes I thought his opponents might be induced to make mistakes that they would not otherwise make.
He had a bidding system designed for matchpoint play that was extremely aggressive (e.g. "Open any 11 point hand that contains an A or K"). His style was "tops and bottoms" but he did collect far more of the former. He was a superlative technician. But he does seem to have carried his style into IMP play.
I was in the hospitality suite at a local regional a few years ago, and a group were discussing Barry Crane. Someone asked "Why, with his superlative technique, was Barry not more successful at teams play?" "+5, +5, +5, -17."
Ah, something I can finally speak authoritatively about!
Barry Crane had many fans. His son (Ben Crane) was a reasonable chess player, and many of my friends play both bridge and chess, and I heard this story from two separate sources (my chess friends, who also play bridge).
Barry Crane was at some tournament, and a fan came up to him. The fan said "Mr. Crane, I have been watching you play for some time now, and I noticed one thing about you.....You ALWAYS bid!!" Crane thanked the man for his appreciation, and sat down to play the next board. The opponents bid to an unstoppable 6 NT contract. Crane and his partner has passed throughout the auction. Crane was sitting with 0 HCP. After 6 NT was bid, Crane looked at the fan, and said "double!" ... Needless this say, this was good for three reasons...
Intimidating table presence. I got to play against him a few times - about half at the table and half in his direction. He could be completely charming, entertaining, full of life etc. until the minute the hands were pulled out of the board. Then, all the matchpoints on that board were his and you were risking body parts if you got in his way. It didn't matter if you were a top seed or a palooka - you fell under the spell. Part of it was an aggressive bidding style to try to steal space and sow confusion as to whose hand it was. Part of it was his ability to read opponents ( & partners ) and figure out their problems before they knew what they were. Part of it was that he was quicker thinking and acting than most every one else - which affected them as they either tried to keep tempo or got frustrated trying to keep up. Part of it was reacting to his reputation - if you think that you're going to get beat, odds are you're going to get beat.
Why he didn't do better at the National IMP level is a interesting question. I think that he had strong partners - Dr. John Fisher and Gerald Caravelli come to mind. I think that he wasn't accepted as a teammate by the top level players of that time for a variety of reasons. Jealousy. Lack of respect for his style. The feeling that his style was not suited to high level IMP games. Maybe Bobby Goldman has more of a insight into that than somebody like me.
The player that is closest to Crane today in reputation and performance is probably Zia. However, I've not had the opportunity to play against Zia so I really can't compare them directly. Both have/had a great deal of charisma and table presence. I'd like to see a head-to-head match between them. Maybe in bridge heaven!
Personality is certainly one reason. Barry either greatly endeared himself to or greatly alienated himself from just about every bridge player who ever met him. Sometimes both. Teams with Crane were Crane's teams, not a team of equals, no matter who the best player was. This didn't make for good team harmony. Crane would yell at everyone, partners, teammates, opponents. He was good enough and manipulative enough that he could get under everyone's skin. More than one good player refused to play with Barry, saying, "winning just isn't worth it."
See Grant Baze talking about Barry.
In answer to Pete Wityk, who wrote: The player that is closest to Crane today in reputation and performance is probably Zia. I'd guess Marty Bergen is closer, or at least the Marty Bergen of ten years ago.
One of my favorite Crane stories...Crane and partner were going over the scores after a matchpoint session---"12, 12, 0, 12, 1, 11, 6--CHECK THAT SCORE!"
PS: My overlap with Crane on the West Coast was brief, but I did get to play against him a few times. Most of the stuff above was told to me by others.
There is also another story in Truscott's book "Doubles & Redoubles", previously mentioned in this thread, about the 1981 McKenney race between Barry and Mel Skolnik. It described the lengths these players went to to win the race (which came down to the final Regional of the year).
Part of it involved fielding teams to "run interference" against the other player. For example, if Skolnik were playing in the non-smoking division and Crane in the smoking division then Skolnik would enlist a team to play in the smoking division to try to help prevent a Crane victory.
This article revolved around the ethical dilemma when two Skolnik teams met in a midnight Swiss (with each player having two teams in contention).