Judy Kay-Wolff

TOBIAS STONE — Still Alive and Kicking (at 90+)!!

Stoney was one of the first great bridge personalities to whom Norman introduced me when I set foot into the real world of bridge (as opposed to my ‘kitchen bridge escapades” and Monday Night suburban duplicates where most players fancied themselves as experts).  Norman had played on teams with Stoney and his partner, Alvin Roth, long before I came along.  As I perused the list of present Hall of Famers, I assumed Stoney might be the eldest, but counting was never the best part of my game (not sure what is!) and I immediately realized I was in error as Edith Freilich has him beat by a few years.   Edith, living in Florida, is long retired from the game but will forever be regarded as a true legend — and one stunning, terrific lady!!!

For those of you who are new on the scene, Edith (nee Seamon/Seligman/Kemp/Frieilich) was probably the top American woman player of my day.     She also sported exceptionally good bloodlines.   Edith is the sister of the late Billy Seamon and Anne Burnstein (both formidable players in their own rights) and Billy and his wife Rita’s kids are nothing to be scoffed at either — Janice Seamon-Molson and Michael Seamon.   Sensational bridge genes run in that family!   Anyway, now that we’ve resolved that Stoney is the second oldest living creature in the HOF, we can move on.   

A new Yorker by birth, he attended CCNY (City College of New York) and a couple other famous bridge players (coincidentally HOFers too) were enrolled at the same time — sometime in the mid-thirties.    One was Harry Harkavy (who settled in Florida) and the other was Stoney’s fast-talking regular partner for umpteen years, the ever-visible and forever-heard Alvin Roth who passed on in 2007 at 93.  Stoney fondly recalled going up to Syracuse for their first National about 1940 (that’s 70 years ago) and not only did he remember winning, but credited Harry Fishbein and Waldemar von Zedtwitz finishing right behind them.  What a memory!   Cool!

Stoney lived in New York most of his life, spending many evenings at the famous P. J. Clarke’s entertaining hosts of after-hour frequenters as a premier raconteur.   His mind was (and still is) very sharp and Norman and Bobby (both very knowledgeable) would never challenge him on his recall of sporting records.   He was a great card player and lived by his wits, but the days of the Big Apple are history.   He moved to Vegas about twenty-five years ago and was active (successfully) until recently at the gaming tables and sports book when his eyesight began to fail and he was forced to give up his daily pleasures.    We reminisce often on the phone and his power of recall is incredible.  

The “Stoney Stories” are endless.   Bobby credits him as being one of his bridge mentors.   In addition to the game, they shared a passion for sports and would often compare notes on “odds.”   His dry sense of humor was unbeatable.   Bobby still laughs when he recalls Stoney asking him in 1960 “if television had reached Texas yet.”   On a former blog about his trip to the Cavendish Club in Philly when he came down to practice with Norman after Sidney Silodor died, I told the story of his playing to a packed house of  kibitzers.   After every hand, there was always background chatter about coulda/woulda/shoulda, when abruptly Stoney arose from his chair, very calmly scanned the audience and in an extremely serious tone inquired, “Do any of you people play bridge?”  — then smiled and sat down.   Everyone was stunned — then mass hysteria followed.  That was my Stoney. 

(The next two stories I blogged on last year, so if they look familiar, just skip over them — but worth repeating for new readers);

Stoney  spent much time in California and Vegas and knew a lot of people in high places.   When Norman and I were planning our honeymoon ‘out west,’  Stoney played a key role.   First he got us totally comped at The Flamingo for four nights (a big deal 47 years ago), then on to SF and finally ended up in Los Angeles where he took us back stage at one of the studios where everyone knew and fell all over the very likeable Stoney.   We met Phil Silvers,watched Stuart Whitman on the set of “The Mark” and then Stoney got us permission to watch the filming of “What a Way to Go” (if you are old enough to remember that great flick). We got to shake hands and exchange pleasantries with Gene Kelly and Shirley MacLaine.   I was a big movie buff and collected autographed pictures so I was in awe.   (Oh, how I wished my mother hadn’t given away my collection to my cousin to “get rid of” at the flea market!  No telling what they would have been worth!)

Another remembrance (not so wonderful  – but quite breathtaking) was when Stoney offered to motor at night to a great spot where we could see the lit-up HOLLYWOOD sign high in the hills  Unfortunately, it was a one lane highway and you had to be careful what was coming the other way.   I always suffered from acrophobia and at fifty miles an hour on a circular, winding one-way road, I screamed out for him to turn around.   No problem.  At the top of a hilly turn, he reversed, whipped the vehicle around and headed back.   Thank heaven nothing came tearing down the other side!

The following evening I was looking forward to a more relaxing night with Alfie Sheinwold, a warm, soft-spoken gentleman, who graciously invited us to his house for a drink, after which we would head out to a lovely restaurant ten minutes down the L. A. Freeway.  Sounded like a plan to me!  Soon we were in Alfie’s car and I went ballistic.  It appeared like Déjà vu.   He weaved in and out of every lane at about 65 m.p.h.   Stoney’s driving was looking better and better, when finally Alfie took his eyes off the road, proudly turned around to us (his guests in the back seat) and asked, “How am I doing??  I haven’t driven in twenty years and just passed my test today.”   When we returned to Philly, I made a charitable contribution in gratitude for our safe return.

I could go on and on about this incredibly amusing gentleman who always provided a laugh a minute (but not in the mountains).  In addition to countless bridge victories, he is the holder of a backgammon title as well and, of course, made valuable contributions to the famous Roth-Stone System in the fifties.   His record is phenomenal, but you can check out his stats in the Bridge Encyclopedia for yourselves.  It was this fun-loving, good humored rascal, Tobias Stone, I wanted to introduce to you.   Stoney is one in a million and Norman, Bobby and I have been so lucky to claim him as a dear friend.


17 Comments

ross taylorFebruary 14th, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Great story ! I think as a rule of thumb, one should always be reluctant to be a passenger in a bridge player’s car – especially on a treacherous road.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFFebruary 14th, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Ross:

When I was married to Norman, I did all the driving. Admittedly, he maneuvered a dummy far better than a vehicle. According to Bobby, Stoney would not have gotten the Good Driver Award but living in New York, cabs were a way of life. Unfortunately, way back in Stoney’s prime, everyone motored to tournaments as air travel was in its infancy.

ROBIN KAYFebruary 14th, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Hi Mom:

This is your daughter Robin speaking. You omitted one of the best Stoney stories — involving yours truly. Let me trigger your memory ….

You always talked about dad’s buddy and teammate, Tobias Stone. The occasion never

arose for us to cross paths until he was scheduled to come down from New York to Philly for a backgammon tournament. He was staying in town for a couple of days and you and dad made a date to take him to dinner after his evening session. However, no one (including Stoney) knew what time it would end, so you arranged to call me (as soon as you knew) to set a time when the four of us would converge on the restaurant across from the tournament site.

Thus, I finally got to meet this legendary character, Tobias Stone. I was very young at the time and knew of him by repuation only — not yet having been exposed to the ‘wonderful world of bridge(?)!!’ The evening was mostly a repartee beween the two gentlemen about the icons of the past and the many names who made bridge history going back to Goren and far beyond. Stoney nor dad ever came up for air. You, of course, knew to whom they were alluding though you had little to say as well. I just listened in amazement at their exhuberant trip down memory lane. It was rare for either of us to remain silent for such an extended period of time.

Finally, as we left for the parking lot, I turned to this entertaining man, gave him a peck on the cheek, extended my hand and with a straight face said: “Stoney (we were now on a first name basis) — I really enjoyed meeting you — but I do have one question.” “What’s that, Robin?” replied a curious Stoney. “DO YOU OR MY DAD KNOW ANY PEOPLE WHO ARE STILL ALIVE?”

Your blog flashed back to that night which will always be indelibly inscribed in my memory.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFFebruary 15th, 2010 at 6:35 am

Robin,

Yes, I well remember the night but hadn’t thought about it in years. I phoned him the other day, advising I was planning to do a little story on him but wanted clearance first — which he granted.

No doubt he has slowed down (but who doesn’t at age 90?) and rarely leaves his apartment. I had not seen him in about fifteen months, although Bobby and I would meet him for dinner every few months after moving to Vegas four years ago, but the last couple of times I called, he declined.

I actually saw him today for the first time in ages. When I read him the ‘finished’ blog and promised to bring over enlarged printed copies because of his worsening eyesight (plus a 2010 calendar and a special foot long sandwich and beverage from Subway), I received a brief Visitors Permit. I didn’t stay long but I think it brightened his spirits to know that he was not ‘the forgotten man.’ He made too big a mark on the bridge world for that to happen — but it was a comfort to me to see his smiling face rather than being content to merely hearing his voice every few weeks on the other end of the phone. Stoney still has a quick wit and unique sense of humor — but your line to him ranks right up there with some of his own classics.

Love,

Your favorite mother

Cam FrenchFebruary 15th, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Great anecdotes Judy, we need more of those uplifting ones. So many great personalities have passed on but these stories will endure. In the past year or so we lost Grant Baze, Paul Soloway and Dick Freeman, all of whom left their distinctive mark upon our great game.

Thanks for posting. Maybe one day you will pen Beta-Wolff where we can learn more tales of Silodor, Roth, Fishbein, von Zedtwitz, Edgar, Norman and the list goes on. You have much to share.

Thanks.

C

Jim PriebeFebruary 15th, 2010 at 11:19 pm

Great story Judy

I remember playing against Stone at Fishbein’s club in New York back in the 50’s. Everyone played there. Stone was playing with a non expert and on one hand after a wild auction like

pass pass 1 heart pass

1 spade pass pass double (This was Stone’s partner after a very long hesitation)

Stone became declarer in some number of clubs and dummy came down with a very decent supporting hand.

Stone quipped, “From your hesitation, everyone thought you were 2-2 in the minors.”

JUDY KAY-WOLFFFebruary 16th, 2010 at 1:07 am

Cam:

It is rewarding to know that all of my writing was not in vain. As you are familiar, it is frustrating to give something ‘your all’ and receive very few comments.

Stoney was very cooperative and, like all great players who are alone and aging, does not want to be forgotten. All the living Hall of Famers received a request from Memphis (ala Jean Patterson, Manager of Customer Service who has served the ACBL well for a long time now). All recipients were asked, while at the upcoming NABC in Reno to agree to a taped interview and sent an advance copy of the twelve questions they would be asked — so they could give them some thought. Eventually the interviews will be shown at the new ACBL Headquarters in Horn Lake in the special Hall of Fame Wing.

Stoney mentioned some letter he received from the League but with failing vision was unsure what it could be. I immediately realized what it was, filled him in and with Jean’s help, I received the list of questions which I have enlarged for his convenience and am mailing them to him tomorrow. Then, when he has a chance to give them some thought, he will supply me with the answers and I will type them up and send them on to Jean. (Good thing I took the Secretarial Course as part of my four-year Business Degree. Sure comes in handy in this Cyberspace Age which we have become).

Bobby’s interview is another problem as we are not going to Reno. We’ll try to figure that one out (when and how) as Bobby has so much history to contribute to the annals of the HOF, even so far as being its first Chairman in 1994 when it was resurrected by Roy Green, then CEO, after its original introduction and abrupt closing in 1966 — having been started in 1964.

Also, Jean asked me if I could respond on my late husband, Norman’s behalf. That’s a tough one. In fact, I just wrote to his first partner, Burrell Humphries, a retired judge from NJ to supply me with some of Norman’s earlier background to fill in the blanks before I came on the scene. Unfortunately, as Jean pointed out, these bridge icons should have been interviewed at their respective inductions, but no one thought that far in advance and we have lost so many of the greatest players of all time so we must make the best of what is available — and in my case, it is as Norman’s widow but I can fill in 90% of the blanks after I hear from Burrell.

I didn’t know Grant that well although I respected his talent and the way he conducted himself. I cannot tell how disappointing it was for him to have never made the Living HOF. We talked about it briefly one afternoon. I only knew Paul casually but got to see more of him when he played professionally with a local world-famous psychologist, author and fellow Philadelphian, Dr. Marty Seligman. Dickie Freeman (and his wife Louise/nee Robinson) I knew well as they were close with both Norman and our late friend Bobby Jordan and often journeyed to Philly both before and after their marriage when Dickie played on teams with Kay, Jordan & Co. (He always teased me because I called him “Dickie” — rather than Dick — but I remember him from the old Radio Show ‘The Quiz Kids’ and associated him with the young genius I listened to spouting off the answers every Sunday.

You also mention Silodor, Roth, von Zedtwitz and Kaplan. Waldemar von Zedtwitz I knew hardly at all but like everyone was aware, he twirled his wiry grey hair at the table while trying to solve a problem. Whoops, I do remember a Waldy story. Stoney and Waldy were practicing at the NY Cavendish against Edgar and Norman. In a spirited auction Stone and von Zedtwitz reached a spade grand slam. Norman, who was shy and cringed at the thought of ever embarrassing anyone, stuttered a moment, and then quietly said, “I’m afraid I am going to have to double.” With that Stoney screamed across the table at Waldy, “YOU DON’T HAVE THE ACE OF TRUMP?” “No,” replied Waldy, “I thought you did.” True. I witnessed it!

Perhaps one day I will do a short blog on Sidney Silodor, Norman’s partner from 1960-1963, when he passed away from cancer. I idolized the handsome Sidney as he always made me feel so welcome and I remained friendly with his widow, Bess, for the next twenty some years until her death. My favorite “Sidney line” was uttered a couple of months before his death. Norman and I had just gotten engaged and late that Friday night drove all the way to the suburbs as Sidney was starting to slip in and out of consciousness before being permanently hospitalized where he died on August 4, 1963. We had a very cordial friendship and when I showed him the ring Norman had just slipped up on my finger, he leaned toward Norman and whispered, “This (pointing to me) is the best contract you ever made.” Teary, but sweet.

Roth, of course, I knew, as did everyone. Far from a shy man, and of course a brilliant player, and there are many hilarious stories about him, but I am not equipped with enough to make writing worthwhile.

And — the last one, Edgar Kaplan, my mentor, who together with his late wife, Betty (formerly Sheinwold as in K/S) were very close friends with the Kays during their lifetimes. I could tell a hundred Edgar Stories. In fact, I have already shared many in the last year of blogging. Perhaps when I come up for air, I will relate others.

There you go, Cam — a full update on my memories of some of the Best of the Best. Thanks for asking. You warmed the cockles of my heart as I hadn’t thought about a lot of those tales in what seems like an eternity.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFFebruary 16th, 2010 at 2:31 am

Hi Jim:

I enjoyed your Stoney story from Fishbein’s Club in the fifites. Stoney was just about the most quick-witted and funniest bridge personality I ever met. Unfortunately, it was often at someone’s expense, but because he was ever so humorous, most people seemed to pass it off with a laugh, not take offense and move on.

Your mentioning of Fishy also recalled a bittersweet memory for me. This probably happened over thirty-five years ago. All the NABCs seem to blend together at this stage in my life. It was a National Mixed Team. Where? I have no clue. But I do recall most of the background.

Though Norman played very little ‘social bridge’ (that alluded to me in my earlier years) when not playing with Edgar, he had conceded to partner me on the team and agreed to find a suitable pair. However, he suddenly was “recruited” as a favor by one of his premier stock brokerage customers to fill in on his team, and had no alternative but to postpone our date to another time (perhaps the following year or the year after). Who can remember? I was a shrinking violet back then (hard to believe) and went quietly. Somehow Fishy found out about it and coaxed me into playing with him. I always hated partnering strangers (and avoid it to this day) and scared to death, to boot, but who could say “no” to such a sweetheart and generous offer? Berets were Fishy’s calling card and he was never seen without one, so early the next morning I trotted to a nearby department store and bought matching berets so we would look like a respectable, formidable, genuine partnership.

If my memory serves me correctly, the rest of the team was Dave Clarren, from Minneapolis (who shared me with Fishy) and Dora Brechner and Richard Schwartz, of New York. We came in with a respectable showing (somewhere in the overalls) but one thing was for damn sure, I remember finishing ahead of Norman and the team for which he was forced to dump me. Served him right!

Amazing how the mention of Harry Fishbein’s name could recall a totally forgotten incident till I read your cute remark by Stoney.

Cam FrenchFebruary 16th, 2010 at 8:24 pm

Judy,

You are a one-woman archive. Think about that.

Your “behind home plate” (that is just for you) view granted you access from a unique and privileged vantage. I don’t think you owe the greater bridge community anything, but I do think we would owe you, should you pry open the vault of bridge memories and share it.

“What- you don’t have the ace of trumps???????” The unsuspecting reader might miss the obvious inference – Norman would never double a grand without it. That is priceless!

In my first ever tournament, with Eric Cranley, a kind, sweet man.

I recall with glee:

The opponents bid briskly:

1NT 4C

4S 7NT

at which point my partner asked if he was on lead.

That confirmed, he doubled, the followed by a redouble.

He cashed the ace of hearts.

My opponent turned to his partner as said – where in the hell did you learn Gerber?????

He answered. GERBER! I have never player GERBER in my life!!!

Shades of Norman.

I am going to email Ray Lee, that he commission a writer at a generous stipend, who can research, collaborate, edit and help you get Beta Wolff off the ground.

I may just apply for the job.

In the meantime, remember – we would owe you.

And I want to hear more “no ace trumps”, like war stories and personal anecdotes that add value, perspective and insight into some of our magnificent predecessors. Only you have that treasure trove.

Awaitng Ray’s verdict, and your consent.

C

JUDY KAY-WOLFFFebruary 17th, 2010 at 1:56 am

Cam:

You’re too kind and flattering. There are far more interesting subjects to amuse the bridge playing public. More appropriate to blog on the spur of the moment when time allows and the spirit moves me. In fact, I fear some of the better stories would not pass the censorship test. There’s a great one about Roth, but I am afraid I would be greeted by “Awaiting Moderation.’

JohnFebruary 23rd, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Judy,

I can’t express how much I truly enjoy reading your blogs recounting the bridge greats of the past. When I started playing bridge in the late sixties in New York City many of these players were playing in GNYBA tournaments and fortunately in those days there were no Bracketed Knock Out Teams. Most of the top players played in Open Pairs events where you could be fortunate (or is that unfortunate) enough to have the opportunity to play against the best. In those days going to Table 1 (the top seed in each section) was something to be anticipated. While not usually a point gathering success, it was always a thrill and a learning experience. Thanks for the blogs and stories.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFFebruary 23rd, 2010 at 11:50 pm

John:

Bridge has changed so much, it is hard to believe! Not only was Table 1 the top seed back then — but now for some strange reason, Table 3 is now the seat of honor. Playing or kibitzing in a Greater New York Bridge Association tournament back in the sixties was like attending a National of today. Travel was not so easy in those days (forty years ago) but it did not seem to impede the out-of-towners from arriving by post time. Players thought nothing of driving in from the D.C. or VA area or PA, NJ, CT, or MA for a short two and a half days. Of course, hotels and motels were a smidgeon of what we pay today and food was so much cheaper (lest we forget the minuscule card fees).

Remembering the heroes of old is such a heartwarming feeling and blogs like yours reaffirms the excitement whether we won or lost (mostly lost — or even had our brains blown out). It was the fun we had competing against the legends whom people today never heard of or hardly remember. We were so lucky, indeed!

Angelo DePalmaDecember 23rd, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Does anyone here know that Tobias Stone was a VERY good chess player? Is anyone surprised?

Back in 1985 I was playing in the New York (chess) Open, in the under-1600 section. Looking through the wallcharts in the unrated section I noticed a certain Tobias Stone. Since I was primarily a bridge player at the time I recognized the name immediately. I went to his table before round 1 and chatted with Mr. Stone for about 15 minutes. He explained that the last time he’d played in a chess tournament was 1935, in Atlantic City.

Stoney came in 2nd in the very large unrated section. Who came in first? An extremely cute nine-year-old Hungarian girl, Judit Polgar. Judit went on to become a world top-ten chess player, who’s battled virtually all the current great players. Judit is still — by far — the highest-rated woman in chess, and the strongest female ever to play the game.

Angelo DePalmaDecember 23rd, 2010 at 2:55 pm

I should add that this unrated section was chock-full of ringers, mostly foreign players who did not have US Chess Federation ratings but who had competed internationally. That included Ms. Polgar, who was, despite her young age, of at least master strength at the time.

Bob BambrickApril 19th, 2011 at 1:45 am

Judy

Thank you for your wonderful posts on Tobias. You may have noticed the ace of diamonds story from the recent Vanderbilt Fliesher-Diamond. Diamond bid to 7 Diamonds and perhaps out of politeness, the defender did not double and led the ace to speed up the execution. At the other table, same contract but doubled for 2 IMP’s. Fortunately that wasn’t the margin of victory but it was close – 6 IMP’s. Best wishes

unknownMay 25th, 2011 at 11:56 am

although I understand and respect your adoration of Tobias Stone, too bad Mr.Stone didn’t give the same concern, recognition and attention to his own deserving daughter..perhaps she would still be alive today and be there for her teenage daughter who feels the heartache everyday, of a mother taking her own life.

Pieter HoetsFebruary 23rd, 2012 at 5:14 am

I don’t know why but two weeks ago I tried to get in contact with Tobias Stone and found his address on the web. I had not seen him in 25 yrs. His cousin answered me by Email and told me that Tobias had passed away peacefully around the time I wrote my note. This man had something special….

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