Judy Kay-Wolff

OH, DANNY BOY ……

Until October of 2007 — the time of the infamous WBF Women’s Bridge Team victory incident in Shanghai with which (by this time) you are all familiar — I wasn’t sure I even knew who Danny Kleinman was.   I must have had one of those senior moments as today he reminded me we weren’t total strangers!  More than twenty years ago, at a national tournament within commuting distance of his Los Angeles home, he encountered me as an opponent, and seeing the name “Kay” on my convention card, he inquired whether I was the daughter of the famous Norman, and very flattered (as my daughter Robin is thirty years my junior), I proudly owned up to being his wife.  Then, earlier in 2007 (which I had also forgotten — but this fella has a memory like an elephant) , Danny and Jeff Rubens assigned me to write a book review for The Bridge World.  I found the script so boring and not my kinda thing (and didn’t want to be negative) that I refused — so Danny pinch-hitted for me.   My not recalling the distasteful incident is probably known as selective memory.

The Shanghai trophy presentation made the headlines (but not without incident) and many bridge sites carried the story, with accompanying photographs. It caused a huge backlash and attempts at punishment with the accompanying resultant threats of law suits, etc.   It was ugly, indeed.    Danny was vehemently in favor of freedom of speech and I was violently against what I considered a U. S. act of being disloyal and unpatriotic.   We became opposing forces in cyberspace and harsh but sincere blogs were exchanged.   It matters not as it is water under the bridge but certainly proved the old adage — “It’s an ill wind that blows no good.”   After the brouhaha subsided, Bobby (who knew Danny from earlier days) renewed their friendship (corresponding about other mutual issues) and before I knew it, we were a triumvirate   In fact, when Danny visited Las Vegas two years ago for the Nationals, we met for dinner (and luckily Bobby is not the jealous type) as I fell in love with Danny right on the spot.  He was exactly what his emails portrayed — brilliant, sincere, sensitive, honorable, staunch and forthright — the very qualities I adore in a human being. 

I am probably Danny’s biggest fan — not only for his impeccable ethical manner, unyielding spirit, theories and demeanor at the table — but for his determination to protect the game and its integrity — at any cost.  Danny’s talents are many.   According to the ACBL Bridge Encyclopedia (and I am embarrassed to admit — not a current edition)  .. he was a computer programmer, bridge and backgammon teacher, songwriter, writer, and graduate of Oberlin College — among other things.   He designed and programmed the first backgammon computer (Jack Gammon) and is the author of hosts of bridge books and hundreds of articles.  And, though not mentioned in my non-current edition, I know he has made many impressive contributions to The Bridge World Magazine, serves on its staff in several capacities and directs the Master Solvers’ Club twice a year.   Currently, he also plays with clients at clubs or tournaments and they get double their money (both the fun of playing with a terrific player as well as a critique — board by board).  A written analysis follows the next day, not an at-the-table critique that can often be mistaken and usually disrupts the game for the opponents as well as the student.  It is quite apparent how much he loves the game and honors it in every respect.   Believe me, these are just a few of his credentials as I could go on and on, time and space permitting.   And surprisingly — I haven’t even gotten to his (IMHO) greatest unique talent and that is his mastery of the English language, his serious, dry sense of humor which I find utterly captivating — and his ability to mix names and words to achieve hilarious reactions,  driving his point home in spades.   Danny, like Bobby and myself, are outspoken activists about the seamy and sordid aspects of bridge ethics — even at the club level — fighting to restore bridge to the majesty it deserves.

Frequently, Danny releases his bridge tensions by immediately describing the personal incidents against him (or his partner) with which he has a rightful gripe.  They are so cleverly presented, they really should be chronicled for posterity.   I have been reading and delighting in them for a couple of years and decided it was time to share a recent pair of them with you.    The monikers he uses are so descriptively on point but he always emphasizes that real names are never used to protect ‘the guilty.’   Try his latest for size and I think you’ll agree his bridge heart is in the right place and he is trying desperately to right the many wrongs evidenced at the tables.     Unfortunately, so few who rule the game are familiar with the nuances necessary to make equitable judgments — but this is one for the books!

1)  PLAYER MEMO, Smart Alec
March 21, 2010
WEST (Smart Alec, dummy)
C-A8 (auction and other suits irrelevant)

East, Dog Meat, was declaring 1 NT, and led the C7 towards dummy.  I was South and covered with the C9.  Dog then called “Club,” and dummy, Smart Alec, had a problem.   He had been following the play closely enough to know that playing the C8 was an error.  What should he do?  Comply with the instruction to play a “club”?    Alec solved this problem by hesitating.  A few seconds later, Dog noticed that I had covered the C7 with the C9 and said, “Play the ace.”  The director, Don Krum, when called to the table ruled that as the C8 had not yet been played, and Alec had not signaled to Dog, Dog could play the CA.
       Danny Kleinman

2)  DANNY’S REPLY TO ME — FOLLOWING MY RESPONSE TO HIS JUSTIFIED OUTRAGE:

When my partners call a card from dummy, I always play it in tempo.  Then, if my partner has made a slip of the tongue and corrects it without pause for thought,  the director can allow her to change her play … or not.  However, when an opposing declarer calls a card from dummy and the dummy does not play it, a director call is necessary … and more often than not, the director allows declarer to change the call.

One round later yesterday, I went down in a slam that I could have tried to make in any of six different ways, choosing one of the two lines destined for failure.  I don’t know whether my indignation at “S mart Alec’s” being allowed to get away with her maneuver contributed to my poor guess as to the winning line.  One of the alternative lines I thought of and rejected was a Vienna Coup that would have succeeded (instead I tried to ruff out a suit).  Later, I thought of a name for “Smart Alec’s” latest travesty: a Vieira Coup.   That’s right, a coup named for Meredith Vieira of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” notoriety.

In effect, when a declarer calls for a card from dummy, and dummy refuses to play it, dummy is asking, “Is that your final answer?”

As for Smart Alec’s ploy on Saturday, a simple change in the enforcement of the rules would prevent it; In case of failure to alert or misinformation given to opponents, make the penalty automatic, with no need for the victims to prove damage.  Other infractions do not require such effort on the part of opponents.  If a player bids out of turn, the penalty is automatic; the opponents do not have to prove that they were damaged.  If a player revokes, he does not escape penalty when the opponents cannot prove they have been damaged.  Indeed, the subsequent trick that may be transferred can be the ace of trumps.  When I lost the ace of trumps thanks to my partner’s revoke on a deal many years ago, I invented the Kleinman Safety Play : “Always cash the ace of trumps at the first opportunity, else you may lose it after your partner revokes.”

Failures to alert can harm the opponents in subtle ways for which there are presently no remedies, even when the partner of the player who fails to alert draws attention to it before the opening lead.  For example, after an alerted  artificial bid, the next player has a chance to double.  His partner may be guided to an effective opening lead by such a double or by his choice not to double.  At the end of the auction, the player who made an unalerted artificial bid draws attention to the failure to alert, and explains the artificial bid.  Too late!  Now the defender who might have doubled has to think  whether the lost opportunity to double has damaged his side, and how he can prove such damage to the satisfaction of the director.  The burden of the defender has been doubled by the failure to alert … or even the delayed alert at the end of the auction (or occasionally, at some later point in the auction after he has already passed over the artificial bid).

Make the penalties automatic, and the players who habitually do not alert or offer only delayed alerts will shape up, just as they have learned not to revoke.


12 Comments

Ray LeeMarch 25th, 2010 at 6:44 am

I first met Danny a few years ago at a Nationals in Santa Monica. We had been in email discussions about publishing one of his books, and agreed to get together for lunch to make a final decision and hash out the details. Linda and I sat down in the restaurant, and Danny immediately posed us this conundrum: Think of all the possible bridge auctions — including all passes, doubles, redoubles, etc., etc. A very large number, right? But is it an even number or an odd number? And don’t just guess, explain your logic. He leaned back expectantly, looking at us over the menu, and I had the distinct impression that this was a skill-testing question — if we wanted his book, we’d better get it right! I’ll always remember the incident because, while Linda is usually the star logic puzzle solver and mathematician in the family (except for our son, of course), this time I was the one who figured it out. The three of us got on well thereafter, and we have subsequently worked with Danny on a number of successful books.

Al TushmanMarch 25th, 2010 at 7:30 am

I was just browsing through the April issue of The Bridge World where Danny Kleinman (along with Bobby) is a contributing editor. Interesting blurb on page 73 in the column “Fifty Years Ago” about one Norman Kay. He received a very nice complement: “Among the top players of his generation, Norman Kay was perhaps involved in the fewest spectacular deals reported in the press. He won by not making mistakes and by employing high-quality technique.” The blurb then described a hand he played as declarer using high-quality technique. Just think of all the world championships he might have won if he found a smarter partner than Edgar Kaplan!!!

JUDY KAY-WOLFFMarch 25th, 2010 at 8:48 am

Dear Ray:

I enjoyed your story about Danny who, though a positive bridge thinker, I find deep down a very shy — but brilliant person — and an intellect (with a clever sense of humor) if there ever was one. Perhaps people might consider him (shall we say) a ‘stickler” on rules. But to me that is a most admirable quality, i.e., ranking right up there with Bobby in his earnest desire to protect the ethics of the game at any cost and have it played as it was designed — as an honorable game engaged in by ladies and gentlemen. As a teacher and player at local clubs, Danny lashes out (and good for him) at favoritism shown to the regulars for fear of hurting the owner/director’s daily clientele and cause dwindling card fees. I love people who fight for what is right for bridge (no matter what) — and there are too few of them around.

And now to you, Ray. You always allude to Linda being the better bridge player. Neither Bobby nor I ever (to our knowledge) played against you so we are not in a position to judge other than to respect your modesty. However, I must add (not that it is surprising since you have been attracted by the publishing business) you display a delightful, decisive, pull-no-punches manner of expressing yourself. Lucking out (via Larry Cohen) and finding you to publish The Lone Wolff was only one of The Wolves’ blessings. Bobby also discovered in you a top-notch human being and a much respected confidant, whose morals, thoughts and opinions concerning our once-wonderful game causes him to hold you in high esteem for your undaunted sense of honor and candid expression of thoughts.

Cheers,

Judy

JUDY KAY-WOLFFMarch 25th, 2010 at 9:39 am

Welcome aboard Al:

I don’t remember your commenting before this and I am appreciative of your calling my attention to the reference in the April Bridge World Bulletin honoring Norman. He was probably the most underrated player of his day because, as pointed out, even in Alan Truscott’s New York Times Memorial in 2002, the caption read “Norman Kay, 74, Bridge Champion Sans Title.” Sadly he went to his grave without ever winning a world championship. Knowing the background, ALL the top players could read between the lines and it had nothing to do with his partners (either Edgar Kaplan or Sidney Silodor).

I am not sure what you meant in your closing line “Just think of all the world championships he might have won if he found a smarter partner than Edgar Kaplan???” I would like to assume you were just joshing as the world (at least the savvy, non-naive world) knows the reason Norman never won the Gold. It all had to do with pizza, spaghetti, manicotti, raviola, etc. You go figure it out!

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to vent my spleen one more time.

MarthaMarch 25th, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Danny not only writes about bridge, he has also included Backgammon in his field of expertise. A many faceted individual.

Blair FedderMarch 26th, 2010 at 5:14 am

I’ve known Danny for over two decades. He is one of the better authors to be found, and his works concerning backgammon are the finest of anyone who covers that field. Brilliant comes to mind. Danny is one of the old souls of the Cavendish West, and he is as much a cornerstone of that fine club as the man I wrote about on my blog Meyer. Nice article Judy, keep’em comin’

JUDY KAY-WOLFFMarch 26th, 2010 at 4:29 pm

To Martha and Blair:

During my early bridge days in Philadelphia in the 60s, Backgammon was never a subject up for discussion. It seemed that bridge was the rage! In fact, the first time I ever saw a backgammon set was at a National or World Championship when I recall asking Jimmy Jacoby what that ‘thing” was he was carrying under his arm. ‘That,’ embarrassedly I admit, was my introduction to what seems to have been Danny’s original claim to fame. Since I did not get to know him until three years ago, I had no clue he was so knowledgeable and such a prolific writer on the game.

Blair’s description of Meyer Schleiffer and the old days in his original blog whet my appetitite. I knew many of the West Coast players — by name only or by fleeting glimpses at the Nationals. In fact, when Norman and I were first married and attending one of my early NABCs, I remember asking him who that fella was he was always talking to about sports. His name? Bobby Wolff! Go know!

In retrospect, the East Coast (especially Philly and New York) had so much of its own bridge lore and world famous participants — they never looked beyond. Amazing what a narrow prospective we had. The rank and file players only knew their local heroes, never acknowledging the outside world until some started attending Nationals and reality set in. What a jolt!

Cam FrenchMarch 26th, 2010 at 5:14 pm

My sister asked me what I wanted for my birthday.

I told her Danny Kleinman’s “Bridge Scandal in Huston”

It was a compelling story, more like a documentary or evidentiary briefing by Gil Grissom.

Danny talked about the evidence”, something other players did not seem to appreciate. He looked long and hard, speculated, gave us his insight and expertise.

And kindly, he inscribed my book.

I think he is one of a kind, and you are lucky to have renewed your friendship. I hope to meet him face to face one day, seems to have the virtues I admire.

Not easily intimidated, looks at the facts and not the reputations, states it as he sees it, and he has a rare, critical eye for the truth.

C

JUDY KAY-WOLFFMarch 27th, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Reflections …

I am surprised no one questioned my reference to pizza, spaghetti, manicotti or lasagna. Guess bridge players are not as dumb as the public makes them out to be.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFMarch 28th, 2010 at 8:02 am

Yes, Cam — Danny is one of a kind.

He so much respects the game and has tried all of his life to uphold what he believes are the ultimate standards for which all bridge players should strive. Unfortunately, there are not that many idealists around, with hordes of participants trying to feather their own nests. Bobby aptly refers to those who fight for their own personal causes and ignore conflicts of interest — as the foxes in the henhouse. Danny, like Bobby, is unyielding in his pursuit of honorable decorum and impeccable behavior — but too many get sidetracked on their own behalf — and in the case of professionalism — to strengthen their careers by catering to those who can help accomplish that mission and further their cause.

I really wonder if Edgar were around today how different the bridge standards would be as not too many people would dare to tangle with him. He ruled supreme and unabashed, often took matters into his own capable hands, as he did not entrust major decisions to the middle of the roaders (and even the tournament directors and the Board of Directors) who believed in live and let live. That doesn’t do much for the game — and perhaps that is why we are on a downhill trend.

Edgar’s words still ring in my ears. Oh, how he hated professionalism and its temptations. He had tremendous insight into what the game would become and so far he is right on course, borne out so vividly to the public by the ridiculousness of some of the candidates nominated for our prestigious, coveted Hall of Fame. Luckily the electors, at least up until now, were not taken in by the sham.

Cam FrenchMarch 30th, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Yes.

Professionalism has changed the game, especially at the top, but like an earthquake’s aftershock its ramifications are felt well down the hill. Edgar noted that professionalism was “an incentive to the unscrupulous” and sadly – he was prophetic.

Clarence Goppert was the eye-opener for me. Clarence hired a horde of pro players, signing them to personal services contracts, stating when they could (and couldn’t) play. Sorry stud – I need you to stay home this week so don’t come to this regional.

Brachman was of like ilk, basically buying the best that money can provide, and carrying his weight (as a playing sponsor) for the minimal number of boards to advance to the next level.

In my head – I question the “purchasing” of titles. In my heart, how I wish Wolff/French, Meckwell, and Hamway had won a few titles. Sadly, my lottery numbers have not come up and if they did – one wonders how they would be spent. The wife might allow a small fraction on such a frivolous pursuit as bridge, but I doubt it and I fear – she might be right.

In the early days the ACBL tried to regulate professionalism, putting all sorts of onerous conditions upon professional players. Shit – I am no player hot shot but I have friends who want to pay the entry, pay the dinner, the post game celebratory (or consolatory) drinks and maybe a little cab fare for home. Is that a professional? In a sense – yes. By receiving money and freebies, not by talent. And thus the line is blurred.

Now there are “club pros”, Flight B pros, and lots of talented players willing to sell their services to players who would never otherwise get to play with someone of said rank. Is that a good thing?

Ya, right.

C

Judy Kay-WolffMarch 30th, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Cam,

I agree with many of your reactions. Professionalism has changed the game. Obviously, the biggest ‘up side’ is for the PROS who don’t have to get a real job; but if three of the top professional pairs (NO WAY POSSIBLE WITHOUT REMUNERATION) played as a sextet to represent the country, I think it would be sensational as it would give us our best shot to win a world championship.

The down side is equally apparent. Money can buy a SPONSOR a seat on a team to represent our country, regardless of the lack of talent (but preponderance of wealth) and can accomplish one’s coveted goal if the other five don’t falter. Playing with pros is a wonderful way of learning properly and improving one’s skills but using that as a means to making an international team, to me, is a blight upon the game and an insult to its once majestic quality. Guess I am just an old fashioned girl — and it is demoralizing for me to see sponsors trying to pass themselves off as experts by surrounding themselves with their ever-polite, adulating employees.

I only recognized Goppert by face although I knew Malcolm Brachman and had breakfast with him and Norman often at the nationals. I never thought of him as trying to carry his weight, but rather have the hired guns go into action and do their thing (preferably without him). However, I really am not certain as ours was strictly a social relationships.

Many of the sponsors exuberate with confidence, but deep down, I really don’t believe that they are deluding themselves and know that playing with their peers would not produce the results attained with paid professionals.

As far as better players asking lesser players to partner up for an event, I lived by certain rules (not by choice, but by instruction). Norman was a very kind soul and never wanted to say “no” to anyone (a chump for the asking) . However, if you play with one, you gotta play with them all. He learned that quickly enough. Following Edgar’s death, when asked by mediocre and even decent players, he replied that he had lost a lot of his zeal for the game, which was true, and if he played at all (and not professionally), it would be with Yours Truly. Problem solved.

(Incidentally, he did play for a short time with Eddie Kantar and enjoyed both him and his bridge, but at that stage in life they were both moving in different directions and their earlier goals were now history. I loved getting to know Yvonne and Eddie better and we had some real fun times together on the West Coast. It seemed to be a laugh a minute)!

As a novice, many ‘better’ players (and believe me there were many) would invite me to play in a side game or a casual pair game at a national, but I always declined. Norman never wanted to be in a reciprocal position and since he never played ‘pro,’ he didn’t want to feel like he was trapped into returning the favor. Bobby can say No. Norman had a problem with that.

Thus, I always played with my peers (or very close friends like Barbara Brier who was light years above me — but we were extremely socially friendly and played a lot of Boggle in our spare time). But there is nothing wrong with playing with friends socially (even if you pick up their card fee or buy them a drink) although I understand why you call it a ‘blurred line.” That is hardly professionalism — more akin to friendship.

You mention “club pros.” To me, in many instances, they are ludicrous situations. I am not referring, heaven forbid, to someone like Danny Kleinman, but in some cases you have to flip a coin to determine who is the pro and who is the client.

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