Judy Kay-Wolff

From Deep in the Heart of Texas …………..

ascends a large array of world class players (some of whom you may never have heard about as they may have been before your time).   Starting in alphabetical order (to not be accused of favoritism for obvious reasons) comes the following:

BENNY FAIN (for some strange reason not even mentioned in the Bridge Encyclopedia) who met with a bathtub mishap in the early sixties and became paralyzed for life, impeding his talented bridge career — originally from San Antonio/by way of Chicago; JOHN GERBER, of Houston (international expert player, mentor, captain, coach); EMMA JEAN HAWES, of Fort Worth, one of America’s best woman players; GEORGE HEATH, of Dallas (according to Bobby who was playing with Ozzie as a partner), Ozzie is known to have turned to George, stating, “You’re too good for me and always have been” — quite an admission from such a dynamic self-assured person; PAUL HODGE, who was movie star handsome, from Abilene and worked with Goren Enterprises; JIM JACOBY, of Dallas, who sadly lived in his father’s shadow though a very talented player in his own right; OSWALD JACOBY, of Dallas, probably most famous of the Lone Star group; BOBBY NAIL, originally from Wichita but residing in Houston most of his life — of small physique but bursting at the seams with talent; the ever-feared CURTIS SMITH, not the most profound bidder but as great a defender and declarer ever to grace the game; and lastly, BOBBY WOLFF, born in San Antonio where he spent his first thirty-five years and then did equal time in Dallas, lured there to help organize and become a member of  Ira Corn’s Aces.  Sadly (but luckily for me) Bobby is the only survivor of the Texas Ten.

No doubt the most celebrated name in the pack is Oswald Jacoby, whom I had the pleasure of knowing.   In fact, I met him for the first time in the mid-sixties at Norman’s and my center city apartment in Philly, next to the Sheraton, the site of a Regional.   We hosted a cocktail party and Ozzie unexpectedly breezed in at the last minute without a date for the mixed pairs.   He offered to play with me (a pretty terrible novice), but Norman could see me starting to quiver, so he declined graciously!  I got to know Ozzie over the years as he and Norman were quite friendly — but I learned so much more about him after marrying Bobby as he was one of Bobby’s mentors (along with Tobias Stone).  What a character!

OSWALD JACOBY was a sheer genius (no ands, ifs or buts).  Though born in  Brooklyn in 1902, (but spent most of his life in Texas) he left Columbia in his junior year to become an actuary, completing the examination for the Society of Actuaries at age 21, the youngest person at the time ever to do so.   No person in the history of our game has so many accomplishments chalked up to his credit.   Time and space will not allow such detailing, but let’s touch on some highlights of his unparalleled career.

Ozzie first gained international prominence as Sidney Lenz’s partner in the legendary Culbertson/Lenz Match.  He next became a member of the Four Horsemen and Four Aces Teams.  He also set a record for winning The Goldman Pairs three times in twenty years (the only three times in which he played in the event).  He won hundreds of titles but probably his greatest achievement, outside of bridge, was after the announcement of the Pearl Harbor attack, left the Open Pairs in Richmond, VA on December 7, 1941 returned to his assignment as a specialist in the Navy (with rank of  Lieutenant Commander) and was credited with working on and helping to solve the Japanese code (along with Alfie Sheinwold),  His bridge victories and record breaking achievements are far too voluminous to even begin so I suggest you check him out in the official ACBL Encyclopedia of Bridge.  (I might add I never before (or since) saw anyone do the New York Times Sunday Crossword Puzzle IN INK going straight across without consulting the "down" column).  He also shared a unique statistic with B. J. Becker (being the only fathers and sons – Jim Jacoby and Michael Becker, respectively) who ever captured world titles.   Ozzie’s dynamic wife, Mary Zita, also  was an accomplished tennis champion.

Besides bridge, Ozzie was a master at poker, canasta, gin  rummy and backgammon and wrote the accepted ‘bible’ on canasta and gin rummy.  Bobby sums up his  take on Ozzie as probably in the top ten in all five of the popular card and brain games.  However, since his aspirations were always high off the charts, he had a very losing penchant for searching out even higher icons with whom to gamble and with predictable results.

I will close my incomplete tribute to Ozzie with my favorite story (which I have told here before so please bear with me).  Ozzie was diagnosed with terminal cancer and his days were numbered though his mind was still quite sharp.  The year was 1983.  His son John called Edgar Kaplan (a dear friend of the Jacobys) and asked Edgar and his team to play ‘professionally’ in the Reisinger with Ozzie as a fifth (in the Bal Harbour Fall NABC) as his swan song.    Edgar snapped at John a gruff  "NO" — followed by a profuse "YES."   Translation:  No one on the team (Edgar, Norman, Rich Pavlicek or Bill Root) would consider accepting a penny but they would be honored to have Ozzie join their group.   It was almost twenty seven years ago and my heart is still full as THE OSWALD JACOBY TEAM came from miles behind winning the event by half a point.   There was not a dry eye in the place.  Imagine grown people crying.  Call it destiny if you wish.  Someone above was looking out for Ozzie’s gang that day.

OZZIE JACOBY WAS A TOP CELEBRITY IN SO MANY FIELDS.  BRIDGE IS PROUD TO CLAIM HIM AS ONE OF THEIR EARLY GIANTS!

Ozzie died in 1984 and Bobby was asked (and honored) to serve as one of his six pallbearers.


7 Comments

SonnyNovember 14th, 2010 at 10:25 am

Love your musings. Keep them coming.

Judy Kay-WolffNovember 14th, 2010 at 11:39 am

Sonny,

Glad you enjoyed it. I have several works in progress about the legends of fifty years ago, few of whom are still alive. I was so lucky to have known them, even fleetingly. They were a breed unto themselves — much

different that our heroes of today.

If there is anyone special you would like to hear about — let me know.

Judy

Judy Kay-WolffNovember 15th, 2010 at 5:40 am

I don’t go back as far as Culbertson, He was way before my time, but I did know Goren, Roth, Stone, Rapee, Crawford, Solomon, Fishy, et al. My next one is on Crawford —

one of the legends of the fifties and sixties. Looking through Norman’s scrapbook will bring more to mind, I am sure.

PegNovember 15th, 2010 at 7:27 am

My one open pairs with Ozzie probably knocked six months off his life! OY!

Judy Kay-WolffNovember 15th, 2010 at 11:35 am

Peg: Six months off of OZZIE’S LIFE. BUT — HOW MANY OFF YOURS. I understand he did not speak with tongue in cheek when he played.

But what a thrill anyway.

PegNovember 15th, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Oh, I don’t think I had that much knocked off my life, Judy. Simply was fortunate that I didn’t try to MURDER HIM at some point during the sessions!

That being said, it was an incredible thrill to be able to play with Ozzie. I didn’t know much about playing the game then, yet I sure knew Ozzie was one of the all time icons.

Too bad it couldn’t have been some years later, when I might only have sheared a month or so off his longevity 🙂

Mike HollemaOctober 8th, 2013 at 12:29 am

Judy,

As a kid (now 58) I and my siblings would attend bridge tourneys, which became our family vacation. My father, Boyce Holleman. a busy attorney from Mississippi loved bridge. I remember the Jacobys, Curtus Smith, Dave Carter and many more of those characters. (Was there a Mary Beth from Baton Rouge?) However, I never took up the game. I believe my father delivered a eulogy at Oswalds funeral and I heard him repeat some of it many times.

The local bridge club receny asked for a photo of Boyce to be displayed with a trophy in his name. Most of our photos were lost to Katrina, but I found some that survived. One was a photo of Oswald, his wife, James, his with and my father. I was researching the photo when I came across your blog.

Although I never played the game. I was exposed to many hours of “discussions” in hotel suites following rounds of bridge. Even though I did not comprehend the discussion, I sensed that I was surrounded by great minds.

Thanks for sharing this.

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