Judy Kay-Wolff

A Bridger By Any Other Name

…. a play on words borrowed or plagiarized from a quote by William Shakespeare.   Throughout the decades, as long as I can remember, certain legendary bridge figures (for one reason or another) have affectionately, in most cases, been singled out without the usage of their full names.  It is either a nickname or epithet.  Even newcomers to the game would know the following references:   Eli (Culbertson); Josephine (Culbertson); Alvin (Landy); Stoney (Tobias  Stone); Edgar (Kaplan); Hermine (Baron); Alfie (Sheinwold); The Hog (Ron Anderson); Sami (Kehela); Meyer (Schlieffer); Kerri (Schuman); Julius (Rosenblum); Zeke (Jabbour); Ozzie (Jacoby); Grant (Baze); Kyle (Larson) … and the list goes on.   In the case of single unit name, it is either merely a nickname or applied because of the uncommon and unique nature of their moniker – particularly on the bridge scene.

One standout – though not as endearingly intended – was brought to mind when I read in April’s ACBL Bridge Bulletin of the passing of Hall of Famer Ira Rubin at the age of 82.  He was jokingly depicted as “The Beast” because of his intensity at the table and his failure to drip with warmth.   He was a serious, brilliant player, adept in computer science, mathematics and engineering and despite his moniker on the bridge scene, mellowed in later years and was a very decent human being –- even pleasant when you got to know him.


24 Comments

Bill CubleyMay 3rd, 2013 at 8:08 pm

Judy,

How could you omit Kibitz or Kibitz Kat, my alter ego from the list? 😉

Victor “Hideous Hog ” Mollo sent a postcard to my cat should be enough for the fame part of being a bridge player.

Went to Gatlinburg for the first time. Expected to introduce Annie to Shannon Cappelletti. Shannon did not show. So I have my comeuppance already.

PaulMay 4th, 2013 at 5:13 am

I can picture Ira — sitting with his right arm around an empty chair and frequently saying “zupchik.” I have no idea what it meant. Anyone know?

Thanks,

Paul

Judy Kay-WolffMay 4th, 2013 at 5:18 am

Funny you should remember that. I too have a recollection of his using that term — but have no clue as to what it meant. Don’t know if was negative or positive.

Judy Kay-WolffMay 4th, 2013 at 5:20 am

Hi Bill:

Of course, kibitz is a word heavily associated with bridge — but what, pray tell, is Kibitz Cat??? What am I missing.

Meow!

Judy

EllisMay 4th, 2013 at 4:19 pm

zupchick was a chess player, no idea if that helps.

Judy Kay-WolffMay 4th, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Thanks, Ellis:

You get the award for best all around camper. Not being a chess player, I never heard the name (nor term as I thought it was). It is such an uncommon name — that must be what Ira must have been alluding to.

Gary MugfordMay 4th, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Judy,

While nicknames are in decline throughout the world of competition (and yes, there ARE exceptions. Right Eldrick?). But the single cognomen still persists in whatever generation you pool into your discussion. For example, I suspect Zia might be a little young for the group you were mentioning. But he’s been THE guy with a single name for a lot of us just a little younger than you and Bobby.

That’s not to say I didn’t one-name some of my elders when given the chance. I’ve described my first meeting with Alfred Sheinwold before, the meeting with him introducing himself after a long discussion on ‘Magilla the Gorilla/Megillah; by saying, “Oh, by the way, I’m Freddie Sheinwold.” The same guy who had written Five Weeks to Winning Bridge, the book I first learned the game from. And HE want ME to call him Freddie. A first class gent that didn’t reserve his one-name status for just the elite.

That’s the case with most of the one-namers and even guys with reps at being prickly. At their core, they always seemed pleased by the rep. It came from respect. Earned respect. Bridge is a competition, if nothing else.

Bill CubleyMay 4th, 2013 at 9:02 pm

The original cat, Kibitz Kat, actually helped me bid a grand slam to win by 1/2 matchpoint.
All red, Pard deals. 1S – 2D, 3C – 4C, 4D – 4H, 6C – 7C.

Seven clubs was bid after the cat looked at my hand, scratched his jaw on their edges, looked at me with the scorn of Al Roth for not yet bidding, got on the table peeking at LHO’s hand, stared at pard for bidding slam with his poor trump holing. So I bid 7C holding S J, H Axxx, D Qxxx, C AQT4. Ruffed a hearts in my hand for the 13th trick.
Pard held S AKQT98 H xx, D –. C KJ9xx.

That’s where my nickname comes from in D21. I typed the unit column which the cat wrote for several years.

Alas, my cat is still the best bidder in the family. 😉

Judy Kay-WolffMay 4th, 2013 at 10:04 pm

Hi Gary:

We share a lot of recollections of days gone by. I have cherished memories of enjoying conversations with the legends of old. For the most part, they were warm, friendly and down to earth.

Bridge was sooooooooo different in those days. Many had, shall we say, real jobs. Norman, for example, was a Merrill Lynch executive — working from 9-4 (and many a time from 7 a.m. to 7 p. m. as we lived in downtown Philly right across from the office). When he played in Regionals with Edgar in New York, they had five or six man teams since he always waited for the market to close and we’d rush to hop on the 4 p.m. Metroliner into the Big Apple. Some made their living from the game (Edgar with the Bridge World and Alfie, Morehead, Becker and Truscott, et al. of course from their columns at that time). However, professional bridge (except for people like Goren which was kept a deep dark secret — and the all expert teams of The Aces and The Precision Team) — was hardly a glint in anyone’s eye and did not evolve or come into public focus for a decade or so. However, it sure blossomed and has sustained many players through the years.

I hate to admit to aging, but wow — what a change. It’s a whole new ballgame.

Judy Kay-WolffMay 4th, 2013 at 10:10 pm

Hi Bill:

Thanks for the education. Except for occasional meetings over recent years, I had no idea of your continuing bridge contributions and involvement. It is downright amazing how diversified the bridge world is — and how much there is out there about which we have no clue.

Robb GordonMay 5th, 2013 at 7:05 pm

Please forgive me – I feel a need to go off on a tangent. I have been thinking of writing this on your blog for some time.

Some of my favorite things in Judy’s blogs are the reminiscences. Although I am “only” 56 years old, I actually remember these people – they aren’t just names to me. You see, my father was a tournament director through the ’60s, my mother was a pretty good player, and I caddied and later played. So I have been around bridge literally since the womb.

One of my favorite stories to tell is how I got to play with Goren and Gerber. My parents couldn’t find a sitter (I was around 7). They took me to a tournament with my older brother who was in charge of me. Well, I was an early riser, and bridge players at tournaments usually weren’t. So I got up and took some of my toys down to the lobby where I wouldn’t disturb my family. There was Goren Himself, sitting with John Gerber, probably waiting for fans seeking autographs. So I got them to help me play with my toys! (They were really nice as I recall).

The main thing I wanted to say though is that while this blog is full of fond memories – and there were a lot of “characters” in Bridge in those days that made for lots of fun and stories, all was not rosy. Often one would run into bridge players who refused to play duplicate because the people were so “nasty”.

It was true. Like most things in bridge, things flowed from the top. While there were great gentle people Edgar and Norman (there is a one-namer you left out), and partnerships like Hamman and Wolff who were friendly and impeccably mannered, there were many who thought it was a virtue to harass and intimidate opponents and scream at partners. There were even a couple of those among the names Judy mentioned. It was basically accepted behavior. People ripped up cards, threw boards (they were metal and they hurt when they hit you) and worse.

We don’t see that anymore. Although society generally has become ruder (in my opinion) the bridge world behaves better. It isn’t because of “zero tolerance”, a ridiculous concept wherever applied. It started well before that policy.

My theory is that as professionalism became more accepted in bridge (pros used to be thought of like something just above drug dealers), the pros found that it was good for business to be friendly, outgoing, and non-judgmental. Like new conventions, it trickled down.

I have no studies to support my theory and I would like to hear others. But except for losing some of the fun “characters” it has definitely been a change for the better.

Thanks for letting me “hog” your blog!

Judy Kay-WolffMay 5th, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Robb:

No need to ask forgiveness. I loved your comments. I must confess that when I read about your playing with Goren and Gerber, I had to re-read it to realize you were talking about toys — not cards.

Yes, I did omit “Norman” as a one-namer, but thought it was gauche to include him. And, yes I am sure there were nasty sides to some of the big names — but not in my presence. I guess they had their best feet forward.

As far as the niceties of the pros, it would not be in their best interests to act otherwise C’est la vie!

mike whitmanMay 5th, 2013 at 10:59 pm

Dear Judy,

Good for you for your words about Ira. When I was in my twenties, there was nobody better to kibbitz, for two reasons: he never played a wrong card, and the guaranteed fireworks at the table. It was a guilty pleasure seeing great experts (apologies Ron, Freddy, et al.) getting hollered at by their partner, just like me at the rubber bridge club. He was tough on his partners, but I watched him a lot, and played against him later, and I never saw him get rude or nasty to an opponent. When he died, I’m sure plenty of Master Solvers fans saw it the way I did: DEATH FOISTED ON IRA RUBIN!

Judy Kay-WolffMay 6th, 2013 at 12:05 am

Hi Mike:

Interesting commentary. Never thought about the difference between being an adversary and a partner. As an opponent, I suppose there wasn’t much you could do but grin and bear it and hope for the best. If you elected to be his partner, you had to take the good along with the bad but you went into it with your eyes wide open.

He was a legend. There is no getting away from the image of The Beast. It will remain that way for bridge posterity.

Judy Kay-WolffMay 6th, 2013 at 12:19 am

Hi again Robb:

Going further back — I cannot remember anyone ripping up cards or tossing metal boards. I only recall one instance of physical violence when a top player hurled his partner against a wall and damaged it — having to pay for the repairs. But — that was an isolated case.

I am sure there was much rudeness back then, but I don’t recall it. What offended me more was poor ethics and out and out cheating — which has subsided for the most part due to more stringent policing and monitoring. Another pet peeve is the know-it-all attitude of some and the failure to recognize one’s shortcomings. Many bridge players have a difficult time coming to grips with that realization but that is a situation out of our control. So be it.

Robb GordonMay 7th, 2013 at 11:42 pm

I am not going to dredge up names but it did happen. I am glad you didn’t witness it.

Judy Kay-WolffMay 8th, 2013 at 12:37 am

Robb:

I am not challenging your comments. I alluded to the fact that I was never an eye-witness, just heard stories second hand.

I remembered one that Bobby told me about Crawford trying to make Bobby nervous in a team game by asking Norman to kibitz him. Bobby was not yet a legend but it mattered not.

The results:

1) Norman refused to “play Crawford’s game”; and 2) It would have made “no never mind” as it would not have unnerved Bobby.

Memories from the past!

Judy Kay-WolffMay 8th, 2013 at 1:56 am

Today Victor Mitchell’s name came up in conversation and I was curious to know how old he was when he died. In looking through his Hall of Fame autobiography, I found this cute story which called to mind my blog …

” …… another story involved the legendary Ira Rubin, sometimes referred to as “The Beast.” Mitchell and Rubin were opponents in a rubber-bridge game when Rubin blasted into 6NT, which Mitchell doubled.

“Redouble!” said Rubin with typical force.

“Ira,” said Mitchell, “you can’t do that.”

“I said, ’Redouble.’ ” was Rubin’s reply. “I have my bids.”

“Ira,” said Mitchell, who was on lead, “I’ve got three aces.”

Typical of Rubin’s confidence and Mitchell’s sense of humor.

Jeanne LucasMay 9th, 2013 at 10:15 pm

I remember so well being a novice player partnering my new expert husband back about 1990 and playing in a regional in San Diego.

We got to table 3 and encountered 2 impeccably dressed gentlemen wearing suits and ties. My husband said “This is Norman Kay and Edgar Kaplan” and introduced me. I asked which was which, and Edgar said, “This, my dear, is Norman Kay and I am Edgar Kaplan.”

I’ll never forget it.

Judy Kay-WolffMay 13th, 2013 at 9:10 pm

Hi Jeanne:

Sorry for the delay in responding. I rarely check my older blogs as I am busy working on the upcoming ones.

Your words ring in my ears as if it were yesterday. His demeanor with you was typical of Edgar’s style. Majestic, warm and appreciative of the obvious stardust in your eyes. Kaplan and Kay were indeed very special and will always be remembered as two of the classiest and best players who ever graced our game.

You have inspired me to write a blog (when time permits) about my personal memories with them — over the period when I first met Edgar (1963) until his death (1997).

What a treat to have known him.

Cheers,

Judy

Jeanne LucasMay 13th, 2013 at 11:10 pm

They’ll always be Norman and Edgar in my memories. Meeting them at the table was, indeed, a treat for me.

Thanks for sharing your memories with us, Judy.

xxJ

Judy Kay-WolffMay 13th, 2013 at 11:17 pm

Sorry to admit it, Jeanne.

They don’t make ’em like they used to!

Eric RubinJuly 25th, 2014 at 2:24 am

Dear Ms. Wolff, I enjoyed reading your thoughts as well as those of your readers with regards to my Dad, “The Beast”. Dad got a kick out of his nickname, and I’m pleased to see that others did as well. I, on the other hand, was not a fan of its origins, as being a shy person, kibitzing my father was somewhat overwhelming. His temper was not limited to the bridge world.

While I never learned to play bridge (for obvious reasons), I recall that from Dad’s perspective, bidding was everything. His system was extremely complicated, but very effective. Most of his partners had to learn it, and that, I’m sure, was no easy task.

Dad actually wrote a 400 page unpublished bridge manuscript in the 1970s. From a bidding perspective, I suspect it was way ahead of its time, though too voluminous for the publisher. When Dad took ill, the singular copy of that manuscript was thrown away along with much of the precious few items that were important to him. Not for myself, but for the bridge world, I wish I had been able to save the manuscript. It would have made a great addition to the ACBL Hall of Fame or archives.

Thanks again for the memories and warm thoughts!

Judy Kay-WolffJuly 26th, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Hi Eric:

Thanks for sharing such marvelous stories of one of the bridge greats whom I knew and enjoyed. Yes, he was definitely one of a kind. No one can challenge that statement. I even remember being in attendance for his Hall of Fame Induction. It is sad indeed that his 400 page manuscript went the way of all flesh. Nice hearing from you.

Cheers,

Judy

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