Judy Kay-Wolff

A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE …

The oft-quoted passage "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing" is actually a misquote from Alexander Pope, which was penned over three hundred years ago.  His original caution used the word "learning" — not knowledge — but it makes little difference and leads to the same admonition.

Everyone (or almost everyone) has strong suits, weak suits and even voids.   What bugs me is the failure to recognize (or acknowledge even to one’s self) that he or she is not qualified to make positive, authoritative statements on a subject in which they are far from expert. I have witnessed this shortcoming for over half a century and perhaps being exposed to the very best of our game, though demoralizing and ego deflating at times, has made me wary and taught me to accept the fact that one must consider the source.  It is a good starting point.  As bridge players, we see people rendering opinions both at the table and on the internet when in actuality, there are only a precious few who have the knowledge and background to fully understand the problem.  One of my favorite tales emanated from my late husband Norman who overheard someone leaving the duplicate as she boasted  "I only made one mistake today."    "One that you knew of" –  he muttered under his breath.  Perhaps among her peers, she is thought of as one of the better players and her words were taken as gospel, but everything (especially in bridge) is relative.

This phenomenon exists in all walks of life.  In baseball. there is a difference between an allstar and an everyday player though they are both paid to perform.  Same is true in football, basketball, tennis, golf, hockey and other sports.   There will be some who are always first at the wire and others who get there by the skin of their teeth.  Make no mistake — being in the big leagues means different strokes for different folks.  Also — in the movies, there is a disparity between a rising star and a multi-time Academy Award winner.  People must prove themselves and, above all, withstand the test of time.   Johnny-come-latelies (in whatever endeavor they choose) may eventually become superstars — but they have to earn it by their continuing excellence.

It used to irk me when I heard bridge players alleging to have great expertise. The same applies to administrators.   Just because someone is a director or serves on a committee, does not in and of itself, make that individual a revered expert in that given field.  Perhaps in time, they may rise to the occasion, but it takes years and years of experience and a long successful track record to reach the promised land.   One or two swallows does not a summer make!

Bridge is a great and calculated study in human nature.  I am not swayed by the opinions of those who are extremely vocal though inexperienced in the ways of top drawer bridge. I just take everything with a grain of salt and allow the records to stand on their own.


25 Comments

JSMay 30th, 2013 at 5:46 am

In our neck of the woods, they call ’em SSEs (Self Styled Experts)!

Judy Kay-WolffMay 30th, 2013 at 6:22 am

Hi JS:

Yes, I recognize the term. They were plentiful. I recall after Silodor and Solomon passed on (and Norman refused to give up his day job at Merrill Lynch) — teachers were coming out of the woodwork, applying for jobs at the suburban country clubs. Replacements were in great demand. No one could begin to fill Sidney’s and Charlie’s shoes. It was a free-for-all. Believe me, I should know. I was one of those who tried for the job (and was hired) but I never professed to be an expert — just knew enough to teach the gals basic bridge (and was, at best, only one page ahead of my students). Beside the elementary rules, I zeroed in and stressed the no-nos of the game (which I knew full well as earlier I was one of the culprits till Norman straightened me out). C’est la vie! You really brought back old memories.

Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. That is just plain old free speech. What rubs me the wrong way is when unqualified people try to pass themselves off as experts and speak out so authoritatively!

Steve GaynorMay 30th, 2013 at 4:35 pm

You do not have to be a great player to be a great teacher. In fact, very few all-stars in any of the major pro leagues have become successful managers or head coaches.

This may be due to the fact that the game comes easier to them and they do not know how to reach out to a a struggling player and show them the way to learn.

For instance, at a recent NABC a very fine player (Grand Life Master) was giving a lesson on preempts to the I/N’s. He started his talk with a long speech about how everybody had to learn NAMYATS and what a wonderful convention it is. About 1/2 of the crowd walked out!

I blame the ACBL for not counseling their speakers that they need to keep it simple. This was a group that barely knew what a weak 2 bid looked like and he wants to teach a system that rarely comes up and even advanced players often muck it up big time.

Unless the expert is patient teaching the basics and not giving their students more than they can handle, give me a trained teacher. For instance, Audrey Grant may be just an ordinary player, but she is a great teacher, one of the best ever.

Judy Kay-WolffMay 30th, 2013 at 5:44 pm

Hi Steve:

Words of wisdom, indeed! I heartily agree you don’t have to be a great player to be a good teacher. It is the imparting of knowledge (and the correct concept, of course) that enables a new or inexperienced player to absorb a basic principle. You have to learn to crawl before you walk. I don’t know Audrey Grant very well, but I am certain what you say about her is true. I have a feeling she abides by the KISS theory (Keep It Simple, Stupid). The Naymats example demonstrates the fallacies of inappropriate subject matter in spades.

Your remark about the ACBL not counseling teachers is dubious to me. They are principally administrators and few are bridge experts or teachers which is also true of the BOD. It is interesting to note that the new Marketing Director is lovely to look at and her credentials are quite impressive — but it says nary a word about her knowing about or playing bridge, which I think is mandatory to convince people of the beauty and intrigue of the game. It has to come from within. Believe me I wish her luck as I feel it is imperative to promote a dying game, but I am not optimistic and I hope I am wrong.

Teachers (especially at lower levels) don’t have to be experts but they must not try to pass themselves off as such. That is my bone of contention.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Cheers,

Judy

Gary MugfordMay 30th, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Judy,

The famous quote came to mind as recently as last week when I got into this pickle:

I held [S] Q52 [H] A [D] AT4 [C] AKQT98 at favourable vulnerability and heard my partner OPEN 1S. A gentle 2/1 GF 2C moved things along and partner, not surprisingly, continued 2H. I could make a mild slam try (soon to be serious) with only 2S and then partner gave me the bad news, 4C (1st round control of clubs). He was 5-4-4-0 or 5-5-3 with some slam aspirations of his own. I’d like to describe the bidding hereafter as informed, but it wasn’t. Cue-bids of 4D, 5D! and 5H were followed by a ‘Got no more’ 6S, which I raised to 7S. Had to be reasonable with any sort of spade break, right? Well, my RHO disagreed. Double. What could the heretofore silent Bob have for his double? Four to the Jack-ten of the trump suit would be enough to succeed, if not to double. Five might be more likely. So, after due consideration, I retreated to 7NT, which actually shut Bob up. The nine of hearts was led. And dummy came down:

{S] AK873 [H] KJT43 [D] K63 [C] –

Gulp! Assuming the bad spade break and no club miracle, I had ten top tricks. Would down one be good bridge? I didn’t think 7S was making and I knew people would be in it. And a 5-0 break in the suit would scupper even 6S (although 6NT was against the wall). At least I could score a small psychological victory and offer a phony finesse against RHO while waiting for the news in clubs. I played heart jack as if I was finessing. Even grinned when I got the hoped-for cover with the queen.

And went down in an ice-cold contract. RHO held almost what you would expect:

[S] JT96 [H] Q7 [D] 875 [C] J652

There are FOUR top heart tricks to go with three spades, three clubs and three diamonds, the last coming on the squeeze with LHO holding the long heart, RHO the spade and club protection duties and neither being able to hold the diamond stopper LHO was born with. The club suit is the key to making six, but not seven. The only issue is to assume spades are breaking bad and to cash the king of hearts early to maintain lines of communication.

Sooo, who’s guilty of exercising the little knowledge? Well ME for trying the Grosvenor Gambit and making the faux finesse play in hearts. And did RHO exercise a little too much knowledge. He (rightfully) assumed the field would be in spade slams and had no reason to believe six was the limit. The double MIGHT be necessary to get back to average and the dangers of running to 7NT seemed present but not a clear danger. He presumably had clubs stopped as well and declarer SHOULD only have six black tricks. But the question I had was, “Why hadn’t he doubled 7NT?”

“Thought I’d given you a little much info already.” And, indeed, he had.

Steve GaynorMay 30th, 2013 at 7:05 pm

HI Judy

Thanks for your kind words. When i was talking about the ACBL advising teachers I was thinking of those that speak as part of the NABC speaker series, not those teaching classes in general (although that would not be a bad idea, either).

Judy Kay-WolffMay 30th, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Hi Gary:

Today happened to be a relatively “free day” for Bobby and me and just as we were planning to go out to a leisurely lunch before a few scheduled errands, your email arrived. I glanced at it, put it in my pocketbook and as Bobby was parking the car at the restaurant, I began to read it. I had just about covered the thrust of it when he sat down. I said to him, “Your old (as in longstanding) friend Gary sent me a great hand. It became the proverbial “napkin hand” which has gained notoriety in bridge circles. He anxiously picked it up, glanced at it — and with G-D as my witness, blurted: “I assume you don’t bring in the club suit, and obviously the spades are not friendly either, SO hope for a doubleton heart queen and that the hand holding the club length also cannot part with a spade when you run four hearts, so must take two pitches on the hearts, namely diamonds. The other hand must follow to three clubs and four hearts, but after the three spades are cashed — he feels the squeeze and cannot protect both his third diamond AND his fifth heart.” His analysis was so rapid fire, it scared me. It is not so much that he had no problem, it is the alacrity with which he proceeded to explain what would happen. It just ain’t fair!!!!!

As to your own personal analysis, it seems we always try to outsmart ourselves! Thanks for writing. I loved the hand.

Judy Kay-WolffMay 30th, 2013 at 10:38 pm

Hi Steve:

Thanks for clarifying. Yes, just ordinary teachers and those from a Speakers Series, are usually worlds apart.

Bill CubleyMay 31st, 2013 at 12:21 am

I sometimes offer to play with a newer player at the club. I relax partner by telling him that he is only making one mistake today – agreeing to play with me. Then I say, bid what we agreed to play. I don’t mind if you are a short a trump or an HCP if you feel the bid is closest to describing your hand.

We usually do okay.

In the Anaheim Spingold I kibitzed Lew Stansby playing against Hampson – Greco. Chip not once but twice passed Lew in the Kantar 1430 RKC queen ask. So I told Eddie, regretfully, I would not play 1430 if such top players have problems. Happy ending for Lew as they won the match and the Spingold. So experts err, but they kept their composure.

There seem to be a lot of lectures in California about bidding 1NT with a five card major to avoid rebid problems. There is no mention of Puppet Stayman and how to use it, so I decline to accept bidding 1NT with a 5 card major until I get a partner for regionals/sectionals who is willing to also learn Puppet Stayman. Too little learning is also a dangerous thing.

Judy Kay-WolffMay 31st, 2013 at 1:12 am

Right you are, Bill. “Too little learning is also a dangerous thing.”

I have been all over the map with bidding systems since I first learned what a trump looked like. I started out playing what was considered “standard” in 1955 (if there ever was such a thing). Then eight years later when I married Norman, I found myself entrenched in KS (ala his partner, Edgar Kaplan). In the years that followed when I partnered my late friend (and super player) Barbara Brier, I was exposed to Roth-Stone, which was much too confining for my taste. I thought I had seen it all and then along came Bobby Wolff who had a style unbeknownst to me, but who am I to argue with an eleven time world champion???

However, I am not complaining. I am now indulging myself in his bidding methods which were totally foreign to me until 2003. I enjoy (and see the purpose for) 1NT only intended forcing which allows partner to pass with a minimum balanced opening, two way minor suit Stayman — but am prohibited from playing one of my favorites (KCB). My major bids over partner’s 1NT opening are, would you believe, natural and not forcing? However, after throwing a few temper tantrums (only jesting), I have converted him to some of my own gadgets — my favorites being Weak NT openers (non-vulnerable only) and Edgar’s device of 2H over partner’s 1S openers (with 10-11 HCP) only forcing to 2S, 2NT or 3H with a mini — allowing you to introduce the heart suit at the two level and sign off without getting too high.

All these nuances are wonderful — as long as you are on the same page as your partner — and remember them. That is why playing with the same person is a big advantage (especially if it just happens to be Bobby Wolff) although I have now coaxed my daughter Robin (who recently moved to Vegas) to adopt his style — with which she has had no problem. She hadn’t played in years, but was blessed with her daddy’s genes and IMHO made a big mistake to give up a bridge career for poker as there is no telling how good she may have become. After many nighttime chats with her, Bobby agrees with my assessment. Hindsight!!! In any event, I am happy she came back to the fold, though a bit tardy in doing so (and only to make her mother happy)!

JoanieMay 31st, 2013 at 4:12 am

Judy:

Stop me if I’m wrong, but I have some recollection going back twenty years or so where Robin was both a teacher and director at a prominent NY metropolitan bridge club and also was extremely active in New York bridge administration.

Joanie

Judy Kay-WolffMay 31st, 2013 at 4:20 am

Joanie: Your memory is not failing. You are absolutely on target about her teaching, directing and also being at the helm in both her unit and district. It was probably in the late eighties or early nineties but seems like an eternity ago! Then she became gung ho on poker and not until she moved to Vegas did she reinvolve herself in bridge.

Gary MugfordMay 31st, 2013 at 5:42 pm

Judy,

Thanks for passing along the hand to Bobby to give him the 30 seconds of amusement. It is what separates you, me (in the lower tier that DIDN’T succeed in the cold slam) and other bridge players from those that are actually expert. Still … 30 seconds!!!!

Continuin on the theme, many’s a moons ago, I was sitting with a stiff king behind the board’s ace-queen fifth, knowing declarer had either five or six of the suit. The LOL casually played a trump to the ace without any trace of contemplation, drew my partner’s remaining trump and then proceeded to follow with a dropping of a stiff king in my PARTNER’S hand, wherein the declarer held only seven cards in that suit in the two combined hands.

I didn’t immediately leap across the table and yell at my partner for showing declarer HIS cards (my cards spend their brief life in my hand, HELD tight to my lap, sorted almost into suits and NEVER in order). I tried to think of a reason why the declarer might have taken TWO safety plays that came up smelling like a rose. I failed. And being younger, I muttered something to partner at round’s end about holding his cards ‘better.’

The LOL was having none of that. She immediately cottoned to the implications. “Oh, I didn’t see his cards, but my son told me all about the Rabbi’s Rule about dropping the singleton king. I had so many trumps, the king just had to be singleton. And you know, if there is one singleton king, there must be another,” quoting, roughly, the adjunct Rabbi’s Rule.

Last time I ever commented on partner’s dexterity holding cards. I know my misfortune was ordained from above.

John Howard GibsonMay 31st, 2013 at 7:27 pm

HBJ : I have always subscribed to the view that that more you know about bridge, the more you realise how vast your ignorance of the game really is.
Self-proclaimed experts are often men who have spent too much of an easy time fishing in the same, small pond.
Once they move out of that pond into the treacherous waters teeming with predators, they soon realize that their limited knowledge and understanding of the game is sadly lacking.
As Clint Eastwood correctly pointed out before killing a felon ( who failed to realize his gun was out of bullets ) ” a man has got to know his limitations “.
Clearly so should all bridge players. I certainly know mine.

Judy Kay-WolffMay 31st, 2013 at 11:52 pm

HBJ:

When you’ve been around bridge as long as I have, certain “things” get to you. In my case, it is cheaters first and self proclaimed experts second.

Judy Kay-WolffMay 31st, 2013 at 11:57 pm

Gary:

The Rabbi’s Rule, to me, is synonymous with a “fix.” It has happened to me like everyone else. However, think about all the times you gained from it and the few times it worked. That may be little or no consolation — but it is great that you can laugh about it now as you recount it years later.

Judy Kay-WolffJune 2nd, 2013 at 5:42 pm

A timely observation: I have been watching the Trials on our wonderful BBO for the last day or so and wonder why so many categorize their class as Expert while others leave the space blank and let the audience formulate their own conclusions. In many cases, I have done a search on those whose names are unfamiliar to me and find nothing. Maybe it is my computer. Maybe not.

I know that most (not the very experienced, of course) play on worldwide internet and not surprisingly are under a lot of pressure before such a captive audience. I am also aware from personal experience (as an avid duplicate and tournament player) how embarrassing it is to make a bonehead play. But in the last few days I have seen lots of bids and plays of like description by those who allege to be “world class players.” Either the category is misleading or the players are deluding themselves. I have my own views.

PAULJune 4th, 2013 at 4:44 am

Today I was at a friend’s house watching BBO. Are they for real? I cannot believe that some of these are the people who are fighting to represent our country in a world championship. I can understand sponsored teams playing in NABCs — but I think there has to be limit as to how far professionalism plays a part in this farce.

Judy Kay-WolffJune 4th, 2013 at 4:50 am

Yes, Paul. I watched too. Your point is well taken. I should think it would be embarrassing to some of the sponsors to be seen on a worldwide venue such as BBO but it must go with the territory. In this case, it doesn’t pay to advertise.

EllisJune 8th, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Dear Judy
As to the skill categorization on BBO for the team trials.
If you are a member of BBO the profile shown is your own, and the designation is whatever you categorize yourself as. If however you are not a member, then they operator gives you a temporary profile and it has no categorization on it.
Hope that clears that up for you.

EllisJune 8th, 2013 at 1:15 pm

As an aside, the team trials are an open event, I believe the only thing you need is to be a member of the USBF in good standing and not under suspension from the ACBL, you do not even have to be an ACBL member.
Looking at the final 8 forward I cant see anyone that I wouldn’t want on my team.
I don’t expect the matches to be played at world championship level in the Round Robin or the USA2 round of 64, but coming down to the wire quality and class seems to shine through, and the young guys playing four handed all have great credentials given that they are so young.
And what I find most amazing about that particular team, is that they are all so well mannered and likeable guys. None of the usual brash cockiness but genuinely good guys.

Judy Kay-WolffJune 8th, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Ellis:

In response to your first remark — perhaps the operator (or technician) is not in a position to make such a judgment. If you notice, some of the better players leave that space blank which IMHO is in much better taste. I have looked up some of these so-called “expert class” players whose names are unfamiliar and nowhere are their monikers to be found. World Class players as they identify themselves and even so-called experts should be getting mention somewhere on the internet if such is the case. And by the way, it applies to some of the volunteer commentators as well. I suppose expertise is in the eyes of the beholder — at least in the bridge world.

Judy Kay-WolffJune 8th, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Ellis:

No one is challenging the eligibility of a player to be acceptable fodder for The Trials. If they are not hardened criminals and not on probation by the league, they figure to be acceptable. People with questionable ethics, for instance, would not be my choice — but that is not the issue here. Credentials are not so much the problem. Yes, most are respectable individuals with whom I would proud to be associated. I have enjoyed watching many of them play on BBO. It is just the overconfidence and arrogance of one or two of the self-asserted gurus that I find distressing. What you call “cockiness,” I consider disrespect. Rising stars are not celebrated icons quite yet and in my eyes they still must prove themselves. Some will; others will not.

EllisJune 8th, 2013 at 7:52 pm

The operator gets no choice, if its a BBO member its self categorized by the player.
If it is a non member the operator just puts the name in.
To be honest I am not sure it is possible to be a great viewgraph commentator, the commenting is often incorrect because the operator is guessing at the cards played.
this is because not all the players take the care and time to allow the operator to see the cards being played.
so you need to be a bridge expert, have good communication skills and be somewhat clarevoyant. I belive there are 3 such individuals.

Judy Kay-WolffJune 8th, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Hi again Ellis:

I do believe BBO is fantastic, possibly the greatest invention since I became involved in bridge. However, I do not think we are speaking about the same issue. I refer to the categorization of a performer (player as opposed to operator). If you will notice, the really great ones leave their space blank at the upper right hand part of the screen. They don’t have to tell the audience they are world class or an expert. If they are, they won’t have to lead the witness. It will be self-evident. As far as commentators, some are terrific and others are wannabes, assuming the role of gurus. But, I am sure it is a thankless role. So be it.

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