Judy Kay-Wolff

A Game By Any Other Name…

The beginning of our beloved game came about in the 1800’s with Bridge Whist — continuing until it was converted in 1904 to Auction Bridge and continued that way until Harold Vanderbilt was credited when he brilliantly converted “Auction” into “Contract” Bridge while on a cruise in 1927. Then along came Eli Culbertson, Milton Work, Charles Goren and others who helped pioneer the game as we know it today. Since then Contract Bridge has appeared in many forms, including social at-home games. The American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) was created (in 1936) and The WBF (World Bridge Federation) at the urging and support of James Ortiz-Patino was formed in 1958 and under its auspices hosted many world championships/olympiads. Competition comes in all forms and shapes: individuals, pairs, teams … and more. Name your poison and pay your entry fee. At the duplicate clubs, the majority of events are focused on daily pairs with an occasional Special Club Championship (with an additional charge and extra masterpoints ala ACBL).

Judging from what we see locally here in Vegas, most play because of their love and enjoyment of the game enabled by leisure time. We also have Sectionals and Regionals. This Month (February 20th-24th), our Sectional will be held at The Plaza (which was the popular downtown site for the record breaking attendance of the 80’s and 90’s). I am pleased to add .. the advanced reservations are quite sizeable with nearly three weeks to go. All games (even at the neighborhood club level) allow the players to be ranked within their peers… new, intermediate and more experienced — depending upon their level of play). Obviously, it varies from social bridge all the way to the top .. National and International Competition where many high- level experts from both here and abroad compete … something like a Game for All Seasons. Bridge has shaped my life phenomenally beyond description (blessing me with both Norman and Bobby) and thus the necessity to express my concerns for the future distresses me!

Because of modern day technology, much has changed! I refer specifically to the current fabulous facilities employed to detect and document stealthy cheating (at all levels) with research and scientific methods not available previously. Early on .. perhaps sixty or so years ago, some adventuresome pairs illegally exchanged information and when discovered and corroborated .. some were booted out of our game .. many never to be seen or heard from again. Others paid a shorter period of penance .. but later resurfaced. However, with more experienced, clever, culprits (both nationally and internationally), it continued to thrive and is in the active stage of being proven and soon (I pray) to be stopped. I cannot go into the details myself, as I am not qualified to offer up proof .. but many top players (in 1963 when I came on the scene) KNEW and would have staked their lives on the undeserved wins of certain “glorious” teams (and pairs) whose names always appeared as No. 1. Many are familiar with the details after reading The Lone Wolff, but hold on to your seats .. there is more in the offing.

Since I truly believe the issue of deliberate underhanded, stealthy action is in the process of being squelched, we are exerting our efforts toward a new concern. On another site, most of you may have read about a second try (which failed over two decades ago) at introducing into universal bridge a proposed new contrived bidding system in conjunction with the striving for use of ‘Ferts.’ Yes, it is aptly nicknamed for the word ‘fertilizer’ which needs no elaboration. Just read between the drops. It is what it is! No doubt, most competitions are subject to change — and certainly favored .. IF in the interest of improvement (v. complicated bidding methods of confusion). Those of us old timers are appreciative and captivated by the majestic level to which bridge has ascended. However, there exist strong attempts to totally renovate our long-used methods of bidding where ‘this’ means ‘that’ and ‘that’ means ‘this.” If allowed (and we pray not), the game will go to hell in a hand basket — bearing no resemblance to what, for decades, we have proudly known as Bridge.

The most destructive element of this attempt at wreaking havoc on our long used, improved and rather simplistic bidding structure involves confusing techniques. Besides resembling a Halloween scene as it is very deceptive, it will cause contestants to play against trumped-up intentionally concocted bidding systems, slow down the game indescribably by unfamiliarity with the newly arriving chicanery, and force longtime players enamored by their favorite pastime to change their own bidding and defense to cope with it. And, how about all the extra time needed for those relatively in the dark who cause a delay of game. Certainly, they should not be penalized. With the revival of this second attempt to allow ‘ferts’ to infiltrate the system, I fear we will lose many avid players .. either giving it up or returning to relaxing mama-papa social coffee klatches. Is this attempted bridge revolution what you want? I didn’t think so!

Should (by some very dark and distant miracle) ‘Ferts’ and their accompanying ramifications officially ever sadly see the light of day … our once-great game’s replacement should be re-named GARBRIDGE!!


Bridge LoverFebruary 5th, 2017 at 3:49 am

Glad to see the site is back up! I have been involved in card games all my life but the above was a total revelation to me. I don’t profess to be an expert, but I can’t imagine people willing to do an ‘about-face’ and unlearn the systems which they are comfortable playing and start over at Square One. I sure can understand your concern.

Judy Kay-WolffFebruary 5th, 2017 at 5:31 am

Hi Bridge Lover:

A major consideration is that bridge here (in Zone 2 of the World Bridge Federation) is not a young-people’s game anymore. We have no official public school bridge classes to teach, encourage and promote it as with the 200,000,000 kids in China — where it is in the regular daily curriculum (and eleven European nations have adopted it as well). Here, as it is agreed, it is a game for middle age folks or older who revere the game as much or more as when they first started which could vary by twenty or thirty years .. and then some. The fewer the changes .. the better. The popularity of our majestic game is dwindling but word has it that the ACBL is doing some reorganizing .. hopefully to welcome back some of the early players and entice some new ones to the fold.

Like they say .. if it ain’t broke .. why fix it? Simplicity goes a long, long way!!

AlanFebruary 5th, 2017 at 5:42 pm

The facts and objectives seem so distorted, they can’t possibly be trying to incorporate this new concept into ACBL land. With bridge on the decline (for a variety of reasons), we must strive to draw people to our game — not discourage them. Hope your efforts will not be in vain.

Judy Kay-WolffFebruary 5th, 2017 at 5:58 pm


My references were gleaned from another site. Pushing for a change in system did not originate here in Zone 2, but from other more adventuresome areas of the world, where efforts failed the first time and my information was taken from the current ongoing pleas and arguments which appeared.

Learning bridge is no piece of cake. Take it from one who knows. I pray no radical changes will occur (and I doubt they will) … as they will be more detrimental than positive. At this point, we should focus on alluring more newbies than scaring them away.

CPFebruary 7th, 2017 at 5:27 am

Cannot believe I have heard no vibes about the potential invasion.

Judy Kay-WolffFebruary 7th, 2017 at 5:41 am


It is not so surprising as I have never heard you mention the backs and forths on BW (where this topic was discussed ad nauseum), but seemed to have ebbed these last couple of weeks. For the most part, my observations are that players are happy with their learned methods though often modified changes are made .. but not to the extent of turning the bridge world upside down!

Diane GraeseFebruary 8th, 2017 at 8:58 am

Dear Judy, You are older than I am, but I’m thinking younger than Bobby, so one or the other might consider my question.

How was Sputnik received? (The introduction of negative doubles) Or Jacoby 2NT as a replacement for 3 of a major as a forcing major suit raise? Or in my lifetime, the introduction of Bergen raises.

Isn’t there always a bit of discomfort as new methods evolve?

And I have read where certain new ideas evolve, get tried, but then disappear … sometimes as a result of minus 1100’s.

If “FERT” bids can exist within the rules of bridge, then in my opinion, time will tell whether they will be adopted by the general population much like the other methods I have mentioned.


Bigot-JohnsonFebruary 8th, 2017 at 3:14 pm

Hello there again,
This article like so many of your previous ones needs to read by all honest bridge players who care so much about the game. Only their voices and concerns might initiate a change to tightening up on permitted bidding systems .
In my view bidding systems are out of control and far too many are designed to be disruptive rather than instructive. Good bridge players rely on their card sense and card play to demonstrate their prowess at the game. They don’t resort to devious and underhand tactics of arriving at the table with a system opponents have no time at all in which to get a real understanding of. These systems are like secret codes rather than simple , transparent and logically-sound bids.
So many forms of cheating have been outlawed but this form seems to have a seal of approval from those who run and manage the game. Having level playing fields is essential to preserve the integrity of the game…. by which whatever bids are made in an auction ALL ARE PRIVY TO THE SAME INFORMATION they are meant to convey.
My cartoons of the Northern Pro all carry the same message……so called incredibly brilliant bidding systems have evil and nasty objectives. Can you imagine turning up to a tournament where every pair has their own bizarre biding system with every auction riddled with announcements . alerts and convoluted and lengthy explanations. No wonder bridge is a big turn off to anyone thinking of trying the game out.

Judy Kay-WolffFebruary 8th, 2017 at 5:54 pm


The above detailed assessment is nothing less than eloquent. Your long running, popular and clever column addressing the Bizarre World of Bridge certainly says it all.

bobby wolffFebruary 8th, 2017 at 7:39 pm

Hi Diane,

No doubt the introduction of “Sputnick” named around the time of the great space exploration by the Russians, in bridge which was merely showing an artificial 4+ hearts over an opponents 1 spade overcall instead of the former meaning (at that time) of penalties, but usually without the playing strength of venturing to the 2 level. Then of course, Jacoby 2NT (an artificial forcing to game immediate jump to 2NT showing primary trump support and asking for specific information from his one of a major opening partner.

Sometime later Bergen raises which quantified immediate game invitational bid by jumps to the three level with either three or four card major suit support in order to help partner, but also to hinder their opponents from entering the bidding because of the higher level.

Of course, some discomfort was forced on the opponents, but the prime purpose was constructive not destructive. However the “strong pass” (any thought to be normal opening bid) together with all sorts of weak hands then being required to bid affirmatively including those with 0-5 HCPs would call for a totally new approach, which IMO (and, of course, others) would cause an endless change of defensive measures (trying to include all possible hand types), an inordinate number of totally different meanings (which, if done adequately) would require a series of almost endless questions during the actual auction as to both real and inferential negative meanings, replete with tendencies of that particular “strong pass” pair for both the bidding and also the declarer play and/or defense later.

Adding to the above “strong pass” had its heyday with the WBF in the mid 1980’s lasting some years and finally for one reason or another faded out by itself, although in some corners of the world were not negatively received and so, AFAIK, kind of played out to almost nothingness.

Other factors, not automatically considered by casual bridge lovers might be:

1. The acceptance of such a major difference in style and action to those only on the perimeter of high-level bridge as we know it.

2. The totally new problems such systems would cause to relative new up and aspiring players in early stages of taking the “up” elevator to eventual talented performers.

3. To which pair should we ascribe the perhaps twice as long session considering all the time taken to merely understand the rudiments of those playing it, the “strong pass” side or their questioning opponents?

4. The various social aspects of what was once considered “a wonderful game for ladies and gentlemen” completely involved with special ethics, only attributable to our special partnership mind game with its known attachment for proper “ethics”.

5. Can one just imagine if all that artificiality was allowed (with certainly more to come) as others tried to improve on all its nuances,
how that would be received by relative newcomers to our beloved game and might effect those who otherwise might be interested in taking it up.

6. Finally, with the conventions you mentioned, in no way did they bring the possible negatives listed above. Far from it, since they were only intended to make constructive bidding better (probably mostly succeeding, although with some failures) but in reality not throwing tacks in the road on every bridge highway — only emphasizing what others may think as the major reason for even creating “strong pass,” the idea of raining on bridge lovers’ parades, trying to legitimately stand in the way of what has taken 90 years for our beautiful game to achieve, plus the necessary ethics to play it, minus the high-level “cheaters” who are finally being rooted out, making what’s left the greatest mind game ever invented.

If I am only partly right, I hope you may be persuaded to now understand just how dangerous such a transition as the “strong pass” might provide.

However, and before closing, I want to express my appreciation for you to have tackled this subject, since without it, many (perhaps almost all) who believe in innovation which often leads to progress, may think that post about Ferts and Strong Pass, on the Bridge Winners site, had much to recommend.

Perhaps it does, but only in about the 40th century to come, when all human brains have come to operate at about 50% of efficiency instead of about the 10%, it does now.

Paul ElsteinFebruary 10th, 2017 at 3:17 am

I think that some of the BW crowd truly believe that what is holding back young people from trying bridge is the alleged stifling of innovations, such as prohibiting the Forcing Pass. Not one of them took up my challenge of their surveying college age people who DON’T play bridge to see whether the lack of ultracomplex systems is what’s holding them back from learning the game. Of course, we all want more young people to get into bridge–but few plan to go from beginners to experts overnight. I defer to the experts on whether unique conventions should be allowed at very high-level events, but please don’t try to market those conventions as possible saviors of Bridge.

P.S. I’ve recently been teaching Beginner and Near Beginner Bridge classes for Seniors. There are a lot of Baby Boomers who either want to learn bridge for the first time or who haven’t played in years, and want to go back into it. And they have the time to play–we should encourage them as much as we do younger people.

Judy Kay-WolffFebruary 10th, 2017 at 5:02 am

Hi Paul,

It’s always nice hearing from you as I know how much you love the game and always want what is good to preserve its original beauty and dignity as do Bobby and I.

My feeling is (as I have professed before).. if it ain’t broke.. why fix it??? Since I started playing (which seems like an eternity ago), countless changes and amendments to conventions have been suggested, adapted and welcomed by the
public. In my bridge experiences, I travelled through three different spheres of the game: (1) mama-papa when I learned in college; (2) then when I married Norman, I fell into line with KS which was quite different; and (3) after marrying Bobby over thirteen years ago, I was introduced to a much less rigid, practical approach which I am happy to play (and partnered by Bobby .. who wouldn’t?).

I take issues with FERTS and radical renovation of our changing game .. altering it to something totally different and discouraging old timers from coming back to the fold and newbies giving it a try. I think much differently than the proponents on BW. If it is so revolutionized, how can you call it bridge?

If extreme changes are eventually initiated, I hope I am not around to see the destruction of our once majestic game! To each his own.

Mac KennedyFebruary 12th, 2017 at 8:21 pm

Regarding Diane’s comment and the evolution of bridge the treatments mentioned had a specific defined meaning easy to explain. My opinion of ferts and other semi destructive treatments/systems go under the category ” I can guess better than you” whether from experience talent or both.
Diane’s oft times partner Martin caley and I were housemates in Ottawa in the early 70s.

Judy Kay-WolffFebruary 12th, 2017 at 11:32 pm

Hi Mac

Interesting correlation of circumstances!

For whatever it is worth, it is not about the game being superior, almost the same or inferior. It is about a combination of two issues: (1) pertaining to how the artificiality of the game will no doubt have a profound negative effect on almost all those who accept it. In addition (2) the never-ending attempt to defend against it, will kill it before it even has a chance to breathe.

No doubt .. food for thought!

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