Judy Kay-Wolff

To be Forewarned is to be Forearmed!

Here in the States (as well as elsewhere), there is continual chatter about declining interest in our once majestic game .. particularly Contract Bridge, which came upon the scene in 1927. As with most issues, everyone can cite reasons for declining participation. The most popular explanations seem to be an aging population as people are dying off .. with not enough interest generated by the younger set. I have done some research that I would like to share with you though that is far from the whole story.

After checking reliable sources, it appears that life expectancy is longer NOW than ever before (excepting rare circumstances). Perhaps we can attribute it to incredible medical science, research, surgeries, procedures and therapy. Times are changing. Old age is not that much of a factor lessening bridge attendance than as in physical enterprises. However, with the advent of modern technology in countless spheres .. consider the following! The younger set has witnessed so much that has evolved in past decades. Consider the addiction to TV, Taped shows, Internet, Kindle, Cell Phones, DVD’s (buy/rent), Movies, Soap Operas, Theatres, Operas, Traveling Headliners and the beat goes on! In fact, why go to a duplicate, tournament or NABC when you can play on BBO in the comfort of your robe .. at your own home .. and at convenient times that suit your personal schedule. Besides, the price is right! I am not condemning BBO .. far from it! It is very popular .. and why not? Just pointing out the tacks in the road. The public wants to know why bridge attendance is faltering with less and less youth taking up the game. Perhaps the above is only a fraction of the realistic reasons.

I think you may be surprised at my major primary suspicion. Let me acquaint you with the introduction of bridge to the younger set which actually was considered (but delayed) about a decade later in Asia. My husband and Bob Hamman were invited to Beijing by the late James Ortiz-Patino (Founder of the World Bridge Federation) to play opposite himself and his obviously enthusiastic partner, Deng Xioaping, the then-reigning Leader of the People’s Republic of China. That was in 1985. In 1993 Bobby (who was then President of the WBF) returned with a specific goal in mind. He was accompanied by Jeff Polisner (then Legal Counsel for the WBF) and another WBF Representative, Patrick Choy, who had since relocated in Singapore. The WBF trio met with a hierarchy of Chinese officials regarding earlier discussions about the positive aspects of the game of bridge. Their historical conference was held at The Great Hall of the People located in the legendary Tian’anmen Square. The primary purpose of the WBF visit: Introducing bridge OFFICIALLY by sanctioning it to be taught in the schools of China. After addressing Bobby …. “Mr Wolff: Exactly what can we do to help promote bridge?” — Bobby responded “Introduce and authorize the teaching of bridge into your school system.” The Chinese dignitaries discussed all the promising possibilities, opportunities and eventual results, excused themselves briefly, returned, extended their hands to Bobby, Jeff and Patrick and agreed “DONE DEAL!” MISSION ACCOMPLISHED .. or so they thought.

When Bobby returned to Aspen a short time later to attend the WBF Management Meeting, he presided, and proudly explained arrangements had been made and mutually agreed upon .. so that Audrey Grant (and her husband, David Lindop) would sojourn to China to “teach the teachers” how to teach bridge to the students. That included bringing notes, books, lesson materials, etc. … leaving the proverbial “no stone (or no card) unturned.” Shockingly, there was much resistance because many in attendance chirped in and wanted to join the entourage. Thus, their great intentions were thwarted even longer; however, the project finally got off the ground turning it over to the Chinese teachers who must have done one helluva a job as TODAY there are over 200,000,000 children learning and playing bridge in China. That is NOT A MISPRINT … OVER 200,000,000 IN CHINA … in addition to the eleven other European nations who had already officially introduced it into their school curricula earlier.

Just bear in mind. The collective membership here is around 170,000 total members. Compare that 200,000,000 school children in China alone (and add that to the other eleven countries who proudly adopted the educational school programs before that time). Lack of official bridge school involvement here is very discouraging .. so let’s face the facts and work on a solution:

Instead of concentrating on special local events and games and, of course the lure of more masterpoints, perhaps the ACBL administration should dedicate their time, interest and financial support (via ultra-qualified bridge leaders) toward investigating and hiring experienced teaching professionals to organize the same type of educational program the two hundred million Chinese youngsters have enjoyed the benefit of .. and are enabling them to make their way into the beautiful realm of bridge .. and eventually some of our newbies may become the budding bridge stars of the future.

Forgive my bluntness .. but the TIME IS NOW for a major turnabout to prevent the most incredible mind game in the world from losing stature. China and Europe have striven to teach and preserve the game and hopefully are enroute to protecting its continuance and popularity for centuries to come. Not so in the Western Hemisphere where little has seriously been done on a major scale to indoctrinate bridge into our school systems .. to prevent it from continuing to fall from grace and eventually vanish.

Bridge in the States and neighboring areas needs immediate resuscitation (long overdue) and that is OUR responsibility! The foresight taken by China and Europe seems like a rational approach. Otherwise, just sit back, do nothing and watch bridge fade into its likely fate of extinction.


12 Comments

jack mendelsohnFebruary 18th, 2017 at 3:08 am

Judy, What a great blog. I wish it could be printed in the Bridge Bulletin.
I am so dissapointed when I see the names of the players from the top colleges. Almost 80% foreign and mostly Chinese
I hope the ACBL recognizes the problem and finally does something about it

Judy Kay-WolffFebruary 18th, 2017 at 5:39 am

Hi Jack,

Thank you for having the courage to speak your mind. This is a subject most would not touch with a ten foot pole (or longer). Many discussions along these lines are discussed in whispers.

My concern is for future generations. Unless serious action is taken post haste, we will bear the shame and responsibility of allowing bridge to degenerate into nothingness. Bobby and I will no doubt be long gone when it happens. Our concern is for future generations. We ourselves, more than most, feel it necessary!

Paul FlashenbergFebruary 18th, 2017 at 12:51 pm

Hi Judy,]

Thank you for publicly addressing this issue. I learned bridge when I started college back in 1966 and still play today. Having it available in the school system is a wonderful idea as the tech savvy youth would, in my opinion, really enjoy it. I ended up making bridge a career of sorts by being a duplicate director, bridge teacher, and playing professional. I was also briefly a High School teacher, and would be willing to lend my support to your project, as I wrote my own lessons, starting with beginning bridge. I don’t think that the ACBL is necessarily the right sponsoring organization, as they are in many respects a special interests group.

Bill CubleyFebruary 18th, 2017 at 3:41 pm

I asked the ACBL once to have all districts play their NAP the same weekend. We could advertise bringing a national championship to all players, saving travel and hotel expenses. The usual trip to an NABC could become entry into a national pairs event with a seed. Each district could determine district winners scored locally; but national overalls would be determined across the field and some districts might not have anyone make the national overalls.

The publicity could well come in the local boy/girl wins/does very well in national championship brought to the players.

The reply was they like things the way they are.

Judy Kay-WolffFebruary 18th, 2017 at 3:55 pm

Hi Bill: I am not referring necessarily to the issue you brought up. However, preferring STATUS QUO is always the easy way out.

Judy Kay-WolffFebruary 18th, 2017 at 4:30 pm

Hi Paul:

Welcome to the site.

I was absolutely enchanted by the recapturing of your dedication to the game. Sadly, when most people hear the word bridge, they think of it as ‘some card game.’ ANYTHING BUT! I don’t have to remind YOU it is the greatest mind game in the world and trains your mind to think under pressure, the logic of numbers application, the psychology of competition, the legal codes required of partnerships, the ethics required to follow the rules .. and sooooo much more. It preprares one to better cope with life as we grow older!

Thanks for your very kind offer. Hopefully one day my dream of official bridge curricula in the schools here will come to fruition.

JoanFebruary 18th, 2017 at 11:44 pm

Just imagine what bridge being taught in our schools would do for increase in attendance at our clubs and tournaments. Why has this subject never been pursued before?

Judy Kay-WolffFebruary 19th, 2017 at 12:36 am

Joanie:

We share the same thought. Learning a subject by getting in on the ground floor makes this wondrous game so much simpler to understand as you don’t have to go back and perhaps unlearn some erroneous concepts. Our country has made a number of admirable attempts encouraging individuals and groups to attract potential bridge lovers with private lessons and small groups classes. However, nothing can rival or equate to offering organized/prepared bridge classes in our school system on a simple-to-understand basis .. and the sooner the better. However, it is not a one-man job and enormous coordination and cooperation are necessary!

Bigot-JohnsonFebruary 19th, 2017 at 12:02 pm

HBG : Excellent blog. Bridge and chess should be part of any school curriculum for a multitude of reasons : problem solving , the development of logical thinking , memory and deductive reasoning , along with building up a child’s ability to focus and concentrate for a sustained period of time ( essential for preparing for and doing exams ). Why American and English educationalists haven’t grasped the potential benefits of bridge I do not know.
Until this happens too many young people will miss out on the opportunity of discovering what a great game it is. The consequence of this of course is ageing membership in bridge clubs will forever be the norm.
Mind you I would make bridge a compulsory activity for prison inmates . It is far better they get hooked onto bridge rather than drugs !

Judy Kay-WolffFebruary 19th, 2017 at 3:44 pm

HBJ,

What an eloquent description and realistic assessment to recommend bridge in our schools.

It makes a huge difference how it effects our method of thinking when learned early in life compared to later. I myself was a victim and can personally attest to that! Following up on your relevant reference to prison inmates .. our administration must consider what a difference it would make with our younger set especially if they leaned toward BRIDGE NOT the ADDICTION OF DRUGS AND BOOZE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thanks for all you have done for bridge over many decades!

Gary M. MugfordFebruary 20th, 2017 at 3:15 am

Judy,

The docs continue to find ways to keep me from shuffling off this mortal coil. Happy to see you share that trait. Hello Bobby if you’re lurking.

Earlier today, I printed out three sets of flash cards for a bound stand-up book set that Edwin Hills, a friend (still!!!) and occasional partner (reason for the exclaimation marks) is using for his Bridge for Primary School Kids down in the Vine Belt in Southern Ontario. The Curmudgeon has kids learning Bridge at three (might be four) schools in his immediate area.

He demands decorum (your hand is your own, nobody can touch it without your permission and you can’t touch anybody else’s cards either) and he doesn’t let the mentors interfere much either. He starts the kids PLAYING cards, taking tricks and learning how the game itself works. The bidding …. NOT much at first. The idea is to eventually stream it in as the kids understand the play mechanics.

Seems to work. More than 90 percent of the kids are signing up for second years of instruction, and a third. They’ve already been to a local sectional tournament and enjoyed themselves immensely. How’d they do in the results? No idea.

I bet of the sixty some kids who’ve been through the at least the first year’s lessons, more than a few will end up infusing the local Bridge scene with fresh blood.

As a comparative, I asked my friend Marilyn Rochford who runs two games and plays in a third regularly locally here how old was the youngest player, playing in those three games.

“Fourty-something … maybe 47?” answered Marilyn. And she’s a real go-getter who has actually been increasing table numbers locally, while western suburban Toronto has otherwise been seeing table numbers elsewhere around here dropping.

The Greying of the ACBL isn’t a new phenomenon. The decision to play TO the tournament-playing, club-playing seniors is penny-wise and pound-foolish. Even with life-extending medical professionals hard at work, the ACBL is pushing off the date of extinction by propping itself up with already captured members, plying them with points, much of which are coloured (read: diffused) and no more an indication of true mastership than being long-lived.

So says a NON-Life Master … and I’m okay with that. I can sit down with the very best players in the ACBL and not feel ‘totally’ out of place.

Keep up whatever pressure you can. It’s all important.

Best of the new year to both of you, your Northern fan, GM

Judy Kay-WolffFebruary 20th, 2017 at 7:18 am

Hi Gary:

It's nice to know that the three of us are still around and kicking. The Wolves play together at the local club twice a week and all Sectionals and Regionals. In fact, we are journeying down to the Plaza for the February Sectional. However, we haven't been to an NABC in a long, long time. We keep very busy — at least enough to keep us out of trouble. We do miss seeing our many former confederates.

Your message was very inspirational. At first, I was reluctant to initiate it on my own site as I mused someone might put out a hit on me. Seriously, Bobby has probably donated more time (pro bono)to our game than any bridge personality around. I often wonder what would have happened in Asia if Bobby HAD NOT put a bug in their ears and then NOT followed up with their higher-ups). I keep repeating 200,000,000 kids. Lots of people have questioned if it is a typo! Believe me, it is real and they love it. He cringes at the thought of the game disappearing.

I enjoyed reading about the programs in Canada. We have several caring and determined individuals traveling around the country teaching and stressing how vital it is to go all out to install a teaching program for bridge in our schools. Attempts were actually made and failed. I know of an ultra wealthy bridge lover who donated BIG BUCKS in a concerted effort to introduce it into our educational process and failed. After three months this individual learned little had been accomplished and asked for (and received back) the unused three quarters of the original donation. Everyone is so in favor of bridge promotions in our zone. Why don't those with official authority take charge and make a concerted effort UNTIL THEY SUCCEED?

Otherwise, you can kiss the game goodbye.

Leave a comment

Your comment