Judy Kay-Wolff

The Many Faces/Phases of Bridge

When I reflect on earlier times, it becomes a mirage as I must confess I have had a many-faceted existence. Like most fortunate kids .. it encompassed a devoted family, wonderful friends, grade school/high school and then college. Before my final semester at Temple University in 1956, I attended Columbia University one summer and an encounter from fifty-one years ago I indelibly remember. On my way to class, I heard screaming and witnessed four fellows card-tossing at each other in the college square; and when I inquired what they were doing, they casually replied with a smile: “Playing bridge.” Really? Coincidentally when I returned to the dorm, I met a lovely girl from Florida and being a Scrabble addict, asked if she played bridge and described my earlier experience with the maniacal card players. Her reply was negative but we made a tradeoff. She agreed to tell me about bridge and I taught her how to play Scrabble. These earlier introductions to our wonderful game were unlike my later experiences with my mother’s friends assembling every week, stuffing their mouths with all sorts of goodies, gossiping and playing some kind of unrecognizable game. In fact, I recall an occasion when my mother was on vacation and I was asked to fill in at one of their weekly get-togethers. Knowing how frustrating it could be to find a fourth, I sympathized and succumbed. It was a fun evening. However, I did learn something from that experience. At one point, when my partner bid 4C, and since it was a social forum, I asked if she used Gerber. After a long pause, she quizzically frowned and blurted out. “No, we use another plumber. Gerber is far too expensive.” Amazing what one can learn at a bridge table. It was quite an enlightening three hours. After college, I went to Junto (the learning Center in Philadelphia) where I enrolled in a bridge course which introduced me to yet another kind of bridge and I became mesmerized and played socially with friends, attended neighborhood games, tournaments .. and eventually the Nationals. That became the world with which I was enamored for over six decades and I thank God to have been so blessed.

Here it is .. 2017 .. and I happily confess our unique game has enriched my life in so many directions, it is hard to count the ways (and ‘counting’ at my age is not as automatic as it was way back then).

When Norman and I married in 1963 and he continued attending nationals, I was busy tending to our youngsters (like siblings — born eleven months apart). But .. after a bit that changed as I was not the proverbial ‘stay at-home’ mom and suggested (convincingly) that we hire the children’s original nurse for our tri-annual jaunts to the NABCs.. and never looked back. Besides bridge, Norman and I found others distractions .. all much easier for me than our beloved game.

We became horse owners (trotters and pacers). Whenever we raced (once or twice a week), whether Philadelphia, New York, Delaware, New Jersey or even Canada, we rarely missed watching our horses perform. Two neighborhood couples formed an alliance with us and we rented a ‘box’ at the local racetrack. It didn’t break us .. but we didn’t get rich either. Sometimes breaking even is good. Got to meet many of the famous international racers and was a good night-time diversion as our children were growing up.

At one point, our young son (a sports devotee) wanted to attend a local baseball card show. He asked us to “buy (rent)” a table, so we obliged. He had good vibes, was enthusiastic and successful, but the timing was bad as soon after our sports card introduction, he discovered girls! Although we made a little money with the earlier shows at which we set up, we found ourselves abandoned and encumbered with a batch of merchandise so we continued reducing inventory, intending to put it behind us. But, that never came to pass until twenty years later (for which we had no regrets). It was so exciting (with both Norman and I being sports freaks), we enjoyed the dealers and customers we met and became licensed as Kay’s Baseball Cards. It went on successfully (mostly locally or an hour drive) — working out of the house at first and then moved to an office/warehouse, ending up with six employees (relatives or close friends). Thus, it was more fun than work; but in 1997 when (as many things do), the hobby turned sour. we sold off much of our remaining merchandise, closed shop and returned to the house, where the hobby originated .. selling some on line and gave the rest to our son. It was very exciting period of our lives. Perhaps one of the reasons was .. our involvement purchasing and displaying a large variety of photos of great sports personalities (a huge seller) afforded us stimulating exposure to so many legendary stars who appeared (and often when the promoter felt the day was slowing down, he offered us autographs at half the going rate, so we did well selling them at future shows and on line as well). But the most fun was getting to hobnob with loads of world famous talented sports figures .. Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Ted Williams .. just to name a few of hundreds. I must interrupt to add that of all things, they ALSO held a National Sports Show annually where dozens of celebrities appeared during the week. To be perfectly candid, several acted like real hotshots, but many were warm and down to earth. Among the good guys were Yaz, Ozzie Smith, Richie Ashburn, Timmy McCarver, Brooks Robinson and quite a few others who would chat as they personally autographed whatever it was .. be it be a book, a photograph or even a program. It was intriguing to be personally involved with these delightful individuals, if only for a moment or two. Incidentally, I later learned from Bobby there are oodles of universal celebrities who share our love of the game. You’d be surprised. More on that later on. With the exception of the three NABCs or a world championship (on occasion), we rarely took a weekend off from our regularly scheduled sports regimen in all those years. Busy, busy, busy. So, with my various dabblings in other arenas over time, I didn’t have to be a brain surgeon to realize that THE HIGH LEVEL GAME OF BRIDGE .. IS UNTO ITSELF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

When Norman and I married in 1963, I was a ‘bridge player” .. of sorts. A huge overbid, for sure. I was dazzled by kibitzing Norman and Edgar (whose partnership lasted successfully forty three years (with a two year break before we met) .. and nary a nasty or critical word was exchanged. Amazing! Early in our marriage, I mostly watched and gleaned so much which was foreign to me earlier. I was dazzled by the many superstars I got to know. In fact, when Goren (a good friend of Norman’s) journeyed by train from New York and arrived at our marriage ceremony, his unexpected appearance shut the yapping mouths of my mother’s bridge crowd who always ribbed her, asking why Judy can’t “find a guy.” She apologetically replied. “Where can she meet someone when she travels with that Circus every week!.” In case you didn’t catch it, you guys are the ‘Circus’ to which she alluded. However, it was worth the wait. Our merger lasted 39 years until his death in 2002 after a short illness. It was a wondrous experience and I was relieved he was not in pain and was satisfied to remain widowed with cherished memories at 69, not seeking a replacement. But you know how it goes. One cannot determine what God has in store. What a ‘shocker’ when Bobby Wolff called me with a few words of condolence after he learned of Norman’s death. I almost dropped the phone as he hadn’t said hello to me in forty years, although he and Norman spent time together at dozens of tournaments at the Nationals discussing sports. His contacting me was a nice endeavor (totally ignoring me earlier), so when he won the right to represent the country in Monaco in the late fall of 2003, I courteously/casually emailed him a note of congratulations to return his kind gesture. Too much to recant as the details are common knowledge with the bridge entourage. I didn’t take long after our first face-to-face dinner encounter in Los Angeles and non-stop emails became the order of business the next few weeks, followed by our visiting one another a couple of times. I ended up joining him in Monaco (after my acceptance of his proposal by phone). We were wed on Pearl Harbor Day that year (another day that will live in infamy) and here we are, married over thirteen years and loving Las Vegas. Getting it right twice is an enormous understatement although I have converted from stringent KS (forgive me, dear Edgar) to loose-as-a-goose Bobby Wolff; however, when it works (and I can remember all his various ingenious nuances), I don’t complain. But, bear in mind .. octogenarians don’t absorb like they once did.

I began this blog a few weeks ago which gives you some idea of my earlier perceptions. I had to stop and catch my breath as life has whizzed by so fast .. but I want to share with you more of my delightful interludes which would have escaped me had it not been for this damn game. Later!

Back to the bridge chaos!


15 Comments

AlanApril 20th, 2017 at 12:22 am

Wow! What a start?

Who were the famous people outside the bridge world who
enjoyed the game?

Judy Kay-WolffApril 20th, 2017 at 1:11 am

Hi Alan,

I am certain lots of people are curious about the bridge lovers who are famous in other venues. Much of it is in The Lone Wolff, but I will ask Bobby (when he has the opportunity to detail their names), to put it up here.

I remember while at a tournament an eternity ago in Washington, an appearance was made by both President Eisenhower and Supreme Allied Commander General Alfred Gruenther. In fact, I recall playing against Telly Savalas about forty years ago at a tournament in Pittsburgh, I believe.

You won’t believe some of the stars who sojourned to Dallas to play against The Aces during their heyday. Later!

LisaApril 21st, 2017 at 5:22 am

Hi Judy,

I come from a bridge-playing family and must agree that I have seen many who have been enraptured by the game to the exclusion of all else. Difficult to envision that playing a card game (and not necessarily for money) can be so addictive. But in the world of today, nothing really shocks me!

Judy Kay-WolffApril 21st, 2017 at 5:45 am

Welcome aboard Lisa:

Yes, I cannot deny that most people are shocked to learn that a game like bridge can shape a person’s destiny. Take it from one who knows. One day I awoke in a state of enchantment realizing what a stimulating challenge it provided (with countless opportunities to explore a world of which I was totally unaware). And it got better and better .. which you will read about when I detail how it enriched my life in so many directions. It presented many hurdles (and still does) .. but it was well worth the perseverance!

CarolApril 21st, 2017 at 4:22 pm

I have probably been involved in this adventure even longer than you and can well understand your zest to share. And, how about getting to see the world through Norman and Bobby!

Judy Kay-WolffApril 21st, 2017 at 4:34 pm

Carol,

I could follow Bobby with ‘The Lone Wolffess’ but too old and weary at this juncture in life. Being pretty much a homebody in my youth, I never realized what was in store. Those mind-boggling adventures come next.

Judy Kay-WolffApril 21st, 2017 at 4:56 pm

Carol:

P.S. If my memory serves me correctly, i met you and your charming late husband, Jim Robison, in 2004 while attending a world championship with Bobby in Istanbul. In fact, I believe Jim won an event there. My, how time flies.

Gary MugfordApril 23rd, 2017 at 6:07 pm

Judy,

As we have communicated by the quaint old fashion of email (STILL don’t have Twitter, given my temper, a good thing) and it’s nice to be able to ‘yak’ back and forth via that medium, commenting on blogs at least passes for palaver for me. (And I have a cellular PHONE, not a portable life glued to my fingers). I’ll send you my horse-racing and sports card stories privately rather than here because there’s not much of public interest in the tales.

Thought I WOULD write here that I am supremely happy that you regain some JOY in writing about Bridge. And since the current state of affairs is distressing to you, I’d rather read about Bridge from my birth date in 1956 (Ya, I went senior last year) forwards. Gossip and facts, doesn’t matter. Another time and place and one I was too young to know one club from another. Literally. So, fill us in on what the Golden Age (or was it the Silver Age in deference to Eli, Hal and some of the original coffee-housers?). I’m sure you will get the comic book reference from your days in collectibles.

So, write on. Don’t totally abandon the hills you’ve fought to win at the other blog. But enjoy yourself. Happy writing makes for happy readers.

Judy Kay-WolffApril 23rd, 2017 at 6:58 pm

Hi Alan,
Sorry for the procrastination, but there was a bit of background I had been searching out. Bobby sent me a list of many (but hardly all) of the players facing the Aces over the years. It began in the late sixties when Ira Corn (wealthy businessman and financier) was encouraged by Bobby and Dorothy Moore to set his cap toward the formation of the first professional bridge playing team (including Ira himself, but he soon assumed the role of non-playing captain). Bobby was the first to join and eventually others followed suit. Top teams were hosted for a weekend at Ira's Dallas abode where they played Friday night through Sunday and enjoyed marvelous cuisine and hospitality .. returning to the airport for late Sunday flights.

Later on Mr. Corn's extremely capable Press Secretary, Jean Carpenter (formerly Mrs. Charles Schulz of Peanuts and Charlie Brown fame), was able to obtain a continuing list of on-the-road celebrities performing on stage while passing through Dallas for a short stay — who just 'happened to love bridge.' They were invited for a Sunday gathering and graciously accepted at the thrill of playing against upcoming bridge champions. Ira arranged a legendary Sunday Brunch with delectable goodies and assorted beverages throughout the afternoon and the guests played against the rising Aces for a few years. Either at Ira's home or other arranged bridge encounters at tournaments or special events, Bobby enjoyed playing against the legendary Omar, Burt Lancaster, Timmy McCarver, Richie Ashburn, Wes Parker, Les Brown ("Band of Renown"), Chico Marx, George Burns, George S. Kauffman, former golfer Ed Sneed .. to name a few. They were all delightful, unassuming individuals, and when asked, Bobby confessed he was most impressed with George Burns, who was a natural card player with 'numeracy" and recalled him quickly making an impressive play by knocking out an entry from dummy to prevent declaring from establishing a long suit and eventually defeated the normally makeable contract. When the session ended, Mr Burns arose from his seat, shook Bobby's hand and asked for his autograph. Bobby was so taken back, to this day he is still so remiss for neglecting to ask for his in return!!

Incidentally, you may not be aware .. but there are many famous personalities who loved our wonderful pastime (?) .. Monty Hall, Don Adams, and sports Coaches Lou Holtz and Tommy Prothro. Possibly the greatest female player of all time .. Helen Sobel (Smith) .. according to our Bridge Encyclopedia "enjoyed a brief stage career as a chorus girl and appeared in several stage shows including 'Animal Crackers' with the Marx Brothers.  Another chorus girl taught her how to play bridge and she rocketed to stardom at the card table." Imagine abandoning a possible theatrical career and turning to bridge!!!! Other devotees included Jim Baccus (Mr. Magoo), Carol Lawrence, Jane Meadows, Senior Sports Editor for Sports Illustrated Walter Bingham, Wimbleton Tennis Champ Bob Falkenburg, Detroit Lions FB star Ace Gutowski, Tennis aficionado Martina Navratilova, Philly basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, old timer Buston Keaton .. and the beat goes on. However, I saved the best for last .. Norman and I enjoyed dinners in California twice (through the courtesy of our late dear friend Don Krauss) with the one and only BILLY WILDER. We had never encountered a warmer, more gracious and modest individual (with his countless universal achievements) and I shall always treasure those evenings.

I am sure many readers can add to that list! I'd love to hear about them.

Judy Kay-WolffApril 23rd, 2017 at 7:22 pm

Welcome back Gary:

I always enjoy hearing from you as your humorous candor is refreshing. Yes, as much as I appreciate the amazing benefits afforded to me by bridge, I have concerns about what has been happening in recent years (both locally, nationally and abroad). Stating that bridge has changed in several venues is a huge understatement and not necessarily for the best.

I will be moving on in the next day about the above and expanding upon my naïve experiences, having spent most of my life in the States, not venturing out of the country till the mid to late sixties .. unaware what I was missing. Moving forward is always a happy prospect for me.

Later!

Terry SmithApril 25th, 2017 at 6:24 pm

Judy:

Been a while. Occasionally I forget to look at your webpage to see what you may have written. When I just read your most with a description of sports figures (mostly baseball players) I noticed Tim McCarver’s name. When I was in charge of NABCs (then called Nationals), we held one in St. Louis and there was one of those small competitions between celebrities and, as I recall, politicians. Anyway, McCarver was a pretty avid bridge player, cannot recall who he partnered with but seem to recall it was a pitcher. Anyway, that is about all I recall from that time.

I have more memories that always took precedence. You may remember John and Ad Simon. At this stage she mostly lived at their place somewhere outside of St. Louis and he had a suite at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel. His suite was in the fancier wing, can no longer recall which it was. Anyway, I was invited up to his suite on two occasions. He had a table of rubber bridge going on (which I was not invited to join). What stands out in my memory are the French Impressionists’ originals paintings he had on the walls in several of the rooms. At the time John was retiring from his position as President – can’t recall which organization it was, possibly the ACBL Charity Foundation or another group.

As a child of 5 I had been introduced to piano lessons. I continued studying with our local teacher for the next 20 some years. Full time in the early years, only sporadically once I was in college, etc. At those times she would call me in the Spring and ask me to study with her for a month or two to work on a new piece and be the closing player at her recitals of all her students. I continued to enjoy playing the piano for many years after but no longer play. Anyway I was descending via elevator from Simon’s suite one day and a floor or two later a really tiny man got on in full tux and rails. I recognized him as a great pianist on his way to a performance. His name was Rudolph Serkin. I was too star struck to even consider saying hello. In my youth my teacher had taken me to 2 recitals of Arthur Rubenstein in Columbus, Ohio, I attended a third on my own. A number of years later Vladimir Horowitz had emerged from a 10 year hiatus and appeared at Mershon Auditorium on the Ohio State campus. I took my mother and sister; the first note he struck was unlike any I ever heard in my life. My sister also plays the piano and she agrees.

Enough for now, I just find it always enjoyable to recall the bridge years whenever I read your blog.

Judy Kay-WolffApril 25th, 2017 at 6:55 pm

For those of you "newbies," Terry is an 'old' dear friend who worked avidly for the ACBL in the good old days. We had not seen each other in decades and when I began blogging, we became reunited.

I always enjoy reminiscing about the many individuals with whom I crossed paths .. either in the game itself or through those I had met. It seems like Terry and I had much in common .. bridge, sports and love of music. Norman and I knew Timmy McCarver fairly well as we both dined at a nearby restaurant as we lived in the same vicinity and when he arrived for dinner and spotted Norman, always came to our table and shook his hand .. being a true bridge lover. I had never met a friendlier, more polite and modest gentleman and sport legend as Timmy McCarver! One in a million.

I too took piano lessons, but after I learned to play The Minute Waltz in record time as I have never been a speed merchant, I quit, realizing I wasn't going to get much better as I didn't believe in practice, practice, practice. However, I too loved classical musical and enjoyed your reminiscing about the heralded musical idols of yore. Your shock of spotting seeing Rudolph Serkin on an elevator (but too star struck to say hello) was reminiscent of my sitting down at an NABC hospitality suite in the sixties beside an 'older' lady who smiled and introduced herself as Helen Sobel, inquiring as to my name; I was soooo taken back it took it took me about 30 seconds to compose myself and reply.

Incidentally, as an aside (which was quite startling), you mentioned that John Simon (of Delta Airlines fame) upon his marriage to Ad, turned over to her his Delta Airlines stock .. worth a helluva lot more than masterpoints!

Funny the things one remembers.

Judy Kay-WolffApril 25th, 2017 at 8:14 pm

Back again, Terry:

After recounting the above to Bobby, he laughed and recanted: “JOHN SIMON. I knew him well and enjoyed his good sense of humor.” He modestly admitted to playing and winning two National Men’s Teams with John: in 1963 with Jim Jacoby, Gaylor Kasle and Roger Bates in St. Louis and a repeat performance in Cincinnati in 1964 which included John Simon, Bobby, Jim, Paul Swanson and Jack Blair. Small world!

LisaApril 26th, 2017 at 4:21 am

Hey Judy,

It is amazing that Bobby still has the power of recall from well over fifty years ago. I hope I am that good as an octogenarian!

Judy Kay-WolffApril 26th, 2017 at 4:38 am

Right on, Lisa! Unfortunately, his incredible memory also engrains all the errors I have made playing with him .. going on fourteen years. However, it is unfathomable that I fell heir to two remarkable mates who were not bad at the bridge table either!

Leave a comment

Your comment