Judy Kay-Wolff


The game has changed astronomically since my first duplicate experience over fifty years ago, though the lust for masterpoints hasn’t diminished. Back then, there was no glut as evidenced today where (even if you end up under average) you still might get some fractional token award for merely showing up, paying your card fee and playing all the boards. You beat the other bozos, didn’t you? What a contrived bonanza!

In my novice days, we breathlessly counted the hours till the monthly ‘Masterpoint Night’ rolled around, with overall winners being awarded one point. Yes, one whole point!!! Wow! Forgive my irreverence, but to the early fanatics, it was akin to a celestial happening. Many of you old-timers must remember being mesmerized by the lure of an entire point. In my neck of the woods, the fourth Monday night of every month was the appointed bewitching hour. No one dared to make normal social arrangements for that ‘special’ evening. Longstanding commitments made a month in advance were commonplace – for fear of losing your favorite partner to some interloper who might steal your bridge mate. Hail to the days when winning an entire masterpoint was a huge achievement. Today you can cop 250 points by capturing an NABC major team game — inflation at the consummate level!

I remember well the excitement of after hours entertainment. In today’s world, the scrutinizing of hand records (non-existent back then) and the holding of post mortems to determine what coulda/shoulda been done envelops one’s mind. In the 60s and 70s after the evening game – other mental challenges prevailed. Bridge was put to rest for the night. We would adjourn to someone’s suite where dozens of bridge players congregated till the wee hours of the morning playing charades, word games, anagrams, whatever! Dorothy and Alan Truscott would hold court and no one had a better repertoire of puzzles (both questions and answers) than those two. It was like playing three sessions a day (minus the detriment of a partner)!

The dress code was different back then as well. Today everything is more casual and just about anything goes. On weekends (especially Saturday nights) – many players dressed to the nines — unlike today where only shoeless and bare-chested males (and bare-chested females, I presume) are frowned upon.

My introduction to bridge simply included boards, table cards, travelers and rather mundane looking colorless convention cards. Non-existent were alerts, stop cards, seeding points, bidding boxes, screens (a cautionary tactic to prevent telltale facial expressions and gestures or foot contact to impart unauthorized information), recognized plateaus of life mastership, complicated artificial bidding systems and pre-typed suggested defenses, cell phone or text message concerns, zero tolerance, novices, juniors, seniors, timing devices to signal the end of a round and the newest revolutionary addition — electronic scoring boxes. This device allows you to post your result on the board just played and a performance percentage standing in the field magically pops up as one of your opponents hits the O. K. button approving the documentation. The latter has some serious advantages for calculating players, though the pre-scoring concept undoubtedly saves wear and tear on the director as his or her job has been done.

Just about everything today has been computerized. Perhaps we will all soon be replaced by robots! Historically alien to our game was on-line bridge, witnessing live matches via computer with expert (and some less than expert) commentators, sophisticated vu-graph, professionalism, sponsorship, grand national events, stratified competition, a League of Nations (evidenced by an influx of professional foreign experts into our major events lured to our shores by U. S. sponsors’ big bucks) – and more. With such lucrative incentives, many of our high caliber visitors either obtain Green Cards, eventually opt for dual citizenship or even take up permanent residence in the States. We still proudly represent the Land of Opportunity and their participation makes it a far stronger field and better event — but often compromises the caliber and expertise of a victorious team.

When I got my feet wet back in ’56 after finishing college, bridge contestants were like the proverbial melting pot!. Stratification had not come of age and everyone competed against everyone else. Of course, you chose the game you preferred but there was no way of dodging the bullet – playing against the best. It was a marvelous learning experience. I fell in love with the game on Day One but never entertained exalted aspirations (or delusions) of attaining greatness – merely enjoyment – and doing as well as my talents (or lack of them) permitted. As the diversification of events expanded, it separated the men from the boys (and I am not alluding to Men’s and Women’s Events) – but rather — the top, the middle and the bottom (perhaps inexperienced) echelons. My late husband Norman was very astute. He once approvingly said to me, “Judy – the best part of your game is picking your spots and knowing where to play.” I have followed my own advice to this very day and it has worked to my advantage. Content! Not everyone can be Norman Kays or Bobby Wolffs (but free lessons go a long way)!

The starting times underwent radical changes as well. I recall 1:30 and 8:00 events at the Sectionals, Regionals and Nationals (and even Midnight Zips for the hale and hardy at the NABCs). Today the schedules vary – depending upon the type of tournament. At one NABC, they experimented with 10 and 3 starting times — not well received on The Hit Parade. They are certainly a blessing to insomniacs who can’t sleep anyway and for senior citizens wanting to get a head start in the morning and hit the hay early – but less enticing for those who have real jobs and prefer (especially on weekdays) to at least show their face in the office – though perhaps for an abbreviated stay. It’s also a great incentive to some who have non-playing spouses or significant others — desirous of doing penance and joining them for a relaxing dinner in a timely fashion. However, those enjoying three sessions a day may have less than an hour before their last starting time and it could become stressful, bolstering sales of Gaviscon and other fast-acting stomach remedies.

Changing Times is a vast underbid!


Mark LombardSeptember 15th, 2008 at 2:59 am

When I started duplicate (1995) I thought it would take a lifetime to get Life Mastery, lol!

It seems that the bridge world is changing in other ways, as well; to wit, the politicking of the “We didn’t vote for Bush” affair in Shanghai. Although I’m a relative newcomer to the scene, I’d be curious to get some perspective on whether political partisanship has ever figured so prominently in the game (perhaps fodder for a future rant for JKW).

I’d like to see bridge stay apolitical, period. Is this possible?

Raman JayaramSeptember 15th, 2008 at 11:59 am

‘Changing Times is a vast underbid’ is a classic way of ending a very perceptive piece.

From a simple Culbertson trick method of hand evaluation, we graduated to the definite improvement of HCP and points for distribution; we then, in the ostensible name of improvement but actually for confusing the opponents, went backwards to school and deviced “HUM”; and then on to “Brown Sticker” which only the bidders understand, not the opponents; the last one is perhaps nothing better than a ‘secret code.’ Officially allowed after the QF stage of world tournaments. Some concession this to the players who qualify for elimination! Remember Victor Mollo’s tirade against the Blue Club and other Italian systems?
The Sri Lankan ‘Three Clubs’ opening means ‘at least four clubs and no tricking taking capacity.’
The day is not far off in modern bidding methods, when a bid would imply the number of pips the bidder is holding in that suit, or the next higher or the next lower, the other major or minor, or even the same coloured other suit. We would probably call it the pip showing bid

16 board matches. Unbeatable logic because each of the four dealers get all the four positions of vulnerability. What have we now? 14 board matches, 12 board matches, 10 board matches, eight board matches, I am told that there are even 7 board matches in some US tournaments.
The very essence of duplicate bridge was to eliminate the luck element to the extent possible and that very essence is at least partially vitiated by 8 board matches.

Almost anyone will tell you that lack of time is the culprit. In which case, the grand slam tennis events should be reduced to three sets in Men’s singles and one set in the Ladies’ singles!

I for one, do not think time is the culprit. Constriction of an originally conceived sound format takes away that very soundness.

Ray LeeSeptember 16th, 2008 at 1:07 am

I have often commented that if a business shcool class were to look at the ACBL, they would conclude that it is an organization that doesn’t understand what business it is in. Simply stated, their business is selling master points. Unfortunately, they’ve debased their own currency so much that it’s now essentially worthless. I too remember the days when winning a whole point was an achievement. Now you win two matches in the lower reaches of a Regional KO and win 25 points. Back in the day, becoming a LM meant something; now it’s only meaningful if you’re not a LM, and I can’t believe many people retain that status for very long.

Gary M. MugfordSeptember 18th, 2008 at 11:34 pm


Ray Lee’s right. The ACBL is in the business of selling masterpoints, but have made them anything BUT a measurement of bridge skill.

During one of my tours as the ACBL press guy, I also did stuff for the Daily Bulletin. I was asked to go get a hand from a celebrity playing in one of the evening games. The gentleman was a very nice guy, a towering presence in the field he was famous for, a Life Master … and quite a mediocre bridge player. I’m probably too ebullient with that last judgment. He wouldn’t have been top 10 material in my local Wednesday afternoon LOL bridge club. (Being a journalist I could play in that game and claim it against my expenses [G]).

I am not a Life Master. And won’t be one before I die either. I can play with the best internationals and hold my own, but I’m past the grubbing for points age and unwilling to do much traveling to get them now. Yet, if I was REALLY compelled to become a Life Master, I could probably do it attending events within 100 miles of Toronto and playing on-line. Might take a year. Maybe two. But for what?

Simply not valuing the ‘pseudo’ master titles available to me has saved me money, time and angst. I play when opportunity and desire meet. I am exactly the ACBL’s worst nightmare. I can no longer be sold the leftover wardrobe of the Emperor who had no clothes. Where does the ACBL go, if others come to similar conclusions?

Forget the aging issue of the ACBL membership. THAT’s when the organization would face a reform or collapse moment.

Blair FedderSeptember 18th, 2008 at 11:36 pm

The first night that I ever played duplicate I was dragged before a committee by the club pro. Wow, what an intro to bridge, especially when Paul Hodge told the star what an idiot he was for wasting everyone’s time…Sweet…anyway, 40 years later, the game has become a waste of time. What’s wrong with the ACBL is its lack of professionalism ( see Ray Lee’s article above ). The league has become a great cash cow by selling the opportunity to win worthless master points for US dollars. It then fails in its responsibility to its members as per the distribution of said income. I.E., we don’t even get real directors anymore. Just stiffs working the job for the paycheck and expenses…Some of them have never even played the game… My hat is off to Raman ( see above ), who is dead on about time and number of boards. Well said…..Later