Judy Kay-Wolff


Bridge is a serious and difficult game to master. In order to succeed at any level, it demands our attention, energy and focus. Many will admit it has totally consumed them – to the exclusion of all else. It is an addictive hobby but a bit too late for many of us — as it has become a way of life.  I reflect upon more than five decades participating in the ‘circus‘ (my mom’s not-so-unrealistic term for the bridge world– as it seemed I was on the road every week). She wanted me to get a ‘real life’ but that was not in the cards. Perhaps to those on the outside looking in – that is how our hobby appears – but I wouldn’t trade my bridge experiences or friendships for all the tea in China (coincidentally, the site of this year’s WBF championship).

I remember the first (and only) time I met Helen Sobel.  When she graciously introduced herself and asked my name, I became awestruck and froze in my tracks. It wasn’t like she gave me a bridge problem – she merely wanted to know my name! It took a minute to recoup my composure, come up with the answer and recover enough to carry on a rational conversation with her until Norman scooped me up for game time. Bobby continues to recognize her as the greatest woman player of all time (a somewhat Chauvinistic classification – but quite a compliment as he is a tough judge of talent). In my travels with Norman to the Nationals and World Championships, I met and became close friends with many of the ‘idols’ of my earlier years. (Of course, Bobby Wolff never spoke to me or even acknowledged my existence for four decades – but if you read The Lone Wolff – you know that bizarre story).

My first tale from the bridge crypt is about Stoney (identified in the official Bridge Encyclopedia as Hall of Famer Tobias Stone – partner of the late Alvin Roth and co-inventor of The Roth-Stone bidding system popularized in the fifties and sixties).  Norman’s three-year partnership with the celebrated international player, Sidney Silodor ended with his sudden death in August of 1963. He had developed not only a great partnership with Sidney but a close friendship and his grief thwarted his moving on immediately. The following year, Norman and his former teammate Stoney decided to give it a try. As I write this, Stoney, who migrated from New York to Vegas many years ago, is slowing down at 87 – but very much alive and quite sharp! Bobby would never challenge his knowledge of sporting event statistics and I dare say he is a cinema buff with an amazing recall faculty for old movies and screen stars.

But – back to the impending Kay/Stone partnership. They decided to give it a whirl, compromising their estranged bidding systems, and Stony offered to come to Philadelphia for a practice session. Bobby Jordan and Arthur Robinson agreed to play set against them while they tried to launch this untried partnership. The Cavendish Club (then in the old Drake Hotel) was the setting, and after picking Stoney up at 30th Street Station one Sunday morning, we motored directly to the Club to find about thirty kibitzers waiting for the show to begin. Of course, Stoney, being a great raconteur and accustomed to center stage, was flattered to have such a spontaneous welcoming committee. The kibitzers hung on every bid and play, making many comments (the majority being frivolous, irrelevant and inane) when Stoney abruptly arose from his chair and with a serious face asked, “Do any of you people play bridge?” Norman paled with embarrassment and the silence was deafening until Stoney smiled and everyone realized that was Stoney’s brand of humor.

My other Stoney story occurred at a NY Regional. Trying to acclimate himself to a new system with Norman, Stoney labored long and hard over a bidding dilemma although the round had been called. The players at the next table were impatient to retrieve the board from Stoney and after many unsuccessful attempts to speed him up, threatened to call the director. Stoney does not suffer fools gladly or get intimidated easily and when a youngster appeared at his table hovering over him, he assumed he was the caddy, trying to hurry him along. Stoney’s trend of thought had been interrupted and was annoyed at being monitored. Finally, Stoney growled, “Kid, get lost or go find the director.” The lad turned to him and with a resonant voice which echoed throughout the room, screamed “I AM THE DIRECTOR.” It happened to be a youngish Alan Messer, former 1960 Men’s Team National Champion who had pioneered the recording system for the Greater NY Bridge Association and served as a tennis umpire at major professional tournaments. Stoney was ‘messing’ with the wrong person.

Stay tuned.


Blair FedderSeptember 18th, 2008 at 10:24 pm

Thanks Judy!….The game has so changed. We bid differently, dress differently and we behave differently…unfortunately, all to our demise…God Bless Stoney, who has been Bridge’s Best Friend


LindaSeptember 19th, 2008 at 6:02 am

It is wonderful to read about these great bridge personalities from somone who was on the inside.

I saw Helen Sobel on some episodes of Goren’s bridge show Championship Bridge we were watching on DVD recently. She was a fierce competitor even in that friendly format.

I can’t wait for your next episode

M BlumenthalSeptember 19th, 2008 at 11:23 am

Early in my career I remember we all were getting our matchpoints from posted sheets Stoney was doing it also. I heard him say, “I can’t believe it. All my zeroes are coming in as zeroes!” Another comment I didn’t hear personally. Supposedly, Al Roth and Stoney went through school together. Al said that he and Stoney were always the same age, but somehow or other, Stoney had gotten younger than he. I was on his team with Stoney once, but I don’t remember his saying anything notable.

Alan MesserApril 3rd, 2011 at 11:30 pm

Strange as it may seem, Stoney and I became buddies and teammates many years later. In fact, we won the NYC Reisinger knockout (1967 or ’68). I visited Stoney briefly (he was playing Texas Holdem in Las Vegas) around 1998 or so.