Judy Kay-Wolff


The above entitled cliché has been heard recently, especially regarding the current stock market debacle. It can be interpreted in a multitude of ways by different interest groups but basically alludes to rapid deterioration – easily and without hope.

Unfortunately, age has its own rewards – giving this writer fertile grounds for comparison. Reflecting upon the bridge panorama over the last five decades, the decay is apparent to me in varying degrees — encompassing the entire hobby. However, the contentment and status quo by those now at the helm seem to be in favor of gaining momentum and not looking back.

How do I disagree? Let me count the ways.

It seems reasonable to start at the club level where most bridge players get their feet wet. The general aura, which I have perceived from a personal vantage point, is for management to make their paying guests comfortable, happy and create a burning desire to return again and again, supporting and paying allegiance to their newfound home. That is certainly not out of line and a wonderful way to encourage the future of the game.

However – many (and certainly not all) directors and club owners deliberately place other considerations on the back burner. What, you ask? Bridge is (or should be) a game of sanctity and honor. What does that mean? Each player (at the get-go) should be taught manners and ethics (but probably in the reverse order). In the manners department, the deportment of many individuals were so out of line that Zero Tolerance became a mandatory regulation at all levels of the game. What is Zero Tolerance? It is treating both your partner and opponents with respect, not reprimanding or giving lessons or criticism – and last but not least – not gloating or rubbing your opponents’ noses in it when you receive a good board. If you refuse to meet the standards – out you go! One of the best moves ever by the ACBL!

The second phase of the educational process should delve into ethics – which is many faceted (and undoubtedly the one with the most far-reaching and constructive influence on the game). Among the ugliest of unacceptable tactics are hesitations and/or subtle tempo variations (and partners taking advantage of related hesitation breaks), playing unapproved conventions, using bidding methods that are deliberately confusing to the opponents without offering suggested ways of combating them – and the worst of all – failure to fully disclose their meanings and innuendos (known as ‘private understandings’ to which others are not privy)! Of course, body and hand movements, facial expressions, gratuitous comments and other gyrations and histrionics are no-nos as well.

However, the bottom line in our society – is the almighty dollar. That is the American Way – and wanting to keep their customer happy by not criticizing or detailing their violation of basic bridge rules is a sure way to keep them coming back. That is not what bridge should be about. If the grass roots players would be taught the amenities and be told (in a courteous and genteel manner) that the game was intended to be played by ladies and gentlemen on a level playing field (with equal advantage to all) – bridge would return to the way its founding fathers intended it to be played.

Before departing from the initiation at the club level – you must exercise some insight into the future of these players. As they improve, they will move on to sectionals and regionals – and in many cases – nationals as well. Let them not be in for the shock of their lives as they ascend to higher levels and play with the big boys. They will learn fast enough that their ‘bad habits’ are totally unorthodox and unacceptable and will be dealt with by some formal type of put-down (behavioral warning, score adjustment or even be subjected to an appeals process which is fraught with admonition to enable the culprit to see the error of his or her ways). It should never reach that point and it is the responsibility of club directors and owners to nip the problems in the bud!

Now let us turn to the individuals who rule the game – the tournament directors. They are accountable to higher beings: perhaps the Chief Tournament Director as well as their ultimate superiors — the twenty-five people who hold the esteemed positions as your ACBL Board of Directors. My disappointment is that, in my opinion, both the Directing Staff and many of those serving on the exalted Appeals Committees, have not been properly trained and educated. The stumbling blocks are time and money. My husband Bobby (whom no one will contest is the most experienced person ever to administer the game) offered to fly down to Memphis (on his own dime) and speak to the Directors, explaining their duties and responsibilities and answering any and all questions and dilemmas. However, his gracious offer was declined as the individual in charge felt it was an imposition on the directors to use their own time for such a format. This was hardly the moment for a bleeding heart to look a gift horse in the mouth and not own up to his own responsibility for the furtherance of directorial advancement and be so obsessed with the inconvenience of his flock.

As far as the Appeals Committee, though many are top players and quite familiar with the laws and the rules, there are others who sit on their high haunches and do not make impartial decisions (because of either bias or prejudice) and should be automatically recusing themselves. That seems to be a dirty word and you rarely witness self-recusals.

Let’s move right along to the Administrators and their Committee Members who make far-reaching decisions on Conditions of Contest, International Events, etc.  Many appointees are beholden to their designators who often formulate and recommend certain measures they would like effected. It is difficult for said appointees to not display loyalty to their designators. When I was in school – they called it The Spoils System. There are husbands and wives, pros and sponsors joined at the hip, teammates and others who represent the classic foxes in the henhouse. Also, patronage (pros recognizing and favoring sponsors) has been a recent factor in committee appointments which makes a travesty of the composition of certain groups. It is humanly impossible to produce a fair, impersonal, rational judgment and cast a vote objectively when personal agendas and conflicts of interest interfere. Everyone has their own dance card. Translated into bridge terms – it simply means that an individual will do what is in his or her best interests – not necessarily what will benefit the future and preservation of our once-pure and spectacular game that has gradually disintegrated into a three-ring circus with accompanying side show attractions.

Another sore spot is the Appeals Process. It is apparent to me after reading a couple of the extraordinary decisions involving some of the ‘big guns’ – that the Punish the Guilty and Protect the Innocent Theory is gone with the wind. Perhaps ego is the driving force. Every decent player wants to be in the ‘inner circle’ and thought of as a high caliber player. If you sit on an Appeals Committee and don’t concur with the actions of the high echelon players on the hot seat – it is a put-down. Thinking like they do and ruling in their favor (though they may have stepped out of bounds) may afford you the misconceived notion of conducting yourself like an expert regardless of the possible improprieties evidenced. Perhaps it is known as the comfort zone, convincing yourself that great minds think alike. Rubbish!  Exercise your independence and don’t be influenced or conned into compromising your values.

To be continued……


Danny KleinmanSeptember 29th, 2008 at 1:29 pm

While agreeing wholeheartedly with Judy’s view of how the game should be played and with her dismay at how current administrators run the games, I disagree strongly with Zero Tolerance. As interpreted by nearly all directors, Zero Tolerance is a blank check for them to punish and threaten to punish players they dislike while letting their friends, partners and players they favor get away with intolerable behavior … including obscene language and threats of violence directed at opponents.

Unlike the Laws in the rule book, Zero Tolerance is undefined. A local club has lost my patronage in the Monday night games I attended regularly, and the Saturday night games I attended occasionally, because the director of those games threatened me with a Zero Tolerance penalty if I “did that” again. What was the “that”? I was never told, but it followed a director call in which I had demanded an explanation of an opponent’s 2S response to his partner’s 1NT opening and opener persistently refused to give one. The pair, a regular partnership, were allowed by the director to play without a convention card and without explaining each other’s calls. The director not only condoned the actions of this highly unethical pair but sat by idly while responder lectured me and stuck a finger in my face threateningly. And yes, that player is a frequent partner of that director.

When that club loses patronage and has to fold some of its games, will the manager blame me and other players who have stopped attending, or will he blame the biased and incompetent directors who have driven us away?

BeckySeptember 29th, 2008 at 3:14 pm

Sound like a case of “good in theory, terrible in practice.” If only we didn’t have to count on human beings as the enforcers 🙂

Mark LombardSeptember 29th, 2008 at 10:46 pm

Perhaps attempts should be made to define “zero tolerance” to maximize the intended benefits and minimize the excesses.

Why not have a goodwill committee (comprised, perhaps, of the living and willing members of the Hall of Fame) address this?

By the way, does the WBF have a policy akin to zero tolerance?

claire tornaySeptember 30th, 2008 at 5:50 pm

At a recent NABC my husband referred to my play/bid as “stupid”. The opponent summoned the director and complained that this behavior was unacceptable to him. The director questioned me as to whether the “stupid” comment had been made. I agreed. She then assigned our pair 1/4 board penalty. Is there a set of penalties proscribed for each infraction? If so, why isn’t it published?

JeffOctober 11th, 2008 at 6:46 pm

There seems to have been a general improvement in behavior since the ZT policy was adopted, perhaps just by raising consciousness.

But there has been an important cost. There is absolutely no consistency in the application of the rule. Flagrant abuses of language and such are not enforced when directed against established players or “younger” players (Think 50+). These people are expected to shrug everything off, and usually they do — never complaining.

There should be more consistency. That will not happen unless there is some ability to appeal or review.

pimoNovember 1st, 2008 at 4:16 am

I stopped playing as I have so many better things to do with my time amd money other than wasting it on a silly game run by greedy, cheap, conniving, manipulating wannabes ( see the history of Las Vegas bridge unit under the reign of terror of Helen Allen and her cronies, and be sure to watch for any sequels ). Instead, try building a school in a third world country with your own two hands and your own dollars versus spending an afternoon playing against a puffing, coffee-housing “professional” w/Hall of Fame credentials such as Mr/Ms/Mrs…… , pontificating blow hards who direct our games and rule our committees….or the slow playing, sighing, headshaking clients and pros such as ( fill in the blank )…..To all those whose names belong in the blanks, and their names are legion, what a waste of life and time you have caused the rest of us…P.S.- CHILDREN ( be they players or caddies ) ARE MINORS and have no business being taught by or exposed to any of these predators who roam the playing fields and back rooms of bridge..ditto goes for the new wave of directors who feel the need to influence our game, often because they are betting on its outcome….anyone who TAKES offense to this article should have to take the Pimo polygraph…..