Judy Kay-Wolff


In 1979 the legendary B. Jay Becker celebrated his 75th birthday. His close friends, Dorothy and Alan Truscott, hosted a party in his honor for many local bridge luminaries in their lovely New York apartment overlooking the Hudson. Of course, Norman and I journeyed from Philadelphia as the Birthday Boy and Norman were often teammates. The male guest list read like a Who’s Who of the Bridge World and most of their wives (especially yours truly) were simply along for the ride. No one could deny the overwhelming array of talent gathered in one room. Following dinner they had an Individual – and boy, was I nervous!

During the festivities, I had presented B. J. with a poem and appropriately decorated cake plastered with monikers. The essence of the poem related to what to call him (Mr. B., Mr. Becker, Ben or B. J.) which always presented a problem. I would stammer in confusion each time I encountered this great man.

The poem and the cake (which I had dragged on the train from Philly) were big hits – but the flukiest bridge happening stunned all in attendance. Playing in the last round (and relieved to see the end in sight) I was partnered by my good friend Sandy Stern (that’s Mrs. Roger Stern). We got to some innocuous contract (2S I seem to recollect) but she got doubled by one of the gurus. Because of some fortuitous card placement and excellent judgment by the declarer, Sandy wrapped it up and we got a handsome score – placing Kay and Kaplan in the overalls as First and Second. Surprisingly, it was the distaff side – Judy Kay and Betty Kaplan. Alan mentioned the celebration in his New York Times column a few days later.

The other night, while rummaging through memorabilia which I have accumulated over several decades – I came upon Truscott’s faded and tattered newspaper clipping and the following poem which I had lovingly captioned “To Whatshisname.”

When first we met I was a bride — Quite impressed and starry-eyed

For everyone who played the game — Knew your celebrated name

But through the years I must confess —Your moniker has caused me stress

Each time we met you made me stir — Not knowing which name you prefer

To call you BEN appeared so normal –  MR. BECKER  much too formal

I toyed with JAY and MR. B. — But B. J. sounded best to me

I’ve always played this silent game  — Voting on my favorite name

But when I finally made my choice — No longer could you hear my voice

My peace is made – It’s off my chest  — My name charade is laid to rest

And so I will – make no mistake — I give to you this BIRTHDAY CAKE!

(signed) Judy Kay


BurtOctober 24th, 2008 at 9:25 pm

To be in the presence of so many luminaries would leave even the most articulate speechless…NOT YOU

M BlumenthalOctober 24th, 2008 at 11:13 pm

BJ was on a team of mine in Scranton many years ago. At I asked him what were the requirements to be a top player. He listed the usal suspects– card sense, intelligence, imagination and a good memory. As he was certainly not young then then I asked him if he had noticed a decline in his game. He said not really because any time he had to play a difficult hand all he had to do was recall how he had played it originally!

Linda LeeOctober 29th, 2008 at 10:20 pm

The New York Times has a wonderful archive and I was hoping to find the column mentioned for you but it turns out that the archive starts in 1981 (maybe we could all write and request they go back further!). But I did find many articles about B.J. Becker from 1981 to his death in 1987.

Here is an excerpt from one of those articles Alan entitled Bravo, Mr. Becker and you will see below why Alan chose that name for him.


Bridge and chess are among the few recreational activities in which it is possible, though admittedly most unusual, to be a world-class performer for half a century. Chess-players can point to the great Samuel Reshevsky, while bridge-players can point to, among others, B. Jay Becker. Both men, in their own fields, are the epitome of remorseless efficiency, grinding down their opponents by solid accuracy without any artificial striving for brilliance.

Back in 1932 a young man named Becker won a national title in his first year of tournament play. Last month in Detroit he won the Vanderbilt Knockout Teams for the eighth time, adding to a collection that includes seven Spingold titles, eight Reisinger titles and two world team titles. He is now almost 77, and the oldest man ever to win a major national event. Next year he will represent the United States in the Rosenbloom Cup in Biarritz, France, and become the oldest man ever to play in a world championship.

The Vanderbilt result was highly popular with the bridge community. It represented a return to the winner’s circle for this Grand Old Man of Bridge who has always been admired and respected for his quiet demeanor and impeccable manners at the table, setting an example that many of our volatile younger players would do well to imitate.

He is known to all his friends as ”Mr. Becker” not simply out of respect, of which there is plenty, but for a historical reason. As a young man he played with P. Hal Sims, a dynamic star of those days who castigated his partners severely when anything went wrong. ”Becker,” he would cry, ”you idiot, you imbecile,” and go on to stronger experessions.

Eventually Becker took his partner aside and pointed out that they could not expect to have a successful partnership unless he received some consideration and respect. Next time, therefore, the tirade began: ”Mr. Becker, you idiot, you imbecile …” Since Sims, however, nobody has even considered describing ”Mr. Becker” as an idiot or anything else uncomplimentary.


Judy Kay-WolffOctober 30th, 2008 at 1:35 pm

Linda, thanks for doing your homework! With Alan Truscott now gone, the story would have remained unearthed and no one would have been the wiser (or as amused by the fruits of your research). Bobby was laughing as he read your final commentary. It recalled to him a sequel to your ‘tale out of school.’ Because of B. J.’s methodical scrutizination of every card and reputation for perfection, Ozzie Jacoby was heard to claim, “Mr. Becker plays like a Wooden Indian — but .. a very intelligent Wooden Indian!” These are really Tales from the Bridge Crypt!

Thanks for sharing.

Martha BeecherNovember 1st, 2008 at 4:47 am


Your blog is truly enhanced by your poetry. I look forward to all of your stories, but my favorite parts are your own poems. Rhyme within the line is an art form all its own. You are giving Robert Service a run for his money…keep them coming.

Mike BeckerNovember 5th, 2008 at 7:58 pm

Another Party for B. Jay

In 1981, Ronnie Rubin and I, Kaplan-Kay and Root-Pavlicek formed a team to play in the Vanderbilt in Detroit. At the last minute, Root and Pavlicek could not play, so B. Jay, then 76, replaced them as a 5th. He played one segment with Edgar and one with me in each match until the finals, where he played 2 sets with Edgar. We beat the Aces in the final, and B. Jay became the oldest person ever to have won the Vanderbilt. The Truscott’s hosted his 77th birthday party in May to celebrate our victory. There were stories and roasting, cards and poems, and a cake, of course. The attendees were Dorothy and Alan, B. Jay, his wife Esther, Steve and Mike Becker, Judy and Norman Kay, Edgar [and maybe Betty] Kaplan, Sandy and Roger Stern, and Beth and Jeff Rubens. Beth did not play.

The other twelve participated in an individual event, each of us playing two hands with everyone else. The event was handicapped because Esther was a mere novice. She had learned the game by typing B. Jay’s columns from 1956 on, had taken some evening bridge classes at Queens College, and had played in some social games from time to time. When the scores were tallied, Esther had won the individual easily, without using her handicap! This incredible achievement was the highlight of her bridge life. She kept on typing up B. Jay’s (and then Steve’s) bridge columns until 2006, when she left us at the age of 98.

Mike and Steve Becker