Judy Kay-Wolff


I was recently reminded of an ultra-aggressive player (and teacher) from back home who, in her heyday, always seemed to play in big events with the pick of the litter.   As they used to condescendingly say, until Women’s Rights surfaced and the female populace frowned on such degradation of the fair sex (by not-so-subtle comparison): “For a woman, she plays o.k.”  Over the course of time she had won a couple of important events; however, no Helen Sobel, by any stretch of the imagination!

Norman and I were dating at the time and I was observing from the bench.  She was forever bamboozling my future hubby to play with her in major local events.   I was new to the big time, unfamiliar with the guile and wile of the bridge world, and content to glean all I could from kibitzing so I did not have aspirations along those lines.  Something did bother me, however.  I could understand if it were a Mixed Pairs as she was certainly a desirable quantity — yet nowhere in the class of her local male counterparts.   But, that never seemed to stop her from getting into the thick of things in Open Pairs and Teams.  In the back of my mind, I always questioned why Norman was not more selective (often straddled by Pushy Peggy) rather than partnered by a comparable male peer.  Quite by accident, I discovered her secret.   I suppose it is a frequent M. O. used by manipulative individuals on a mission — but for a long time I was too dumb and naive to figure out how she always manipulated her way onto the best teams around or cornered far better players for pair events.  She was outgoing and friendly, but her desirability intrigued me as her calling card had nothing to do with sex.   She was hardly a femme fatale — a rather massive specimen, at best.  

Players of my bridge ilk at that time would have concentrated all their energy on attaining their life mastership — but not I!   My sights were set on breaking her code and figuring out her game plan.   I was challenged as there was far more to the scenario than met the eye.  One day, while she and Norman were playing in New York at a premier event, the mystery unraveled on its own!   After the first session (and a bad one, to boot) while waiting to compare results, I overheard their teammates debating why Norman was playing with ‘her’ and reproaching themselves for getting sucked into the deal.  Suddenly, the scenario leading up to the formation of the team became painfully obvious and I chided myself for taking so long to work it out.

Pushy Peggy would call Norman (well in advance of an event — before anyone entertained the thought of making a date), looking for a partner to play with her to round out a team — usually dangling a top partnership before Norman’s eyes as the tempting other half.  Norman was newly discovered, had just made the big time, didn’t want to rock the boat, make any waves, hurt any feelings or appear like a big shot.   Besides, Norman was a genuine sweetheart and was very sensitive about the feeling of being rebuffed —  so he would never refuse her.  It was later confirmed this was the normal protocol she adopted to enlist the services of future teammates (with others as well).

Norman was easy prey.  Lassoing him was a piece of cake for PP so she reversed the dummy, telephoned the dangled out-of-town bait — advising that Norman was anxious for them to join the team.  Put yourselves in their shoes.   They knew of Norman’s enormous talent (and exceptionally good judgment)  — so thinking that if  ‘she’ was good enough for Norman — how could they turn down the invitation?  They couldn’t!

On the train ride back to Philadelphia, I spilled the beans — relating the conversation overheard between Norman’s teammates.  The next morning, an embarrassed Norman verified the story that PP was, as they say, playing both ends against the middle, and alas, an abrupt end was put to Pushy Peggy’s Ploys!


SandyJanuary 21st, 2009 at 1:17 am

It always astounds me the lengths that some people will go to in order to play with an expert – a player with clearly more talent. I personally, would be mortified to ask a more experienced or more recognized player to partner me even in a minor event…but I see it happening all the time.

While some laud this chutzpah I just sit in shock and shake my head in disbelief. I realize some subscribe to the theory that you have to go for the things you want in this world, .but I’ for one will always be a believer that good things come to those who wait.

PegJanuary 21st, 2009 at 8:57 pm

I have been one who’s had the chutzpah to ask better players to partner me. Occasionally – for whatever reasons – they’ll do it. I try to do the same in turn, now that I’ve improved from “hopeless” many years ago.

One of my first stories with this was amusing. I had about 50 masterpoints and didn’t have a partner for an open pairs at a regional. With about 5 minutes to game time, I asked our District rep, Dave McGee (later a president of the ACBL) if I could kibitz him. “I don’t have a game,” Dave replied.


“Would you consider playing with me?” I asked? Dave hesitated a moment, then said “Sure.”

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to” – I replied, giving him a last out. “No; let’s play” he responded.

Well, despite my occasional faux pas, we ended up with a 201 and a 201.5. Long before the day of computers, we thought we’d won – but – it turned out two guys named Soloway and Wold edged us out by .5 of a matchpoint. Nevertheless, I was thrilled! I earned all the gold points I needed towards life masterdom, and earned more than 50% of the masterpoints I currently had in the bank. Big, big excitement for me!

Most players will say no if they don’t want to play. Never hurts to ask, though!

JudyJanuary 22nd, 2009 at 1:45 am

Dear Peg:

I certainly understand your view, but perhaps it was my weaning by Norman that sends me to the other extreme. In Norman’s mind, it exhibited unpardonable chutzpah to “spot” a better player. He reminded me if they wanted to play with me, they would pick up the phone. If they didn’t have my number, they would find a way to get it. That’s about as blunt as he could be and I sure got the message! Perhaps his unyielding mindset was because of the many times the shoe was on the other foot. He smartened up quite fast after the situation I alluded to in my blog. Actually, following Sidney Silodor’s death in 1963 (just about when I arrived on the scene) — his only real love at the bridge table was Edgar and understandably so. Norman had a very full life between the stock market and sports and leisure time was precious to him. He never played for the fun of playing, but rather to win an event to qualify him for the trials to represent the country. It was never about sheer enjoyment. It was a means to an end — which sadly he never reached (winning a world championship).

I never imposed upon him to play unless it was a special occasion, for which he was always available and gracious and the infrequent times we played, we sported a pretty good record. But — I had partners of my own — and never took advantage of my position as his wife. In his later years, when people tried to press him into action, he responded with a smile, “Charity Begins At Home.” It was a cute way of saying “No Thank You!”

Bobby’s views are not as strong as Norman’s although he has played with no one but me (except for serious bridge at the nationals or world championships) since we were married five years ago. We enjoy playing together twice a week at the local duplicates here in Vegas. In fact, I believe I played more with Bobby in the first three months of our marriage (while in Dallas) than I did with Norman during our forty years together. And, I voluntarily confess (though our styles are totally different), it is like dying and going to heaven.

PegJanuary 22nd, 2009 at 5:12 am

Judy – there are players, and then there are PLAYERS! I must admit, I would never think of asking someone of Norman or Bobby’s caliber to play “real” bridge. (I say this after just finishing a half an hour of play with John Swanson on BBO. Of course – online bridge is NOT the same as four sessions of a national event!)

Honestly – I think that playing in a national or international setting is quite different than something of lesser importance. And – probably different, too, for mere mortals like me and my friends who do not compete at the same level as the aforementioned players.

Still – you are better mannered than I! I must admit – if I’d ever found myself married to an elite player, I would figure out a way to wheedle a few games with ’em!

JudyJanuary 22nd, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Peg — I totally agree — “There are players — and then there are PLAYERS” (sounds familiar from a recent blog). Yes, my reference was to the latter group — the PLAYERS. And also — the complexion of the game has changed so radically with the concept of on-line bridge, masterpoint inflation and sponsorship. In fact, I was in disbelief as I caught a glimpse of the HOF ballot for this year.

I agree with you that Norman and Bobby fall outside the category you allude to — perhaps I pompously consider them in the echelon of the untouchables. But Peg — you would be surprised at some of the ‘casual’ (though serious) overtures made to Bobby locally. He is very gracious and passes them off, explaining that his time is limited and he plays only with me. With Bobby, wheedling doesn’t come into play. He is just a voluntary glutton for punishment (and I love every moment of torture)!

M BlumenthalJanuary 22nd, 2009 at 11:45 pm

Judy – I don’t totally agree. I think it is a top player’s duty to sometimes play with up and coming players in his area. Maybe if they did so and established that tradition there would be more active younger players now. I am not writing about random random bad players but ones clearly with talent. I understand time constraints, but I remember Norman playing a session with Goldman, Landow, Carson and me only once. He did add Goldman once earlier than that to a team and added me to the mixed team to play a sesion with you as as we have discussed.


JudyJanuary 23rd, 2009 at 2:45 am


I remember the instances well and in all cases, there were extenuating circumstances. It would not have been Norman’s first choice — believe me! In fact, I recall several occasions on which Norman was pressed into service and felt the obligation to play with a client. However, in my opinion, that should be at the option of the expert — and strictly of his own free volition.

You talk about “duty.” You must be kidding. No one has the right to dictate that it is “a top player’s duty to sometimes play with up and coming players in his area.” That is a personal decision and up to the individual. In fact, it might shock you to learn that in this age of professionalism, there are some world class players who wouldn’t give you ice in the winter. Further, they wouldn’t even play with each other in an invitational event where there was not enough remuneration!

As far as “active younger players” — their absence, especially in America, has a lot to do with the education (or lack of it) in our school systems — unlike many Asian (and European) countries.

PegJanuary 23rd, 2009 at 1:51 pm

Judy – I began playing duplicate in a time much different from today. Not only was there not such a proliferation of pro players – many of today’s stars (particularly in MN) were just starting to make their names…. people like Howie Weinstein, Steve Garner, Jim Hall, etc. They were my buddies, and as such, they’d occasionally play a session or two with me – even without groveling! I was very fortunate to have a number of very fine players who took me under their wing and helped me along.

That being said – I agree with you. It is no one’s responsibility to play with every new player on the block – although I do think it is nice when the more experienced folks do, on occasion, play with people they view as “up and coming” players. (As me about how I did that for a young Joe Grue along the way – LOL!!!)

Still – there is a world of difference in once in a while playing with one of the better players in your area – and playing with someone who is regularly in the hunt for Spingolds and Vanderbilts and high level international competition.

JudyJanuary 23rd, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Shucks, Peg! Now you are giving away your age! Here I was under the impression you were

just some cute, young chick always in the masterpoint hunt — and now I learn you took some of the now-established Minnesota stars under your wing on their way up! Looks are deceiving.

I never dreamed when I told the Pushy Peggy Stories (which began when you were probably in your cradle) that this from-the-heart banter would ensue — but isn’t that what blogging is all about! The issue I wanted to bring to light was our villainess’ connivances and manipulations which eventually did her in. There are several ways to advance in this game (via sponsorship or some other means which are too tacky and risque to even allude to — but existent nevertheless). I think it is wonderful to be able to play with better players if that is of their own design or mutual agreement — not pressure brought to bear or entrapment. I have always been an independent thinker (and certainly don’t have to prove that to anyone). I just believe in the principle of freedom of choice.

Keep up your delightful candor. You are a real credit to the game!

PegJanuary 23rd, 2009 at 7:14 pm

Oh Judy – you are TOO sweet! I agree with you about all your points about not pressuring people, manipulation, etc.

I might also add that there are a number of more experienced players who are willing to now and then partner a “lesser” player – often simply depending upon how pleasant, earnest, straightforward and reasonable that “learning” player is. Those who wish to “play up” should contemplate that!

Gary M. MugfordJanuary 24th, 2009 at 7:25 pm


Two stories that tend to over-inflate my bridge ability. Take each with a grain of salt.

[1] The receptionist at the paper I wrote for back “in the beginnings of time” was an attractive lass named Wendy. She hailed from a small town about an hour north of Brampton. Some of her townspeople were regulars at the Brampton Bridge Club, which hosted a starting heat of the Canadian National Teams each year. Two years in a row, I played on teams that won not a single match each year. So, knowing I was fated NEVER to win a match in the CNTC’s, I opted to sit for the third edition of the event. THEN I got invited to fill out a team composing of Wendy’s neighbours. Young rake that I was (in my mind), I thought this was a politically smart move. I’d play with them, win a few matches and then get THEM to sing my praises to Wendy.

For the third year in a row, my team finished 0-7 and Wendy never looked my way again.

[2] I had a semi-regular partner who decided to spend a particular March break in his native land, rather than playing with me and others at the Canadian Nationals in Toronto. He asked, before he left, if I’d give his bridge partner/living partner a day of bridge at the Nationals and I agreed … with gritted teeth. I disliked the woman, but not as much as I liked playing with him. So I agreed. I called and offered the Good Friday pairs game and she said, “No, I’ve made other arrangements.” Tom Cruise was more restrained on the set of Oprah, then I was that day. I danced and hooted and caused at least one neighbour to knock on the door and ask if everything was all right. “Suuuuure!’ said I.

The relief and happiness lasted one day. The phone call came. The other arrangements had fallen through and she would be delighted to play with me. Later, I found out the other arrangements had fallen through when SHE canceled them five minutes after our original conversation.

Not surprisingly, the game was a disaster. We went out separate ways at supper and she got … tipsy, I believe, is the polite word. THEN, she had the (what’s the polite word for the part of a male anatomy not shared with women?, oh that’s right) temerity to start teaching me at the bridge table about the mistakes I’d made in the afternoon. I sat and endured, anxious for this most awful of all days to come to an end.

Naturally, there was one last penalty for playing politics. Since she lived north of me, SHE had driven down, picked me up and continued on to Toronto. I had to ride home with her.


Judy Kay-WolffFebruary 4th, 2009 at 2:03 pm

Gary: For some reason (probably since I have been so active on the site recently) I never noticed the above Comment until a few moments ago — probably thinking I had already seen it. So many readers respond to me privately but are gun-shy when it comes to responding under “Leave a comment.” But, after all, isn’t that exactly what blogging is all about — airing one’s views publicly?

I really appreciated that you shared these two funny (maybe not to you) personal stories. The sad fact is there are many “Wendys” and “partners-in-law” (as Edgar once tabbed me) along our hobby trail. I suppose they unavoidably fall into the category — into each bridge player’s life, some rain must fall. That’s why they make umbrellas (and serve as good fodder for future reflections).