Judy Kay-Wolff


Bobby and I often reminisce and exchange stories from our respective pasts.   I find it so sad that much of this wondrous bridge history will die .. to coin a TV phrase … without a trace.   Thus, you can understand my frequent compulsion to share with the bridge world at large some of these entertaining and informative tales (from either personal experiences or imparted to me by my husband — who has a bulging treasure chest of his own).

As Bobby was reading my blog about Omar, he piped up with a ‘classic‘  from the legendary and much heralded Culbertson-Lenz Match. Since these contests were held before my time on earth, I decided to check out their history in The Official Encyclopedia of Bridge as they were merely names from the past.   Do yourself a favor and follow it up yourself.   The coverage is positively fascinating!

Bobby attributes the story I am about to relate as the prelude to the eventual concept of Wolff “SIGNOFF” (named by Ozzie) before Bobby was barely a gleam in his father’s eye.   The book (published by the ACBL) explains that the famed C-L Match (referred to back then as The Bridge Battle of the Century) took place between December, 1931 and January, 1932.  It was about determining the superiority of systemic differences.  One hundred fifty rubbers were

played in all.    According to published accounts, Culbertson was partnered mostly by his wife Josephine, while Sidney Lenz (his arch enemy) “played the first 103 rubbers with Oswald Jacoby, who then resigned because of a difference of opinion on the play of a defensive situation.”

Coincidentally, the above excerpt related directly to Bobby’s story that I alluded to earlier.   However, you must bear in mind that Jacoby was a brilliant, brash young upstart twenty-nine years of age and Sidney Lenz was about fifty-eight and an established, seasoned player.   Apparently, a disaster befell the Lenz/Jacoby twosome when Ozzie signaled Lenz during the defense of a hand.  Jacoby for some reason, could not afford to signal positively in the suit he wanted, and alternatively wired negatively in another suit.   Lenz did not field the curve thrown by Ozzie, to which Jacoby remarked, “Only twelve to fifteen players in the entire nation would have the intelligence to know what my signal was intended to mean. Unfortunately for me, you were not one of them!”

Ozzie’s resignation from the Lenz/Jacoby partnership could appropriately be deemed THE JACOBY SIGNOFF!

As you may know — in the mid-fifties, Ozzie took Bobby, a fellow-Texan, under his wing — recognizing his tremendous potential.   Half a century later Bobby laughs as he reflects upon some of the innovative, abusive names he was called and insults sustained when Ozzie thought he fell from grace.   The great Oswald Jacoby, a genius in so many fields, was ne’er afraid to speak his mind.  Leopards just don’t change their spots!


Danny KleinmanFebruary 2nd, 2009 at 1:20 am

Jacoby’s play, a discard in a suit he didn’t want led, was absolutely the right idea. I teach it to all my students, and they have a devil of a time applying it.

Just this afternoon, for example, I was defending against 1NT (opened and passed) and I (the opening leader) had most of the strength for our side. Actually, I was endplayed on opening lead with my 15 HCP, and I blew a trick with my spade lead. I could count my partner for about 4 HCP … exactly 4 HCP by the time I regained the lead in hearts. I had ducked before winning the trick to give my partner a chance to make an informative discard in either clubs or diamonds, but my partner discarded a spade. I inferred that my partner’s 4 HCP consisted of a queen in each minor (the other possibility being the ace in one minor and no HCP in the other. Eureka, I thought, I have found it! I switched to the king of diamonds from D-KJ, blowing another trick, as declarer had the D-AQ. A discard of the deuce of diamonds from my partner would have guided me to the successful defense (shifting to clubs).

Maybe I should mark my convention card “Negative Discards” as though it were a convention, but to me, as it was to Ozzie years before I was born, it’s just good bridge sense.

MichaelFebruary 2nd, 2009 at 6:07 am

I agree that this is a key idea. It is one of the reasons that although I play upside down attitude when following suit, I play standard attitude when discarding. I’m more likely to want to discard suits that I don’t like, letting go of small cards, then suits I like.

Gloria BrownFebruary 2nd, 2009 at 8:10 pm


I enjoy your stories about the past life of bridge and the colorful players of past times. We need to hear more from you about this. I lived in Stamford Ct. when the ACBL head quarters was located in the next town. Many famous players showed up at our games when they were in town. Dick Goldberg usually brought them. It was a thrill for the lacals. keep the stories coming.

Gloria Brown

PegFebruary 2nd, 2009 at 10:41 pm

When I had roughly 30 or 40 masterpoints, I attended my second regional – and – due to the wisom (!!??) of my friends, played a session with Ozzie Jacoby. I was so terrified our first round, starting out against Malcom Brachman and Paul Soloway, that I couldn’t remember the contract we were defending – and did not know if it was “kosher” to inquire. Somehow, however, we defeated it. Ozzie seemed to relax slightly – the last time in two sessions.

As the afternoon wore on, more and more insults were hurled my way. “Do you know what game we are playing?” Are you trying to take any tricks?” On one hand, I competed a bit too high, figuring that The Great Ozzie would be declaring. As I put down the dummy, he responded, “Even I cannot make my contract opposite THAT dummy.”

Near the end of the session, Ozzie commented, “I know this is going to disappoint you, but I’m afraid we are going to qualify.” Soon thereafter, son Jim walked by, wondering why I wasn’t smiling. SMILING? I was doing my darndest not to break into tears!

I must admit it is neat to know that I played with one of the great legends. Yet, I rue that it had to be back when I hardly knew how to take a finesse – much less be up to snuff to the likes of Jake!

Judy Kay-WolffFebruary 3rd, 2009 at 2:49 am

Peg — Although Oswald Jacoby has been gone about twenty-five years, I can still hear his voice in my ears — flinging the insults at you. I always had a difficult time understanding him as his mind worked so fast — his words came out a mile-a-minute.

Would you believe he actually tried to recruit me for his partner — but before I had a chance to digest what he was asking, Norman interceded and declined graciously for me. Just as well (at least for Ozzie). It was sometime in the mid-sixties and we lived in Center City Philadelphia next to the Sheraton that housed our tournaments. As I recall, Ozzie flew in late one afternoon and was partnerless for the evening session. It was one of Norman’s more brilliant moves, as I was a rank beginner and he was just being a polite guest — enjoying our hospitality over hors d’oeuvres and cocktails. In any event, I can brag forty-five years after the fact that I am one of the few with the unique distinction of turning Ozzie Jacoby down!

PegFebruary 3rd, 2009 at 4:11 am

Judy – both you AND Norman were wise!

I know Ozzie was a genius. He was not, however, a genius in the “genial partner” dept!