Judy Kay-Wolff


Realistically acknowledging the hard, cold facts necessary to maintain and preserve marital bliss enables one to understand the placement of Norman (on request) and Bobby (eagerly, willingly and voluntarily) across the table from yours truly on many occasions. I probably played with Bobby more in the first twelve months of our marriage than I did with Norman in nearly forty years.

Permit me to digress for a moment as background vastly impacts the difference in spousal attitudes.  Norman was accustomed to (and spoiled by) playing exclusively with the likes of Edgar and other world class partners in the hopes of eventually getting to compete in (and win) a world championship.  He rarely played ‘socially’ by choice (only if he got drafted and could not wheedle out of it gracefully).  As I have stated before, Norman had a full, well-rounded and active life, not dependent upon bridge for a livelihood.  I sincerely believe he did not play for sheer enjoyment — but was motivated by a loftier goal.  Time at the table was merely a means to an end — a chance for that big pie in the sky (of which he was disgustingly deprived — but don’t get me started on that one)!

Conversely — Bobby (long before he made the big time) co-owned a bridge club in his native San Antonio during the sixties and, of necessity, also played professionally with many weak players and students. Though there were exceptions, he was accustomed to less-than-expert partners — so compared to the "Miriams" of this world, I look like a superstar.  It has been a challenge, but he has penetrated my rigid, frigid Kaplan-Sheinwold brainwashing and converted me to his modern loose-as-a-goose Bobby Wolff style.  Being transformed to Bobby’s mind set is a small enough price for me to pay for my biweekly duplicate adventures in Utopia!

Now — back to my intended subject of this blog — heroines of the game!  Two incredible females, Sally Young and Barbara Brier, each in her own way, touched my life.   Sally made a fleeting appearance but Barbara’s entrance on the scene had an enduring affect — resulting in a cherished friendship of twenty years.

The year was 1963.  Hall of Famer Sally Young invited me to play with her at the June Fete, an Annual Charity Bridge outing (with predominantly female players) run by Charlie Solomon at one of the prestigious suburban Philadelphia Country Clubs.  I was a young bride and at the time never really reflected upon what caused her to single me out to play (when obviously she had the pick of the litter).  But — why look a gift horse in the mouth?  In retrospect, almost half a century later, it dawned on me that maybe she lost an election bet, owed Norman a favor — or a more likely explanation — it was a ‘pay date’!  In any event, we played and I was in total awe for all twenty-four boards.  Back then (except for Helen Sobel), men totally dominated our hobby and it was a revelation to witness a gal play as if she could see through the cards.

Barbara played a major role in my life from 1976 to 1996.  Not only was she my frequent bridge partner till her death thirteen years ago but a worthy Scrabble and Boggle adversary as well.  She was a native Philadelphian who migrated to New York and eventually settled down in Miami where she taught bridge and played professionally.  Barbara had several NABC scalps on her wall — topped off by the World Championship Mixed Pairs in Stockholm which she won in 1970 with Waldemar von Zedtwitz (an even greater triumph than it appeared as he had already been declared legally blind).  She could hold her own with the best of ’em!

Most of Barbara’s clients were snowbirds who started returning to their Northern nests as spring approached.  Because her ordinarily active business slowed down — come April — she began spending her summer months up North with her daughter Bonnie and her family.  Incidentally, as a point of interest, I might add that if Bonnie did not have a budding successful legal career (plus a charming non-bridge playing husband and three lovely young kids) — she might have cashed in on good bridge genes as Bonnie in her youth won a Teenage Pairs at the Nationals with another youngster named Kyle Larsen.

As fate had it, Norman and I lived about a mile from Bonnie and Bruce — and since Barbara and I shared so many interests, we became virtually inseparable the last several years of her life. In the 1990s she even worked for me part time during the summer in my wholesale baseball card business.   If ever I had a female soul mate — Barbara filled the bill — and I still think about her often.  I adored playing with her although at the outset, it took me eons to realize that there was no prevailing ACBL law which prevented the South player (moi) from becoming declarer at NT.  Barbara cleverly took stringent measures (akin to hand-hogging — which, by the way — Bobby does not) to avoid that disaster befalling our partnership.  She was a ‘naturally’  talented performer (despite her Roth-Stone leanings) and I was mesmerized watching her declare a hand.  The greatest compliment I could pay Barbara is that she routinely and effortlessly took almost as many tricks as Bobby!

Playing with Barbara was never dull and she always had a ‘good story.’  It is hard to repress a smile as I recall her firsthand account of a Sunday happening in the Philadelphia area.  Barbara was playing with a client born into a wealthy, prominent Upstate Pennsylvania mining family.  It was no secret he enjoyed having a drink (or two or three) between sessions.  Unfortunately, it was during the days of the Blue Laws (where the sale of liquor on Sunday was prohibited).  Following the afternoon session, Barbara (a Miami Dolphins fanatic) scurried to her room to check out the football scores while her client went to a friend’s suite for a little snort.  They agreed to meet in the lobby thirty minutes later and Barbara would arrange for a waiting cab to transport them to dinner.  Fortunately, someone was on hand to help her tottering client navigate from the elevator to curbside for their brief taxi ride to the restaurant.  Strains of soft music filled their ears as they made their way through the dimly lit room to their table.  After the waiter took their orders and departed, her client, who was obviously disoriented and quite agitated, kept badgering Barbara — asking, "Where did our opponents go?"  

So much for loosening up between sessions!


LoriFebruary 7th, 2009 at 5:43 pm

You have raised an issue that has always intrigued me. What is your take on the success or

failure of husband/wife bridge partnerships in general?

JudyFebruary 8th, 2009 at 5:54 pm

Hi Lori:

That’s a loaded question. When Bobby and I first announced that we were getting married, Larry Cohen good-heartedly teased me that once again I would be the second best player in my partnership. So be it! There are worse things in life and believe me, I can handle it. My pleasure!

I really think there is a simple answer to your query:

1) When husbands and wives are close to equal in ability, difficulties arise because each one usually believes he or she is the superior player. It becomes a war of the egos and rather than combining forces against the opponents, it often turns into a battle of the sexes (Mrs. versus Mr.).

2) The other case scenario — where there is a huge disparity in ability (including experience, judgment, mathematical expertise and all the other goodies that are mandatory for top level performance) — few problems arise. The partnership consists of one Indian and one Chief and the consecrated role of each is recognized and accepted. End of story. One of the spouses says, “Yes, dear” (and it is usually me)!

It is interesting to note that very few top-ranked husbands and wives grace the NABCs or other major tournaments as partners. The reasons vary. Perhaps each may have his or her own long-standing regular partner and adhere to the ‘why fix it if it ain’t broken’ theory; they may have a marvelous marriage and a troubled partnership; or one or both may have a professional engagement. The only married couple I am aware of who play together when each is available (and usually score high in the money) are the Stansbys — Joanna and Lew. No other twosome readily comes to mind.

RichardFebruary 9th, 2009 at 5:26 pm

In England, it used to be kind of traditional for pairs of married couples to work together. The husbands would make one partnership, and the wives another, and marital bliss could be preserved.

PegFebruary 9th, 2009 at 10:44 pm

Debbie and Michael Rosenberg have begun to play together. Probably too early to judge how they will do – but – they do seem committed to it.

Also, Danny and Jo Sprung play often. While I do not believe they’ve had quite as much success in open events as the Stansbys – I do think that they won a Mixed Pair together, and have shown well in other national events, too.