Judy Kay-Wolff


The Bridge Community appears to be a strange configuration of birds — especially to those on the outside peering through the fence and seeing such a diversity of characters.  If you ask ten bridge players to name their priorities in order of preference, the answers would astound you.  In a recent blog, a very respectable expert player listed them in this order (much to my surprise) — (1)  My wife; (2)   My family; (3) My friends; (4) My dogs; (5) My bridge.  That’s what is known as to each his own.  Mine would vary greatly as I have no dogs, cats, fish, birds, mice, snakes or other animate objects.  Think about it yourself and see what you can come up with.  Bobby’s might be Sports, Bridge and whomever he is married to at the time (only kidding as Bridge would probably supersede Sports)! 

Norman Kay, my late husband, was certainly an exception to the general rule of a devout bridge player who took the game very seriously.  However, starting as a ditto machine operator at the age of 18 (with filthy purple gook all over his hands and clothes) and retiring 38 years later as a successful Vice President of Merrill Lynch, there was never a doubt that his job and his customers came first.     There were few top players in Norman’s category who treated their profession as a life and death situation despite the debacles of ’87 and ’01.  Most of his teammates had lighter or looser schedules (or no schedules at all) but respected his priorities.  Today, to hundreds of people, bridge is not a mere hobby, but rather an obsession and thriving livelihood (and in most cases full time).  As Director Harry Goldwater once said — it’s more important than life itself.   It sure beats having a real job and enjoying being wined, dined and deified.  Of course, hugs, kisses and flattery are part of the package as well. Fortunately, in earlier days college took preference to professional bridge but it is hard for a parent to wrestle with a kid who has just graduated high school and bringing in more than the parents in some instances.   Welcome to Bridge 2009.  Soon the concept caught on and it has become a very popular profession for many foreign experts who travel to the States frequently for bridge. In some cases, they even take up residence/citizenship after the required time which has cut into the once-lucrative monopoly American pros had over their clan.    It is definitely dog-eat-dog now — extremely competitive (especially with the sinking economy).  One must hustle and be aggressive before your competitor beats you to the punch.   Witnessing the groveling I find repulsive — and it is quite evident.

Bridge has changed immeasurably from the days of Roth, Stone, Schenken, Becker, Root, Crawford, Rapee, Kemp, Sobel, Goren, Jacoby, Gerber, Mathe, Silodor and a slew too long to mention  Their first objective was (1) to make the U. S. TEAM; and their ultimate goal was (2) to bring home the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP. Few other things mattered. The only money that came into the equation was the cost of travel to foreign countries to participate.   With objectives so different today, it is hard to imagine this is the same game from the fifties and sixties.

The distinguishing factor is now MONEY IS IN FIRST PLACE AND BRIDGE HAS PLUNGED TO A DISTANT SECOND.  I can understand the positive effect of paying a pro to play at the club level, sectionals, regionals and even the NABCs to learn to improve with professional guidance — a reasonable expectation.  But, to me, the engulfment of sponsors on the scene tarnishes the sanctity and splendor of the game at the world level when one of the six world class players (intended to be a part of three partnerships par excellence) is usually replaced by an inexperienced, mediocre, ambitious competitor paying and playing with a supporting cast — fighting  for the Gold).      Don’t misunderstand me.    There are  SPONSORS AND THERE ARE sponsors.   For example, Jimmy Cayne, Nick Nickell, Russ Ekeblad, Roy Welland, Richie Schwartz, Aubrey Strul, Warren Spector (all names are in random order with no particular significance) and a few others fall outside of the traditional sponsor category .   They are far more than respectable experts but do not equate to the category of Meckwell, Stansby, Hamman, ZIA, Wolff, Martel, Bramley, Lazard, Berkowitz, Cohen, Weichsel, Sontag,  Mike Passell, Lair, Weinstein, Levin and a plethora of others too long to enumerate (again in no special order). 

Playing pro is perfectly legal, popular and ethical but, to me, it detracts enormously from the ethereal majesty of the game we once knew for its grand excellence   In some instances it is ludicrous — but who am I to judge how others choose to spend their fortunes — and I do mean fortunes. I always dreamed that the three best pairs would qualify and play as a sextet once again (without lure of big money) — but I suppose that may never occur again in my lifetime as the players are now dependent upon huge salaries, winning bonuses and, besides, it is self-deprecating to descend from one’s throne.   

Why doesn’t a USBF cycle of four years include THREE TEAM GAME IMP EVENTS and every fourth year forget the lame battle cry in the guise of camaraderie and conduct a PAIR THEME — with the  pairs finishing 1-2-3 being our representatives whether they be pros or sponsors or just the man on the street.    Playing imps by qualifying pairs scored duplicate-style over several days will certainly separate the men from the boys.  They’ve earned the right, have no support system arsenal to back them up if they falter and can hold their heads up because they have distinguished themselves in their own right not being a passenger on a high-powered dogsled.   Some of the weaker sponsors are reminiscent of sending in the water boy to replace the first string quarterback.  Many will disagree and that is your prerogative — but I speak from the heart and remember the days where BRIDGE ITSELF was our sole consideration.   Winning the Gold had no tinge of green in the background..   The thrill of success was more than enough!.

Hope springs eternal and I am a born optimist that someday those in the ivory towers will come to their senses.


Ray LeeJuly 13th, 2009 at 6:14 pm

There is a popular Manchester United T-shirt inscribed: “United, Kids, Wife (in that order)”. It’s not one I would personally dare wear home, but I know a lot of people who would empathize with it!

You know my thoughts in general on playing sponsors in the world championships, and repeating them will just get Stacy Jacobs insulting me again on her blog. So let’s talk about the current situation specifically.

After the ‘Nickell’ four-man team US Trials fiasco, it was obvious the USBF would immediately reinstate Nickell and Freeman to the team. I mused to Linda at the time about the consequences if Freeman’s health did not permit him to play in Brazil, and all too sadly, that has come to pass. Clearly, there are a number of genuinely world-class pro pairs who could be added to Hamman-Zia and Meckwell. Equally clearly, that isn’t going to happen; Nickell will secure a new partner.

I make the same distinction you do Judy: there are many sponsors who are truly awful bridge players. There are also a small number of sponsors, like Nickell, who can claim to be experts. But, as you say, ‘expert’ is not the same as ‘world-class’, and there’s no doubt that US teams carrying a sponsor go in against countries like Italy and Norway with a real disadvantage.

I wonder whether the USBF would ever have the courage the British selectors did a few years ago, when they approved only 4 players out of the winning team at their Trials and refused to ratify the pair including the sponsor as part of the squad. Given that those making the decision in the USBF are either sponsors or people who depend on sponsors for a living, I doubt it.

Bobby WolffJuly 13th, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Hi Ray,

Between you and Judy, you’ve said everything that needs to be and can be said and in a relative economy of words.

Nothing very radical needs to be done, only first a plan and then the forward look to its fruition. It’s not that either of you (and I) love many wonderful sponsors less, it is that both of you (and I) love the future of bridge in our spectacular country more. Perhaps if some of the off-the-wall and forward thinking successful sponsors themselves join in this crusade, if for no other reason than to make the professionals feel less guilty of doing something controversial but very constructive, it will get it done, and much faster.

The parts are in place, the purpose is divine and the time is now.

With love!

Richard PavlicekJuly 13th, 2009 at 10:05 pm

How about a T-shirt with an ear of corn and the words: Bring back Ira! 🙂

Seriously, I was also disappointed (and of course saddened by Freeman’s

death) with Nickell’s option. The right thing, I thought, since he technically

didn’t qualify, would be for him to become npc and draft a third pair (Levin

and Weinstein would be my pick). But what do I know.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFJuly 13th, 2009 at 11:09 pm

Dear Richard:

Coming from such a soft spoken gentleman like you who minds his P’s and Q’s gave tremendous credence to your opinion. Dickie was an old, good friend of ours and no one could be kinder and more generous than Nick Nickell. However, when the news reached us about Dickie’s death, I thought it would be a no-brainer for Nick to be NPC and based on recent performance the third pair would be Levin and Weinstein. (However, I think the choice of Ralph Katz was a popular one. The decision was influenced by the present Conditions of Contest (which I believe are in dire need of change). However, many issues are now in the works and dedicated to making the necessary adjustments to right the ship so we are not faced with such a conundrum again.

Rich — you, Bill Root. Norman and Edgar afforded me so many pleasurable moments of pride and joy in the countless team victories you shared together. Those were the days and getting to know you and Mabel was one of the nicest experiences of my bridge travels.

I hope one day soon we’ll see you back at the bridge table. You have too much talent to be wasted in retirement.



Richard PavlicekJuly 14th, 2009 at 12:09 am

Hi Judy

Yes, those were the days, and your cheerful presence made it special.

I miss the bridge (hard to believe Denver 2005 was my last tourney),

but as you say, everyone has their priorities. Some day I’ll be back.

Congrats to the Wolfman, and have a great time in Sao Paulo.

For the good times,


JUDY KAY-WOLFFJuly 14th, 2009 at 2:09 am

Hi Ray:

When you wrote the blog about watching one of our players on vugraph (or BBO?) and the embarrassment that you experienced, I thought you were exaggerating. I underwent the same feeling both on vu-graph and BBO and I cringed — not only at some of the obvious plays but the sympathetic remarks of the commentators. Bobby is not one that stands by and holds his tongue. No sir! He tells it like it is (even if I don’t ask). While others were commisserating, his comment (on the blog) was: “The play was ridiculous.”

What a difference between husbands! Norman would restrain himself (biting his tongue) “It could be rightl!” while Bobby emulated George Washington’s candor with “I cannot tell a lie.” Through the years, I never had any doubt whom to believe! They don’t call Bobby “The Lone Wolff” (plug. plug) for nothing.


Robb GordonJuly 14th, 2009 at 6:01 pm

Judy – I have been called many things – but “respectable” frightens me. I associate it with “old”.



JUDY KAY-WOLFFJuly 15th, 2009 at 12:28 am

Robb: With all the hanky-pank involved with bridge politics, private deals, personal involvements, etc., I use that word sparingly. Be honored. Coming from me, assume it is a recognition of one whose heart and brains are in the right place.

Love to you and Linda,


Cam FrenchJuly 15th, 2009 at 3:37 pm

Judy – I love your passion for the game.

Pining for “the good old days” is easy to do, and they are tough to forget. And we should never forget. At the Waldorf Astoria (now we are going back a bit in time) Omar Sharif and his Lancia team played in tuxedos!

What our game has not done is kept up with the evolution of professionalism and how it has impacted our game. I think arbitrarily appending a pair is wrong, after all this is a team. We all have people we like and don’t like. The core team of four (if required to append) should be allowed to select anyone they see fit.

Of course, therein lies the rub. If I slip each team member a little green (say 500 K each – chicken feed after all) maybe they will agree to add me to the team. Is that slot for sale? I am sure Bill Gates and Warren Buffet can outbid me – but should that spot be discretionary?

There needs to be clear and equivocal rules. Maybe the sponsoring organization, and this is a big maybe, can have a veto. So if Gates, or Buffet or French tries to buy their way in – the sponsoring organization says no – get a real player of demonstrated tournament experience.

Our laws were forged many years ago with good intentions but never imagined some of the changes the game would undergo. Maybe it is time to sit down and give them a good makeover so we are not always reacting to controversy, but better yet, have a fair protocol in place to negate controvery.

Where is Lee Hazen or EK when you need them? Alas, those were the days.


JUDY KAY-WOLFFJuly 16th, 2009 at 12:42 am

Dear Cam:

My passion for the game is a misconception. It is my passion to ‘do right’ by this game which was once held in high esteem. However, times have changed and I consider it sinking rapidly as it no longer enraptures me as I see one horror being committed after another.

It has become entwined with politics, inept administrators, sponsors, pros, committees and boards who are composed of people who have personal conflicts, interests and agendas. It is obvious the importance of the game takes a back seat to the people whose interests are best served and whose money speaks the loudest.

I talk from personal experience and recently heard from someone serving on a committee where I was the appellant THAT THE MEMBERS OF THE APPEALS COMMITTEE WERE NEVER SHOWN THE HAND THAT WAS THE SUBJECT OF THE APPEAL. IS IT CARELESSNESS, HASTE TO GET IT OVER WITH OR PLAIN STUPIDITY?? IT WAS A “HE SAYS” / “SHE SAYS” TESTIMONY. TWO NEGATIVES (OPPONENTS); ONE POSITIVE (ME) AND ONE ABSTAINING (for my partner was not aware as she was readying the score cards). So I lost because my partner was honest and said she was paying no attention to the little side show. If this is how the committee’s decision was made, and I find it hard to believe, they should all go to the gallows to have conducted an appeal in such an absurd fashion. However, that’s history. It is the future with which we should be concerned.

The only glimmer of hope is that measures are being taken to rewrite and review Condiitons of Contest after the Nickell Team dilemma. See Rich Pavlicek’s commentary with which many agree. Nick should have been made NPC and probably (?) Levin and Weinstein should have filled in.

The old battle cry you cannot change Conditions of Contest after the fact is for the birds. There are always exceptions and I think the Nickell match was a farce. Maybe the brain surgeons who wrote the COC should have had more foresight and those in charge now will do a more effective job — given so many more issues to consider. At least it’s a start. Can’ t ask for more than that!

And, yes, Cam. I agree about Lee and Edgar. Those were the no-nonsense days in situations like these — especially with Edgar. When he spoke — people listened (and obeyed — and with good reason).


Daniel LangothNovember 3rd, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Furthermore, have fun with your blog!