Judy Kay-Wolff


The site of my first big international tournament after my marriage to Norman was held at a hotel in Miami Beach in 1967 across from the glamorous shopping malls in Bal Harbour. The ‘wives’ hunting binges were hard to forget (even after the event when we returned to our respective homes) as the influx of credit card bills began to roll in and refresh the memories of our shopping expeditions while our husbands were fighting for the honor of their country at the bridge table.

I recall Florida as my first world championship with Norman (playing with Edgar Kaplan), Murray and Kehela and Roth and Root. As usual, the Exalted Blue Team continued to run away with the honors (and for good reasons) and sponsors were spoken of in hushed tones although there were quite a few popping up on the horizon. Ira Corn must be credited as the ‘ultimate non-playing sponsor’ and was the first American to ‘sponsor’ a United States Team from a “rooting” v. “participating” interest. Though his original idea was to field a world championship team for the U.S. which included himself, Bobby soon convinced him that it was in the best interests of the game to sponsor (for what in today’s market is a pittance) three solid, expert pairs to play together in an effort to bring home the Gold to the U.S. which they accomplished in 1970 and 1971. (Bobby recalls at the inception of The Aces, he and Jim Jacoby were high men on the salary totem pole, drawing $12,000 per year each as they were ‘with wife and child” and needed more to get along on). Occasionally, minimum raises were instituted  — but hardly dramatic in comparison to today’s world of professionalism.

That was a LONG, LONG time ago and has the scene ever changed! Today, on an annual basis, MILLIONS are spent in one year (regionals, sectionals, etc.) by one or more sponsors to buy a team of five to support the client in the hope of success. Today’s is a personal ego goal — for the sponsor to achieve world renown recognition with the help and support of five experts — having nothing to do with the total excellence, quality or majesty of the team and — negating the responsibility of the USBF and the U. S. to send their three best pairs — a literal crap shoot.

Back  to Miami — 1967. Someone had to perform the physical nitty-gritty which was close to scutwork to transmit the happenings to the bridge world at large and volunteers such as myself recorded the live auctions and play and then turned the results in to Chief Director Al Sobel (or it could have been Harold Franklin). As I said, it was an eon ago and there were no such things as perks, free plays or payments for the volunteers. We participated as gratuitous ornaments and slaves dedicated to the game.

In fact, I remember there was a tiny hospitality room which provided soft drinks and hot coffee and tea for the players and officials (not the helpers). I became so incensed that we were treated as chattel, I think I started the first Bridge Volunteer Union. Little me (hard to believe, but I really was) approached big Uncle Al (Sobel) and laid down the law to him — similar to no tickee — no laundry. If they wanted scoring recorders, we were entitled to the other amenities (hot and cold beverages as well as the goodies which were being served). That was my first labor/management dispute but I’ve come a long way. Believe me, it was a slam dunk.

I have never been a believer in privileged characters and that year in 1967 may have marked the beginning of my crusade/s. I always cheered for the underdog but respected supreme talent. Here we are — forty-two years later — and you wouldn’t believe it is the same scene. Well, it really isn’t – just in name only. Sadly, most of our heroes (with few exceptions) are either dead or retired and the new breed is upon us. However, the teams that once composed Zone 2’s finest has been expanded to include (in addition) a new group of wealthy, ambitious bridge enthusiasts called “sponsors” who pay big money to play with superior performers (known as professionals). The sanctity of the bridge world has been turned upside down on its ear (or its ass, if you prefer).

Make no mistake, duplicate bridge games are the lifeblood of bridge. And, how better to improve your game than to play with an expert in higher level competition as sectionals, regionals, nationals (including world class venues as the Reisinger, Spingold and Vanderbilt)?   However, when you get to the level of the Trials to determine who will represent Zone 2, (you’ll pardon the pun) — the bucks stop there! It is not designed for the average or aspiring good players but the best their country has to offer!

Bear in mind the WBF was born in 1958 — the brainchild of James Ortiz Patino, The Godfather of World Bridge. The ACBL had been in existence decades before and a proliferation of ACBL greats joined together either as board members or consultants to oversee its operation. We are talking of legends such as Waldemar von Zedtwitz, Charlie Solomon, Alvin Landy, Lee Hazen, Al Morehead, Ben Johnson, Julius Rosenblum — among others; later followed  Edgar Kaplan,(*) Eric Murray, Judge Carl Rubin, Sidney Silodor, and many other professional, erudite, top-rated players, honest, hardworking, dedicated and perhaps most important, successful businessmen. They labored not for their own good — but for the honor and good of the game. The game’s name was BRIDGE and in case you have forgotten, that green stuff was not a consideration. One of their major chores was to organize the playoffs (trials to select the top three ethical expert twosomes to represent their country, Zone 2). No money exchanged hands. There were some standouts on the board (though, it was rumored, perhaps at times, they drank too much — and I suppose bridge can drive you to it sometimes) — but one thing was for certain: The only objective was to organize the event to produce three such pairs to give us our finest shot at winning and in general do what was best for the game!

(*) It may be of interest that Edgar served on the BOD from the New York area for several years, but resigned in favor of spending more time playing and working on The Bridge World. He had also served as a distinguished US representative to the WBF BOARD — and no doubt the strongest, most knowledgeable, respected, best informed in-the-know person that graced it’s board. However, after his resignation from the BOD, he was disgustingly replaced as a WBF Rep by one of the Board’s ‘own’, Jerry Silverman — a far cry from the likes of Edgar Kaplan. Politics was beginning to rear its ugly head.

It was no secret we had to combat what we all knew was happening on the foreign front as a result of the “accepted” disgusting cultural standards (preferably sub-standards) known as the ‘C’  Word because back then it was not fashionable to talk about cheating. Besides, the League feared law suits. You old timers will know exactly what I am referring to — and if you are not of that ilk –just ask to get filled in. It was hardly a sacred subject. The cat was out of the bag but because of “chicken bridge press” and a potential scandal, the ACBL silently watched. All they could do is stand with hands folded and shake their heads in dismay. SHAME ON THE ACBL –and more recently for that matter — the USBF.

But that scenario (for the most part) has begun to clean up its own act with the help of glued-to-the seat appointed monitors (when appropriate), cameras, stronger committees and the fact it was public record — which makes private arrangements and signals a bit harder to perpetrate. The  old “closed  eyes” routine has abated substantially — but replaced by lots of unholy alliances of individuals to protect their own hides and interests because so many inner-conflicts are inherent to its existence. Bobby has a great name for it. He refers to the foxes getting into the henhouse — a way of saying exerting influence upon others to serve one’s own or a friend’s best interests).

How can a husband and wife sit on the same committee and have equal votes? How can someone who is granted a vote in a certain issue not recuse himself or herself when his or her spouse’s involvement is an integral part of the final outcome? How can inept, unknowledgeable persons be appointed to (and serve on) committees when they are easily brainwashed or influenced by other honchos on whom they may be dependent for a recommended pro referral down the road? How can? How can? How can? How can this be?  Well, it happens all the time and the decisions rendered make it quite obvious — but the beat goes on shamelessly.

To bring you up to date, the bridge scene has flourished and reached the far corners of the globe thanks to the help of the World Bridge Federation and its many devoted workers — especially people like the redoubtable President of the WBF Jose Damiani and the charming Ernesto D’Orsi who will be hosting the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP IN his native BRAZIL beginning this Saturday with the Opening Banquet on August 29th and concluding on Saturday, September 12th.

The above scenario is simply seen through the eyes of a casual (but observant) bystander (moi) who watched from the wings but missed nary a trick. These are meek observations by comparison to those witnessed by Bobby Wolff, former President of the ACBL and WBF. Back in the nineties, my husband Bobby, whose credentials need no verification, made the biggest mistake of his career. He turned over the reins of the U. S. Team Trials (which he sought and obtained from the ACBL and donated it to what has now become the ITTC (International Team Trials Committee) along with its official Zone 2 international connection, the USBF (United States Bridge Federation). Without detailing the many sordid reasons for his disappointment, suffice it for him to say simply, “I cannot abide by groups which are subject to politics and not 100% dedicated to the sole reason for their formation and existence.”

We’ve come a long way. Unfortunately, it is in the wrong direction.


Did you know there are TWO non-professional teams (technically amateur sextets with ‘no backer’ or subsidizer) this year who will represent YOUR COUNTRY in South America? They are USA 1 OPEN (THE ROBINSON TEAM) AND USA1 SENIOR (THE MORSE TEAM). It may also interest you to know that neither are receiving enough of a stipend to cover their daily food and room expenses for the original ten days???? BESIDES — NOT ONE PENNY HAS BEEN ALLOCATED FOR AIRFARE FROM THE UNITED STATES TO SAO PAULO, BRAZIL. SWIMMING IS A BIT MUCH!


LindaAugust 24th, 2009 at 5:03 am

I love the idea of nonplaying sponsors. If they are NPC’s they would still win a medal and a deserved one at that. Stacy Jacobs talks about the sponsors role in putting together a team. I agree that is a good role. And there is lots more that they could do to provide the training and assistance the team needs to play their best.

I am sorry to hear that the teams in the US are not getting enough money to cover expenses. This is a major problem in Canada too.

Judy Kay-WolffAugust 24th, 2009 at 7:37 am


I yearn for the days (when I first broke in) when bridge players at the high levels were true experts and their last concern was getting paid to play for their country. Some of them had ‘real jobs’ and didn’t have to worry where their next meal was coming from or how to support their families. Either they were investors or had real jobs to sustain themselves. Today’s bridge is a sheer farce and picking up momentum.

Of course commercial sponsorship is the best suggestion, but bridge is a ‘hard sell.’ I would really rather see it fade into obliviion than continue in the direction it is headed. Lots of our early bridge icons would turn over in their graves if they could see the difference in the game then and now. ANYTHING IS BETTER THAN NOTHING? I don’t feel that way.



LenAugust 25th, 2009 at 1:05 am

Who should pay for the winning teams to go to Brazil? Does the USBF have enough money but choose to spend it on something else? Or should they raise the fees?

Judy Kay-WolffAugust 25th, 2009 at 4:26 am


I am not on the USBF Board and am not certain about their financial sources. I do believe most of their revenue comes from national games held for the benefit of International Fund Events. I just think it is disgraceful that non-sponsored teams come out in the red while teams that are being paid for ‘their services’ receive the same stipend as the non-sponsored ones. There is a lot of whispering behind the scenes, but no one seems to be doing anything about it. Bear in mind the composition of the USBF contains sponsors — so I am sure that has never been a popular subject. It’s to each his own. Like they used to say when I was a kid, “Let his mother worry.”

You suggest upping the fees? Maybe charging the sponsors a little extra might be more equitable but that raises a lot of eyebrows. Did you ever figure what it costs one of these

sponsors per year? And, bear in mind, some have a coach, captain, scorer and other lackeys.

Nothing comes cheap — so what would another couple thousand bucks mean? Diddleysquat or chump change! It is minuscule compared to what it costs to support their hobby annually.

I should think that it is an honor to play for one’s country and the USBF should find a way to cover the difference (however they can ). Minimum room accommodations and per diem food allocation plus economy fare (round trip of course) should be mandatory — especially to a far-off place like Brazil. The “stipend”, I believe, for every player is $2250 for the qualifying rounds — but the cost for one person (and most have spouses or significant others which is not the concern of the USBF) is at about $5,000 per head. Should one have to take the difference out of his own pocket for the honor of representing the United States???????????? I think not.

Len, thanks! You really asked all the right questions!

dannyAugust 25th, 2009 at 5:31 am

Check your math Judy, and make that 3 teams.

Judy Kay-WolffAugust 25th, 2009 at 3:21 pm

Danny (and I know lots of Dannys so I am uncertain whom you are). It sounds like I overlooked one of the women’s teams — which makes my complaint even more cogent. Unsponsored teams should not have to pay their own basic expenses.

Somehow, somewhere the minimum expenditures of these terrific achievers who are representing our troubled country should be reimbursed. Though the economy is horrific, it does not have seemed to very much affected the professional scene.

I don’t know much about charity foundations and tax consequences and I am sure the recipients are very worthy. We seem to find money for everything else — but charity should begin at home.