Judy Kay-Wolff


One of the greatest pleasures of my bridge career was kibitzing and being all ears as hands were discussed by the experts of the day.   I had been playing for a few years (though it really was far from the game I know today) but most of my time was well spent at Norman’s side as he competed.  Norman was always fortunate to be included on formidable teams (originally Edgar and the New York contingent until 1960) when he was asked to join the “Big Team” partnered with Sidney Silodor  — and included Becker, Crawford, Rapee, Roth, Stone, et al for three short years until Sidney’s death in 1963 (two weeks prior to our wedding).   He played in the interim with a few top players but it was just not the same and he was still grieving the loss of his dear friend Sidney.  A year later, Bob Jordan played matchmaker and got Norman and Edgar back together, a partnership and love affair that ended when Edgar died in 1997 (a few months after winning the Dallas NABC open teams with a last minute tack-on of a fifth and sixth to the original four man team — Brian Glubock and Geir Helgimo who had never played together until that fateful weekend).   In fact, part of the condition of Geir’s acceptance was that he had to be “off” the last session and catch his scheduled flight back home.  No argument — done deal!   After their very popular victory (especially because of the public knowledge of Edgar’s impending death after a grueling three year illness), Norman innocently, but in all sincerity, commented to Edgar in the privacy of his suite, “You really played great,” to which Edgar immediately retorted. “Norman, I have cancer of the colon — not the brain.”   Edgar was both articulate and prolific and though it is over twelve years since his death, I can still hear his voice and envision him as it was just yesterday.  Knowing, enjoying and loving Edgar was one of the highlights of my life.

In the early years of our marriage, I rarely played, seeming to derive more pleasure (and less aggravation) from watching the big boys.   One pair of Norman’s regular teammates were no doubt the best duo to ever descend from Canada — Sami Kehela and Eric Murray.  Not only were they sensational players individually and a top partnership but they treated each other with admiration and respect — though there was quite a bit of humorous banter back and forth during discussions of hands.  Also, I remember many a time, after the evening session, where Eric would hold everyone captive (willingly) in Edgar’s suite until the wee hours of the morning — relating one hilarious tale after another — and no one could tell a story better than Eric Rutherford Murray.

After Edgar’s death, Norman and I still stayed in contact with Eric and that so-called ‘contact’ with Eric served a very practical use for me, who for twenty years was running a baseball card business.  I was dealing with a Canadian card company who had committed to sell me ten cases of a certain product which I pre-sold at a pretty good profit.   I later received notice from them that because of great demand and reduced production, my order would be halved.   I contacted Eric immediately, who by coincidence was a very effective and successful barrister, and an hour later I got a call from the Manager of the card company stating that all ten cases were en route to me as we spoke.   Eric refused to accept a fee for helping a damsel in distress but settled for a date in an Open Pairs with Norman as cancellation of my debt.

Norman is gone nearly eight years but I always had a warm relationship with Eric (who was also a good friend of Bobby) and I routinely checked in with him around the holiday season.   Incidentally, It was Eric who honored Bobby by writing the Foreword to The Lone Wolff so I had occasion to speak to him more frequently (especially because of Bobby’s hearing problems).   I looked at the calendar the other day and picked up the phone to call Eric who now lives in his country home on an estate with a beautiful pond and lots of birds.   His lovely wife, Helen (a successful attorney also) passed on in 2007 after a very long illness and it has been a rough number of years for Eric — but you would never know it by the exuberance of his tone when he picked up the phone and recognized my voice.    I am sure we share the same wonderful memories of his teammates and their many successes in days of yore.   Although Eric is primarily retired from ‘serious’ bridge for many years (though he did qualify to play for Canada in Shanghai, declining the trip), he does still play a little — but usually only if drafted for some local team games.    I can personally assure you his mind is still unbelievable and his sense of humor better than ever.  

Do you remember the famous telegram he sent to the American Captain, Alfie Sheinwold, in Bermuda when the Foot Soldiers’ alleged cheating incident was being examined by a Committee for tapping each other’s toes under the table (before foot screens)?  It was read aloud to a roaring audience:

          Dear Mr. Sheinwold:

          I would like to volunteer for the North American Team.    I play a reasonable game of bridge and take a size 14 shoe.


          Eric R. Murray

Naturally, our conversation drifted back to the world championships. Though Eric is now 81, he vividly recalled an experience which still haunts him.  It is 38 years later and he is now able to laugh about how outrageous it was!  Bobby well remembers the incident but I will relate it through Eric’s eyes and you judge for yourself.   It occurred in the 1972 Bal Harbour Olympiad in the Round Robin.   Eric had the session off and was Vugraph Commentator while Bobby was in the audience just enjoying Eric’s remarks and watching the hands on the screen.  The last hand arrived and this was the actual auction (a real classic) in a match which featured Germany against the ‘exalted’ Italian Blue Team.

The German North opened 3D, East (Giorgio Belladonna) doubled, South passed and it was up to the West hand, Walter Avarelli (pardon me, Judge Avarelli) who held the following hand:    94   AQ109743  10743  VOID.     Holding the hand just presented, Judge Avarelli PASSED with the result minus 800 for Germany while in the other room, the normal 4H contract was reached (down one for minus 100 for Germany) — a total of  plus 900 for the Blue Team,   As Eric recounts it, he met Benito alighting from the elevator as he had not played that session (and in those days there was no BBO) so Benito was totally unaware of the hand or the results.

Eric recalled to me the conversation going something like …..”Hi, Benito.”   I’ve got a bidding hand for you.   May I ask what you would do?”   He replied, “Sure,” whereupon Eric gave Benito Avarelli’s West hand with seven hearts to the AQ109XXX (as above) and related the auction.   “What do you do over the double?”  Benito smiled, shrugged and said “4H.” “What is your second choice?”  “I don’t have a second choice.”  “What if someone made you have one?”  “5H, I guess.”   What is your third choice?”   “6H, but that is ridiculous.” “What is this all about?” asked Garozzo.    Eric continued, “Walter passed.”    “Walter passed Giorgio’s double???”   “Yes.”  “What was the result?” inquired Benito.   “+800.”   Benito quickly replied to the effect  —  “You know, after thinking about it, he is probably right.”   INDEED HE WAS!

Eric’s concluding words to me were — “If this is not an indictment, I don’t know what is!”   Enough said!


Ross TaylorDecember 30th, 2009 at 1:23 pm

Fabulous blog Judy – keep them coming ! Eric Murray ventures out every year for the Sheardown KO teams at the Toronto Easter Regional. Last year, he and John Carruthers, playing with John Gowdy and Vince Oddy, taught us a sharp lesson in the semi finals. Eric played terrific.

The year before, Eric finally went over the 10,000 masterpoint limit when he won the same event. (I don’t think collecting masterpoints had been something Eric ever focussed on)

However, in so doing, Eric became an official World Grand Master. The rousing ovation he received in the Royal York Ballroom when this was announced was thoroughly deserved and enjoyed by all.

Frank SmithDecember 30th, 2009 at 4:07 pm

Haven’t we seen this before? Some of the specific details have changed, but the story is more-or-less the same. I don’t understand your desire to re-gurgitate what has already been beaten to death.

Quoted from Bobby’s comment in the “Disgusting old hat” from September 2009:

As the vugraph room was filing out, I ran into Eric Murray and we both headed to the elevators (both with wry grins on our faces). Lo and behold when we got to the elevators, Benito Garozzo was just getting off, having not played that set of boards (and there was no BBO back then that you could watch in your room). Eric seized his chance and approached Benito, saying “I’ve got a bidding hand for you. May I ask what you would do?” He replied “Sure!” Whereupon Eric gave Benito, Avarelli’s West hand with the seven hearts to the AQ10 in it and related the earlier action. “What do you bid over the double?” Benito smiled, shrugged and said ”4 Hearts.” “What is your 2d choice?” ”I don’t have a 2d choice.” “What if someone made you have one?” ”5 Hearts, I guess.” “What is your 3d choice?” “6 hearts, but that is ridiculous.” “What is this all about”? “Your teammate Walter passed”. “Walter passed Giorgio’s double?” “Yes.”

“What was the result?” inquired Benito. “+1100.” Benito then quickly replied. “You know — after thinking about it, he is probably right. ” AND INDEED HE WAS!!

JUDY KAY-WOLFFDecember 30th, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Yes, Ross, Eric is quite a guy. The last time Norman and I saw him, I believe, was when he and Sami (with two show-stopping acceptance speeches) were elected to the ACBL Hall of Fame. I arranged for a quiet dinner between sessions at a Benihana near the playing site. We had not seen him for some years but he is basically the same Eric I once knew (just an older version). Suffering the pains of Helen’s lingering illness for over a decade made him pretty much of a loner although he indicated his son resides in a house on his estate so he is not totally alone. In fact, when I spoke to him before I left for my bridge game, he was busy cooking in preparation for a dinner party he was hosting last night and when I called back at 9 o’clock (Canadian time) he had just shooed his guests out and was ‘cleaning up the mess’. Alhough lawyering and bridge are no longer the mainstay of his life, he manages to stay busy.

He still keeps in touch with Sami (and recall hearing he had dinner with the Kehelas one night not too long ago) but I gather he stays mostly at home and doesn’t do much gallivanting around town. At the conclusion of yesterday’s telephone call, I casually said, “Eric, would you consider coming down here to Vegas to visit Bobby and me for a few days?” Without a second’s hesitation, in typical Eric fashion, he almost broke my eardrum with an emphatic ‘HELL, NO!” Reflecting on Eric always brings a smile to my lips.

He has been a wonderful credit to the game as well as his native Canadian heritage.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFDecember 30th, 2009 at 4:58 pm

Yes, Frank, you probably have seen one version of the incident (and being almost 38 years ago, the accounts may have differed slightly, but not in substance). However, I wanted to present it from the horse’s mouth — and that was from Eric Murray who actually had the one-on-one with Benito. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and Avarelli’s exact hand and the PASS made it conclusive. I just felt it may help to convince so many of the doubting Toms who can’t accept the stark reality of what actually transpired. It was not a myth, believe me, but it obviously seems to have struck a nerve with you! It distresses me that record books and wanton unknowledgeable members of the press deny the evidence and continue to deify undeserving participants.

Frank SmithDecember 30th, 2009 at 7:04 pm

The only nerve that it strikes with me is that I keep seeing the same old stories and arguments pop up, when what I’d much rather be reading is new stories or new interesting anecdotes that HAVEN’T been said before.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFDecember 30th, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Frank — Since it officially is still an unresolved issue to me and countless others around at the time (and many who have gone to their eternal rest) — I have no compunction discussing it again and again when the subject arises. In this case, DIRECTLY from Eric Murray. The subject should have been captioned “Denial.” If you’re an unhappy camper, just skip my site and move on to more mundane, less controversial and more educational and beneficial blogs that are to your liking.

Frank SmithDecember 30th, 2009 at 7:51 pm

As you wish… even concidering that you have contributed a lot of interesting stories to the bridge world that I HAVE enjoyed reading, I shall never again click on a post written by “Judy Kay-Wolff” so that I shall never feel the need to disturb you again.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFDecember 30th, 2009 at 9:07 pm

Your loss, Frank!


BOBBY WOLFFDecember 30th, 2009 at 9:25 pm

Hi Frank,

If it is any consolation, the team in question undoubtedly included three of the very best players to ever play our great game legitimately or not, and for that alone they should be positively remembered. Also there have been more countries than probably most could imagine (including my beloved USA) who have from time to time had players representing them who would not pass any kind of non-cheating or ethicality test.

With the above as a backdrop, all Holocausts of any and every kind need to never be forgotten, even if one only includes the incredible insignificance of playing a game. On such a full sea are we now afloat and we should always keep that in mind or, instead, do away with whatever it concerns altogether.

DiogenesDecember 30th, 2009 at 11:02 pm

Many of us remain on the scene who endured the injustices perpetrated those many years ago.

It was the fears of recriminations and lawsuits by those in administration who prevented bringing the .. shall we say .. blatant evidence into the open.

Perhaps the only action that would convince the many naive non-believers would be a deathbed confession of one of the survivors, confirming what the informed public has known all these years.

Mark LombardDecember 31st, 2009 at 2:02 am

Yikes! I’m not sure where this conversation is heading, but I do want to say that I was fortunate enough to catch Eric Murray’s speech at the ACBL Hall of Fame dinner and laughed so hard I nearly peed my pants!

Depending on who weaves the tale, I could listen over and over, and enjoy each and every rendition. Keep it coming, Judy!

JUDY KAY-WOLFFDecember 31st, 2009 at 4:01 pm

Yes, Mark — Eric is extremely entertaining. His delivery ranks right up there with the great

bridge raconteurs of our day– and we’ve been blessed with quite a few I knew personally –Bob Jordan, Victor Mitchell, Tobias Stone — and probably many before my time. Rumor has it that it was a ritual for Stoney to hold court, keeping his audience in stitches till the wee hours of the morning at the old P. J. Clarke’s in New York — which may not even be in existence today). As a matter of fact, Bobby (if you remember from his book) had quite a few funny ones of his own — but not all of them were fit to print.

Unfortunately, the subject blog is no laughing matter!