Judy Kay-Wolff


Let me direct today’s pet peeve toward “committees,” a necessary segment of any enterprise, which encompasses so many venues.

Every sport has their governing organization.   In the subject case, it is the ACBL and its offshoots.   No entity can run efficiently without being dissected into bodies which have certain areas of expertise.   Some are well endowed.  Others are not.  Please understand — there are many good people who work for the League in Memphis but they are totally separate and apart from such bodies as the International Team Trials Committee, Conditions of Contest Committee, Appeals Committee, Credentials Committee, Laws Commission, The Directorial Staff and my personal favorite, The United States Bridge Federation.   The main bone of contention is that there are too many conflicts of interest, personal agendas and convenient unholy alliances (husband/wife; sponsor/pro) which do not serve the common interest of the game at large — but ofttimes those involved strive to satisfy their own personal objectives.   It is not so easy to get recruits as the normal perks are usually merely free entries in some cases — but with our pathetic economy and soaring entry fees — free plays are often incentive enough to lure some aspiring individuals into these jobs which connote knowledge and power — in the absence of more qualified draftees.   Incidentally, free plays are a fairly recent innovation and were not always a way of committee life.  Also, bear in mind, most ACBL high-echelon committees (The Laws Commission, etc.) are by appointment only and require approval.  Others acquire members by the offering of one’s services to the group as they feel they have something to contribute, want to voice their opinions and be kept in the loop.

Let’s get down to specifics:   Perhaps the underlying problems are the strictures and guidelines of the ‘selection process’ — attributable to the people behind the appointments.  Why have unqualified sponsors at times been sitting on these boards (either as a regular or interim member) making decisions affecting our imposing role in world bridge.  I am specifically alluding to the United States Bridge Federation (USBF).   Some members were totally unqualified and the appointment was more as a type of “recognition.”   Also — should they (as a sponsor) have a say as to what percentage of the time a sponsor is “required to play.”   Should they be voting on whether seeding points won by foreign professionals playing on a team during the Reisinger, Spingold or Vanderbilt be counted toward the Trials, and if so, how many?   Should they be voting on the amount of monetary subsidy designated for the teams representing the country (especially the amateur/non professional ones who have won the right)?  A sponsor, one way or another, picks up the tab of their professional team — sometimes even going so far to employ their own private jets.  Obviously money is no object, so it matters not to them personally what the agreed upon per diem is for those independent players who participate on unsponsored teams and must bear the brunt of most of the costs. 

I know from personal experience in Sao Paulo, the ‘amateur teams’  traveled on their own dime and their daily stipend was nowhere near what it actually cost.   It is a disgrace in a country like the United States that any team which has earned the right to represent the nation is not entirely subsidized for their basic expenses (not necessarily first class or for lavish restaurants — or to include their spouse or significant other) — just covering their own personal basic expenses of the trip.  It is little enough to ask — having earned the honor to represent one’s country!  Perhaps the appointment of sponsors to this committee might be with the optimistic goal that they may cough up some money of which the organization is badly in need.  However, with all the big bucks directed toward perks, expense accounts, charitable contributions, etc — one must not forget that charity usually begins at home!   Somehow — somewhere — either the ACBL or USBF must find resources to reimburse the expenses of those non-professionals who have earned the right to represent the U.S.  Besides, there are many young, upcoming players who do not play professionally and could not afford to foot the bill even if they made one of the U. S. teams.  The last thing we would want to do is discourage the younger generation from plying their craft because of lack of funding in the event of winning the Trials.

Conversely, should professionals be sitting on this Board and making similar decisions?  They have a vested interest in protecting their sponsor’s interest — especially about minimum playing time, Trials seeding points for playing with foreign professionals, etc.   They could care less about “amateur/non sponsored teams” and the cost issues.  As they say …. let their mothers worry!  The International Team Trials Committee works hand in hand with the USBF and  there are conflicts of interest there as well.   Some members of the ITTC serve in a dual role — as a respected, recognized expert and also a wealthy successful full or part-time sponsor who alone or in partnership with another, helps subsidize the team.  Should they have any say or influence on this decision-making committee on any of these issues.    Hell, no.   But the word RECUSAL is a very dirty word in bridge circles. Everyone wants to stick their two cents in —  whether or not they have moral responsibilities to consider — especially if it has a bearing on them (or their spouses).   However, they are shameless to express an opinion or cast a vote.  In fact, a couple of years ago, a well known member of the USBF (whose wife had pending contractual professional arrangements with a sponsor who was negatively involved in an embarrassing, controversial case being reviewed by the group) first recused himself (rightfully) and then when the going got tough “unrecused himself” (wrongly) coincidentally resulting in a favorable decision for his wife’s future sponsor.

At one time, when the USBF was first formed, probably to avoid racial or other discriminatory issues, “token” persons were appointed to the Committee.  Their characters were never an issue but on many subjects they were out to lunch (and eternally humbled to have been chosen — thus easily influenced with the resultant groveling at the feet of those responsible for their appointment).   I am reminded of an incident when Bobby (who was friendly with a lovely gentleman on the USBF many years ago) questioned him after a certain abominable proposal was passed if he had voted for it.    Unashamed, he replied, “Yes!”   “I’m shocked.  How could you?” Bobby inquired.    The answer —  “But Bobby, you don’t understand.  They told me to do it.”   Are these the people who should be conducting internal affairs and influencing America’s position on the world bridge scene?

More next week …. 


PaulJanuary 11th, 2010 at 1:37 pm

As someone looking in from afar, I was under the impression that you would not have sufficient people to run these organisations if you removed all the sponsors and professionals. And even if you were able to remove then, then you would lose almost all of the experienced bridge players from the decision making, which is not necessarily good.


Non-professional, non-sponsor, non-competitor Scotland Selector

who can play a bit 🙂

JUDY KAY-WOLFFJanuary 11th, 2010 at 4:05 pm


I cannot argue with your explanation and reasoning for the scarcity of non-political, impartial committee members but that does not right the ship.

Perhaps the bridge world has been overrun with people (even well-playing youngsters) who have foresaken everything in favor of tossing away their education (and a normal family life) in a concerted effort to avoid holding down a real job 9 to 5 job. However, you only come by this way one time so maybe that’s their prerogative. In my day, that was unheard of. Bridge was a hobby, not a vocation. And today, some sponsors spend more for their annual bridge escapades than most people would pay for lovely abodes in upscale neighborhoods.

I still feel there are many well-intended, knowledgeable players out there who, if sought out, would be able to capably man the positions without the me-factor standing in their path. Maybe I am a dreamer, but the present scene here in the States is a farce and is worsening by the moment, taking a toll on the majesty of the game as originally created. Should a nation not be represented by the three best partnerships who have earned the right — as opposed to five experts attached to the sponsor at the hip? Pure “amateur” (unpaid) expert teams hardly exist anymore. Soon we may have some of the foreign ‘big guns’ who have applied for American citizenship sitting on these committees as well. Major decisions should be made by unbiased individuals and, believe it or not, some of them are still around.

This all boils down to what I consider corrupt committees where most are looking out for their own best interest — rather than the game that we once adored which needed to be nurtured and protected to preserve its excellence.

JoanieJanuary 13th, 2010 at 3:42 am

I am an old timer who doesn’t attend many tournaments these days. However, it is

horrifying to me to learn about all these conflicts of interest — and yes, they certainly

are — especially with sponsors and pros who basically share the same bed,

make joint decisions about the conditions under which they will be playing regarding

international representation. Have they no shame?

It is unpardonable not to have the destiny of our participation in world bridge be decided

by IMPARTIAL individuals who have no material stake in the outcome.