Judy Kay-Wolff

More about the Legendary Barry Crane …

On February 9th, I posted a blog called “The Continuing Hall of Fame Saga” and there were several entertaining comments about sponsorship.  After the humorous story about Barry’s Rules which was related by Martha Beecher on my blog the following day, she suggested I contact Dennis Sorenson who played with, and knew, the Master Point Icon quite well.    Dennis, himself, has quite a sterling record — both as an administrator and accomplished bridge player, but has forsaken his “former life” and is now married, the proud father of two children and is enjoying life in Udon Thani, Thailand — a far cry from the bridge circus that exists here in the States today.

In response to my email request to Dennis,  he agreed to supply me with some anecdotes about Barry.   So here goes:

“In 1984 I recall helping Barry in what would prove to be his unsuccessful bid in stopping Mel Skolnik from winning the then-McKenney. He needed assistance late in the fall in Spokane and I brought my regular partner Stan Sather to offer assistance.  Barry was quite loyal and indicated he would gladly return the favor by visiting our Portland regional in February, 1985.

Somewhere along the way it worked out for me to take a sabbatical from teaching to “study computers.” I arranged to take courses on select weekends during the year but in reality I would be playing bridge with Barry. [Love it, Dennis.  jkw].

While I thought I had some grip on the imps theory, what better way to learn matchpoints but from the best player our game has known.  The plan was to complete my school term and hustle down to meet Barry in Sacramento during the middle of the tournament.  He would bring Kerri Shuman up from LA and play with her until I arrived.

We (as Grant profoundly mentioned in Martha’s commentary) would be playing “Crane”. Barry would be off in his own world. I had no notes but some gist of the structure of Barry’s methods though his controversial 2C response to a major was seemingly under fire.  I also recall that Barry played four card majors with some definition. While playing with Mike Passell much later, we did commiserate that he could open on QXXX while he said, “Dennis you will need QTXX to open with a four card major.” We got a nice laugh from that recall.

I recall in Spokane, Barry and I had a session where we had played together and somehow I managed to get him into this horrific Moysian slam. He took the only line to make and was beaming when I returned from a bathroom break. I could only imagine his demeanor if we had gone set. lol.

Obviously, I was looking forward to playing with Barry in the summer of 1985 and was somewhat apprehensive not having any system notes. I did feel my defense would be more than adequate as that was certainly, in my mind, one of my strengths. I was hoping to learn more about bidding as well as the psychology of the game.  Early on in one of the first sessions we played in Sacramento we had a defensive hand at imps. Barry had embarked on a line of defense which I changed during the play to ensure a one trick set. I had not seen that Barry’s line of defense would obtain a two trick set. At the time he noted, “this had better work…” or something to that effect. The results from Sacramento were somewhat lackluster but we were set to play in the upcoming Pasadena Regional for something like ten days. 

Our first event included a KO with Barry, ????, John Sutherlin, Billy Miller, and myself. At the time, we were playing the KO in the mornings. During the day, Barry and I enrolled in a small field of the Men’s.   After the first session, we were next to last. I recall telling Barry that this performance must be painful for him and I would understand if he would rather not remain committed for the rest of the tournament. That night Barry and I produced a masterpiece of 73 per cent and rallied to third. We were getting in sync! One defense that I happened to be proud of actually happened against Blair Fedder and his partner.  (Sorry, my good friend Blair)!

I’m not completely certain of the timing, but I mentioned my friend Hermine Baron had asked if I could play with her in an upcoming Open Pairs. Ouch! I was not aware of any friction they had in their own relationship but it gave Barry an opportunity to play with Billy Miller in the same Open Pairs.   Before the event, the elements above became known to me and when we actually met Barry and Billy during the event, we were playing for more than matchpoints. I am not sure who won the head to head but after the event  was over, I rushed over to see how Hermine and I had fared. We had a lackluster 366 for a 10th or 11th overall finish. Of course, I then looked down at the East-West scores to see how Barry and Billy fared.  Ironically, they had a 366 as well so no egos were bruised.

After the session Barry gave us (our gang of four or five) a ride to a popular night restaurant on Arroyo de Seco a few blocks away.  We were excited as the finals of our KO event was the following morning (????). It may have been a day earlier as we were to play Larry Weiss’s Team in the Finals.  (For those of you newcomers, Larry was the photographer for the LA District).

Following news of Barry’s death, Larry did not want to play Barry’s team in the Finals with a substitute player. It may have taken a day to sort that out. Ultimately, we were allowed to use Kerri Shuman as a substitute and I had the privilege of playing with Kerri. It seemed we were five-handed with John Sutherlin but he had to return to Texas to play in their July 4th tournament.  The events remain murky because I do recall being paged from play and being told of Barry’s death. I was visibly shaken and recall Kerri noting something was very wrong as I returned to the playing area.

As an aside, the murder investigation was quite exhaustive. Those of us who had ridden in Barry’s car provided extensive forensic evidence which included hair, fingerprints, and blood work. As I was touring the country playing bridge and “taking those computer classes,”  I was not able to provide my evidence until the following Pasadena tournament in December. I was told close to 100 people were part of the evidence sample.

As usual, I have few hands which I recall. My memory seems suited to storing only the disasters which we profit from.”

Thanks, Dennis.  Stories like these are heirlooms.   It is hard to believe that Barry Crane is gone so long.   Keep ’em coming.   Incidentally, when I received his original draft for the blog site, I asked him to approve the final copy.   I got the nod earlier this morning, but was intrigued by his other remarks and closing commentary — especially:

“The blending of diversity and cultures in bridge gives us hope as a world, but the more I see in our own politics in Washington makes me wonder about a future in which evolution gives the Earth more proud moments like the French Revolution, the abolition of slavery and the advancement of minority benefits (most notably women, labor and gays).”


Dave Memphis MOJOFebruary 22nd, 2010 at 12:24 am

Stories like these are heirlooms.

Yes, thanks for sharing this with us.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFFebruary 22nd, 2010 at 1:37 am


It’s important stories like these be shared and Dennis, at his convenience, will be forwarding more to me. Unfortunately, too many legends of the past are history and many who are still here no longer partake in the game either for health reasons or have travel issues.

Take Hall of Famer, Tobias Stone, for instance — one of the most colorful, entertaining, quick-witted, clever men who every touched a pasteboard. As you probably read my earlier blog, I went to visit him last Sunday (after much persuasion). He is incredible for 90+, but tires easily, has visual problems and cannot travel. He is as self-sufficient and fluent as one can expect at his age. Thus, when he told me about a letter he received from the ACBL which he could not read (as the type was so small for him), I knew immediately it was from Jean Patterson, asking him and all other Hall of Famers for an interview to be taped in Reno. I contacted her and explained that was not a physical possibility, but that I would intercede and be delighted to offer some viable middleground.

She promplty emailed me the twelve questions prepared for the group to be interviewed, I enlarged them even bigger than Jean’s (which were pretty big), mailed them on and just today, Stoney and I talked for about ten minutes and I dragged some answers out of him.

While his partner, Alvin Roth, was one of the greatest players of all time, Al had a big ego and left many partners by the wayside. Today, getting answers from Stoney by phone (believe it or not) was like pulling teeth as he does not blow his own horn or pat himself on the back. After a short time, I could see that he was tiring, so I promised him within the next week or two, I will bring Bobby with me and I am sure he will spill out a few stories to him which will answer many of the ACBL’s interview questions. When completed, I will email them back to Jean and perhaps someone can relate his answers to be preserved on tape.

It would have been so much easier if live interviews were done at the time of induction, but who had the foresight? In any event, one way or another Stoney’s story will be told. I will be doing the same type of interview for Norman, but sadly these questions cannot be answered by him so my memories will have to suffice. Bobby and I will not be in Reno, so his interview presents a momentary problem, but I have no fear it will be resolved some way.

These heirlooms must be gatherted for posterity and we should do whatever it takes to collect them. It is because of these talented personalities that bridge has progressed to the stage it has reached today and it is up to us to turn them over for the enjoyment of future bridge generations.

Blair FedderFebruary 24th, 2010 at 8:05 am

…..As usual, I have few hands which I recall. My memory seems suited to storing only the disasters which we profit from.”…..

…..It’s an honor to be remembered by your opponents after the battles are done and the campfire lit. I still have the newspaper cutting from the L.A. Times concerning Barry’s death and my winning some other event. I was with Lyle Peak the day after. We were having coffee, and Lyle was sewing a black rhinestone arm band to wear in honor of Barry. We lost the Rhinestone Cowboy way to early. He was of a gentle heart…..

JUDY KAY-WOLFFFebruary 25th, 2010 at 12:49 am


Of course, I knew who Barry was (Mannix and Mission Impossible) — but I probably never uttered a word to him — nor he to me. In fact, I don’t ever remember ever playing him head on (just as well no doubt). I do recall playing in a Swiss Team and beating his team by a tad (by a stroke of fate) as my team and I were not too sterling — and our ending up 3rd overall and his team coming in right behind us made my day. Sad state of affairs — but way back then, besting Barry Crane in any way was an achievement. He certainly was a legend and I remember all the speculation as to how he died — though I don’t believe it was ever resolved beyond a shadow of a doubt.

It is good having you join our blogsite. No doubt you have so many memories of the all time greats and am looking forward to your upcoming one on our mutual dear friend, Bobby Nail — or as you endearingly refer to him as The Little Giant. How true, how true!

cam FrenchFebruary 25th, 2010 at 11:52 pm

I shared this with Judy and she asked me to share it with you. Previously posted on my site somewhere back near the beginning, along with another by Grant Baze (hilarious) talking about the trials and tribulations of playing with Barry.




Barry And Me

It was a long time ago and I was young and green, in bridge and in life. I found myself at my first out-of country regional, at Cobo Hall in Detroit. Our group was comprised of seasoned club players with at least 2,500 masterpoints between us, with one member holding 2,000 of those. We were youthful, stupid and arrogant. (In that regard I speak only for myself and my very dear friend, David Cravioto; OK, maybe just for him.)

The scoring for the Sunday Swiss was victory points, something I had never even heard of. Mind you I was not an ACBL member as I was one year away from graduating from university with a degree in French and Political Science. My team mates were David, Sharon Cleary (now Jabbour), John Cleary and Caroline Pascoe.

We sailed through the event, mixing partnerships and miraculously winning five matches and tying two to see ourselves on the leader board! That was a first, and what a thrill. Team French sat in sixth place going into the final match. David and I chanted “Give us Barry, Give us Barry!” Then when we drew Barry we cursed aloud “Shit! We got Barry, shit we got Barry! We are about to be killed!”

It looked like this was the end of the road. I arrived at the table and was shocked to learn of my new-found the celebrity status. I had to squeeze my way through the horde of kibitzers. I had never had (even a girlfriend) kibitz me before, and here we were, like Christians in the Coliseum being thrown to the lions. I suspected some kibitzers might have been there to see our opponents, only David dreamt otherwise. I sat down to find Barry Crane on my left and Mike Smolen on my right. For some reason, I surmise it was geography; we were not socially acquainted. There were no pleasantries, no words, just sweaty palms and an air of disbelief. My heart stopped, if only for a moment when I realized how far over our heads we really were. The kibitzers were three and four deep. I recall that there were 25 or so encircling the table like vultures awaiting the inevitable carcasses of the slaughtered. Hell I believed it, why shouldn’t they? I asked a teenager adjacent to me if he was old enough to buy alcohol. He said yes. I handed him $10.00 and asked him to bring me back two beers. In Ontario you can’t drink like that, but in the Motor City, well, it was an all new card game.

I played with John; Sharon sat out while David and Caroline (the holder of the 2,000 MPs) faced the Tom and Carol Saunders at the other table. The first hand at my table had them bid briskly to slam. Partner led a heart. Dummy had the ace. I had the king of hearts and another ace. Barry played low from the dummy. I grabbed my king, cashed my ace and basked in the glow of a plus. The kibitzers murmured. Maybe it was just the frantic beating of my heart. Barry and Smolen said nothing.

Board two was déjà vu all over again. They bid quickly to 6NT. I led something and Smolen turned to me and said, “If you have 4 diamonds and 4 spades you will be squeezed and I will make seven”. I said “I don’t” and we all put our cards back in the board. Two hands at warp speed and the kid was not yet back with my beers.

Board three Barry stirred the pot.


None vulnerable. After two passes I opened a forcing one club. Barry (on my left) bid 2 clubs, pass, pass back to me. If partner had a penalty double, I had to re-open with double and so I did. All passed, partner led a spade and an ashen-faced Smolen tabled:


The carnage was swift and merciless and soon we were appending 1100 (old scoring) to our side of the ledger. I was delirious. A huge digit, a slam down, we had to be well up. I thought it a good time to pray for 1NT all pass for all the remaining boards.

They double my partner in 3S and I am almost apoplectic as they force him to ruff and win one trump trick after another taking the AKQ of spades and two side tricks to pip him one, for minus 200. No matchpoints but this is imps. I figure a small loss. This time I pray John has seen the score sheet and decides to lie low.

Finally, the damn kid gets back with my refreshments. I was tempted to hand one to my partner, and against my better judgment I did so. The kid asked if he could see my convention card. I handed it to him. That was rude. I didn’t know better.

The kibitzers are stirring and I have finished a beer in world record chugging time. Does it help calm my nerves? No. American beer! If there is one thing our American friends could learn from us, the Germans, the Dutch or the Irish is how to make a decent beer. Again, I look to the heavens and promise to go to church regularly should we have some boring part score hands. My prayers are answered as the remaining deals are uneventful. I lied about the going to church part; I just wanted my prayers answered. And they were.

Crane and Smolen get up and leave the table. They don’t see the need to verify the score and the thought never crosses my mind. Our swarm of kibitzers diminishes to a few curious bystanders. I tell my partner I am going to go fetch another round. I am so nervous, I feel like a teenager out on his first date and his girlfriend says “kiss me”. I am awaiting a cold slap to awaken me from my dream-like state. I grab my bounty (a lot faster than that kid) and return to the table. David and Caroline are not yet back. Our throng of kibitzers has been decimated to a solo random voyeur.

“How was your set?” I demand of David.

“Nothing unusual” he replies with nonchalance.

“How was yours?” He is suspicious, and I don’t blame him. I decline to assign it an adjective.

“Board 1 we are plus fifty” as I try to conceal my delight.

“Win 11 as we are +460. Did they bid that slam?”


I sensed there and then, especially with David’s disclaimer, that we had won. Time seemed to slow down. I was enthralled at this moment. If you are a golfer, unless you are a big-ticket politician or PGA tour member, you will never in your life play against Jack, Arnie or Tiger. Here I was, a player with zero Masterpoints playing the number one ranked player in the world. I asked Caroline to pinch me – she did. Then I asked her to kiss me, she said, “only if we win”.

“Minus 1430”.


“Plus 1100…..” David nearly jumped out of his jockey shorts. “What happened?”

“What is your score?”

“Minus 450.”

“Win twelve.”

I think there and then I may have passed out. I do know I was in a state of euphoria that no one could deny. I wanted the match to end there; no further results will be accepted. David asked something, I didn’t hear it. I handed him my convention card and drifted off into my own little world. He scrutinized it, without comment, then at the end looking very grim he solemnly announced “win by 21.”


“We win by 21!” He chortles, smiles and then shouts out – “We beat Barry!”

Caroline just about tackles me as she smothers me in feigned affection.

“We win?” Sharon asked as no one could believe it.

Sharon and John embrace. David is jumping up and down like he just won the SuperBowl with a last minute Montana pass. Caroline releases me under my false protests and demands to have a recount and scrutinize every result. David and I are quaffing my refreshments, ignoring Caroline’s inquiries and instead laughing, backslapping, and shaking hands like victorious congressmen before their flock. I hand her our convention card and pay no attention to her requests. These moments are rare. Drilling the best player in the world! It had never happened before to any of us and I dare say few of us had a moment of comparable joy since. A once in a lifetime experience. A lottery winner.

Friends wander over to congratulate us, probably drawn by the noise level of David’s delight. David had slain Goliath. The thrill would linger, as I am still able to revel in that moment’s history almost 30 years ago. Did we win the event? No. We finished fourth if I recall correctly. But we beat Mr. Bridge. That ecstasy was way beyond a few masterpoints. It was history in the making. I think we won about 6.5 gold points. (Awards were less back then, you didn’t win 35 gold points for winning the Flight B – there was no bloody Flight B.) I resolved to sign up and obtain my ACBL membership. Naturally I applied to have my gold points applied retroactively. And so it was. I accrued gold points as my first points on my ACBL record.

Our team drifted apart. I have not seen or heard from John or Caroline in 30 or so years. Sharon I still liaise with one another, after all, she had the courtesy to set me up with her gorgeous sister – Lu. David and I remain close, even if we hardly play together anymore except socially. Once in a while we share a frosty refreshment, chat about our sons/lives/wives and if we are really lucky – dip our lines in the water. But we share a memory that no one can erase.

Nowadays we are not so young or so green and I trust neither so arrogant nor stupid. This time I speak exclusively about myself, not for my close friend David.


JUDY KAY-WOLFFFebruary 26th, 2010 at 2:29 am


Thanks for honoring my request to share this exhilarating experience. Matches like those are indelibly stored in one’s memory to savor and savor and savor. We ‘old folks’ were so lucky to have known and played against some of these legends and I feel it is our responsibility to pass them on to the newer and current players. Paul Ivaska just dropped in on Bobby and me and we reminisced over an hour about our early days — all from different parts of the country and the prominent people of ‘our day.’ Amazing what bridge has done to bring individuals together from all walks of life!

JUDY KAY-WOLFFFebruary 26th, 2010 at 5:39 am

Another Barry remembrance …

Bobby and I just returned from having dinner with our good friend, Carol Pincus (the widow of a very formidable bridge player, Jim Robison). When I related bits and pieces of Cam’s story, she shared one of her earliest bridge experiences Though she has now gone well over the 10,000 mark, Carol reflected on a tournament where she (having only about 25 at the time) lost a match to Barry and Crew because she used restricted choice (sadly losing to a blank queen/jack). When I said, “Oh, your opponent had a ‘mackey,’ ” she looked at me with a quizzical blank stare. Would you believe in Philadelphia that was the expession commonly used to describe a stiff Q/J. To this day, I have never met anyone who has heard that jargon. Have you???