Judy Kay-Wolff


It is an awakening to reflect upon the changing residences and nationalities of top bridge contestants over the last half century who compete here in the States.   When I first came upon the scene in the sixties, the major team events (Reisinger, Spingold and Vanderbilt) showcased Zone 2 primarily (United States, Canada, Bermuda and Mexico).   Of course, that was before the days of professionalism and the irresistible lure of big bucks as it is ever-present today.    It is comparable to the old game we played as children — but today it would be referred to as Musical Bridge Chairs (though the burden of travel rewarded in most cases by big bucks relegates it to a walk in the park). 

I was overwhelmed as I surveyed today’s rosters of the Final Four (semi-finals) in the still very much prestigious Vanderbilt Cup:

Zimmermann (originally the 16th seed) versus Strul (originally the 12th seed):

ZIMMERMANN is from Switzerland, Multon and the father and son Bessis partnership are from France and the great Helgemo/Helness twosome originate from Norway.

STRUL (originally from South Africa but now a resident of FL, alleged to be a super-playing sponsor) pairs up with Hall of Famer Michael Becker and is quite mightily backed up by Fantoni and Nunes from Italy (who have been in contention with many U. S. players here over the years) and Eric Saelensminde and Boye Brogeland, both from Norway.

Thus this match features two America Citizens and ten Foreign Players.   Just an interesting observation!

In the other match, Fleisher (originally the 11th seed) versus DeKnijff (originally the 15th seed):

FLEISHER, believe it or not, is the traditional All-American sextet  — comprised of Marty Fleisher (NY) playing with Mike Kamil (NJ); the great long-time partnership of Californians Chip Martel and Lew Stansby; and bringing up the rear (but not in the usual sense of the word) — another celebrated pair (Bobby Levin, now listed as living in PA, and Stevie Weinstein, of NJ). 

DeKNIJFF(**), apparently a transplant to my wonderful new hometown of Las Vegas, NV, is teamed up with native Swedish experts Frederick Wrang, Peter Fredin and Bjorn Fallenius (who has been enjoying life as a popular New Yorker for a long time after departing his native Sweden) — rounding out the sixsome with Fredrik Nystrom and Peter Bertheau.

(**)As a point of interest, since I had never heard of the gentleman before, I googled him and learned there is someone bearing the same name Martin De Knijff who has done exceedingly well on the poker trail — and with a name like that, it is hard to envision another with such a talent for the pasteboards   Besides, with all the casinos and poker tournaments right here in Vegas, the shoe begins to fit!

Thus — it is fascinating to me that the Vanderbilt would draw so many of our foreign neighbors, as it appears out of the TWENTY-FOUR players battling for the title at this point, only SEVEN (Mike Becker and the six-man Fleisher crew) are native born Americans.   The challenge of fame, success and ego and the rewards of professionalism go a long, long way.  What a fabulous game!


JohnMarch 20th, 2010 at 7:54 pm


Martin De Knijff the Vanderbilt semi finalist is the same gentleman as the poker player. He is an outstanding tournament Texas Hold’em player having won the prestigious World Poker Tour Championship, a $25,000 buy-in event held at The Bellagio in the Spring, a few years ago.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFMarch 20th, 2010 at 9:03 pm


My daughter also ‘dabbles” in the game — but on a MUCH, MUCH smaller scale. I am sure she must know him — but the name was totally unfamiliar to me. Amazing what one can learn on the internet.

Dave Memphis MOJOMarch 20th, 2010 at 9:49 pm

DeKnijff is called the Knife at the poker table as a nickname because of how his name looks. His Dad is Dutch, his mother Swedish. He grew up in Sweden and was, at one time, their youngest Life Master.

In Boston one and one-half years ago, he was second in the Blue Ribbon. He can play.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFMarch 21st, 2010 at 7:17 am

Thanks Dave:

Not being a poker player and having been absent from the last six NABC’s, his name didn’t even ring a bell. Guess I am just getting old and losing my touch. There was a time when I knew every foreign player by sight (though I have learned he is now one of my neighbors — so to speak). Thanks for the interesting tidbit. A perfect “What’s in a Name?”

Curious OnlookerMarch 21st, 2010 at 8:50 am

Mrs. Wolff:

I read what I laughingly construed as the possibility of the finals turning into an Ellis Island Special. For those of you old enough to remember, E. I. was the entryway into the United States when foreign individuals sailed across the seas to search for a better life on our shores. However, it looks like the Vanderbilt Final Session, turned into (as you called it) an All-American Team v. The League of Nations: Switzerland (1), France (3) and Norway (2). From what I have observed, since professionalism has become a way of life for wealthy sponsors, our country has been the Land of Opportunity for a flood of hired bridge pros who migrate to our shores for major events (including The Cavendish held in your home town).

The result (which I never saw discussed) is how it must have devastatingly affected the opportunities, or declining lack of it, for the local professional players who were cleaning up before the influx of foreigners. Now they must compete for position and ranking against the best of the European squads. With the American economy as it is, some sponsors have cut back, and word has it that the foreign players are satisfied with much less than would be demanded by the American experts which has to cut back on their income. Funny, this is a practical subject I have never seen addressed. And though it may not be best for local pros, this huge conglomerate of overseas experts certainly makes for a better event.

Interesting concept!

JUDY KAY-WOLFFMarch 21st, 2010 at 9:31 am

To Curious Onlooker:

Yours is a very realistic analysis of what has been happening over the years — culminating in this tidal wave of foreign experts invading our shores to play professionally — and all perfectly legal — as in the theory — the more the merrier! I seem to recall (probably fifteen or twenty years ago), my late husband Norman Kay recanting to me a conversation with the late, great Paul Soloway. His words in no way affected Norman as he never played pro, only putting his head on the choppng block to be sold for a Charity Game in our area (usually run by Yours Truly).

Paul complained profusely that the foreign pros were taking away “our” customers by invading American territory. He was outwardly distressed and on a big toot about it — especially being a sweet, soft spoken, polite gentleman (at least the Paul I knew and enjoyed). Fortunately for him that all changed and he quit bitching when he was hired on a lucratively paying team until his death a few years ago.

But yes, Curious Onlooker, your point is well taken. Those at the zenith of the American Bridge Pro scene are not affected as they are always in demand (especially top partnerships v. individuals). However, it is the needy middle of the road or below (self-styled pro) who is struggling and always hustling to grab (or steal) a client. They have become a dime a dozen and much of it is attributable to the influx of foreign professionals whereas before they had the whole turf to themselves.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFMarch 21st, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Well, I didn’t get very much accomplished today as I was glued to BBO for the finals of the Vanderbilt. It was very stimulating and the ethics (from my eyes) were super. The contest seasawed back and forth and ended up being a nail biter watching the lagging matchup still in play finish the last few boards. The Swiss/French/Norwegian group bested the All-American team of Fleisher, Kamil, Martel, Stansby, Levin and Weinstein by a very small margin. It looked for a while that the Americans had everything under control, but there were some revoltin’ developments as William Bendix used to say on “The Life of Riley” — back in the days of that old venue called radio.

If I had to select the most astounding aspect of the broadcast was that many hands were opened with fewer than expected high card points and both takeout and balancing doubles were not packed to the hilt either. Bridge is not for sissies! I suppose it proves once again Bobby’s theory, it is definitely a bidder’s game so get into the fray as soon as you can. Congrats to the visiting winners and condolences to the homebred losers. It was a well fought contest!

PaulMarch 22nd, 2010 at 12:48 am

The time difference meant that I could only the first two sessions of the final, but I thought the standard of play was incredibly high. Particularly as they started at 11am, which was less than TEN hours after they had finished playing two very close semifinals.

There were lots of comments about the funereal pace of play during the latter stages of the tournament. As a player I am not too bothered about this although it clearly does not sit well with the 10-second concentration span of your average viewer.

But I do think that it is ridiculous to expect the final to be played so soon after the semifinal. I know that many need to travel home on Sunday evening and so play starts early, but this is not true of the Vanderbilt finalists. Either start the game at the normal 1pm or, my preference, play all the NABC+ events in the late morning and afternoon throughout and give us the evening off.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFMarch 22nd, 2010 at 9:05 am


Your observations make much sense to me. I am a slow player so the “funereal pace” as you aptly described it, did not bother me. However, my tardiness is possibly attributable to senior moments and getting off track — while these fabulous players are doing mathematical caluculations in their heads and really are involved in constructive contemplations. I watched the first three quarters and went out to the nearby casino coffee shop for a quick dinner (forsaking a blackjack session) as I needed a break (from the tension as a kibitzer) and rushed home in time for the last ten or so boards.

If it is gruelling for the kibitzers — the exhaustion pace for the players is so much worse (although they are geared to the tension and they do no suffer from stage fright because they are playing before a global audience who hang on every card as they root for their favorites).

And, I do agree about the back to back timing of the semis and finals — with little rest for the weary and so much at stake. I assume the majority of people playing (even the foreigners and five of them being well paid pros) don’t have to rush back to their ‘regular’ jobs or go home to diaper the babies — and can spare an extra day. Perhaps serious consideration should be given to extending the Vanderbilt and holding the latter half of the finals on Monday — allowing all contestants to be well rested to be able to exhibit their best when it really counts. It seems like a humane proposition.