Judy Kay-Wolff

GEORGE RAPEE .. from humble beginnings

Born in New York City in 1915, the son of immigrant Hungarian parents, George rose above many obstacles – obtaining a law degree but chose the real estate business in preference to the legal profession.   He hooked up with ultra successful businessman, Percy Uris, who helped shape George’s successful professional real estate investing career, allowing him the luxury of exploiting his own bridge talents most of his lifetime.  

As a matter of interest, his “immigrant Hungarian father, Erno Rapee, had a love for music (which he passed down to George) and became one of the most prolific symphonic conductors in the first half of the 20th century!  He rose to the heights when he became the head conductor of the Radio City Symphony Orchestra – the resident orchestra of the world renown Radio City Music Hall whose music was enjoyed by millions of people all over the airwaves.

In 1966, the Bridge Bulletin published their list of the top 25 bridge players of all time based totally on their finishes in major events.   Surprised by many, George appeared in the No. 5 spot, ahead of Jacoby, Stayman and the leader of the cult, Charles H. Goren.  During 1942-71, in the three major team championships (Vanderbilt, Spingold and Reisinger), he won 21 times and finished second 15 times.  Quite an eye opener.  Bobby also adds that during that time (middle 1960’s) George was voted the most effective USA player ever, not necessarily the best technical nor creative one, but because of his uncanny ability to adapt to his partner’s style (George had a number of the highest level partners and teammates) and his World Championship performance record of playing his best at the most stressful times.

However, probably the most often discussed subject was neither his great business success nor his tournament performance, but that the actual STAYMAN CONVENTION WAS INVENTED BY RAPEE – NOT HIS PARTNER STAYMAN.  George and Sam were regular partners when Rapee came up with the idea of using the 2C response to a one no trump opener as an artificial bid to try to uncover a four/four major fit.  Unfortunately, because Stayman wrote about it in The Bridge World Magazine, it took upon the name ‘ Stayman.’   And today, umpteen years later, Stayman and Blackwood are still the two most popular conventions used in the world.

Let me interject a personal story I always enjoyed.   Because of Norman’s closeness with George, we were a hug and kiss sort of pair when we would see each other and he would always greet me with “Hello, Dear” which bugged me no end   After ten years, he could have learned my name.   I had ‘had it” and one day I lost my temper and  blurted out — “What’s with this ‘dear’ stuff.   WHAT’S MY NAME?????  With that Sir Galahad (NK) rushed to his aid and blurted, “Of course you knew it was Judy the whole time.”   ( I wanted to kill him – but I must admit I always got a special greeting (and firm recognition) after that!

What I probably remember most vividly about George was that his inherent love of music (as soon as he checked into the hotel) caused him to hightail it to a music store and buy a hi-fi operating system for his suite   Perhaps the music relaxed him and caused him to play better.  In any event, it became a ritual (and because he had so many musical accoutrements in his New York apartment),  he would routinely leave the sound system to the maid as her tip.   Yes, ladies and gentleman that was the one and only George Rapee.


PegNovember 23rd, 2010 at 5:40 am

My mom used to love to kibitz Rapee. Not only was he exceptionally talented – my mom said he was quite adorable, too!

Judy Kay-WolffNovember 23rd, 2010 at 8:16 am


Not only adorable — but with a great sense of humor! Oh for the days of some of the classic old timers who just came to play the game and enjoy it and did not get involved in all the poltics and personal agendas. I’m afraid those days are history. Their only focus was the beauty of the game and giving it their ‘all.”


Judy Kay-WolffNovember 23rd, 2010 at 10:42 am

It was common knowledge that Erno Rapee did have a demanding job with Radio City Music Hall. I also knew that Helen Sobel (originally Helen Martin) was a dancer and between appearances backstage a friend taught her how to play bridge. The rumor was she was a Rockette.

However, I (despite lots of research) was unable to confirm she danced at Radio City Music Hall. Can anyone confirm or refute?