Judy Kay-Wolff


From my mind set, the once-elegant status of bridge is ebbing.

For the first fifty years of my bridge career, I attended the tournaments – missing perhaps three or four nationals – only because of illness or family crises.   They were fabulous – relaxing,  warm, friendly and with most of the top experts as cordial as possible.   The same applied to the Sectionals and Regionals.  People dressed more appropriately and popular events in local tournaments – like Mixed Pairs, Men’s and Women’s Pairs have disappeared.   We even put on amateur entertainment, had quiz shows and panels or presented a musician to entertain the players after the game.   The sociability has disappeared from the scene.   It has become a business.

My tradition of attending the Nationals ended about five years ago and Bobby and I have not gone to one since Las Vegas.   The reason – the continuing and increasing inconvenience and displeasure of air travel and airport red tape and the astronomical rise in the airline rates due to the economy as well as hotel and restaurant gouging and the general decline in the enjoyment of the two combined had a lot to do with it.   But, there were other reasons. 

We decided to downgrade our bridge playing to the sectionals and regionals in our immediate vicinity to eliminate the exhaustion and exorbitant total costs of the NABCs.   Now, that is even changing.   Perhaps  Las Vegas is different than most other metropolitan areas and the great tourist trade adds to the enormity of the site.  At last week’s Regional sometimes it was even impossible to make yourself understood in a dining place because of language barriers.    And, how do you like paying three bucks for a glass of iced tea or cup of coffee?   Don’t get me wrong.   The LV volunteers and administrative staff couldn’t do better.   Everyone was helpful and gracious and the prizes were terrific.   That is not the issue.   It is just the overall down-grading of the game.

Because of the time regiments (although twenty minutes from the site), we stayed at the hotel (The Riviera).  I couldn’t tolerate the 7 a.m. wakeup calls for the 9 o’clock lift offs or the 8 a.m. jingle for the 10 o’clock games.   What ever happened to the old fashioned one and seven-thirty starting times?  I guess the idea is to cram in as many sessions to collect extra card fees and give away a plethora of masterpoints which draw the degenerates.   Today. even in the duplicates they award those coveted points to people with forty percent games to have them keep coming back for more. 

Another bone of contention is professionalism.   Players who only play for masterpoints v. love of the game do not mix well with the real bridge lovers and I believe professionals who regard money more important than the game will eventually lead to its destruction.

Perhaps that is why the ACBL’s net worth went from two or thee million to maybe four or five  million and the directors (even the inept ones) and administrators (a few of whom are not even bridge players) are well paid.   It seems to be the objective to schedule as many sessions into a tournament as possible.   Despite the horror and  dissatisfaction of the players, the card fees have risen tremendously.    (The Sunday Stratified Teams were $88) .. a far cry from the old days.   With the advanced technology of  the invention of the Bridge Mate, the directors’ burden of matchpointing (and even entering the names and numbers of the players at the start of the first round) have been relieved.

Lastly, I can think of nothing more disgraceful that in all these years with their many employees and resources, the ACBL has not made their main focus establishing a dynamic bridge system in the schools in America – unlike the European and Asian educational facilities which are light years ahead of us.   It seems like we devote all our energy to the seniors and masterpoint giveaways and make little concerted effort toward a major junior bridge program here in the U. S. school system.    Horn Lake needs dedicated and caring administrators and employees who love bridge like the old timers who ran the show back in Greenwich in the thirties, forties and fifties.

I guess I’m just an old fashioned lass who enjoyed the good old days of bridge when it retained an inordinate aura of class — and victories were more meaningful and prestigious!!!


Ron FlickerJune 27th, 2012 at 9:18 pm

You have hit the nail on the head with your comments especially the part about the business. I used to enjoy the KO’s but after so many tournaments we have moved up to play the PRO’s who play 45 to 50 weeks a year. We loose every time. I have tried to get the tournament Directors to limit the number of teams to 9 in the top bracket or to set the tournament up that every team with a player with 5000 or more points be in Strata A and everyone else in Strata B. If nothing is done we are just fodder for the PROS.

Georgiana GatesJune 27th, 2012 at 10:12 pm

I don’t think I can agree with you 100%. I’m not too much younger than you are, but I almost never went to nationals in my youth, so I can’t comment too much about that.

I agree that the hospitality was better in the “good old days”, and many tournaments did put on post-game entertainment. I also much prefer the old-fashioned 1 to 7:30 start times. I’ve been told that the reason for the earlier starts is to let the elderly players go home in the daytime, but I see these same start times in the winter also.

The general downgrading of attire is a part of our society, not specifically limited to bridge players. When I started working, every woman wore a dress or a skirted suit, and pumps. Then we could wear suits with pants. Now everybody dresses in “business casual” and jeans on Friday. It’s not just the work force either. I’ve noticed churches emptying on Sundays, and the attendees are no longer wearing their “Sunday best”. The subset of America that attends bridge tournaments is just following the trends.

I don’t think travel prices have risen higher than the rest of the cost of living, but I don’t have any figures on that. When I started playing bridge, the regular club game was $1.50, with $1.60 the surcharge for the Nationals. And I had a student discount, so I paid 50 cents, except on Saturday, which was beer and hot dog night. Our nonprofit games charge from $1 to $3 per session, the for-profit near me charges $8.
Why is it bad that the ACBL has increased its net worth? If the League were losing money there would certainly be a hue and cry.

I agree completely with your remarks about school and junior bridge.

Judy Kay-WolffJune 27th, 2012 at 11:53 pm


I sympathize with your problem. Is it an ACBL rule or a decision of the
directors which make life easier for them to restrict themselves to two brackets?

And by the way is it the size of the city or the draw of the players to institute such a ruling. Living and playing now in las Vegas, there are more brackets than you can shake a stick at. It is a main attraction for the professionals (and I am sure the gambling and entertainment does not play a small part).

When I lived in the East while married to Norman Kay until his death in 2002, my regular partner and I (who were a reasonable pair but surely no world beaters) played in the regular Women’s Pairs (even in the Nationals) and usually managed to score in the money and played against the top pairs in the country. It seems like a much fairer way to handle it by seeding certain tables.

Incidentally, I think it is simply preposterous to have a Women’s
Pair and an Open Pair (disposing of the popular Men’s Pairs) but that is neither here nor there.

Again, I sympathize with your problem and understand your position. Shame on you for winning so many masterpoints.



JaneJune 28th, 2012 at 12:31 am

Hi Judy,

It is interesting how regionals across the country are so different. In Kansas City, we held our regional between Xmas and New Year, and it was very successful. We had a big hospitality suite between sessions and served drinks and snacks. After the evening sessions we provided some type of food or dessert through the hotel. We did not have daylight pairs, but that is a event I like because I do not want to play at night now, or drive home in the dark.

I don’t miss a hospitality suite at the Vegas regional, and I think our tournament is too big to provide that. Vegas is such a different town also; there is plenty to do and see here, day and night. Not so much in KC.

We have lots of games at the Vegas regional with all different start times, so I think there are plenty of choices. There were pairs games that started at 1:00 PM with the second session starting after the dinner hour, so that should satisfy those who don’t want to be up early. Plus, there were side games day and night, plus single session Swiss, afternoon and evening knockouts, etc. I like the variety, although I prefer pairs to any other event.

I am not a fan of nationals. Seems like you pay more to play less, and have to deal with crowds, many professional players, and the expense of travel and lodging as you mentioned earlier. I have no personal interest in any of the top events, so to me, that is a draw for the more experienced players, the pros and their teams. Not knocking it, just not interested.

I agree that we as players should try to get the younger generation interested in bridge. Not an easy task because bridge does not provide instant gratification, and it takes a long time to learn and become proficient. When I was young, we did not have computers, cell phones, X boxes, etc, so many of us learned to play cards, and bridge was at the top of my list in high school and college. (Perhaps a little too much in college!)

Our tournaments are well run, and our volunteers and tournament co chairs do a great job. I am glad we have three tournaments right here, and don’t have to leave town to play and have fun. I don’t find the card fees excessive either.

Judy Kay-WolffJune 28th, 2012 at 12:47 am


I always enjoy your impartial standpoints. Yes, things have certainly changed (I personally don’t think for the better).

When I lived on the East Coast, I played mainly with Jane Segal as Norman was donned in a suit and tie as a Merrill-Lynch executive daily and when he was free on Friday night or the weekends, he played with Edgar and the big boys. Thus, I didn’t have the problem of being seeded over my head and could stave off the pressure of playing with him in The Mixed Pairs as he could carry more than his half. I must add one of my biggest kicks in bridge was winning the NABC Charity Game in the mid eighties in Hawaii with Norman and a few years ago repeated the feat in Atlanta with Bobby. Such is my claim to fame.

In 2003, I married Bobby Wolff. We didn’t play too much in Dallas except for the Friday duplicate. However, in 2006 we moved to LV, play twice weekly at the wonderful LV Bridge World (where directors put their best foot forward to run a clean game). In addition to our weekly outings, we play in the Strip Sectionals and Regionals.
Of course. because of Bobby (and good teammates), we are always in the top bracket. We hold our own and in fact won an event last week so all is not doom and gloom.

My primary complaints are the starting times — not so much the comparison of the good old times to present day procedures.

Bridge was a highlight fifty years ago when The New York Times had a daily and Sunday Bridge Column as well. The famed New Yorker Magazine featured the Webster bridge cartoons. The game was popular and had millions of followers all over the world.

Sad how times have changed.



Judy Kay-WolffJune 28th, 2012 at 2:08 am

Dear Jane:

I both enjoyed and appreciated your candor on Time Marches On.

I truly believe the philosophy one maintains depends upon where and what time in the bridge annals he or she learned the game.

Would you believe when I met Norman Kay (in 1960), it was (with an exception or two) at least a couple of years before I started playing outside the duplicates. I would kibitz Norman and Edgar and other luminaries such as Roth, Stone, Crawford, Rapee, Schenkin, Murray, Kehela, Root, Paliceck et al. at the Nationals. THEY WERE PLAYERS! I learned so much and (close-lipped) sat in Edgar’s suite and gleaned the whys and wherefores of what they did and did not do. Watching afforded me a great deal more pleasure than playing and of course, no pressure.

In 1963 we married and soon had a girl and boy eleven months apart. My kids were babies and I couldn’t go to the Nationals with Norman who rarely missed one. However, I, like you, enjoyed the pair games and conned Norman into letting me fly up to Montreal in 1967 to play in the Mixed Pairs with him (as he was going to get knocked out of the six-session Blue Ribbons where he agreed to play with one of his Merrill Lynch clients and close friends). He was aghast when I greeted him with a kiss as he sheepishly told me he couldn’t play the next day as he was still in the event but would definitely find “someone” for me. After the game we went up to Edgar’s room and Norman was trying to figure out if Edgar knew of a recruit for his chagrinned wife (who, incidentally “did not have to be so good “– to substitute for him). Without a moment’s hesitation, Edgar graciously volunteered (against Norman’s protests) and the Miracle of Montreal occurred. We won the two session Mixed — and believe me, Jane –I could barely count trump. From that time on, I was hooked as a player.

I personally prefer pair games (like you) but they are much too slow for Bobby and he plays as a loving husband’s accommodation in a Sectional or Regional but much prefers the knockouts.

I was not complaining about the absence of hospitality suites in Las Vegas tournaments — simply comparing it to the extremely early days of tournament bridge. Things have really changed. The scenario is vastly different. One has to do what is best for himself or herself.

So be it.

I was just summarizing the huge change in the game and its objectives and the likes and dislikes of those who are playing today.

Robb GordonJune 28th, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Thank you for an interesting and thought provoking blog post. As you know I have been around Bridge “since the womb” so despite being younger, I still remember the game from the early 1960’s.

There are some things you wrote with which I agree strongly, and some with which I disagree (things were always better in the “good old days” syndrome).

It is true that people “dress down” for bridge tournaments (you however always look elegant). As somebody else pointed out, that is a reflection on society, not on our game. However, the flip side of that is that players, on the whole, behave more graciously at the bridge table than they did in the old days. I remember from my caddying days screaming matches that would go on for minutes, with no punishment to the offenders. It was routine for mediocre players, and even a few experts to criticize their partners. Remember Barry Crane? Unfortunately, all experts did not have Norman’s temperament. Sure, there are exceptions these days, but they stand out all the more from the pack, and they usually are penalized.

The entry fees at the Las Vegas Regional were, as you say, $11 per session per player. I believe that this is a lower cost, after inflation than was common in the 1960’s, when I remember $3-$5 per session. As far as I can remember, entry fees in District 17, where we live, have not risen in the 8+ years I have lived here. But Nationals (NABC’s) are a different story. Entries for Regional-rated events are $16 per session! National championship events are $20!!! This is outrageous! I think you would agree that every aspiring Bridge player should be able to attend an NABC, but the league has done nothing to control costs, and the NABC’s are a cash cow for them. While on the subject, for years there has been a cry for more affordable housing for players at NABC’s. Not everybody is fortunate to be able to afford $150+ per night for a hotel room, but the ACBL has consistently failed to arrange the cheapest possible rate for attendees, preferring to focus their negotiating power on discounted playing space, and freebee suites for ACBL honchos.

As for starting times, Las Vegas offered a nice choice, with events starting in the morning and in the afternoon. However, 1:15 and 7PM offered an insufficient time to relax and have dinner outside the hotel, a real shame in Las Vegas. Even at NABC’s the starting times for two-session events have tightened, reducing the relaxation time and decreasing the social aspect of the events.

As for the directors, in my opinion, the overall quality of the ACBL directing staff has risen dramatically since I was growing up. In the former times, the most important skill a tournament director could have was the ability to add and matchpoint quickly and accurately. People skills were secondary. The percentage of directors who were serious alcoholics was probably well into the thirties. Half of them didn’t even know the rules. Today, directors need some Bridge knowledge and some people skill to be successful.

Your point about developing programs for younger people is incontrovertible. We have wasted a lot of time and money ineffectively promoting the game. Part of the problem is that the marketing “experts” the leagues has blown its money on often were not Bridge Experts and vice-versa.

Finally, on professionalism – as you know it existed even back in the 50’s and 60’s, but it was discreet and it was exceptional. There are a lot of positive aspects to more top players being able to play full time. However, we don’t need to subsidize them by the terrible way we schedule events at tournaments.

You might remember back in the “old days”, a tournament would hold a huge pair event on Saturday, and then on Sunday the field would be down 75%. Why? The Sunday event was a Board-a-Match team event and the weak teams knew they had 0 chance. In the late 1960’s, John Hamilton and some others developed the Swiss Team concept from a movement used in some Chess tournaments, and now Sunday became the biggest day!

Well, in a similar moment of genius, somebody invented Bracketed Knockouts. Everybody had a chance because first, you played against your (relative) peers and second, the seeding was random. Meanwhile, it is a great way for weak players to hire teams and win bushels of masterpoints while playing half the time. This is all well and good BUT why have them every day? Pair events are now small and unrewarding for those in a masterpoint hunt. In the old days you could not run an event more than once at a Regional. A typical schedule might include one K/O, a Mens/Women’s Pair on Thursday, a “Master’s” Pair on Friday, an Open Pair (with Qualifying and Final) on Saturday, and a Swiss Team on Sunday.

I don’t necessarily advocate a return to this schedule (although I wouldn’t mind) but why not require that at least on Friday or Saturday the ONLY 2 session event is a pair game? Is matchpoints becoming a lost art? Incidentally, if more pairs events were promoted, business for pros would slow down. Hmmm…

Steven GaynorJune 28th, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Hi Judy

You make interesting points and I have strong feelings about some of them. Like Robb, I would like a dedicated pair day to offset to endless KO’s. However, as I am involved with our regional scheduling committee I have found that focusing on pair games runs the risk of seeing a lot of out-of-towners attend other venues where they cater to the 5-6 person teams (there are 5 other regionals the same weekend). Still, the addition of the Gold Rush Pairs has helped the MP awards in the simultaneously run open pairs. Lots of under 750 players have switched from low-paying low brackets to this event. Likewise, open players seeing the increased MP awards for the open pairs are entering that event. See the recent Gatlinburg and Vegas regionals for examples of how that worked successfully.

As far as bridge in schools go, we in MN had dozens of trained bridge teachers ready to start and approached over 100 middle and high schools. We told them we would provide teachers, books, other materials, etc. We showed them that in other schools students who took bridge classes improved their overall gpa by a full grade. All they had to give us was space and designate a teacher who would be the ‘sponsor’ (we had some of those persons ready, too). We were stonewalled! They gave a myriad of excuses; cannot do it during the school day, No child gets ahead, er left behind means the basics must be drilled at all times; after school was out because so many students have other activities or jobs to go to; no school sponsored transportation available; insurance issues, you name it. So do NOT diss the ACBL about this, they have a system in place. It just does not align with todays K-12 school environment. We were in a couple schools, but the programs died due to some of the circumstances listed above.

Judy Kay-WolffJune 28th, 2012 at 11:47 pm

Dear Robb:

Thanks for taking all that time to break down the issues. I don’t have the energy to address each one although I agree with many (and thanks for your compliment about my dress code). Because of Bobby’s hearing disability, we don’t socialize so every day is the same to me — be it a duplicate, sectional, regional, National or just a Saturday night party. As I am growing older, I have learned to take one day at a time — but last week was too much for me to bear. I felt like we were on a roller coaster even though we arrived a day before the weekly tournament began, rented a room and a scooter for the week so I wouldn’t have to negotiate the huge trek from our tower to the eating facilities, gaming tables and food court.

I guess I am just getting old and decrepid. I prefer the good old days where bridge was simply a game I liked playing just for the enjoyment and beauty of the game itself. Too much politics and and money have changed the atmostphere.

And, by the way, I actually went easy on my blog by not mentioning The Hall of Fame and some of the cheaters (who were convinced by the League to stop playing together to avoid full blown scandals and law suits). The story does not stop there but some others not in the HOF were issued the same mandate.

Food for thought! I am sure you know to whom I am referring and those not in the HOF who were barred from playing together.

Judy Kay-WolffJune 29th, 2012 at 12:12 am


Your commentary on the reasons for the types of events (Gatlinburg and Las Vegas) all boil down to one word ….. MONEY. The greater number of masterpoints available, the bigger the draw and the more professionals and sponsors it attracts.
It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure it out.

What happened to the days when people just played for the sheer enjoyment and beauty of a glorious pastime? They are gone with the wind.

It sounds like MN made a valiant effort to get bridge in the schools. However, maybe it would be more effective if a special branch of the ACBL was formed to zero in on the project.

It might be much more impressive coming from an incorporated bridge organization with over 160,000 members which pointed out the success of European and Asian countries who achieved that end.

I know they are trying that here in LV and Bobby and I offered our services, but I fear, like your hard work, it will go for naught!

Thanks for writing.



Ellis FeigenbaumJune 30th, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Dear Judy,
Although I agree with you on many points vis a vis the ACBL in general. I am not sure that I can agree with you on the Riviera Regional.
I kind of like the new check in location, it is directly as you enter from the parking structure, and one does not have to walk through the casino to get to it, making hearing what the check in people have to say much easier without the cacophany of the slots as a backdrop.
Also the hotel for a very nominal $5 dollars extra per day upgraded us to a suite, which obviously made our room even more the centre of after game drop ins than it normally is.
I played in all the different time slots including one day the 10 and 3 pairs. I do like the old fashioned way of doing things where one gets to play in different and differing kinds of events throughout the week, but unfortunately KO`S are how it is done these days.
The bridge in general sucked,and I even had to suffer through a 2 session pairs with one of the rudest and most ungracious partners I have ever had the displeasure to play with (possibly a throw back to the bad old days).
However as regionals go, I had a great time visiting with my friends, and going to what my wife likes to call summer camp for grown ups.
There is not much to be done about proffesionalism in bridge, it has its ups and downs its good and bad sides, it needs long term regulation and a strong hand to control it, but methinks that is a totally different subject.I have been known to play for a paycheck myself on occasion however I am not so myopic as not to be able to see downsides. I tend to think that the pros in the game have improved the standard generally, especially in bidding.
Also that many pros do give back to the game in the shape of free lectures and working with I/N groups during the course of the week.

Judy Kay-WolffJune 30th, 2012 at 4:34 pm


Obviously, you are not that familiar with the former Riviera check in location. For many years, you drove past the new entrance and pulled up in front of the bellhops with carts outside, they removed your luggage, gave you a ticket and you went to the machines in front of the counter, inserted your Riviera Players Card and received your keys to the room. You gave your luggage ticket to the bell captain’s desk and your luggage arrived immediately.

Everything was pre-arranged and you did not have to speak to a soul, let alone wait in line.

This time when we finally learned of the new location, I went in and they insisted we had no reservation which I had made three months in advance. In frustration (without my scooter) I walked to the Casino Service office where they apologized profusely. Of course, I had a reservation. EVERYONE (including the new check in desk) should have a record of every reservation. So much for your new marvelous registration set up.

As far as the scheduing, most people I spoke to thought it sucked. Too many conflicts and too much juggling of events to enable one to enjoy the comfort of the game. I know many people who threw in the towel and played for one session and then went home — not like the good old days.

With Bobby’s hearing, the last thing I want are drop ins so the $5 upgrade was of no interest. Besides when we arrived in the room, there was barely a quarter of a roll of toilet paper from the former occupants, inadequate numbers of pillows, few hangers and only one trash can. After several calls to their sparsely populated Housekeeping Department, the requested items arrived.

As far as professionalism, our views differ. There are PROFESSIONALS and professionals. Some are happy with fifty or a hundred bucks a session and there are some who get seven or more thousand a week plus lots of free meals. You get what you pay for.

I do agree with you that Professionalism has a long way to go to improve but it is depressing to enable terrible players to represent the USA in international competition. It destroys the beauty the game once showcased.

I remember bridge expertise, with country pride, when it was something to vigorously pull for. The USBF was not yet in existence and now it is regulated by the members and those closely associated with them with bents toward professionalism one way or another.


Ellis FeigenbaumJune 30th, 2012 at 5:22 pm

As i said, proffesionalism is a totally different conversation and the relationship between the USBF ,WBF and ACBL who run these organisations and who does the liason between the varying groups is another discussion entirely.
As you said there is a big difference between earning a few huindred bucks a day and thousands of dollars a week. However therin not lies the crux of the problem, it is anyones perogative to hire an individual or a team of pro`s and pay them whatever they decide is right. It should not be those persons perogatives to decide who represents the country at international level, nor to liase with counterparts as to how the league spends its money.

Judy Kay-WolffJune 30th, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Yes, Ellis, but it is not right to buy your way onto a winning team to represent your nation and get pulled in by dogsled. It is a farce and a sham.

However, too many of the pros are involved in the decision making and it is difficult to stop unless unbiased people stand up and have their say. You don’t see students playing at Wimbleton or the Davis Cup.

I see nothing wrong with paying to play to learn the game up to the Trials Level, but to hire (especially foreign players) to get them seeding points in the big NABC team events to qualify them for the Trials (and then send the pros back to their native lands to represent their own country as they are not eligible to play for the U.S.) is a sheer disgrace.

U. S. representation has turned into a joke. Norman and Edgar and the other great players of their day would shudder in their graves.