Judy Kay-Wolff

The Makings of a Significant Bridge Champion

Bridge is a game totally unto itself — unlike any other.  In some endeavors such as tennis, golf, boxing, etc., success is judged by an individual’s performance.  Bridge, however, focuses not on individuality — but rather upon the compatibility and talent of a partnership — being attuned to and bringing out the best in one another.  Our game takes on many sizes and shapes, beginning with the eager rookie who wants to learn the basics who graduates to social competition at one’s home and eventually to duplicates, tournaments and — if their lifestyle is fortunate enough to allow — on to the big circuit of National events.   It is not an easy transition but the love of bridge is our driving force and, in my case, has afforded me an indescribable lifestyle that shaped my entire adult life on earth (or anywhere else).  I am indeed grateful for that blessing every day.  I have been taught to be realistic, self-deprecating, maintain untainted objectivity, recognize my shortcomings and work on them and I will be eternally grateful to my unique and fortunate learning process via Norman and Bobby who taught me to understand what it takes for others to become world class players — a talent with which few are innately blessed.  For most, the pleasure of playing is the sociability which adorns one’s life and learning to play up to one’s full potential — whatever that may be.

Recent bridge discussions have given me much food for thought.  I have had a rude awakening — learning that others are guided by different standards for what makes a world class player.   Up and coming performers who have won an important event or two do not constitute a so-called expert.  Expertise is judged by consistency of victories over an extended period of time — not merely what may turn out to be a fluke.  Only time will tell.  World Class players must have ethical partners with whom they are compatible, not competitive with each other to satisfy their own egos, but rather dedicate their efforts to agreeing on what is the most effective and successful system to be playing — with errors in judgment on occasion — but rarely technical ones.   Thus World Class Partnerships should have the same ultimate goal — expertise, deportment and good ethics.  There are designated events for Pairs and Teams.    However, one must bear in mind that expert players must team up with their peers and consistently perform at the top level to be considered “World Class Players” (WCP) which I think is a questionable concept in the mind of less experienced newcomers.

In another medium, Bobby singled out what he considers three recent world class partnerships: Meckstroth/Rodwell, formerly Weichsel/Sontag and Martel/Stansby, the latter two who have jumped ship and are playing with others.  (He modestly did not mention himself and Hamman who played together for 26 years, winning countless U. S. and World Titles).  Admittedly, everyone would consider the recent former partnership of Zia and Hamman as WCPs.   Yet, as a pair, they did not click and have moved on — Zia playing with Martel and Hamman testing a rising star — Justin Lall.   With regard to sponsors, as I have alluded to before … there are SPONSORS and sponsors.  The two I have in mind are Nick Nickell and Jimmy Cayne who have over the years proven their worth in spades.   Nick and Jimmy are ultra successful businessmen who have risen to the occasion and are hardly representative of  what is commonly thought of as a “sponsor” — more than holding their own when it counted.


ChuckApril 28th, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Yes, Judy, I believe expertise is seen differently, depending upon the status and experience of the beholder. The better they are, the more astute and objective their views are. I understand where Bobby is coming from, having a much more encompassing perspective being in top level bridge for so long.

Live and learn!

Judy Kay-WolffApril 28th, 2013 at 6:48 pm

Yes, Chuck:

It takes one to know one. Bobby is much more exacting than most. He does not let emotion cloud his thinking, but bases his judgment on pure fact without pulling any punches.

PaulApril 28th, 2013 at 9:17 pm


I think we came from a different era. The heroes of yesteryear were established partnerships for the most part and were not revered as heroes until they established themselves in world competition on a continual basis. Today a win in one or two Nationals equates in the minds of up and coming players to ‘expert’ status.


Judy Kay-WolffApril 28th, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Hi Paul:

Everyone has their own standards. As I learned the hard way (especially from my earlier marriage) when I was just beginning to take the game seriously — there are all levels of players and it is difficult to rise from one plateau to another. Bridge is not an easy game.

As some players improve, they become delusional. Not many of them underrate their game. I’ve alluded to the story before where someone leaving a duplicate beamed, boasting “I only made one mistake today.” Under his breath my Norman added (that you were aware of)!

EllisApril 29th, 2013 at 3:34 pm

I always thought and still do that the beuaty of the game and a major attraction is , one can strive to be the best that one can be and sometimes that is enough to beat the best in the world.
One of my favorite bridge annecdotes is playing in a loser swiss at a nationals, we came up against 4 teams of World champions and beat them all by one or two, needles to say this was not enough to place anywherein the event, on the other hand neither did any of the champion teams, I beleive the event was won by a “c” flight team.
For myself I think that the points at which my game has made exponential improvements is at the points I have realised how little I actually know.

Judy Kay-WolffApril 29th, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Wonderful analysis, Ellis. I also believe it is at the point one realizes how much there is to learn out there in the great big bridge arena that they begin to move forward. Until then, there is little chance for advancement.

JSApril 29th, 2013 at 10:18 pm

I think the more one gets thrown together with the “better players” at the NABCs (even in the Women’s Events), you begin to learn how much there is out there to be understood and digested. Sometimes it is a rude awakening but well worth the comedown when it serves as an incentive to improve.

Judy Kay-WolffApril 30th, 2013 at 12:11 am


It’s funny to read your comment and your reference to the Women’s events. It certainly was appropriate for us. As I remember, it was somewhere in the mid 80’s (in Portland, I think).

We had just started to play together and were staying at the main hotel, but we had to be bussed to the playing site. By some miracle (unless I am overlooking a more descriptive word for our uncanny finish), when we learned we had eked it out, we splurged and took a bus back to the hotel (laughing and pinching ourselves all the way).

Nice hearing from you — especially on such a topical subject.

Paul CroninApril 30th, 2013 at 4:05 pm

If there’s room for a little expansion in the “class” part of “world class”, I’d like to put in a plug for the top players who have still found time to give something back to the game. It’s easy to take, be it getting paid as a pro, selling books, etc., but much harder to take the time out of one’s schedule to give back, whether it be serving on a Unit or District Board, acting as Recorder, or running or assisting in running a tournament. Leading the way in the category of those giving back to bridge, in my opinion, would be Bobby Wolff – and maybe readers here could suggest others who should be recognized for what they too have done for bridge.

MarthaApril 30th, 2013 at 5:27 pm

Bridge brings out the best and the worst in people. Ego raises its ugly head and all think they are better than the person next to them, or across the table, as the case may be. World Class players develop over time and the up and coming think they are the “fastest gun in the west” and will be the first to toot their own horn. Only time will tell, and that is a fleeting moment in the history of man. I think in World Class, Class should be more stressed. The game does not need more ill behaved, mean spirited, poor sports leading the League into the future.

Judy Kay-WolffApril 30th, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Hi Paul:

How kind of you to recognize Bobby not only for his incredible bridge accomplishments but also for his magnanimous efforts and achievements trying to promote the game and maintain the high standards to which it is entitled. He never focuses or basks in the glory of his personal victories or the records he has set, but closest to his heart is the honorable preservation of the game we all love. Those who have read The Lone Wolff saw first hand his devotion to the principles of honoring the majesty of the game and his continuing attempts to have it not sink to the depths because of the many negative factors that have infiltrated the system. Sometimes he feels he is waging a losing battle but he will never compromise his goals. Bridge has afforded him over six decades of enjoyment, pride, glory, fame (not necessarily fortune) and a reputation for pro bono services not to be equaled. He will keep fighting the good cause until his dying day.

Bobby was in the right place at the right time, came into contact with the “right” people who recognized his raw talent and took him under their wings helping him to become the person he is today. I dare say no one cares more for the aesthetics of the game or has made greater efforts to preserve it for generations to come.

Judy Kay-WolffApril 30th, 2013 at 6:22 pm

Hi Martha:

I am sure some will look upon your views as “fighting words.” However, I know you speak from the heart — and are from my generation where respect was essential — and honor and ethics were as important as talent. Sadly, that is not the way things seem to work today. The newer persons on the horizon seem to believe they have all the answers and do not realize it takes years of seasoning and surviving all sorts of situations to know what it is all about. I guess that comes with age and experience — and there is no reasoning with those who feel differently.

Thanks for your candor.