Judy Kay-Wolff

Living in Sheltered Darkness (continued)

With my major pet peeve (The "C" word) behind us, let us move on to more thorns in my side which taint our game — though none remotely as destructive and despicable as my earlier references.  Let us look at other stumbling blocks — some of which are nearly impossible to reverse because of circumstances and the unequalled realistic necessity of survival.  However, that does not condone some of the flaws in the system.

Let’s start with professionalism.  When I was younger, most people held 9-5 jobs.  In Norman’s case, it was 9:30 to 3:30 (or was it 4:00 when the market closed?).  Too long ago to be certain.   He enjoyed a ‘normal’ (standard) means of supporting himself and his family.  Bridge was merely a hobby (a sideline) for which he was blessed with natural talent but always kept it in proper perspective.   In recent years, a new method of earning a living was born.   Less hours and more lucrative!   It was endearingly referred to as "Professional Bridge" which is nothing to scoff at as it certainly has its place in our world.  Paying and playing with a pro (though not necessarily a tried and true expert) is a means to improve one’s game — if the mentee can afford it.   Of course, there are all levels of professionals (some barely better than their students and others at the top of the ladder).   I should know as I served the earlier purpose back in the suburban country clubs in Philly from 1976-1983 and I joshingly admit I was just one page ahead of my students.  The type of teacher/partner one selects (and can afford) must fit into his or her scheme of things.  I sincerely salute this type of learning process which provides a means of both education and enjoyment.   However, I have strong feelings that sponsorship should stop at the juncture where it determines international representation.   That honor should be earned — not bought. The only exception, as I see it, is when a borderline expert has the wherewithal to hire a top team or partner to achieve a better means to success.  Incidentally, I kibitzed the Bali Affair on BBO and cringed as I watched a cold baby hand go down in flames.  Embarrassing!  Professionalism/sponsorship is perfectly legal although there is not a doubt it undermines the effort of a country to win by not sending its very best. 

Another phase of this very problem relates to the pressure put upon others (though well intended) when serving on Committees — especially when the group consists of up and coming pros.   I have seen very few ACs recently where a celebrated expert (with an exception here and there) is on board though most are respected, honorable, experienced players.   Few world class bridge individuals have the time, interest or desire to serve in such capacities.  That’s life in the real world and there is little that can be done about it. 

Though I commend those who volunteer to serve with little remuneration (other than such nominal perks as card fees), many feel pressure if a professional pair is involved in the appeal.  Check the records and you will see to what I am alluding.  I actually witnessed two recent committee aberrations where, in the opinion of most, they were open and shut decisions — but no one had the guts to stand up to see justice served as top players were being challenged.   It’s hard to convince me that if you are on such a committee, you will not favor the expert appellants or defendants because (1) if you happen to be a pro yourself, a possible referral may be on the horizon if they cannot accept a job because of another earlier professional commitment; and (2)  taking the opposite side may appear to reflect upon your lack of ‘expertise’ — not an enviable position.  It all points to survival of the fittest.

Understand, these committee members graciously volunteer their time and some are very good (and often better than very good) and ‘nice guys’ as well.    That is not necessarily what is best for the game.  Furthermore, they must treat their responsibility with dignity and honor.  Those serving are not always the best judges as often they don’t want to trample upon the toes of others or make noises — merely pussyfooting — and all too often just ‘go with the flow.’   The individuals at the helm must have the backbone and gumption of doing (first, last and foremost) what is best for the game — regardless of the individuals involved.   I have witnessed the operation of two top pros in particular who in their individual devious ways, convince unsophisticated ACs their hands are clean.   That should cause those serving  to be willing to assume a stronger position if they feel equity would not be maintained by passive actions.  That is difficult to effectuate as no one wants to be thought of as a troublemaker and ‘cross’ the wrong people.  In some (not all) instances, ACs are flawed, but I can offer no easy solution.

I am not casting aspersions on all committee members.  Heavens, no!  Many do what they think is ‘right’ but in a case involving professionals, it gets more sticky.   There are other alternatives to consider.  One is the possibility of recusal if a potential committee member is in any way biased or prejudiced.  However, ‘recusal’ seems to be a dirty word and is rarely honored or brought into focus.  I cannot recall in recent times hearing of any potential committee member offering to step down for that reason.  Another failing in the appeal methods is the far inferior procedure of airborne telephone hearings rather than the better, more thorough venue of live, face to face discussions.   No one will ever convince me that Alexander Graham Bell had airwaves in mind for the resolution of appeals issues.   These events and decisions are serious and important enough to warrant paid on-site committee members to handle the possible deviations and violations that are alleged by the appellants and also hear face to face defenses.   Another factor to be kept in mind for improvement of committee decisions is the addition of ‘precedents’ and accountability.  What could be more important than Appeals Decisions which should have a far reaching affect and be the backbone of our game?  

A resolution of these hitches (though controversial) is hardly duck soup — but necessary to put before the public.

And more ….


pod12@msn.comOctober 16th, 2013 at 5:56 pm

HBJ : I have always believed the wrong people go into politics and seek positions of power. Their motives of course are greed, fame, status, control ( of others ), privilege , influence , vanity and money.
Conversely the right people who would be ideal for these important jobs ( honest, full of integrity, ethical , altruistic , fair , just and non-judgemental ) often shy away from such responsibilities, desperate not to be associated with corruption or encounter devious, back-stabbing adversaries.
This is why the status quo remains. Human nature is never likely to change : lone voices and lone Wolffs will continue no doubt to make urgent and worthwhile rallying calls, but until these calls are able to galvanise a revolution for change at the grass roots, I’m afraid that things will only change at the margins.
Nevertheless it is better to be remembered as a crusader than a passive, walk-all-over-me doormat.
No wonder so many people read and positively respond to your blogs.

Judy Kay-WolffOctober 17th, 2013 at 12:01 am


No one can accuse you of not putting your money where your mouth is. The negative issues I laid out are difficult to mend as most people ‘don’t want to get involved.’ That is human nature. Just as directors, most committee members are entitled to a better education as to considerations and more specific guidelines. No one said it is easy but if no effort is exerted to straighten up and fly right, things will remain status quo.

If I may go farther .. rules as far as timelines for passing the boards back and forth where screens are being used, need to have consistencies which preclude either side of the table from knowing whether any particular player broke tempo, or, of course, that there was any break at all. The WBF has allowed for that problem. On this side of the ocean, there appears to be no rule which, in itself, inevitably leads to a likely controversy whenever there seems to be a delay in passing the tray. Food for thought!

As you state, by having no set rule, it gives powerful and often deliberately malpracticing factions a good chance to win an appeal regardless which side they happen to be on.

SamOctober 17th, 2013 at 4:08 am

Hi Judy,

Concerning the WBF events (as in Bali), you neglected to mention that participants do not have to play half the matches. I think it is somewhere between 35 and 40% but I am unsure. Usually, that is the portion that the sponsors are designed to play. I think that’s enough to qualify to be included in the finishing results.

Judy Kay-WolffOctober 17th, 2013 at 3:14 pm


(I tried to write earlier by private email, but somehow or other something went wrong — so I will try again).

I think you are correct, but I too am unsure of the minimum amount of time a player is required to play .. something under 40%. Whatever! I should think it would be humiliating to be seen on universal internet (BBO) and make a bonehead play for all to witness. It takes a brave soul. I’ve made my fair share of boo-boos and even get embarrassed in a small local duplicate when I lose my concentration and goof up. Whatever floats one’s boat!

dannyOctober 22nd, 2013 at 6:45 pm


Can I take a stab at the notion of having on site appeals? I fully agree that it would be ‘better’. How much would it cost?

Let’s assume we would need to fly our designee to the site in time for the round of 16 on (phone appeals for the round robin). I would estimate the cost of flying to the site at $400. Transfers to and from the airport $150. 9 nights of hotel, at the tournament rate would be about $1300. Per diem for food, $500. The tricky number would be pay; let’s assume we can get qualified members for $250 per day. I think this is very cheap. That makes $4600 per committee member. How many committee member would be need so that 3 of them would be ‘unbiased’? I would guess 6. Grand total, $27,600.

Is that really the best use of the USBF’s money? I know we agree that the players should be fully subsidized for these events. The US sends 14 people to the Bermuda Bowl, this would cost the players nearly $2000 per person!

In a perfect world, there would be enough money for all of these things, but that is just not the case here. Let’s keep the $ where it belongs, going to the players, not for a huge expense in case of an appeal.

Bobby WolffOctober 24th, 2013 at 11:04 am

Hi Danny,

Thank you for the relatively complete and comprehensive financial report on what it would take to send especially trained, experienced and talented (not to mention the best available) true appeals experts to be physically present during the trials or conceivably for the later rounds of a major National Team Championship.

It may be just too much money to spend, considering the mega sponsors would not want to foot that bill, and also not to mention that their players would far rather them spend what they decide to spend on them as professional players, rather than to the improved administration of the tournament which they would serve to produce.

What do we do instead, one would and should ask? Simply put, just seriously improve the way the ones chosen at the tournament decide to interpret our laws so that bridge is honored, equity is served and like other sports attempt (after being able to afford to do all of the good things necessary such as offer plenty of incentives for their referees to get better and make them boldly totally accountable to all viewers — many more than we have now have at bridge).

What do I mean by the above? Accountability and precedents should always be under scrutiny. Accountability is for everyone who is interested (and that goes to a much broader group than many might suspect) know immediately the thoughts, action, eventual vote and why of every appeals member with a strict record of previous votes, preferences, affiliations so that all can decide for himself (or herself) previous votes on similar appeals and why.

The laws need to be, if anything, simplified for better overall understanding and every decision must insist bridge equity (voting what is good for the future of bridge, keeping in mind the pitfalls of not and attempting to establish a consistency to which we will eventually be proud). To that we must add all similar precedents to be available from either the USBF and/or Horn Lake, Mississippi and, if computerized, should present no problem of being always available both at the time of appeal as well as to be discussed later for attempted compliance or possibly, in some few cases, to be decided a different way because, again, of something which should cause it to be.

Then, and only then, should we begin to feel good about ourselves since we have at least taken the bit in our teeth and are then trying to be the best we can possibly be, rather than the all too mysterious and, at times devastating in our failures to comply with what we are doing.

Finally, with the hope of many important bridge loving players, now enthusiastic about our prospects, let me point out the 100% improvement which befell the first game of our traditional and great baseball World Series game one, first inning decision when an unprecedented event happened, an umpire made an unbearable, unexplainable, terrible decision of calling a runner out at 2nd base, and although looking directly at what he should have been looking at, somehow (choked up) and ruled as if he did not see what actually did happen.

In a first of its kind, or almost as far as I can see (and I am one of the biggest sports fans alive and have been so for many years) the rules were bent in favor of the game itself to correct the error rather than live with such an aberration. Yes, the right decision on that play likely had a direct effect on the game itself and possibly the momentum it created, but sports fans the world over should rejoice in what happened, they did get it right, instead of what sometimes (way too often) used to happen.

I, for one, would volunteer to write an equity filled treatise on how bridge appeals should be handled with my past as chairman of countless WBF Appeals committees (I, like much European natural law, had the right to as WBF Appeals Chairman, after learning the facts, to do prior investigation before the appeal was held) and their results as well as an older history of many years ago being present for many ACBL important appeals committees.

No punches will be pulled, all relevant information will not be omitted, with names named, strategy of the appellants discussed and results available compared to what might have been and why.

The human condition is inviolate, we are all self-serving, especially intensely type players who play to win, and are in no way able to sublimate their desire to win in order to make sure bridge is honored.

All of the above is human nature at work and the players not to be condemned for feeling that way. However, for us to get where we want bridge to go, we must take those decisions out of their hands, but to do so we must be totally transparent in every one of our decisions, and not fragment cases and keep everyone in the dark as to possible difficult glitches.

With screen play long ago (middle 1970s) when I was in on Jimmy Ortiz-Patino’s fierce desire to install screens both to make it more difficult to cheat but also to make the players more comfortable in not having to be so circumspect while behind screens and all four players observing every one of their adversaries’ moves when they were easily visible to each other.

In those days and later, 20 to 40 seconds of the tray (during the bidding) staying on one side of the table was no indication of any huddle, even a relatively slow 6-8 seconds by normally a fast bidder. Like other well intentioned rules some glitches crept in and Brad Moss in 1998 in Lille when at his table felt some shenanigans were going on and intentionally on his side of the screen with not any kind of hand to hold up the proceedings did, in fact, hold up the process and I, for one, thought he had the inalienable right to do so because of the tempo discrepancies present at that table. He was castigated by an unknowing TD for so doing, but for a long period of time the NS pair (which always had the duty to move the tray back and forth) was supposed to be herky-jerky in timing the movement so that relatively brief huddles (20 seconds or so) were camouflaged resulting in, that the other side of the screen was not privy to such. In years to come I hope Brad will go down as a hero in calling such behavior to the attention of naive administrators who live in hopes of everyone following the straight and narrow, a very dangerous and, to my mind, a losing proposition.

Without going on and on, I think I have gotten what, at least I think is very necessary to police our game in the proper way, without which we will never be able to secure the game to the degree to which we all (or hopefully all) want it to be.

I hope, Danny, perhaps now you might be able to see some of the problems, which to my way of thinking has gone into nothingness, like the long ago visits every morning by the milk man, a nice service, particularly for parents with young children, which has since been discontinued.