Judy Kay-Wolff

Bridge Idiosyncrasies

This blog may be tantamount to ‘opening a can of worms,’ but I think it is a necessary Wake Up Call to realize what is transpiring around us.

Universally, all who grace our game have some form of hang ups.  It is human nature — especially if the untoward action causes a poor result for the non-offenders.  I truly believe the great majority of ‘top players’ do not dwell on these issues — but prefer to concentrate on their chore at hand –  the auction, the play or the defense.   They avoid allowing themselves to be absorbed by what they may consider minutia, thereby thwarting their attempt to focus on success without distraction.

Let us look at a multitude of pet peeves (PP) which are reminiscent of the proverbial laundry list:  How about considering the following (regarding one’s guilt or innocence):   Off the top of my head (and in no special order except No. 1 which, at least TO ME, is first and foremost as it is a no-brainer) …. 

1.   Deliberately cheating (with well developed, pre-ordained methods) or casually ‘helping’ one’s partner.  Although many other appropriate issues are encompassed herein — few are nearly as ugly and IMHO — enables this one to  win top prize in uncontested fashion!!!

2.   ‘Gloating’ (whether deliberately with evil intent or out of ignorance) is most offensive!

3.   Offering and insisting upon unsolicited lessons whether to  partner or opponents.   If I want instruction, I will pay for it (or marry an expert who fits the bill).

4.   Failing to alert (either intentionally or without malice aforethought).  It not only fouls up an auction but misleads the opponents — causing them to either stay out of the bidding or misdefend if the bad guys buy the contract.  Convenient ‘forgets’ are devastating to the opponents — but often achieve the targeted result!

5.   Confusing the methods of one’s own system (when a partnership is not on the same wave length).  Frequently, it results in damaging one’s opponents rather than oneself.

6.   Balancing or making a call without justification which is suggested by partner’s flagrant huddle. 

7.   "Coffee housing" (going into a deliberate ‘brownstone’ without reason … followed by a pass) — intent on misleading the opponents.  Let me break tempo for a moment by repeating a classic story involving Al Roth which I’ve told before.  Opponent had a two way guess for a queen (with all the necessary spot cards).  Declarer led the jack of a suit from his own hand, followed by a fairly long hitch and it held the trick.   Success!  When the hand was over, it turned out that Roth, the fourth seat player had ducked with the queen.  When the ruse was discovered, the hesitator lambasted Al for not winning the trick.  Calmly, Al replied, "How could I? I thought you had it." 

8.  "Casing the joint" by walking up and down the aisles wide-eyed with neck outstretched and ears open (as if you were on a field trip) .. scouting the hands you are about to play.  I have seen it in living color — a habit employed by a few that are mistakenly considered top level players.  If they genuinely could lay claim to that title, it would be unnecessary for convenient restroom visits (or other strolls) to try and gain an edge.

9.   Peekers.  They are those who crane their necks, sit back in their chair (with elevated body position) to take a gander at one (or both) of their opponents’ hands.    It surely must help and certainly can’t lose.          

10.  Clockers.    This breed operates in two ways  (a) by watching from where an opponent dislodges a card (hoping to determine how many he or she holds); and (b) by glancing at open score cards to gain advance knowledge of a hand they have yet to play.

11.  Holding post mortems spontaneously at hand’s end and wasting time by not awaiting the session conclusion.

12.  Trumping up expendable director calls, creating an unpleasant aura (which I have observed even at the highest levels)!  Check out some of the ‘bigtime’ appeals.

13.  Always looking for an edge, trying to appeal to a director’s lack of knowledge (especially at the club level).

14.  Alerting unnecessarily.   This is a PP of some — to which I plead guilty.   Because the ACBL rules and laws keep changing, it has reached the point (at least for me) of not knowing what is an alert and what is not.  Since I know my system, I would rather depart from the recommended procedure and alert to protect the opponents.  Go sue me!

15.  Allowing the use of a confusing system which is destructive (rather than constructive) to deliberately force the opponents off course as they have no ‘advance’ knowledge of how to cope with such methods (especially on the spur of the moment).  I allude to "overly" Weak NTs and controlled psyches.  The easiest prey are newbies but it takes its toll even on decent players who are given the opportunity to discuss and prepare methods to combat the occasion.

16.  Regarding PP#15, some (certainly not all) club Owners/Directors have fallen from grace — refusing to enforce their right to bar or allow systems which are unfair to the less adept players.  Why?  Isn’t that obvious?  They want to avoid losing regular customers (especially decent players) who frequent the club and don’t want them switching allegiance to a nearby competitor.

17.  Last, but hardly least .. attempting ‘intimidation’ to gain advantage!!!

Have you had enough?  Probably!  I invite you to add to my list what gets your dander up.  Please speak up as everyone suffers his or her own personal demons.  Sometimes it is good to vent one’s spleen — or else it may burst!

As this was about to go to press, I had lunch with three knowledgeable current and/or former Directors who have witnessed the above scenarios.    One was my daughter, who was a former teacher/director/administrator in The Big Apple several years ago.  Another was her friend — a retired bridge player who (along with her husband) now resides in LV and who served as Tournament Chairman/Certified Director/Teacher as well as holding several major official positions in the NY Unit and District.  Rounding out the trio was a good friend who is a part Owner and sometime-Director of the popular local LVBW (as well as an ACBL Certified Teacher and Director who charms her audiences with her entertaining lectures on cruise ships).  Here is what they had to add:

18. The ‘snapping of cards’ (which makes some people’s blood run cold).  I liken it to scraping one’s nails on a blackboard which gives me the shivers!!!  I think in most cases, it is not deliberate or intended to offend .. perhaps just a nervous habit — but annoying nevertheless.

19.  When moving pairs (EWs) reach the next appointed table and find their opponents discussing the previous hand.  It is not only time consuming — but it may be a hand you are scheduled to play before the session is over.

20.  When asking for an explanation about a lead or bid, you receive such sarcastic, matter-of-fact responses as:  "It’s just bridge!!!!"  Don’t you just love that one?  Or, "It could be anything" (of course, not  defining "anything.")  Another frequent question and response — especially against a NT contract (when a jack is led):  "It could be from anything .. (AJ10X  KJ10XX or J10xx)."   Unless playing Rusinow leads, a simpler, more direct, to-the-point explanation would be "denies the queen".

21.  When foreign players/guests who are perfectly capable of speaking proper (and even articulate) English (though using bidding boxes) — resort to (after the hand is over) speaking to partner in their native tongue — whatever it may be.   Many find it offensive as they may be making fun of the opponents, suggesting a way their contract could have been doomed by another defense, gloating that opponents were shut out of the auction, etc.  Regardless of the conversation, though it may very well be perfectly innocent, it does not bade well and is frowned upon as being in poor taste.

22.  When a partnership does not have identical convention cards or only one card is available to their opponents.  In conjunction with the convention card violation, some place theirs directly in front of themselves so they can (illegally) consult it during the auction. That’s a no-no!

That sums it up from the combined perspective of moi and my qualified luncheon entourage — but my guess is that some of you can still enhance the list.  Please do!  I had no idea how lengthy this would be when I began .. so I thank for your endurance.


pod12@msn.comNovember 12th, 2013 at 12:10 pm

HBJ : Boy…you really have covered nearly all the things that have blighted bridge for years , causing many to lose their passion and interest in the game. But might I add a couple more to what is a very comprehensive but distressing list.
First off there is the serial slow player ( the time bandit ) who in essence is another kind of cheating dog. Next up , are the players who see themselves as the elite , huddling together in their tight-knit little cliques , who only have sneering contempt for the rest. Finally, we have the bullies , who when launching into their partners with vitriolic abuse , upset and embarrass all those at the table or sitting nearby. Often these people are out-and-out result merchants , who still find reasons to lambast partner…. simple because the good score wasn’t good enough !
Great article which really needs to be published in every bridge magazine and club newsletter across the world.

Bill CubleyNovember 12th, 2013 at 2:05 pm

23 Slow players. They come to the table and discuss the last round. They make no attempt to catch up. They often won’t pass a board because they need to recheck the score and the vulnerability. You can check vulnerability by looking inside your card.

Hi Judy, we moved to South Carolina and have not been online much.

Judy Kay-WolffNovember 12th, 2013 at 5:51 pm


There is nothing shy about you either! Let’s address your additions to the list.

First, the ‘Time Bandit.’ Love your terminology! Certainly slow play is disruptive but the reasons /causes for said circumstances may be varied: The Newbie who is intimidated by the possibility of making a silly mistake; the Retiree who has re-entered the fray after a long absence and is readjusting his or her thinking to the modern approach; the Elderly who enjoy the sociability and savor every moment as they are approaching the twilight of their existence; and others who, of necessity, are on a regime of medication which often slows down one’s thought faculties. Bear in mind — these targeted groups make up a huge component of our bridge population today and without them, we may wither away into obscurity! Of course, those who slow down the game by post mortems have no excuse. That is downright inconsiderate!

Next, the self-styled ‘elitists’ and cliques you allude to in many instances are delusional and I pay them no mind.

Judy Kay-WolffNovember 12th, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Hi again HBJ,

Sorry, I got cut off using my newly acquired iPad before I remarked on the ridiculous ‘bully’ types who dehumanize the game. I pay them no mind as they are usually wrong anyway.

As to your suggestion about a reprint, I had better ‘up’ my insurance because, as you very well know from personal experience, this is not a popular subject to many! Thanks for your much welcomed candor!

Judy Kay-WolffNovember 12th, 2013 at 6:37 pm

Hi Bill:

Welcome back! I knew your great love for the game couldn’t keep you away much longer!

Yes, No. 23 belongs right up there. Discussing the last board is like beating a dead horse. You can’t revive him — so let him be! However, many people (in real life and bridge) are what I consider nit-pickers .. bordering on paranoia. They mean no harm but don’t want to move forward until they are satisfied every ‘i’ is dotted and ‘t’ is crossed. I don’t think you are going to change them so we gotta grin and bear it –like it or not. I might add that from a personal standpoint (and I know I am in the great minority), the bridgemates are great for the director and speedily produce an early tally at the end of the game — but they are time consuming with entering and okaying the score. Some players take forever to approve it — delaying in hitting the o.k. button. You can’t please everybody!

Jane ANovember 13th, 2013 at 7:38 pm

I have to agree with everything mentioned, but I am especially annoyed by really slow play. What I mean by this is that we have an alloted time to play the round depending on how many boards are in play. I have no problem with someone taking the alloted time, but once the time is up, then I believe we should move on to the next round. If a pair has not started a board and the time is up, then take a late play or a no play. One pair can delay the entire game and drives the director crazy because it keeps the rest of the room waiting. Bridge is a timed event. In spite of the fact that many of us are older, and some have issues with whatever ails us, that does not really change much. If bridge were not timed, we could be there a lot longer and I think this would drive players away. I love bridge, but I have a life outside of the club. I like to play, get the results, and then make it home before the vampires come out!

Another thing that bothers me is those pairs who decide to discuss the hands in loud voices, so the entire room can hear. I have asked the director many times to ask those pairs to please be quiet, and they will comply, for about five minutes. Then it starts all over again. No reason to walk around the room. Just sit at your table and tune in. You will learn everything you need to know. I realize some players have hearing problems, so to avoid “mass communication”, stop discussing the hands. Problem solved.

Thanks for taking the time to make the list.

Judy Kay-WolffNovember 14th, 2013 at 7:53 am

Hi Jane,

It was good of you to read and respond to my never ending list of bothersome habits.

I agree with the wastage of time by constant chatter .. going over hands played and causing delay of the next round. However, there is more to the slow play issue (with varying considerations) and I can attest to it in living color. I am one of the culprits to whom you refer and I plead guilty. I learned to play as I was graduating college. Correction — I thought I learned — but my concepts at that time didn’t come close to recognizing how overwhelming, demanding and complicated the game really was.

Even if you say it fast, bridge played a major role in my life for close to 75% of my existence. I have been in the bridge milieu in all facets of the game … organizing a young people’s popular Sunday night duplicate in the 60s, serving on the Board of my local Unit, penning and directing original shows, writing bridge-related songs and poems, engineering and overseeing huge charity projects (as well as the Sharif Circus), coordinating two NABCs in Philadelphia with the ACBL, competing in Duplicates, Sectionals, Regionals, NABCs and even insignificant WBF events. I have been lucky to attend and kibitz over a dozen world championships and ‘got to see the world.’ I was totally enmeshed in the game and never came up for air. As the old saying goes — been there, done that. I am grateful for the wondrous years bridge has afforded me and have been so incredibly fortunate that Norman and Bobby enhanced my very being in countless ways. I register no complaints.

Now to the issue of slow play. Since 1997, I have been retired from my wholesale sports memorabilia business (developed by me, financed by Norman and operated by my terrific staff, mostly friends, whom I trained). It was a delightful experience. We had fun as we worked together non-stop in the office on weekdays (from 8 a.m. till after six) and Norman and I did the road show routine (within a 200 mile radius) almost every weekend for nearly twenty years, We would take a break only for the three Nationals or when Norman reported to Edgar for active duty to attend a Regional in New York. I finally decided to call it quits from Kay’s Baseball Cards, Inc. and devote what remained of my approaching golden years to enjoy my favorite pastime. With average talent and acceptance of my shortcomings, I performed reasonably well and had no gripes as I always was partnered by decent players who adapted to my system. Prior to retirement, I had only been playing on rare occasions as my life was so enveloped by my family and daily business routines. After closing shop, I opted for the life I always yearned for and dreamed of, participating in daily duplicates with my favorite partners — and after Norman passed on in 2002, I never missed a local Sectional, Regional or any of the three Nationals. Now, remarried and retired here in Vegas, I partake at the local bridge club two days a week with Bobby (who for decades has been accustomed to the very best partners) and I can’t deny the pressure I feel sitting opposite him though he is delighted to play with me. His unintentional intimidation comes with the territory. Besides, I am approaching eighty and, of necessity, am on many medications which take their toll.

As a person grows older (you’re not there yet), one’s sharpness usually begins to decline and the thought process pays the price as well. I am sure others in my boat recognize these challenging moments as there is no denying my former sharpness has had the edge taken off. However, I can hardly complain as I otherwise have (and had) a very rich life. So, what are my choices? Play faster (and just pull out the card nearest my thumb)? Take the necessary time to examine my options before proceeding? Or .. give up bridge entirely? Forsaking the game is one consideration — although I am certain I would miss it and it would create a huge (if you’ll pardon the expression) void in my life. It just doesn’t seem fair — as my involvement was non-stop for well over five decades! By the way, I did not take your remarks personally .. but .. as a friend, bridge buddy and lover of this incredible pastime, I ask you .. what’s the answer?

pod12@msn.comNovember 14th, 2013 at 10:07 am

HBJ : As to an answer I guess there isn’t one. However to play good bridge , careful analysis and problem solving are essential time-consuming requirements. Experts , who are blessed with sharp razor-like minds, can work things out in nano-seconds, while the rest of us often require a good minute……and even then arrive at inferior solution !
Yet my beef is with players who never apply the principle of preparedness, which involves using the time opponents are spending on a problem to work out what to do if a particular decision is made. All too often slow players treat every development in the bidding and play of the cards as an ” unexpected and problematic ” turn of events…….with no response already in mind.
Moreover, I also believe that many hands are so bog standard, they are simple, plain forward hands to bid and play…….. requiring very little in the way of thinking time. These hands I call ” claimers ” and/or ” cash outs “. Tricky hands I agree should always be given more consideration and thought…..but within acceptable time limits.
And on a final note…..( this is my alter ego HBJ speaking )….clubs should have a separate 20 board duplicate for branded slow players , which would then enable the rest of the members to play 28 boards at a nice brisk even tempo , without ever having to encounter the misery of following a pair of highly irritating, procrastinating tortoises.

Jane ANovember 14th, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Hi Judy,

I think HBJ has a valid point. Some hands are routine and easier to play than others. Especially for anyone who has played for years, these hands should come and go easily. Definitely use the time the opps take to plan and decide what to do with your hand.

Maybe having a separate game for the slower players, or have a couple of games a week for fast pairs might work. I actually heard a couple of directors talking about this idea a few months ago. The problem is two fold however. You recognize that you need more time to think and play, but a lot of players don’t seem to know they cause delays. These same players (not you and Bobby) are often the ones who talk too loud and discuss the hands as well. Most times they don’t even pass the boards, so the next table has to pry them from their hands. The second issue is that attendance is down for club games and if two separate games were held, it would dilute an already shrinking field, plus it would mean the directors would have to stay much longer as well and be running two separate games. If the director has to play to fill in a table or accommodate someone who came alone to play that day, it would be a nightmare for that director.

I don’t feel intimidated when I come to your table. I enjoy the hands I play against you both. I prefer to get the more complicated hands when I play against you because you and Bobby are very gracious about answering any questions my partner and I might have to improve. Once, one of my partners asked Bobby why he made a certain bid when it looked like there could have been a different choice. Bobby agreed with my partner and said he should have made the other bid instead of the one he made. My partner was on cloud nine for the rest of the day. He kept saying over and over that Bobby Wolff agreed with him. To me, this speaks volumes about how a true master of the game helps the rest of us learn and get better.

I have been one of those “fast” players my entire life. Just my style, and the directors often ask my partner and I to “catch” everybody up. Not really possible, of course, but we do our best to try. As long as bridge is a timed event, and I think it should be, there will be problems with very slow play. I don’t have a great solution. A few months ago, a couple played who were not having a good day, both mentally and physically. The director had to give them four no plays just to keep the game moving along. I felt bad for them both, but the director had to do something. Not sure how this would have been handled in a tournament? And to take four boards out of play seems a bit excessive. This had to effect the field, I would think?

Judy Kay-WolffNovember 14th, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Thanks, HBJ, for your heartfelt reaction to my personal queries! It is rare when your remarks are not humorously replete with sarcasm — though often reminiscent of what we call ‘kidding on the level.’

Sadly, all events are not geared to Speed Racers. As you stated, there is really so solution — try as we might to concoct them. Perhaps making people more aware of the overall side effects will help. Twenty board matches and separately designated sections are not very practical. They call to my mind two collections of human beings: Normal versus Retarded .. and a Free Society as compared to a Concentration Camp. That’s difficult for me to swallow. .. but what do I know???

Judy Kay-WolffNovember 14th, 2013 at 7:12 pm

Hi again Jane,

Thanks for the kind words about Bobby. As you are aware, he has dedicated his entire bridge being toward the improvement and hoped-for longevity of the game .. more so than anyone in its history! At 81, he hasn’t missed a step. It must be wonderful to know what everyone holds at trick three .. without peeking. To him, it’s ‘doin’ what comes naturally!

I often suspect people wonder what I am musing over. Given — I am not a ‘natural’ player. Words and letters come to me much easier than numbers. Here are just a few considerations: While declaring … Am I playing Match Points or
Imps? Normal play or safety play? Alternate avenue of action if my first choice fails? How can I, if possible, keep the danger hand off lead? How about gleaning information from the proverbial dog that barked or didn’t bark (bidding or not bidding)? These reflections (and many other inferences) serve as crutches to me .. and work for the most part. They are necessary evils to me — and are admittedly time consuming.

To Bobby, his answer is counting, counting and more counting! If that is not the way one has been groomed, it is virtually impossible to teach an old dogs new tricks. Trite or not, that is gospel!!!

Jane, you are fortunate to be a ‘fast player. I strongly believe it is the reward for how one was trained. It seems I have found the cause and effect for my ‘habit” — but still no solution. See you in battle!

Jane ANovember 14th, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Yep, “Count” Dracula would have been a genius at this game. I wonder if he played bridge. After the lessons from my mentor, and the advice from my Sat partner, both of whom are very good at this game, I agree that count is so important along with fit and shape. I learned bridge at the kitchen table so to speak, and as a teenager to boot. I had a decent grasp of the game, but did not take serous lessons until a few years ago. I was not brought up with the counting philosophy either, but it works.

I like the success I have seen switching to a count based game. It is a lot of work! My mentor told me the first time I sat across the table from him that bridge was going to get a lot harder for me. He was right, but it has been worth it. I feel so fortunate to have learned the game as a kid, and now to still be able to learn more and better skills, and continue to enjoy it all. Sometimes it gives me a headache! (just kidding)

It is fun to watch Bobby play. I can see those wheels turning, but his wheels don’t need any grease. He just rolls along and as you said, he knows where all the cards are. I think it is a true art.

Lovely to chat with you.

Judy Kay-WolffNovember 14th, 2013 at 11:08 pm

Dear Jane,

You have a wonderfully healthy approach to the game. One cannot improve until he or she recognizes the need for advancement! I was lucky enough to be able to consult Norman on various complexities that caused me, on occasion, to fall flat on my face! Then along came Bobby who turned my bridge game upside down causing me to discard my beloved KS and reverse my technique and style.

To sum it up .. the more one learns about the game, the more one realizes how little he or she knows. When the humbling process begins, it’s green lights and blue skies. It only hurts for a little while!! Take it from one who knows! I have the scars to prove it.

Gary MugfordNovember 18th, 2013 at 6:41 pm


TIme Bandits at #1 Again! Was that ever a headline in Variety? It surely should have been the number one pet peeve. Heck, I even wrote a time clock program for local use.

Mind you, the opponents might have had their own pet peeve: opponents who play/bid so fast that they feel rushed. A gander’s approach to the goose, I guess.

I was the source of (too many/some?) of your pet peeves locally. Tis true. It would be a lie to say otherwise. I was a bridge columnist and the unannointed voice of all things Bridge. Didn’t matter that I had fewer masterpoints than half the assembled players. I intimidated people with my Napoleonic disposition. Nothing overt … well except for that one occasion that I played with the (drunken) wife of a partner and had her in tears and at home before the game was half-over. I don’t drink and don’t tolerate people who drink to excess as well as I might have… so told me my ex-partner.

I was also the local ‘experimenter’ when it came to conventions, indeed, getting two into the pages of The Bridge World. I’m sure the lax attitude towards the Convention Chart (what was that, anyways? [G]) had something to do with it. Even invented the Elevator System, which, in essence, was a forcing pass system with all forcing bids, including mandatory psyche’s where in you opened in your shortest suit, lowest from equals, if you had 0-6HCP. That was the complete system description. Invented, of course, during an elevator ride to an apartment home Bridge game. Trotted it out at the local clubs for the next two weeks, won going away and voluntarily retired the system. It was FUN for us, but I detected the LOLs were confused and Bridge IS supposed to be a fun game.

Oh, and you might add not knowing WHAT table you are supposed to be moving to. I’ve been annoyed when opponents get ‘lost’ on their way to my table where I’ve been sitting impatiently ACTUALLY twiddling my thumbs. (and there IS the corollory: Sitting in the WRONG session. Guilty of THAT one twice, once in a side game at the World Championships in Montreal. Truly not my finest hour).

How many of the Pet Peeves am I guilty of? In my youth, seven. An eighth as I got older (14) means I’m approximately 33 per cent annoying. Sounds about right.

Gary MugfordNovember 18th, 2013 at 6:45 pm

Oops, not the WRONG session, but the WRONG SECTION. Tables nine in that game in Montreal were REALLY close to each other. And light blue and green look really, really similar to each other after a BAD result. And a trip to the water table to cool down. I’d like to say they were in a different language, but I DID speak THAT much French. So do most of you, so it ain’t much of an accomplishment.

It was a stupid mistake.

Judy Kay-WolffNovember 24th, 2013 at 12:39 am

Hi Gary,

Didn’t see the above until just now. Thanks for the True Confession!!! We all have our quirks, and without them, we wouldn’t qualify as bridge players! The more one plays — the more one sees! And .. there are always new ones on the horizon!

I have seen lots of improvement at the club level, but cannot attest to what is happening in the National arena since we have stayed close to the nest lately.



Judy Kay-WolffMay 11th, 2014 at 5:54 am

I would write to bridgeblogging.com and see what can be done. I have nothing to do with the technical end of this wonderful site.