Judy Kay-Wolff

For Better or for Worse?

Ask different people .. you’ll get different answers. Reflecting on the days of Vanderbilt, Culbertson, Goren and others, I salute them as bridge icons who introduced the game and pursued its beauty and majesty above all else. I recall a gentleman from the Fifties by the name of Lee Hazen, one time counsel for the League — but first and foremost .. the administrator who promoted and sustained the game and frequently (unknown to many) lightened his own pocket until the ACBL could financially stand on its own two feet. Bridge was still in its embryonic stages and personal motivation and politics had not reared their ugly heads. All those involved. including the dedicated bridge playing/working staff at Greenwich (Nat Cohen, Peggy Adams, Tommy Harris. et al — whom I can still envision) labored tirelessly assisting with the formation of what is recognized today as the ACBL.

It is hardly the same game to which I was introduced in 1957. Zone 2 was in the limelight with its sensational players continually making their mark in international play. You may remember the names Johnny Crawford, Johnny Gerber, Oswald Jacoby, Boris Koychou, Harold Ogust, Al Roth, Howard Schenken, Sidney Silodor, Tobias Stone … for starters. Money was not a factor. They participated without remuneration .. just for the love and glory of this rapidly developing fascination. Many had daytime jobs and were not dependent upon bridge to support themselves and their families. The Board of Directors was honored by the participation of top level representatives like Sidney Silodor, Tommy Sanders, Don Oakie, Eric Murray and Edgar Kaplan and in 1963 was joined by an up-and-coming newbie named Bobby Wolff. They shared a common goal — the furtherance and improvement of the bridge venues which were beginning to come upon the scene. They voluntarily (without pay) dedicated their minds and time to promoting our game to take it to another level and have it recognized as the greatest mind sport in the world. Today, the direction is not the same. In lieu of striving to elevate bridge to the highest strata .. in some bridge environs .. it equates to High Card Wins.

On another subject, other continents (such as Asia and Europe) have introduced a curriculum into the schools for teaching bridge (some starting back in the nineties). Bridge zeroes in on mathematics, logic, understanding, concentration, problem solving and even more — which will serve the students in greater and more practical areas as they mature. There are millions, yes millions, of children abroad who have been blessed to have bridge already on their rosters. We are light years behind, despite the continuing efforts of many energetic individuals who have been (and still are) giving their all to enlighten the public that we are missing a chip (or a card) by not giving serious consideration to such an upgrade. Easier said than done.

Playing bridge at clubs and tournaments was a popular source of enjoyment, learning and accomplishment. Seeing oneself improve and achieve was the focal point. Aside from rubber bridge games, monetary gains were not in the picture. Master points were issued for winning — an incidental means of recognition for topping one’s rivals. It was awarded for scoring higher than one’s competitors and was an intriguing incentive. Today they are often awarded to players in different classifications (especially the lower ones like ‘C’) — even for coming in below average. Why should we settle for mediocrity or worse? To what depths are we sinking? The original McKenney Trophy (renamed for Barry Crane) saluted those at the helm in the master point race. Master points were much harder to garner .. unlike today — when in many cases they are jestingly equated to an attendance record. Their attraction may ‘up the ante’ in the way of ACBL membership and club attendance, but does not say much for furthering the importance and unequalled electricity of the game.

Directing (in most cases) is a far cry from the standards exhibited by such legends as Harry Goldwater, Maury Braunstein and their peers as well as more current standard bearers like Solly Weinstein and Chris Patrias (and others I have overlooked). They knew the game inside and out and had the courage of their convictions, not being subjected to outside influences. Same is true of some Appeals Committees. Too many other distractions and home invasions have tainted the thinking of some at the helm. There is no denying other enormous stumbling blocks .. distance of venues, cost of travel, availability and willingness of qualified experts to serve, the resorting to telephone committees and more. I have no answer .. but it must be addressed.

Back to participation at the table. What are the reasons for playing? They are manifold. To some it serves to pass idle time, socialize, see old friends and meet new ones, chat, entertain oneself, etc. Great — whatever floats your boat! However, organized bridge which includes sanctioned clubs, tournaments and NABCs has the responsibility to hire, educate and dutifully train their directing staff to respectfully guide the players from veering off the straight and narrow. It is understandable that people new on the scene get caught up in the exuberance of their new found toy. I often suspect that individuals go astray by not being groomed and educated how to conduct themselves at ‘Lesson One.’ The ethics and manners of the participants go a long way toward making it enjoyable for all and assuring the game is conducted on a level playing field. Being a beginner or a ‘social player’ are poor excuses. No one is beyond teaching or above learning.

Now to professionalism and sponsorship.

Few people know that though Charlie Goren, who undisputedly was responsible for putting bridge on the map, was a “sponsor.” Charlie was a superb promoter and without him — who knows if I would have met Norman or Bobby .. or even be here now typing away. He was a popular personality and revered by the general public as an expert .. but not judged so by his peers. Fifty years ago this year, Charlie appeared at my wedding to Norman. Most of my guests were bridge players and when he came into view, traffic stopped. It was like the Pope or President of the United States was making an unscheduled guest appearance. Charlie earned his reputation in spades .. but not in the field of expertise! Sponsors are not to be knocked, but recognized for what they represent. In some special cases, though thought of as playing sponsors, a couple current players more than hold their own and in certain instances are as good as some of their teammates. Two of the most high profile players who come to mind are Nick Nickell and Marty Fleisher .. experts in their own right.

Now on to professionalism which has enveloped the world in which we live. Few of these pros have ‘real’ nine to five jobs .. and who can blame them? Certainly not I! Nothing beats getting paid to play the game you adore. When the economy was booming, there was no limit to what some of the very top pros were receiving. No doubt the very best still are. However, now in 2013, many paychecks have been reduced considerably and oft-seen sponsors have disappeared .. making some of the lesser known pros scratch and claw for business. Understandable! I find no fault with paying to learn from, and play with, a top bridge star, but feel strongly it should be kept in its proper perspective. If you can afford it .. go for it. That’s what money is for.

However, at some point, I believe the powers-that-be must draw a line. How??? The answer to me is obvious .. by not allowing mediocre playing sponsors to buy a berth on an international team to represent one’s country. I think the buck should stop there. World competition should be about sending the very best a country or zone has to offer! From recent performances by Zone 2, the results are disappointing. Our stature in world bridge is on the decline and I find it sad since I remember the good old days when, though we didn’t always win, we were in contention and never far behind.

I had intended to address another matter in detail (the social aspects of bridge as opposed to the serious side) .. but I got caught up in this rant and will save my original thoughts for another time. Enuf!!!


dannyDecember 30th, 2013 at 3:28 am


It would be great if we could get 3 top pairs, with no sponsor to play for the US in the Bermuda Bowl. Failing that, it would be quite good if only top sponsors won our trials. Or even played in them.

The big question, is and remains how do we draw the line as to who should be allowed to play?

You mention Fleisher as being a top expert, and indeed he is; yet his team finished a disappointing 9th in the 2013 BB, while other recent sponsors with fewer credentials have done much better. Indeed 2013 would be a banner year for your idea; one great sponsor, one unsponsored team. The problem isn’t the strength of our teams; it is the depth of great players from other countries. The US does not have a monopoly on great bridge.

The USBF (like the ACBL) requires 1/2 of the boards be played by all players. This, as you know is a much more stringent standard than the WBF requirement.

The very fact that there are so many strong sponsors, and that all sponsors must play 1/2 of the boards have worked to select stronger teams without the weakest sponsors. I don’t think anything more could be practically done.

Judy Kay-WolffDecember 30th, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Hi Danny:

It was good of you to expend the effort and time expressing your views about the issues above. I believe the present status of Zone 2 bridge has much to do with changing times and faltering objectives. There is no easy solution. Bobby has devoted over six decades to the game in just about every capacity and is quite knowledgeable regarding where we are today and the reasons why.

I have asked him to share his thoughts with you and my other readers. The bottom line, no doubt, is to improve the conditions that exist .. with an eye to what is best for bridge .. a goal we all have in common.

Georgiana GatesDecember 31st, 2013 at 1:00 am

But this year we had a nonsponsored team in the BB, and they didn’t make the finals. We did have a nonsponsored (originally with a sponsor) team win the Venice Cup.

Judy Kay-WolffDecember 31st, 2013 at 2:00 am

Hi Georgiana,

It seems to me that you are saying that at this time Zone 2 cannot win important bridge world championships even if we send our best non-sponsored teams. If so, and we lose with even our best teams, should we just give up and allow everyone to represent us? If I misinterpreted, please clarify what you propose?

Georgiana GatesDecember 31st, 2013 at 11:42 pm

Sorry if I left that impression. I was disappointed that we didn’t do better in the BB because we finally had a non-sponsor team. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t win, either with a strong sponsor or another non-sponsored team.

CarolJanuary 1st, 2014 at 1:34 pm

I, too, am an oldtimer and I agree with your assessment of the changes over the years. True sponsorship had not made an inroad and our international field was comprised of tried and true top notch material. No one can argue the caliber of representation is not the same. Perhaps it has to do with players who strive to make a living from bridge rather than having the best interests of the game at heart. That may be the core of the problem. It is up to our administrative forces to help get it back on track.

Judy Kay-WolffJanuary 1st, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Carol: Yes, somebody has to get it back on track. If a country or zone is fortunate enough to be graced with a team in an international event, the representatives, in my opinion, must be up to the standards of world class players. Look at the recent improvement in other nations’ rosters and results. Asia (which is not quite there yet) and Europe (which has definitely arrived) have gotten (and deserve) everyone’s attention.

I read recently that the head of the new administration stresses the importance of the social aspects of bridge and having a good time. True, it should be enjoyable to play at all levels — devoid of uncivil behavior toward partner and opponents and educated as to the propriety and ethics of the game. That goes without saying .. but the sociability of the players and their interaction will not, in and of itself, elevate the game to the upper strata which it deserves.

I think those at the helm should be thinking about how to encourage the top players (and there are still quite a few established pairs out there and even more on the horizon) to develop partnerships and exhibit different standards for honoring their country by sending the very best. It should not be about money, masterpoints or such transparent goals. Bridge deserves better and our zone has a responsibility to shift course and aim for higher ground.

bobby wolffJanuary 1st, 2014 at 11:28 pm

Hi Georgiana,

I do want to and will reply to Danny soon, perhaps tomorrow, but first I’ll answer you, since you took the trouble to write and do not present important caveats which definitely need debate which concerns major changes, at the very least in attitude.

Yes, I, too, being very patriotic in all things USA (as well as the future of our wonderful game) do wish our teams would have done better, but that is only 2013 (now over) and my concerns run deeply to the future, not the past nor even totally the present.

Our player representation, as you describe, was relatively top notch in at least two of the three major Bali tournaments (Bermuda Bowl, Venice Cup and Senior Bowl) mostly top drawer teams and with only a dash of regret for what might have been. In my hoped for response to Danny I’ll let everyone interested know how I feel, not that they couldn’t predict it.

As a prelude, yes the USA has the ability to do much better than they have lately, but because of the marked improvement (almost across the board) of our opposition it will take some changes and possibly self-sacrifice to get it done.

Thanks for your views and your well wishes and a healthy and prosperous New Year to you.

Bobby WolffJanuary 2nd, 2014 at 6:41 pm

Hi Danny,

First of all, thanks for your reply to Judy and for what you have said in it. The subject matter involved, at least for a complete (or near) discussion is comprehensive, sensitive, ultra important (at least my opinion), and far reaching.

I do not believe in partial disclosure of issues, since to do so, is very unfair to the reader who, in order to offer possible solutions or even just to comprehend the enormity (at least for high-level bridge’s future, especially in Zone 2) of what is involved — needs to know as much as the writer in order to be effective.

In order to concentrate on the more important issues, I would like to keep my comments as brief as possible, but at the same time, not overlook accurate descriptions and possible fallout of the subjects to be discussed. Because of this I will restrict my discussion to the issue on the table and continue later, in future blogs (with not much time elapsed in between) going on to the next installment.

Next, to answer your to the point questions:

1. Yes, it would be nice (I think imperative) to have the USA be represented by three top pairs and I do agree that the word “sponsor” sometimes having a negative connotation, shouldn’t begin to imply to someone like Marty Fleisher and IMO Nick Nickell, at least with his partnership with the late Dick Freeman, but I have, in the last too many years, not been as close to his partnership and can only speculate, like others, as to his partnership’s possible declining performance.

2. The above then is a stand alone suggestion that the word sponsor will no longer be used, but rather potential world class (which, at least to me, implies a higher quality than it might to others). FYI and to set the record straight let us call World Class (WC) the ability to compete on a 50-50 basis with the current best players in the world, not necessarily, and with good reason, the few ones who still (or might) cheat, but the other honest ones.

3. The line (as you refer to it) should be drawn with the basic requirements:

A. The method used for selection needs to be the quality of the player and his partnership, his attitude toward representing his country and its importance, his ethical bent, his getting along in a tolerable fashion with his possible teammates, his moderating the coined term of “winning at all costs” to within the logical ethical requirements of the game itself, his availability to do the homework necessary (in conjunction with the Captain’s and Coach’s mandates), his (or, of course, her to always be implied) attempt to cooperate with his team’s schedule or at the least, not be antagonistic to the desires of what the team expects.

B. Whatever method that our administrative division (always to be made up of non-biased, bridge intelligent individuals, who have only the best interests of bridge and our country in mind) has in mind, not necessarily restrictive to the methods we have used in the USA, but one which may be necessary to insure what the USA needs to be a factor in winning. As a history. it may be necessary to thoroughly examine other heretofore exceptional bridge nations (USA, France, Italy, Poland, Sweden, UK, Norway, Holland and now perhaps even some of the Asian nations with even a look at Brazil) in order to scrutinize the possibilities which now fit our particular needs.

C. Along with the above we (the USBF) needs to keep up with the changing logistics of what is happening in world bridge and most importantly, why. Also the USBF should (must) be made up of people who know what it takes to win and are not just political cronies of whoever it is that basically appoints them. To do otherwise would just be a continuation of, been there/done that, and unfortunately rue the consequences.

D. No one is saying, least of all me, that sponsorship of some kind is not necessary in our game to keep our best and brightest afloat financially. I am only saying no one, at least up to now, has explored what is happening right before our eyes and unless we recognize it, River City (USA) as we know it, will continue to go in the wrong direction with a free fall which will be nothing less than severe.

Enough for now, with the next installment taking up where we left off here.

Bobby WolffJanuary 4th, 2014 at 8:34 pm

Hello again, Danny:

Next we need to talk about the rules, regulations, and political considerations to which the WBF conforms and which has great influence on world bridge in general and each NCBO (National Contract Bridge Organization) in particular.

A quick, but backward history of how specific team representation was developed, starts out with one country/one team, at least for the Bermuda Bowl (BB), Venice Cup (VC), and the World Team Olympiad (WTO). In 1971 that was modified so that, beginning with the next BB (1973), the defending champion from the previous year was allowed to enter the BB, sometimes as a 2nd team from a specific country. It immediately took effect when the USA won the 1971 BB and thus was allowed to represent both the WBF and its originating country in 1973. The effect allowed the USA to have two teams in the 1973 BB held in Brazil, the first time for that to occur.

The above was done under the leadership of Jimmy Ortiz-Patino who appreciated the aura of having the best of bridge represented whenever rules could be constructed to so allow it. He then became President of the WBF in 1976 and served until 1986 when he retired and Denis Howard from Australia took over. During the ensuing years about the only material change (of course, including the BB then changing to every other year, with the WTO once every four years and the Rosenblum (R) held as part of the World Bridge Championship (WBC) also held once every 4 years, was that if a particular country had two teams, that they must meet in the semifinals (not the finals) after two USA teams met in the finals in 1977 in Manila, not only not creating a thrilla in Manila (Ali vs. Frazier for those who do not follow boxing) but also, had a discouraging effect on the electricity always generated by two different countries competing rather than only one.

All of the above details are mentioned to get to the point of, through the years there have been many countries, mostly from Europe, who resented other countries (USA) being allowed two teams while Europe was growing in ability (across the board) and probably now with teams from Bulgaria, Turkey, Russia and Israel not to mention the manufactured country of Monaco bridge, now in addition to the already fierce representatives from Italy, Poland, Sweden, Holland, UK, France, Germany and passing over Norway and Denmark (and ones I have embarrassingly left out) all adding up to double digit significant competition when only 6 or perhaps 7 (depending on the venue) can now, according to the WBF rules, qualify from Europe to play.

Soon as the USA demonstrates that they are not the only country with depth in world class (WC) players and their performance starts conspicuously to fall off, it is easy to predict that the USA will lose its 2nd team in all events.

Yes, there are political considerations and the official WBF law allowed countries with 160,000 or more members (USA only country to fit) to have two teams, but that was merely a red herring, started by Jimmy’s desire for the best that bridge has to offer to be qualified and thus available.

I have now, mainly because of my extreme hearing problem and older age, considerably lessened my involvement in the up to date workings with the management of the WBF, but I have always tried to be (and hopefully succeeding) non-political and representing world wide bridge in general instead of the USA in particular.

Yes, one robin does not a summer (or perhaps a spring) make, but in actuality we have to be deaf, dumb and blind, not to realize what the repercussions might represent unless we seek an immediate cure, always assuming that there might be one available, perhaps a way too optimistic assumption.

Next, I want to give you my take, on what has happened, and BTW I agree, in NT, that the USA does not have a monopoly on up and coming players, especially on partnership acuity, and, of course, on the best and brightest ones across our globe, but then I have experienced that fact first hand, and for many years, long before 2014 has arrived.

Bobby WolffJanuary 6th, 2014 at 6:23 pm

Still again, hello Danny,

Let’s start by the numbers to exchange some facts definitely on point, which may (will) play a role in determining the possible upcoming fragile relationship between the WBF and the USA:

1. The untimely death of Joan Gerard is not only a great loss to bridge, it has left a horrifying void in our relationship with the WBF. She was extremely well-respected, well liked and a jack of all trades in bridge, being of great assistance to all the Presidents who have served in the last 25+ years. She was almost always the first one called for when a bridge tournament (juniors, seniors, hemisphere, Corpus Christi, 1992, regularly scheduled major tournament etc.) needed planning, tweaking, negotiating or other problem solving concerning it. Because of that and her general honesty and seeing things the way they were, she was of great value in whatever she was chosen to do.

Her loss will create a glitch in the very important practical communications which must always go on in every world organization because of the very different cultural values involved between sovereign nations.

2. Also the over the years loss of Edgar Kaplan, Jim Zimmerman, Tommy Sanders, George Retek, Leo Spivak, Jerry Silverman,
Ed Theus and other well respected ACBL official representatives to the WBF, with only Jeff Polisner (the WBF lawyer who needs to remain 100% neutral) and Al Levy and a few relative newcomers to take up the slack will tend to work against the influence our country will need to have in the present and immediately upcoming years.

3. The ACBL’s attention is directly antagonistic to the wishes of the WBF, who are hoping for a better relationship with the IOC (definitely not a pipe dream) and, of course, would welcome help from our parent organization. The ACBL should be commended for their interest, generosity and promotion to our juniors (Atlanta and its results) but its stated long range policy of major attention to our social players who basically are involved with playing a game of “high card wins” is, at least to me, a direct denouncement of the electricity generated by our “high level game” since the days of Ely Culbertson and rising under the leadership of Charles Goren, when results were listed in our major newspapers and magazines as well as being leading books sold in our book departments (back in those days, bridge books were usually featured in the lead off tables in major department stores).

4. The ACBL would like to cut out all (or as many as possible) subsidies to our international game including the dues paid to the WBF simply because they think by paying those dues they are taking away from their primary interests of helping our relatively new social players become acclimated to duplicate bridge (to them, our calling card).

5. The USBF, our relatively new high-level administrative home, needs to be composed of creative thinkers, expert bridge lovers, people who have the time, energy and financial stability to keep our game on the lips and in sight of would be good players, while at the same time not be under anyone’s self-serving non-conforming, influence.

6. Because of the lack of blending with the current ACBL BOD’s motives, financial considerations will no longer be a minor, but rather a major glitch, in the furtherance of our needs and causes. Add that to the terrible economy, which no doubt will cause our major individual sponsors to not be able to be of much help in answering our plaintiff call of coming to our aid.

Again, enough for now.

Gary MugfordJanuary 10th, 2014 at 9:14 pm


I’m late to the game in this thread. A little bout with some of the medical issues I’m trying hard not to whine about. So I apologize for one late response to the blog.

I believe the ACBL got too enraptured with the success of their equivalent of selling snow to Eskimos. A slowing of the rate of decline in membership could be traced to the wide-spread availability of masterpoints. Indeed, Life Masters were for sale to those willing to put in the fee-paying time, rather than developing acuity in the actual game itself. North American teams are now feeling the effects of that … scheme.

And it has all been for naught. The membership roles grow still older. The game is no longer a social grace, but one of the games those crazy guys (and gals) play off in the corner of the quad. They do it IN PERSON, not even with computers!! Although, sight unseen, they do that too. Just not in great numbers. Bridge is an aging game where we come from.

And surprise, a great number of the aging players no longer want to make the big push for competiveness. Well, they do with their social group, but the kids just plain are too much of a bother, what with their fancy conventions, quick play and snotty attitude. They don’t RESPECT the grey-haired gentry.

So, once again, the ACBL makes plans to cater to those people that pay the bills. Hardly a stance that can’t be defended. Yet, it is a disappointing one, because there are, and have been, sporadic bursts of trying to attract youth. The ACBL administration(s) know that they are are in a zero-sum game with all other activities. They haven’t been able to find that attention sweet-spot to spur new blood. Like poker, Bridge NEEDS to be a TV game. And nobody, me included, has figured out a way to make that happen.

I think the true issue is that Bridge is not a shiny new thing for most kids. It was invented here (as in, on a yacht owned by an American, and then developed largely in America, participation-wise) LOOOOOONG ago. Our elders played the game. The novelty of the game simply doesn’t exist. But it does in China. In Russia too. And in a lot of new-to-the-game countries.

That doesn’t cover the excuse of why Europe moves forward in youth Bridge but America doesn’t. I think we can blame the fact that education is a fiefdom in America with great resistance to outside innovation. When it does happen, we frequently find it reported on 60 Minutes. The cultural clash between regions in the US has led to closing minds, not expanding them.

Bridge is simply not UP for consideration for the curriculum, generally speaking. Sure, some teachers, with pull, get the game in as an after-school elective. But it isn’t going to be part of the math course any time soon. If ever. And remember, there are religions in the US and here in Canada that frown (if not outright ban), the playing of cards. In fact, my partner in my junior years was the son of a minister who was, in fact, the Canadian head of a prominent church. As a result, my partner went to church every Wednesday to repent for all the time he spent playing cards the other six days of the week, including on the Sabbath. His parent were tolerant of the choices their son made (including hanging around with a certain agnostic guy). But other parents aren’t.

So, the young infusion of talent has been a trickle rather than a roaring stream. It’s NOT that we don’t have great young players. But the by-the-numbers expectation of having so many players to pick for international representation that the US can’t go wrong, is, of course, wrong. There are enough, but smaller countries are now finding they have an equivalent pool. Thus, it’s no longer a US vs. Italy world scene. Every country out there now seems capable of fielding a representative team. Even Canada, which you have harangued about in the past (with some justification).

The ACBL’s response? An economic one. Sponsors, including a somewhat successful Texan dentist, have become de rigueur for international representation. To quell the cries of the average ACBL Joe and Jill who want their fees going to cheaper session fees rather than sending rich cats to exotic climes in the name of our national pride. That was wrong too, but it was facilely accepted as the truth.

There have been JUST enough expert sponsors that the ACBL has been able to continue to allow the supposition continue that the US is ably represented by playing sponsor teams. Some of the best stories in world championship play have a sponsor playing a key role, including one marvelous session with the Blues getting handed their lunch.

But two things have conspired to create a dearth in sponsors who can wear the colours with pride and expertise. The first is the death/retirement of some of the better ones. The second is a world-wide economic downturn that has trimmed the ability to assemble good teams. The dollars are simply not flying around to the same degree.

So, do the ACBL ‘re-take’ command and try to enforce the best American representation rather than depending on which group of six with the best luck in not losing much when the sponsor plays (and pays) wins the trials? (And yes, I know the trials are actually NOT directly an ACBL product). The answer today is sure. The answer tomorrow might not be the same. It’s a fine line to walk, because, truly, the membership of the ACBL wants great national representation … as long as it’s paid for by somebody else. And like shareholders at major corporations, you have to listen to the base, these days.

If you want to stay in power.

There are no comprehensive solutions that have a realist chance of being a gigantic cure-all, from low youth enrollment to the occasional finish out of the money when the national jackets come out. (I say this as a Canadian who just saw our national Junior team finish out of the medals, prompting a day or three of mourning here in the Great White North).

What has to be done to turn the big boat around, is more effort has to be spent on youth acquisition. Heck, on middle-aged acquisition. Will that temporarily take away from national representation? Yes. But one worry outweighs the other.

Good luck sponsors. Your heart and/or ego is in the right place and we salute you. Please practice and get better. Be as good as you can be. We need you to be as serious about playing as you were in acquiring the wealth to be a sponsor. And better yet, if ego can be sated, please consider being a non-playing sponsor. Your country needs you, at that level, to put national pride before your own. But, in the meantime thanks for letting the ACBL focus on other things.

Sorry for being so long-winded. Especially since I offer up NO solutions to the thorny problems outlined above. But I had to add in my two bitcoins to the conversation.

Judy Kay-WolffJanuary 11th, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Hi Gary:

Just an interloper responding to your note to Bobby. I appreciate your sense of humor .. so necessary for such a worsening problem.

You’ll be hearing from him (between the playoffs .. probably)!!



bobby wolffJanuary 11th, 2014 at 7:24 pm

Hi Gary,

I do appreciate not only your “accurate take” on the duplicate bridge disaster in the USA, but the reasons why and the call for pessimism by bridge lovers and aficionados of our wonderful game who crave for something much more substantial, without which, it is not worth wasting their time.

Yes, it is obvious that the ACBL is only trying to impact the social players to somehow continue to play what they think is the game of bridge to the exclusion of the real game where all the electricity emanates producing a truly sensational mind sport worth Olympic consideration.

To use the term social grace or substance when discussing the current state of tournament bridge in the USA is to exaggerate beyond belief what bridge in the past has always represented.

Consider what many other creative countries around the globe have done, exactly the opposite, when they have gotten the course of bridge into their primary and secondary schools so as we speak today 200 million students are presently learning all the important lessons bridge has to contribute to everyday living.

Bridge helps in so many different daily exercises concerning adult life with problem solving, primary logic, legal private communications with partners, not forgetting the discipline required, group harmony, creative thinking, and the extreme competitiveness bridge contributes which tends to require our best while attempting to be as good as we can be.

When the ACBL mentions paying the bills, my question back to them is, pay the bills for what .. so that fringe players can continue to play “high card wins” instead of delving deeper into what is undoubtedly IMO the best mind sport ever developed. When I was first learning the game back in the 1940’s and became the Secretary of the San Antonio Bridge League at age 18, I would get an encouraging hand written note from the master point department, then located in Greenwich, Connecticut, by a bridge lover herself who worked there, congratulating me for reaching 20 master points and wishing me a great future in the game and suggesting that I always choose to play in the best game available, against the best players I could find. My, how things have changed since then when we had about 40 million players against probably fewer than 8 million now, many of whom are in old folks homes. Charles Goren’s picture was on the cover of Time Magazine in 1958 and bridge was always the featured subject in the department store’s book section.

If Horn Lake doesn’t stop it and make heroes out of our top bridge players, like they did Culbertson, Goren, Sobel, etc. back then, what chance have we got to succeed putting bridge back on the map?

The great relative youth movement in US bridge is indeed an exception and right now represents almost the only hope for the real future of our fantastic game, but where will these players go from now to the future, unless the ACBL takes a hand in promoting, financing, and making sure the real game, not the High-Card Win version, is perpetuated in no trump.

Again thanks for your adept summary of where we stand. Is it too late to do something about it? My feeling .. not if our wonderful country returns to our roots where industry and imagination once made us great, but, at least from what I can see, is going in other directions. At the very least, it is postponing the inevitable of a total disaster overtaking our pathetic current motives.

bobby wolffJanuary 12th, 2014 at 3:54 pm

Finally, as a concluding word on the USA’s relationship within the WBF, together with a hope to be, unbiased summary of where we stand at present both as to bridge and to administrative prowess, the sum total of which becoming vital to the influence our country will have in future WBF decisions, both regarding world bridge alone and most importantly, where our country will likely settle in importance and stature.

First, from an administrative point of view, when Nick Nickell some years ago, declined the possibility of assuming the important role of President of the WBF things began to change.

Within the WBF the President, plus a small staff, is ultra powerful, because of the nature of the setup, unpaid, with a relatively low budget for running the office which is vital to the future of bridge in the world. Included in those tasks are first promoting it, and then improving its tournaments, recognizing its champions, and mostly like tennis, golf, soccer, boat racing (America’s Cup) and of course, the Olympics themselves, being directly involved with World Championship (WC) competition. WC’s make it as fair and appealing as possible and creates an aura as to its perceived importance. From that format, then laws, conditions-of-contest, discipline, venues, finances, together with convenience for all, are the headliners, all with always keeping in mind the varied cultures and the necessity for all NCBOs who are interested and prepared to have a voice in how it is structured.

When Nick declined and for the obvious reason of being too busy with his business, although he genuinely loves the game and perhaps at a later time would be able to accept, still by his declination, no eligible and qualified person from the Western Hemisphere was left to consider handling its time consuming, but extremely necessary duties for keeping the bridge torch alive.

Therefore the power continued in Europe and between Jose Damiani and now Gianarrigo Rona the WBF is blessed to have two sensational bridge loving top administrators to lead it. However the absence of an American influence or even a Denis Howard from Australia or Ernesto d’Orsi from Brazil, two former excellent Presidents, Europe assumed a commanding role in shaping the destiny of the future.

Now let us turn to the development of the playing prowess of the top players. In China for now a long time bridge playing has assumed a major role, both in youth education (it is in Chinese schools, and as I write 200 million Chinese students are taking bridge as a primary and secondary course in school), thought important enough by their nation’s rulers to insist on it being a regular course in schools.

While the same is true in now double digit countries in Europe (with rave notices from its students) the results of this endeavor, together with special projects, similar to Ira Corn’s bridge experiment in the USA beginning in 1968 with the Aces, bridge in Europe at all levels, but especially the top, has started to be conspicuous by its positive results.

Mind you, all of this has happened with neither China nor anywhere in Europe having an organization such as the ACBL being a professional central controlling entity being in charge of its tournaments which includes publicity, education, directing, recording and generally managing its play with its calling card the master points won which is, of course, the golden goose (GG). That GG entices the participants, at least the 99+% who are not particularly emotionally involved with bridge at the highest levels and, of course, then striving for international representation.

I’ll close this summary by relating an amazing story (at least to me) of bridge in Indonesia (independent of the last WC in Bali). For a number of years the Indonesian ladies participated in both their national bridge tournaments and played in some trials to determine representation for their National Ladies team. For years the best word to accurately describe their results is mediocrity possibly averaging finishing, at best, in the middle of the pack. Several years ago their bridge organization took on a special project of isolating some number of their ladies in an ACES project of relearning bridge with the idea of showing better results from their teams. Presto, magico their team in Veldhoven, Holland very recently got to the finals of the Venice Cup, beating two of the best ladies teams in the World to get there, before losing in a hard fought match in the finals.

At least to me, this story recognizes what can be done with our great intellectual and social game in order to improve, seemingly overnight, except of course, it took longer for them, undoubtedly because of their difficult starting position.

Bridge as a game can be a fun pastime or better still, like tennis and golf, can be a serious competition which demands intelligence, discipline, personal ethicality, logic, numeracy, partnership harmony and competitive desire, all wonderful traits which all humans would (should) aspire.

Are we going to forget about what is currently happening to bridge in our country (hemisphere) or are we going to recognize
what we need to do to keep it alive and be more than just a “high card win” game which will, if nothing constructive is done, eventually be swallowed up into dust?

Gary MugfordJanuary 13th, 2014 at 4:33 am


While too many of the stalwarts I last worked with in the ACBL office have retired or passed on, I am sure they are still a hard-working lot who largely take directions rather than provide them. I say that because I thought some of the ACBL board decisions in my day were … okay, wordweb just found me a word to use, questionable. And some grumbling aside, the staff then executed them. With predictable results.

I’m also sure that they (the office crew) work hard at maintaining their own powerbase since incoming administrations (boards, presidents and coo’s) bring different favourites to the fore. The constant turnover HAS had a hand in allowing promising projects to stop mid-stream and then dry up. The threat of staleness in operation has resulted in stagnation of ideas.

I wasn’t the most popular guy that ever held my position. Although I did change it to Media Liason Officer, if only to maintain my shred of journalist dignity for having switched sides. More than half the board didn’t like me. I really WAS on borrowed time when I pulled the pin at the WBC’s in Bal Harbour and I’m pretty sure even some of my supporters were happy the furor was over and they could forget having to defend my “lack of respectful behaviour.” Unfortunately, for hiring me, others lost their jobs (well, at least one that I am sure of).

NOT that I represented the last best hope. Heck, a lot of my ideas I finally came up with post my career in the job. On the job, I was effective, I think, but hardly a wundkind. But I got NO traction for anything I conjured up. I’ve detailed those failures elsewhere. And whether it was my battle with your old pal Mr. Patino, or coming acropper with one Board member too many, I was doomed.

Honestly, I didn’t put my version of the Bambino’s Curse on the group. But as a casual observer in the years inbetween, I still wonder if I was the last of the unproven tests? Most hires in most positions since then have been known quantities. And that’s too bad. It wasn’t going to be me to come up with the hail mary. But the ACBL should have kept on trying. The next person might have been the hero. Or the one after that. But staying in the comfort zone, making occasional noises, but keeping the herd quiet, has brought us to where we are. The ACBL needs a New Coke overhaul that works. Whew!! Not asking for much there!

IF ANYBODY from the board reads my incoherent ramblings, I beg, implore and state for the record, “I WILL start paying membership fees instead of filching other people’s Bulletin’s,” if you can merely get Gates and his buddies to public start campaigning for Bridge to be taught in middle school, as an aid to math and group dynamics. Every SPONSOR worth his or her wealth, should be shouting from the hills, “Teach my young!” Not swiping players from each other’s teams every Christmas. No news about Bridge is bad news. Surely, they can all agree on that. Plus, it’s NOT like they don’t get TV time to find time to interject the little bon mot, “I WANT Bridge in our schools. Yesterday. Check my tax bill.”

That youth today, as in your Indonesian example, is the team we (colloquial in this case) send out in National Team blazers. Luckily, there’s enough attention paid right now to the junior ranks that the very near term looks okay. But it remains time for Navel Gazing. We here in Canada have not won gold at the World Junior Hockey Championships in six years. The sound you here from the North is the gale force winds we have created by sucking in. We WILL do something about it. And when the next slump occurs, there will be emergency meetings and changes forthwith then, too. Even if, when it really comes down to it, it’s a case of the world catching up to us. The last six years? Six different nations hearing their anthems at the end. We have all agreed here in Canada that we can’t merely send out a club team any more. And, even our assembled best has been found wanting. We will get serious about this latest transgression against what we think of as our national right.

In the States, basketball has gone through much the same progression. Club teams, then collections of college talent, then a rebirth with the pros followed by the comeuppance that anything less than a serious effort will be required.

Now US Bridge, be like Mike. Get serious.

bobbywolffJanuary 13th, 2014 at 6:40 pm

Hi Gary,

Between your gleaned knowledge, energy, bridge sophistication, and general enthusiasm it should be a pleasure for the ACBL to hire you with the express purpose of getting the USA’s educational department to at least listen to what is going on around the world (with rave notices from many other countries in hand) and among the continents who most resemble us in former economic and democratic (close to) success.

Without doing the above we have IMO very little chance to save our game or much more important, save our country from falling into a deep abyss, possibly taking decades or even, bite one’s tongue, centuries to emerge.

I urge the ACBL (our professional organization) to take that small step, without which, unless we are lucky enough to travel over the rainbow and find the Emerald City (without the wizard, Frank Morgan, behind the drapes), it will not have a chance to happen.

All I can do is hope, you are still young and energetic enough to do more, but I’ll even settle for the ACBL BOD’s to seriously look into doing something positive or else be prepared to start thinking about making funeral arrangements for what used to be an unbelievably challenging and fascinating exercise of playing the game which brought great delight for all those who participated.



Gary MugfordJanuary 13th, 2014 at 8:15 pm


Thank you for your kind words and I hope we are both wrong. Very wrong. And Bridge might prove too intractable to ever kill. Despite some concerted effort.

As to the possibility of a fourth tour with the ACBL … Naw. I’m in questionable health and travel would likely come close to killing me (blood clots in my lungs). Can I opine from my bully pulpit here in the Great White North? Absolutely. But I speak from a position of ignorance in terms of the fine details at issue here. I THINK better can be done. I THINK a different direction is best. I THINK waiting for a better tomorrow without doing much to make it so is … counter-productive. But I’m still politically naive, determinedly so. Which makes me counter-productive in other ways.

Younger, smarter, better. The bright promotional minds are out there. Somebody just has to find them and give them a chance. Crowd-sourcing on BDO might very well be a good start. Don’t limit the pool to Americans. Don’t limit it to successful Bridge players (I’d suggest EXCLUDING them would be a better policy). Ask EVERY former Junior player from ALL four contributing nations for advice. KEY: “How’d you get started in the game.”

Sponsors should get listed somewhere. EACH of them should be contacted quarterly and asked what they were doing for Bridge. Annoying as all heck. But there’s two ways to deal with annoyances that are positive. Prove you CAN do something about, or get angry and DO something about it. You think they’d REALLY quit? With the egos involved? Me neither.

And by the way, why NOT have advertising on team shirts and call them the XXXXX team. Fill in the X’s with whatever commercial concern is involved. Other than a Nevada brothel. I’d draw the line at that. We have GOT to stop calling teams by their captain’s personal name, or that of the sponsor. News outlets have too much info being thrown at them today to be overly concerned with something that probably fits into some family’s Christmas clan newsletter. Now tell them the Microsoft All-Stars beat the Coca-Cola Kings, and you will have their attention and space in their news-stream. Maybe the ACBL can cut a deal for five percent of advertising revenue’s for sponsored teams. And prevent them from doing so unilaterally without permission. Just spit-balling here.

Bridge is a multi-layered game with all KINDS of stories about newcomers sitting down with the greats. I played against you and the ‘other’ Bob when I was in my teens at a Canadian Nationals in Toronto. BIG thrill. And we split the round, thank you very much. THAT kind of story needs telling and re-telling and telling for a third time. What other activity allows that? Poker, if you are willing to pony up the entrance fee to the World Series of Poker. One event. Bridge offers these kind of opportunities EVERY weekend. For about 20 bucks.

At the SAME time, Bridge is a difficult game. EVERY non-Bridge player KNOWS that. TOO DIFFICULT. Well, we have to do a Frank Luntz re-brand and declare all that is required to learn to play Bridge is the ability to count to thirteen. Forget all the fancy stuff. Can you count to 13? If so, two hours from now, you WILL be playing Bridge and starting a LIFETIME of enjoyment. There IS NO HURDLE to starting to play the game. Yes, there are competitive levels where things get much more complicated, but you aren’t declaring for that level of sophistication. All you are doing is finding a way to spend a pleasant evening playing cards with friends. Or soon to be friends.

Bridge Clubs are social clubs too. Come meet people from all age groups who share an interest in playing cards and spending time with each other. Might not be as good as the laundromat or the store for meeting new people, but at the very least, you know they won’t be anti-social layabouts. (This, of course, is a sop to the current ACBL directives).

Bridge is NOT an activity that should be hard to promote. It’s got all kinds of pluses you enumerated earlier in this thread. What IS needed is the will to do this and to jump even further out of the box of expected ACBL perceptions. SOMETHING will click.

Except sitting back and waiting for everything else to die off.

Steven GaynorJanuary 17th, 2014 at 8:32 pm

Sponsored teams, not unlike what Pierre Zimmermann has done in Monaco, can improve visibility and increase the importance of bridge events in the eyes of the general and the bridge playing public.

Until there is something worthwhile to play for ($$$, mainly), it will be difficult to interest the general population.

Money could come from non-playing sponsors (probably corporations or other businesses) that see some benefit in spending money on a competitive bridge team and having them identified with their product. That could grow the game in the public eye.

But the decent player who has financial resources to support a team on which he (or she) is a playing member does a service to the game making it appealing for talented youngsters to learn the game well and present themselves for hire.

Until the aCBL or someone else figures out how to excite the masses about the game we will continue as we are now.

bobbywolffJanuary 18th, 2014 at 12:30 am

Hi Steven,

And that is exactly what many countries in Europe and all of China (with 200 million students exposed daily) are doing by establishing bridge in the schools (with rave notices already well known and often reported from the students in Europe) as to the educational opportunities for learning a game which in many ways mirrors the activity to lead a successful business and private life.

I agree with what the ACBL needs to do and that is primarily work hard to get bridge in to our educational system via our primary and secondary schools.

That alone will accomplish your goal of how to excite the masses since bridge will soon become a consistent topic of conversation, especially among our young people, something that corporations will not be able to deny.