Andre Bovee-Begun

The Lone Wolff-ess: Getting to know Judy Kay-Wolff

It’s safe to say that Judy Kay-Wolff is a pillar of the community. Her blog runs the gamut of bridge topics, and doesn’t shy away from touching the occasional nerve. As someone who’s spent her life at the center of the bridge world, Judy has seen a lot, and has a lot to say about it all. Not only that, but she has a confirmed talent for sparking vigorous discussions as readers pile on to have their say.

In the past, we’ve interviewed and profiled the authors of new or upcoming bridge books. To shake things up a little, we thought it was high time to start taking an in-depth look at the bloggers who make up Whether for new visitors or long-time readers, it’s practically impossible to imagine Bridgeblogging without Judy in the middle of things — right where she’s been for over fifty years. So we sat down with Judy and asked her to take a break from blogging about all things bridge, and instead to tell us a little about herself. Here’s what she had to say: Can you tell us a little about the role bridge has played in your life

Judy: Until a summer at Columbia University in 1955, before my graduation from Temple University, I led a normal, healthy, well-adjusted life as most college students. Suddenly, I became engulfed in the bridge tsunami when I witnessed four fellas screaming at the top of their lungs and tossing cards at each other on the patio of Columbia’s Lion’s Den. I learned the rudiments of the game that summer, never went to class and crammed for the final (in Abnormal Psychology — quite appropriately).

Here it is 2011 (56 years later) and I am as addicted as ever. It has afforded me many blessings including two wonderful world champion husbands, the late Norman Kay and two years after his death I became Mrs. Bobby Wolff. My life and family has been enriched by the incredible number of marvelous friends I acquired through my travels not only to over 145 nationals but also countless fabled cities all over the world. In many ways, you seem to have a knack for turning up hidden treasures — including the dusty manuscript that became your husband’s book The Lone Wolff. Do you think there is something about bridge that attracts buried gems?

Judy: When you have been active for over 55 years in bridge (with two world class playing husbands) you amass clippings, articles, pictures, letters, poems, original bridge  shows, scrapbooks, storage boxes, magazine covers, monthly ACBL Bridge Bulletins, Daily Bridge Bulletins and whatever else I trip across in my storage room. I  could write blogs till hell freezes over but I have a feeling I will go first. The proudest of all my achievements was to convince Bobby to finish his manuscript. Can you tell us about how The Lone Wolff came to be?

Judy: When I visited Dallas in 2003, I happened upon a dust-laden manuscript buried high on a closet shelf. Having a curious nature, I scraped off the debris and found a half-finished book which merely stopped in mid-stream. Bobby proclaimed that he’d lost interest — but that was not an acceptable retort so I resurrected it, edited the first eighteen chapters and encouraged him to finish the rest, with the assurance I would read and edit and we would get it before the public ASAP.

Much of it was shocking and so very candid. I would not allow it to be neglected any longer and we worked side by side for about two more years and then had the good fortune to be directed to Ray Lee and Master Point Press, who made the rest of the job a piece of cake. I consider my little part in getting it to the press one of the most worthwhile accomplishments of my life, as it was a “must” for all true bridge players to read about all the dirt that had been swept under the carpet. A real shocker! What about having Charles H. Goren as a wedding guest?

Judy: Yes, I was a thrilled bride (not forgetting the excitement of my mother and her bridge club) when Charles Goren alit from the cab in front of dozens of curious onlookers who awaited his arrival. Finally, my mom didn’t have to make excuses for my not being married at 29 because as she put it, “How can she meet a suitable mate when she is running around with that circus every weekend.” (That circus, in case you were uncertain, referred to the thousands of players I came into contact with each weekend as we toured the bridge circuit within about 150 miles). Then I met Norman Kay — had a beautiful wedding attended by many celebrities and my mother stopped being badgered.

In retrospect, it was a very exciting part of my life, being introduced to, and becoming friendly with, some of the most famous stars of the sixties. Stone, Roth, Root, Schenken, Crawford, Rapee, Stayman, Silodor, Murray, Kehela and of course Norman’s favorite partner for over forty years (with a three year hiatus when he played with Sidney Silodor until his death in August of ’63) … the legendary Edgar Kaplan. There has been a lot of excited talk around the office about the Diamond Team competing in this years trials. With a field that includes children of bridge masters and the youngest-ever New York player of the year, are you excited to see the rising stars of bridge coming into their own?

Judy: Yes, and first and foremost they are to be commended for their demeanor at the table and their much admired ethics and morality. Brad Moss who was an old friend of my daughter, Robin, when she lived in New York  and it is a thrill for me to see his name in print so often.

Bobby, with the help of Bob Rosen, worked to organize Junior Bridge teams. To his recollection, all six of the Diamond Team’s players competed in the early 90’s except Greco, a few years younger, who did not come onto the scene until later. The Junior Trials has an engraved trophy donated by Peter Pender, awarded every two years since 1990. It is exhilarating to see so many budding U. S. (and former Canadian) experts in the limelight. Is bridge much different today from when you started playing — both as a game and a community?

Judy: Heavens, yes!!! When I came upon the scene, the players were still using strong two-bids and strong jump overcalls. Few played weak notrumps and negative doubles. Soon they all came into vogue and I must confess, compared to now, the bidding was really primitive — but we didn’t know any better about more sophisticated ways of exchanging information. Soon Roth-Stone became a thing of the past and Kaplan-Sheinwold and Precision Club rose in popularity— especially in the U.S.

As a community, people took bridge less seriously than today. When master points became the fad, people would kill for them. Today, professionalism is the rage. Instead of holding regular 9-5 jobs, wealthy sponsors have enabled some of the top experts to make their living via sectionals, regionals, nationals. Trials and International Competition. On a smaller scale, many take private lessons or pay better players to partner them in the club duplicates. Bridge has changed enormously from the early days to the modern era. For better or for worse? That is the question! Alluding to some of your blogging criticism of the ACBL, do you see these kind of issues taking a toll on the game?

Judy: Well. it all depends upon which side of the fence you are!!! I take major issue with huddles, hitches, trances, breaks in tempo (call them what you want) which convey Unauthorized Information (UI). If you are the victim, of course you are upset and want to see the ACBL take an active part in discouraging and eliminating all illegal ways of helping partner. If you are the perpetrator and can get away with it, why would you want to be stifled??

It is basically the same principle as forgetting the conventions on your card, called Convention Disruption (CD), which places your opponents at a big disadvantage. The ACBL must take a strong position (the offense is passed over rather lightly at the present) and make the punishment a major consideration to encourage opponents to get their acts in shape because of potential penalties.

When the resurrected Hall of Fame appeared in 1995 after a 29 year break, many of the who had passed away during the three decades since the HOF had ceased were elected along with the live candidates to the Hall of Fame. But they are now listing the honorees in a hodge-podge list with no differentiations between the ultimate bridge experts and gracious non-expert volunteers. It makes a farce of the entire process. I predict soon they will break down the barriers and allow sponsors to be included. Then the Hall of Fame will just turn into a free for all.

And since my many blogs have detailed the mishandling of the Peter Pender joint donation of $77,500 to the ACBL/EF back in 1990 when he died — the sloth, lack of leadership and disappearances from a fund that was to be used to commemorate Peter’s name by re-naming the Vu-graph the Pendergraph — you can check out the sites yourselves. What are your thoughts about the current state of the game? Are there any long overdue developments?

Judy: I am not a happy camper with the disorganization and indifference of the ACBL. There are too many non-bridge players in key positions and I can give you a perfect example. A few years ago, Bobby got a call from an ACBL employee who wanted to interview him at length about Charlie Goren, whom he knew and had often played both with and against. Toward the end of this conversation, Bobby asked the interviewer a pertinent question. Her reply: ” I don’t know. You see I don’t play bridge.”

There was also another incident I blogged about which Bobby said was about the worst ruling he had witnessed in sixty years. When it came before a committee of top directors (presided over by a non-bridge player), they made a unilateral decision (Case Closed!) because (according to them — and no information) no bias was shown by their directors.

What is overdue? The entire method of decision handling by unqualified individuals and playing favorites so as not to lose customers or card fees. Perhaps voluntary appeals committees should be on standby in case of an incident. If you could choose a high and low point in bridge history, what would they be?

Judy: The creation of BBO might be the greatest accomplishment of the modern bridge era. Other than high points in my own personal family’s career, I cannot recall any salvos, balloons or fireworks, except Omar Sharif dancing with a young lady at the Awards Banquet in Deauville to “Lara’s Theme,” from Dr. Zhivago. Had we gotten bridge into the schools, I would consider that phenomenal — but alas, not here in the states.

One low point in bridge was the action by the Shanghai Witches at the WBF Awards Ceremony, where the winning women’s team displayed the hand-printed sign “We did not vote for Bush” before eighty or so nations (despite agreeing that political statements or maneuvers were forbidden during WBF events). The WBF’s motto is “BRIDGE FOR PEACE,” a far cry from the intent of the disgusting personal sign. Warring nations sit down with each other in a friendly manner and play against ladies and gentlemen from countries with different political views.

There is no place for anti-American demonstrations on a world bridge stage. Bridge has taken you around the world many times over. Can you share some of your memorable travels with us? Are there any upcoming trips you’re looking forward to?

Judy: My good fortune with both Norman and Bobby allowed me to see many memorable sites I would never have reached had I enjoyed a “normal” life” — as opposed to the bridge menagerie.

Funny thing, the memories were not bridge related except for two English adventures ….my trip to the legendary Crockford’s with Norman on our way to Deauville and the treat of playing at Andy Robson’s charming bridge duplicate a few years ago where Bobby adopted Andy’s philosophy about alerts “On a need to know  basis” which he truly believes in.

Due to the generosity and hospitality of the one and only Mr. Yeh, we traveled to Beijing once and Shanghai twice.  I may be the only person in creation who (along with Dan Morse’s wife Joan) spent two days at the alley discount outlets and never during the week got to see the Great Wall of China.   What bargains!  One  price?   You must be kidding.  They finally ask you “how much you wanna pay???”  I also remember having breakfast high atop the hotel we were visiting and  seeing dozens of skyscrapers in Beijing that put New York to shame – making it look like Lilliput.

Another experience I enjoyed was in Istanbul where there were U. S. government warnings about lack of safety and terrorism, and boy was I delighted when we received the green light.    The first day I ventured out to their famous Bazaar and must have made three return trips, buying enough jewelry to open my own boutique!

However, I must confess my most memorable experience took place in England en route to Deauville.   We had just left Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum but nothing in comparison to seeing Winston’s Churchill’s bunker and war rooms.   However, we were told that instead of remaining below in safety, the old boy would  march  up to the roof to watch the Blitzkrieg trying to do their thing.  I was a young child in the early forties so this was quite an experience to finally see all the British war wonders we had been reading about for years.

No travel plans in the future – but one never knows.


Lindq leeApril 30th, 2011 at 11:09 am

What a wonderful life you have led. You are an inspiriation to all of us

John Howard GibsonApril 30th, 2011 at 8:49 pm

HBJ : We switch on ours computers daily and wait for more buried treasures to be published….. for all to sit back, read and enjoy.

Judy Kay-WolffApril 30th, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Dear Linda and JHG:

Thanks for your kind words.

Blogging for me is a true labor of love despite the continual effort to avoid spelling errors, typos and grammatical goofs. I find I am constantly going back and correcting them –but that goes with the territory. Lots of time, effort and thought goes into each one (regardless of the length) and it is rewarding to receive comments and discussions on the subject matter. Many write to me privately but I encourage them to share their thoughts and grievances with the public.

It seems I am always at my computer and out of curiosity, I checked into my blog history. To my shock, if my reading comprehension is correct, I learned I began on 9/18/08 and have written 284 pieces. Time does fly when you are having fun!



EvMay 3rd, 2011 at 1:17 am

Only you, Judy, write with such humor and yet — so interesting. Right now I am watching the Phillies and thinking of the party you had for Deedy’s birthday with celebrated announcer Howard Cosell as the host. We did have some good laughs…

Judy Kay-WolffMay 3rd, 2011 at 1:26 am


Had to think for a moment. That was almost ten years ago — six months before Norman died How about the one I threw for her 50th with Bernie Parent of the Flyers where we had to almost pick her off the floor because we thought she fainted when he walked into the room. It’s costly having an adorable sister who is a sports nut, but

reminders like yours make it all so worth while.


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