Bobby Wolff


Watching the Beijing Summer Olympics on TV has rekindled many nostalgic memories involving my international bridge career spanning nearly four decades. Representing one’s country before a steadily growing league of nations is a unique honor and should be cherished as a privilege earned by relatively few.

My involvement encompassed thirty-eight years of world bridge championships. I was absent from four, served as a non-player/administrator in five and proudly represented my country (and zone) in the remaining twenty-nine.  Those years have passed swiftly, though poignant memories and feelings remain deep-seated – especially as we approach the close of this year’s Olympic extravaganza. Whether one partakes as an administrator or player, the focus is directed to the individual’s responsibility to the task at hand. When attending in dual capacities, my playing always came first, although I was ever conscious of my duties to help improve the game.

Watching the goings-on in Beijing, I find it touching to see the camaraderie exhibited by the competing nations -– especially at this horrifying period in history as we witness terrorism, suffering, strife and political confrontations all over the globe.  When a player of one nation realizes that his opponent is in a relatively similar station (in realms of ability, motivation and expectation of finish), a strong natural bond develops. This so-called bond exudes with respect (or even love) but does not interfere with one’s determination to best his or her opponent. These feelings of warmth and admiration continue for a lifetime.  Ask one who knows!

The mental challenge of bridge championships vary in many facets from the more corporal nature of the present day Beijing gala – but they unmistakably share a lofty goal:  Players must always be comfortable, knowing their teammates are giving one hundred percent of themselves – and playing by the rules (not employing chicanery or subterfuge) — with everyone’s ultimate objective being that contests are decided on merit alone!  But — unlike bridge (where the actual numerical score determines the winner), the regular Olympics are somewhat skewed by subjective, judgmental evaluations in several categories — which sometimes allows the process to slip from grace).

The overwhelming distinction between physical Olympians and their bridge playing counterparts is age! In body sports, the average competing age is somewhere in the mid-twenties and in most instances, their staying power normally does not exceed twelve years (three Olympics). World class bridge players begin earlier, usually peak in their thirties – but unlike the athletic aspirants, can remain at the top for thirty or forty years.

This age-related durability of bridge competitors enables them to pursue their dreams over an extended period of time and enhances the thrill of victory by savoring many long-standing close friendships with people of other cultures from all walks of life.  Such has been my experience and I treasure my unique closeness with hosts of intelligent, honorable, competitive, productive, dynamic personalities in all phases of the game whom I encountered during my extensive bridge odysseys (not to forget that some whipped my butt on occasion – but that all goes with the territory). Bridge Olympics have provided an incomparable milieu for me to make and sustain a world class cast of friends! I am most grateful for that honor.

The fortunate individuals who enter the International Bridge arena have assumed a seat of honor as one of a select group who have earned the right to represent his or her homeland – whether it be country, island, territory or region. However, in the last half century our game has been insidiously invaded by inappropriate mandates on non-related bridge issues – namely politics! Several nations have issued ultimatums to their players to forfeit matches to countries with whom their foreign policies do not conform. Bridge boycotts are not accepted with popularity and taint the beauty and sanctity of our game. You may remember previous situations with China (Mainland and Taiwan), the Apartheid issue involving South Africa and the more widely publicized Arab-Israeli conflicts.

Politics has no rightful place in world bridge competition.   Regrettably, my own country was in violation at the recent Shanghai World Championships in 2007 when our victorious Women’s Team disrupted the pomp and circumstance of the World Bridge Federation Medal Presentation Ceremony by flashing a denouncement of their feelings for President Bush.

The World Olympics is a showplace for talent — where the spectators revere and applaud the artists who attain the greatest heights. The performers’ efforts are fraught with diligence, dedication and unilateral mind-set to being Number One! Where else can a plethora of world powers convene in a serene, but exuberant, atmosphere with mutual respect for those who vie for and capture the Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals. To me — there is nothing more beautiful than enjoying the strains of a country’s national anthem as their flag is being hoisted and share the glowing pride of the winners.

The Olympics provide a perfect venue to lay the groundwork for world peace. It is a starting point!  I, personally, have grown and matured to understand the ethnologies and cultures of many of my foreign brethren. It is most gratifying to observe the competitive ethics and decorum of rival nations at the Awards Ceremonies.  If only the sportsmanship exhibited by the bridge citizens of our universe had a significant impact on our power-driven political leaders (both friendly and rogue), our society would provide a safer and happier haven for us and the generations which follow.


LindaAugust 26th, 2008 at 12:16 pm

Your comments are inspirational. For many countries playing bridge at a world championships is a sacrifice for the participants who need to contribute their time and money to make it happen. But it also a wonderful experience. I do think that events like the Olympics can help unite us.

However what I find frightening is the apparent systematic cheating by countries. It is bad enough when individuals cheat (if perhaps understandable given the immense rewards) but when a country sponsors cheating it completely cheapens the entire thing. It also appears that the IOC is not willing to take aggressive action to deal with this situation. I do remember in former days the suspicions of “state sponsored” steriod use by East German swimmers for example. I wish that the IOC would quickly and seriously investigate charges of drug use, underage gymnasts etc.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFAugust 27th, 2008 at 6:56 pm


I strongly concur with Linda’s view that the IOC must rise to the occasion and address the possible issues of drug abuse, underage participants and any other potential violation of the official Conditions of Contest governing the Olympics.

Tarnishing the exalted image of the recently completed extravaganza in Beijing has undoubtedly caused their reluctance to pursue the contested issues in a timely fashion. Nevertheless, the powers on high have a responsibility to the millions of supporters, attendees and viewers (not to overlook the competitors themselves) to fully investigate the challenged improprieties of 2008.

This situation is not dissimilar to those faced by administrators of the ACBL back in the Fifties and Sixties where known hanky-panky existed – both nationally and at the world level. The reasons for their closed-eyes policy was twofold: (1) Fear of litigation by the accused; and (2) The dreaded realization that a scandal would erupt, exposing the game to bad publicity and criticism. Thus, they did nothing.

Perhaps had our passive, misdirected leaders had the courage to tackle the problems head-on (by reprimand, probation, temporary expulsion or even permanent exile) – those practicing their evil art would have been relegated to the roles of non-entities and has-beens – never to surface again. Fortunately, in recent years the laissez faire attitude has been abandoned and a new breed of honorable leaders have emerged – exhibiting initiative and determination to rid our hobby of these shameless creatures.

It would serve the IOC well to move full speed ahead and be undaunted by the probable stigma their public persona (as well as that of their Chinese hosts) would suffer — by checking into the purported violations of the Olympic Rules, confirming or refuting the accusations. Such a measure will assure all future participants (individuals, teams and nations) that they are competing on a level playing field and abiding by the same rules!

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