Happy Birthday, Eddie
Friday November 9th is a significant birthday for one of the good guys of the bridge world, Eddie Kantar. I’m not going to tell you how old he will be — if you want to know, you can look him up in the Bridge Encyclopedia. Besides, he doesn’t look or act his age — not too many years ago, I watched him take on the much younger Eddie Wold (a former Texas state champion) at table tennis, and lose a hard-fought match 3-1. Round about the same time, he played tennis against Britain’s Andy Robson, a match that ended politely after two sets with the score 1-1. Both confessed afterwards it was the first time they had lost a set to a bridge player!
I well remember trying to talk Eddie into doing his first book for us, more than 15 years ago. His ‘Big Red’ book on defense was renowned as a classic, but from my point of view, it could be improved a lot. Some of the material was outdated, the organization was poor, the design and layout was prehistoric, and the whole thing had been typeset on a typewriter — the publisher’s fault, not Eddie’s. It would be big task, however, and Eddie was reluctant to undertake it.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I can do most of the work, and all you’ll have to do is give it a quick read and approve the final version.”
“But it won’t sound like me,” said Eddie.
“Don’t worry, ” I said. “I can make it sound like you.”
I was wrong.
I did do the first pass on what eventually became two books: Modern Bridge Defense and Advanced Bridge Defense. But when Eddie saw the manuscripts he must have been appalled at what I was proposing should be published under his name, and he proceeded to rewrite every word of them both. Thank goodness.
We’ve gone on to do many books together, but never again did I have the hubris to claim that I could mimic Eddie’s style, which in every sense of the word is inimitable. Eddie is a world-class bridge player who is able to write for those of us below that pinnacle — indeed, even for beginners. And his sense of humor is legendary. Indeed, if you haven’t read his book of humorous bridge anecdotes, Classic Kantar, you have seriously missed something.
These days, Linda and I attend NABC’s for reasons other than playing, and so do Eddie and his charming wife Yvonne. So we’ve naturally ended up spending time together. We’ve climbed mountains, dug up geocaches on beaches, gone on tours, visited art galleries, and eaten numerous breakfasts, lunches and dinners ensemble. And of course, we’ve played bridge. Eddie is never without a deck of cards (well, that’s not actually true — one time we had to nip across the road to buy a deck) so after we’ve ordered our meals, out they come, and suddenly we’re in the middle of Eddie’s infamous Home Game.
There have only been two ‘serious’ bridge games. One time Eddie had been asked by a friend to play in a 1-session Swiss, so he rounded up Linda and me as team-mates. We had a great time, losing only in the last round when our opponents bid a very low percentage game that rolled home. The next day Eddie was still worried that he had let through an overtrick on defense on another (and completely irrelevant board). Eddie worries a lot, actually, especially about his books — he reads and rereads them, sending me little improvements and corrections long after the book is finally printed.
The other serious game was two or three years ago. New York Times correspondent Phillip Alder was visiting and wanted to play casually one evening, so Eddie organized a set game against Linda and me. Any time anything interesting came up, one or the other of them would dive for a notebook and write down the deal. I didn’t dare read either of their columns for months after that (although I did manage to maneuver it so Linda played all the tough hands). I hadn’t been so nervous since the time I was playing in an Open Pairs and Edgar Kaplan and Frank Stewart arrived at the table, with Freddie Sheinwold as their kibitzer!
Eddie doesn’t play much any more, but he’s still writing, as readers of many bridge magazines around the world know. He’s still working on books, too: some of them new projects, some of them updates of old ones (like the just released ‘Defensive Tips for Bad Cardholders’ – a classic Kantar title if ever I heard one). And he’s still one of the nicest guys you’ll ever come across, at the bridge table or away from it.
So happy birthday Eddie on Friday — and many, many more!