Ray Lee

Setting it straight

Anyone who reads this blog knows I am not a big fan of the sponsorship game in bridge.  It’s a necessary (?) evil at best and it devolves into a farce when the sponsor whose team carries him or her to some title is lauded as a great player.

Having said that, there are sponsors and sponsors.  One of the better players among them is Jimmy Cayne, until recently CEO of investment house Bear, Stearns in New York.  He stepped down (or up) to Chairman in January after the company took huge losses in the asset-backed paper fiasco that continues to plague the US financial scene.  Cayne has been a long-time supporter of bridge in many areas (of which more below).  

ACBL District 17 President John Van Ness, writing in the most recent Western Conference monthly bulletin, takes a rather gleeful swing at Cayne for having been demoted.  He also seems to take special pleasure from Cayne’s own financial losses in the recent market downturn.

Perhaps there’s some personal history — maybe Cayne’s team beat up on Van Ness’s on the way to winning the Reisinger in San Francisco last Fall.  It seems odd that he would go out of his way, in a column otherwise devoted to local news about tournament schedules and entry fees, to replay the gossipy Wall Street Journal November 2007 piece about Cayne being absent playing bridge while the company fell apart.

Now, I suspect John Van Ness doesn’t know any more about how Jimmy Cayne spends his time than I do.  But I do know a couple of things that he probably doesn’t.  First, 13 years ago Cayne ‘loaned’ money to support the 1995 Team Trials, without which they could not have been held.  Indeed, he expected never to see that money again, and was very surprised when it was repaid.

More dramatically, he played a key role in the Nargassans affair in the late 90s, something that could have wiped out the ACBL.  For anyone not familiar with what happened, the ACBL was approached by Nargassans, who claimed to be an experienced events promoter.  For a mere $2 million in seed money, he would create a marketing machine that would put bridge on the map.  At the time, producing this sum would have required the ACBL to reduce its staff and member services drastically; nevertheless, many Board members were in favor of the idea.  When Jimmy Cayne met Nargassans, he smelled a rat, and arranged for a background check, which showed no evidence of Nargassans ever having done any of the things he claimed.  This still didn’t convince everyone on the Board, but eventually the proposal was rejected.  For a full behind-the-scenes account of this astounding affair, I refer readers to Bobby Wolff’s forthcoming autobiography. The Lone Wolff.

So next time Mr. Van Ness decides to take a swing at Jimmy Cayne, he should remember that he may well owe the existence of the ACBL and his District presidency with all its nice perks to Mr. Cayne.  There are sponsors and sponsors, and for me at least, Jimmy Cayne (like Nick Nickell) is one of the guys in the white hats.


Cameron FrenchJanuary 28th, 2008 at 5:29 pm


the road to the world of professionalism is filled with potholes.

I can’t blame the pros, who are (especially in the lower tiers) happy to earn a paycheck and provide a path for learning to up and coming players. They fill a need.

There are the rich ones, and the not so rich ones.

As Edgar noted, it brings out the worst in the unscrupulous. Not unlike Hal Holbrook in Wall Street, “the trouble with money is that it makes you do things you would never otherwise do.”

It is a slippery slope. I have hired “expert” players with mixed results. One, was so obnoxious to opponents (he was trying to intimidate them, allegedly for my benefit) I told him I thought his conduct was “unprofessional” and “an affont to the game”. His reply was “do you want to win or not?”

To which I answered, “not that that, you’re fired.”

And I learned from that and hired a friend with a specific set of guidelines, like no criticisms at the table, reviewing the hands after the fact, and we had a wonderful time.

I owned a bridge club way back when and we hired George Mittleman for a series of lessons. He brought insight, expertise, and considerations that I dare say few of us had thought about. He earned his fees and we got our money’s worth.

So, my advice is be wary.

Tell a prospective pro whart you want and how you want it. Ask for references. Be selective. If you want a teacher, choose someone more able in that skill.

And as you are the customer, be prepared to question and query when your pro does things you don’t follow, like or respect. You pay the freight, you are the boss.

I suggest you have zero tolerance for rudeness. One thing it taught me, I would rather play with a novice friend who I enjoyed than an expert who felt rudeness and disrepect to be necesary tools for winning.



Larry LandeJanuary 28th, 2008 at 9:41 pm

Well said Ray. Jimmy and his wife Pat do many fine things for many organizations.

PaulJanuary 29th, 2008 at 6:49 am

JEC’s regular practice matches on Bridge Base Online gives everyone the opportunity to watch some of the world’s best players for free.

It’s really good to see a sponsor who is prepared to give back so directly to the bridge world.

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