Ray Lee

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  Some of the material was outdated, the organization was poor, the design and layout was prehistoric, and the whole thing had been typeset on a typewriter — the publisher’s fault, not Eddie’s. 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!



Judy Kay-WolffNovember 7th, 2012 at 3:38 pm


What a perfectly delightful and comprehensive account of our popular Eddie Kantar. Out of curiosity, I checked the Bridge Encyclopedia for his age (and confirmed that he reached the same number that my Bobby did three weeks ago — the magical plateau of 80!). It is amazing to see how sharp they still are — both with the pen and mind (and especially sense of humor).

I got to know Eddie when he was friendly with my late husband, Norman. In fact, after Edgar passed away, Norman didn’t want to play anymore but it would have been such a waste of talent. I had become friendly with Eddie and fell in love with Yvonne soon as I met her. I was disappointed that Norman had decided to give up the game (except for the husbandly duty of playing with me when he was drafted into action for a Mixed Pair). I got a brainstorm and when I spoke to Eddie next, I planted the bug about giving it a try with Norman. He happily accepted. Now all I had to do was convince Norman to return to the table. He and Eddie had similar personalities — kind, good partners, great players and never blamed or showed disdain at the table if partner made an unfortunate choice of leads, bids or plays (which was rare anyway).

I was in my office (having run a baseball card business for twenty years — until 1997 — coincidentally the year Edgar passed away) and was speaking to Eddie on the phone in the back room. He had agreed if I could convince my Norman to pick up those old pasteboards again, he would give it a try. I rushed back to Norman’s room where he was watching the stock market and told him he was not going to get another opportunity for a partner like Eddie, so he had better get off his rump, change his decision to throw in the towel and make a date with him. He thought it over a few seconds, smiled and said “Get him on the phone.” I replied that I already did and he was waiting to talk to him on my line. They agreed to play and did so for about a year and a half and did fine, but by that time they were both involved with other interests and playing was not the most important consideration in their respective lives though they thoroughly enjoyed each other.

We visited California a couple times and had an incredibly delightful lunch with them one day at a restaurant in a popular hippie L.A. suburb (whose name I have forgotten as I may be getting senile). All I remember is I was fascinated that most of the people on the nearby boardwalk had green, purple or orange hair and I recall it like yesterday — though it was probably over a dozen years ago). It was my introduction to another world!

We are still in touch via email on occasion but I hope when we arrive in San Francisco in a few weeks (our first National in about five years) that the Kantars will be there in full regalia.

Meeting and getting to know Eddie and Yvonne was one of the most rewarding experiences of my bridge outings — and that’s a mouthful as I’ve been on the bridge scene since 1955.

Ray, thanks for recalling such delightfully warm memories for me!

Judy Kay-Wolff

Judy Kay-WolffNovember 7th, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Over breakfast this morning, after Bobby read my comment above, I was titillated by some of his recall of memorable occasions involving Eddie Kantar from the early days.

Bobby remembered defending a hand from 1955 at Bridge Week in Los Angeles with Eddie as his illustrious partner when in the middle of a normal defense Eddie led the Q from AQ10 with declarer having Kxx in dummy and later discovering declarer holding Jxx covered with the king in dummy and eventually his side collected enough tricks to beat the contract capturing the jack when Bobby got in to return the suit. Bobby was nonplussed with his discovery of how to defend that specific holding, never having heard nor, to his knowledge, seen it before.

He laughed as he recounted another hand from the Bermuda Bowl held in 1975 (the year of the Foot Soldiers). Bobby’s team was John Swanson, Paul Soloway, Eddie and Billy Eisenberg, Bob Hamman partnered by Bobby. They won a very close semi-final match against France and were discussing a hand in the Aces designated room on the 18th story of the Southhampton Princess hotel in Bermuda. Eddie had to make a crucial decision with the result of the match at stake and after almost playing the wrong card, instead opted for the winning action. Eddie gleefully remarked that he was glad he did — because if not, he would have jumped out the hotel window (to which Hamman spontaneously replied, “You wouldn’t have had to!)”

It is also of note that when Bobby helped recruit a team for the Dallas Aces in the late Sixties, Eddie was one of his first choices but he declined as he had so many
other activities and loved his life in California just as it was.

I want to share one last funny incident that arose in the early days in a team match in which Eddie and Marshall Miles played with Roth-Stone.

A friend and fan of Eddie’s named Harvey Cohen traveled to the tournament merely to kibitz Eddie playing in the Vanderbilt. Actually Eddie and Marshall (who had been carried by their teammates earlier) had the best of the final match against their opponents but ended up losing. After their loss, Stone who had a sardonic sense of humor stood up and pointed to Eddie’s friend, stating something to the effect, “Would you believe this idiot is traveling 5,000 miles (round trip) just to watch him play?”

Bobby — thanks for the memories!

Bill CubleyNovember 7th, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Eddie wrote about that dinner in Venice. He had given strict instructions to the owner to give Eddie the check. Norman being noted for his generosity, Eddie felt he had to pick up at least one check.

Eddie did not get to pay. The owner picked up the tab because of the great time Norman was having.

Maybe if Judy comes to SF and Eddie comes to SF, he can pick up the check.

I hope to see all of you.

Judy Kay-WolffNovember 7th, 2012 at 11:28 pm

Hi Bill:

After I concluded my original comment, I did remember Venice Beach — and the story of the owner and the check which Norman grabbed. So what else is new? That was his M.O,

Look us up in SF. it will be nice to meet you in person.



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