Fred Stewart was in the middle of a social lunch when he took the call on his cell phone. Upon learning he was to receive the ACBL’s 2023 sportsmanship award, he humbly asked, “What did I do to deserve this?”
Later that evening, he took time to absorb the news. When he sat down with a glass of wine and a list of previous winners of the Sidney H. Lazard Jr. Sportsman Award, he says he got choked up. “Peter Boyd … one of my favorite people. Bob Hamman … Bob Hamman! Lew Stansby, who never says or does anything negative … ”
While Fred may question whether he belongs in such a respected circle, his peers do not.
“The Sidney Lazard award was made for Fred Stewart,” says Zia Mahmood, a member of the award selection committee. “Fred is the ultimate gentleman of bridge, always. He is the first to compliment his opponents on a fine play. His ferocious bidding style on occasion belies the most pleasant and gentlest of personalities. He is that rare animal in the tough world of expert bridge who is admired and liked by all who meet him, both at and away from the table.”
Larry Cohen, who won the sportsmanship accolade 20 years ago, applauds the selection of Stewart. “The first things I think of when I think of Fred: ‘smiling,’ ‘upbeat,’ ‘friendly’ and most of all, ‘enjoying bridge.’ These are all things that epitomize good sportsmanship.”
Ask Fred how he defines sportsmanship, and you’ll get a rather straightforward answer: “It’s treating others with respect and doing the right thing.”
Fred’s definition tracks closely with Sidney Lazard’s rationale for creating the award in 2001 to honor his deceased son’s memory.
“My son was the nicest guy in the whole world and he was a great sportsman,” said Lazard. “By ‘sportsman,’ I mean someone who plays hard but fair and holds no grudges.” Lazard designated the accolade as a way to recognize top bridge players who emulate the ideal that he saw in his son.
For the first 15 years of his high-level bridge career, Fred played with his stepson, Steve Weinstein.
“I can’t think of one time Stevie and I had even a minor tiff,” Fred wrote in an article for Bridge Winners. “For example, once we were playing in the finals of a major event with only a few rounds to go. Steve, in a five-card end position, had a claim in a doubled partial. Rather than claim, Steve played a silly card. They won the trick, shifted to a trump, and he went down 200.
“Feeling horrible, he glanced up at me, and I waved my hand dismissively and said, ‘Move on. Get over it.’ We went on to win the event. I honestly believe that had the shoe been on the other foot, he would have done the same thing.”
From casual bridge discussions, a loosely assembled 40 pages of system notes, six NABC titles between 1981 and 1995 and two Cavendish Trophies playing with Weinstein, Fred’s next partner was Kit Woolsey.
Playing basically the same system, now Fred had 1300 pages of system notes with every auction detailed.
“I’m a huge Kit fan,” Fred says. “Kit is one of the greatest theoreticians in the game. Let me tell you what’s so special about Kit. Our opponents once did something just so spectacular, Kit was mesmerized. He was excited even though it knocked us out of the event. Winning is nice, but he was genuinely excited. He’s a true purist.”
The fandom goes both ways. When Kit heard that Fred is the 2023 Sportsmanship Award winner, he replied, “Cool! I couldn’t think of a more deserving person.”
Kit and Fred added a couple more NABC titles and a Cavendish win to Fred’s resume before Fred came to the realization that “everything in my life seemed to revolve around bridge.”
After decades of planning his time according to the NABC and USBF team trials schedules, Fred is looking forward to skipping the occasional NABC. “I might even attend the Fall nationals and take three days off,” says the heretic, flexing his rebellious new muscles. The former stock broker/wine shop owner “stays alert to market opportunities” and also enjoys sports betting.
Fred’s chill new attitude about attending NABCs meant he needed a new partner. Enter Steve Beatty.
“Playing with Steve is very relaxing,” says Fred. “We play a vanilla Walsh style with notes of perhaps 40 pages. With Beatty, I feel we are just as competitive as I was with Kit and Stevie.”
Last November, Fred and his wife Kathee – who had been splitting time between New York and Florida – packed up and flew South, making West Bradenton FL their full-time home.
“I love the lifestyle in Florida,” says Fred. An elite runner till he pulled a hamstring when he was 62, Fred still runs at least four days a week. He completed a half marathon in Sarasota in January and wants to do more.
“We have hiking trails, we can go bicycling. We can sit outside and watch the sunset – even in the winter – and enjoy a glass of wine.”
The award selection committee members are Mahmood, Beatty and Weinstein. Administered by the Foundation for the Advancement and Preservation of Bridge, the sportsmanship award will be presented during the ACBL Hall of Fame banquet at the Summer NABC in Chicago. Fred likely won’t be skipping this one.
Previous Lazard Sportsmanship Award winners:
2022 Team Scotland: Anne Perkins (NPC), Derrick Peden, Stephen Peterkin, Jim Hay, Alex Adamson, Samantha Punch, Derek Sanders
2020 Dennis Bilde
2018 Lew Stansby
2017 Eddie Kantar
2016 Boye Brogeland
2015 Howard Weinstein
2014 Bob Hamman
2013 Benedicte Cronier and Sylvie Willard
2012 Michael Kamil
2011 Betty Ann Kennedy
2010 Roy Welland
2009 Peter Boyd
2008 Giorgio Duboin
2007 Seymon Deutsch
2006 Ralph Cohen
2005 Nick Nickell
2004 Lynn Deas
2003 Larry Cohen
2002 Rose Meltzer
2001 Paul Soloway