Three members of the blockbuster Nick Nickell team, Canadian Bridge Hall of Famer Mark Molson and Bridge Base Online – the first non-human to be inducted into the Hall – were honored, along with sportsmanship winner Lew Stansby.
The gathering started off with film titles concocted by emcee David Berkowitz and fellow Hall of Famer, “Hollywood maven” Jill Meyers to introduce the class of 2018 at the bridge community’s annual awards night:
Bobby Levin, “The Natural”
Eric Rodwell, “The Piano Player”
Ralph Katz, “Cats”
Lew Stansby, “Stands By Me” (appropriate groan)
Mark Molson, “Strange Brew”
“And the winner of the Berkie,” announced Berkowitz, “is Nick Nickell, ‘All the King’s Men.’”
Indeed, in his presentation of Levin, longtime partner Steve Weinstein directed his opening remarks to Nickell. “Can we just count this as our team meeting?” he asked. “Three members of the Nickell team being inducted into the Hall of Fame tonight. And of course, Nick, Jeff and Koach (Eric Kokish) are already in.”
Weinstein said it is rare to see exceptional talent coupled with a relentless work ethic. “Add to that a fierce will to win and a refusal to accept defeat, top that off with the ability to use every result – win or lose – as motivation to improve, and you get something truly extraordinary: a legend. Michael Jordan. Wayne Gretsky. Bobby Levin.”
Weinstein illustrated Levin’s strength as a partner with a story about the Vanderbilt final where the pair bid to a grand slam missing the ace of trumps.
“We were both steaming. We took a break after that board, and we’re outside smoking in silence for a minute, just staring daggers at each other.
“And then Bobby says says, ‘I’m a moron, that hand was all my fault.’ I knew he didn’t mean it, but that didn’t matter. It was just what we both needed. We went back in and played eight solid boards and won. That’s Bobby Levin.”
Levin acknowledged his many family members in attendance, with special thanks to his mother Sheila for teaching him bridge “She has always blamed my teammates and partners for my losses and given me 110 percent of the credit for my wins.”
He thanked past partners, and added, “I’ve been so lucky over the years to play with sponsors who were also great friends, culminating with a spot on a team with Nick Nickell. I want to thank him for being one of the truly good guys in the game.”
Levin had plenty of stories to tell about Weinstein. “Nothing,” he said, “compares to my good fortune of landing Steve Weinstein as my partner.”
He noted that Weinstein names Paul Soloway as his favorite bridge player of all time.
“You wanna know who my favorite bridge player of all time is?” he said. “Jill Lev,” with a nod toward his wife. “She has been so instrumental in helping me be the best that I can be.”
Levin has two world championships, two silver medals, 30 North American Championship titles, and five Cavendish Invitational Pair wins.
The Piano Player
Jeff Meckstroth, who presented his “partner in crime” Rodwell for induction, entered the Hall of Fame last year.
“I think I’m even more excited this year to see my partner and others on the Nickell team inducted.”
Meckstroth said his father emphasized the partnership aspect of the game. “So that’s how I grew up – bridge is a partnership game … bridge is a partnership game …”
Jack Oest played matchmaker between Meckstroth and Rodwell. “From day one I spotted Eric’s enthusiasm, his incredible talent and genius,” Meckstroth said. “I said, I think this is the guy I’ve been waiting for.”
Meckstroth detailed Rodwell’s contributions as a theoretician before extending his hand: “My friend Eric, welcome to the Hall of Fame.”
Rodwell recognized his many family members in attendance, including his parents, who just celebrated 66 years of marriage.
When he was 14, Rodwell took up the game. He played at the local club in West Lafayette IN where his dad was a biochemistry professor.
“The first good player who would play with me was Sudhakar Kunte,” Rodwell said. From Kunte, Rodwell learned, “playing with someone better that you is a good way to get the wheels moving.”
That someone would, of course, turn out to be Meckstroth, in 1974. “We played in a tournament in Defiance OH, and I was amazed when he bid and made a slam.”
Rodwell, known for bidding development, is credited with the invention of the support double and serious 3NT.
He has amassed 62 NABC wins, seven world titles, four silver medals, one Barry Crane Top 500 race and 2008 Player of the Year.
Nickell split duties with George Jacobs in introducing new Hall of Famer Katz. Calling Katz “the ultimate gentleman,” Nickell said his partner of nine years is a natural coach and teacher.
“He is a great partner and teammate. When Ralph is at the table, he pulls harder for his partner than he does for himself.”
Jacobs called attention to Katz’s formal attire, noting the shoes. “At the first Cavendish we played, I insisted he wear a tuxedo, but back then, he wore black gym shoes.”
Jacobs included Katz’s wife, Martha and son, Sam, in recognizing the enormous contributions the family has made to the game.
“You belong in the Hall of Fame not just because of what you are to bridge, but because of all you’ve done for bridge.”
Ralph learned bridge while visiting his Uncle Lou, and after thanking the Hall of Fame Committee for the nomination, he thanked his uncle for “the road map for the rest of my life.”
At his first tournament, he says he lied about his masterpoint total: “I told them I had 20 masterpoints when I only had 10.” As it turned out, his partner lied, too. It was Ken Kranyak, “who told the partnership desk he had 5 points when he was really almost a Life Master.”
Katz continued to play into college – both bridge and baseball. When “the bridge bug bit,” he wanted to take a semester off to focus on playing. He found his parents surprisingly supportive. They had two conditions: that he go back to school and that he pay for his own tournaments. He completed college with relatively few visits to the ER as a result of baseball injuries, explaining his parents’ ready acceptance of bridge as an alternative.
Expressing gratitude to his family, Katz says that he met his wife, Martha at a tournament and, “as my father would say, we had a merger, and out of the merger came the best dividend ever, Sam.”
Katz has won 23 NABC titles and topped the Player of the Year list in 2001.
The von Zedtwitz Award is given to given to players out of the limelight – living or deceased – who had an outstanding tournament record and achieved prominence in the game.
2018 von Zedwitz Award winner Mark Molson, who died in 2006, was remembered by longtime partner Boris Baran. The two, who played together for 30 years, met after a post club-game gathering at the local Chinese restaurant.
Baran recalled a deal from the 1987 Life Master Pairs.
“It was kind of a bad news—good news—bad news story,” Baran said. The pair had a high-spirited auction in which both players cuebid clubs. It being matchpoints, they ended up in 7NT. As it turns out, the cuebids had been based on voids. Quickly, the opening lead was the ♣ A.
“The good news is that the lead was made out of turn,” Baran said. “The bad news is that Mark tabled his hand, thereby condoning the lead.”
Molson was, Baran said, humble, caring, a devoted husband, and he adored his daughter, Jennifer. “It was a shocking and tragic loss. He left us all many fond memories while establishing a firm bridge legacy.”
Molson’s widow, Janice Seamon-Molson, accepted the Hall of Fame trophy and conveyed a loving thank you from Jennifer, who could not be present.
Molson won a silver medal in the Bermuda Bowl and a bronze medal in the Rosenblum Knockout Teams. He had seven Canadian National Team Championships, one Canadian Open Pairs Championship and seven NABC titles.
The ACBL Hall of Fame Blackwood Award is traditionally given to individuals who have contributed greatly to the game of bridge without necessarily being world class players.
“I don’t think any one thing as changed my life as much as BBO has,” said Berkowitz in introducing BBO presenter Christal Henner.
Christal Henner echoed the sentiments of many during the evening in presenting Bridge Base Online as the Blackwood Hall of Fame honoree. BBO, the creation of Fred Gitleman and Sheri Winestock, makes it possible to play bridge anywhere, anytime … “few have had such an enormous impact.”
In growing BBO, Henner noted that it was hard to separate “Fred, the world-class programmer and Fred, the world-class player. And their first client was world-class investor Warren Buffett.”
Henner described the third partner of the venture, programmer Uday Ivatury as a “tech wizard with a wicked sense of humor as spicy as his food palate.”
Gitelman accepted the Hall of Fame statue on behalf of the phenomenon that is BBO.
“We are the first generation that failed to take up bridge in numbers,” Gitelman said. “We” – indicating Winestock and himself – “we thought we might be able to make a difference. We invoked ‘Field of Dreams’: If you build it, they will come.”
He acknowledged the incredible support that BBO has enjoyed from the world’s expert community of players and the players who play
two million hands of bridge a day.
“BBO’s receipt of the Blackwood Award is affirmation that we have made a difference.”
But it is not enough, Gitelman concluded. Younger generations must be reached through their phones, tablets and laptops he said, issuing a call for 19-year programmers to take up the mission.
“If bridge is to survive, technology must play a starring role.”
Stands By Me
JoAnna Stansby brought her husband to the stage to receive the Sidney H. Lazard Jr. Sportsmanship Award.
To illustrate Lew’s integrity, JoAnna offered an example from the 2017 U.S. Bridge Championships. They were defending a doubled partscore which was destined to go down, and nothing much mattered until Lew accidentally dropped the ♦J on the table as he was pulling the ♦8. The director was summoned to rule on the penalty card.
“If he meant to play the jack, nothing happens,” JoAnna said, “but if he meant to play the 8, the jack becomes a penalty card and the roof falls in.”
“I meant to play the 8,” said Lew honestly.
“Score up the doubled contract,” remembered JoAnna. “The experts at the table were floored.” Then to Lew she said, “I admire you so much. Nice guys don’t finish last – we went on to win the match.”
Stansby accepted the award in with a business-like call to action to the national bridge organizations: “It’s time to acknowledge that bridge is never going to be an Olympic sport. Except for drug testing and decisions of committees of bridge players being overturned by courts, I haven’t seen much progress.”
He also highlighted the ACBL’s relatively new Anti-Cheating Commission, whose job it is to review recorder forms and determine more serious cases, pursuit of which might make a better bridge experience.
“The problem is that they don’t get enough recorder forms.”
He urged players to follow through on their first intuition to file a recorder form rather than any second thoughts they may have about how much trouble it may be.
Stansby, a Hall of Famer, has won seven world championships including three Bermuda Bowl victories, and 37 North American Championships.