Mary Jane Farell, building on a childhood fascination with bridge, has crafted an all-star career that includes four world championships and election to the ACBL Bridge Hall of Fame.
"I saw bridge at home and was fascinated by the time I was nine," says Farell, who joined former teammate Dorothy Truscott as 1998 inductees. They were the first two American women to earn the rank of World Grand Master, the World Bridge Federation’s highest ranking.
Farell earned the rank by winning the 1966 World Mixed Pairs with Ivan Erdos, the 1970 World Women’s Pairs with Marilyn Johnson and the 1978 Venice Cup with Johnson and teammates Truscott, Emma Jean Hawes, Jacqui Mitchell and Gail Greenberg. She added the World Women’s Team Olympiad crown in 1980 with the same team.
Those victories were highlights, she agrees, but election to the Bridge Hall of Fame was "the apex of my bridge career."
It’s a career that began in Cincinnati, where Farell grew up. "I couldn’t wait to get home from school to kibitz whenever my mother had the game at our house."
She was introduced to duplicate at age 17 when the family moved to Los Angeles.
"The local rubber bridge club had twice-monthly duplicate sessions and I began playing duplicate in those games with the young men I dated. Once I began playing duplicate, I couldn’t play often enough."
One of those young men, Arnold Kauder, became her mentor and her husband. They were later divorced but Farell remembers Kauder as "a marvelous bridge player. It was he who put the polish on my game."
Farell began teaching after World War II. "Women used to call me up and ask for advice on bidding, play of the hand, defense — whatever. Then groups of women would get together at one home and hire me to teach them."
Her professional playing began in much the same way. "People made me a pro. They offered to pay for babysitters and card fees, and they would pick me up and transport me to the tournaments.
"It’s really nice to have a hobby that turned into a living. I feel very fortunate. Bridge has been good for me and to me."
She’s also given back to bridge, serving on appeals committees at regionals and NABCs and hosting "Coffee with Mary Jane" seminars. In 1964, the Los Angeles Times named Farell "Woman of the Year" in recognition of her gaining first place among women in the all-time masterpoint rankings.
In 1978 she and Johnson became the first women to win the six-session Life Master Pairs — they remain the only women’s pair to have their names engraved on the von Zedtwitz Gold Cup.
Farell remembers that she and Johnson served on a committee after the final session. "Then we came back to see if we were in the top 10. We had had a soft last session, but we were still leading and we were ecstatic."
Today Farell, who describes herself as "a crusader (and) a champion of the less experienced player," plays mostly at the club level with longtime pupils. "My friends are the little people in the bridge world."
She and husband Jules Farell, who died in 2005, met through bridge and Farell says proudly, "It’s been a great marriage. We are a very good husband-and-wife partnership — we play together without bickering. Jules is still my favorite partner — I wish we could play together more frequently."