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Adventures in Toronto

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Being in Toronto is a lot like being in Europe. It’s very cosmopolitan, just a delightful city. I can tell you now from first-hand experience that the city has some of the friendliest bridge players you could find anywhere.

The first time I went to Toronto, way back when, the airport was called Malton Airport – no mention of “international” at all. When I arrived in mid-August this year, I noticed it is called Toronto Pearson International Airport. Someone told me it was named for the former Prime Minister Lester Pearson, who actually won the Nobel Peace Prize back when I was playing bridge a lot more.

I was greeted by the exquisitely charming Barbara Seagram and her husband, Alex Kornel. Barbara caught up with me at the airport before I could check out the baggage carousels and get myself into trouble. The next few days rushed by so fast I can’t keep everything straight in my mind even now, so if I get something out of order, you’ll know why.

Barbara and Alex

Barbara and Alex

Getting to know Barbara on the way from the airport made me want to go to the bridge table and be nice to someone – heck, everyone. As many of you probably already know, Barbara pioneered the movement called Zero Tolerance, which means, to sum it up, “Be pleasant to your partner and opponents – or go home!” I can tell you, we could have used some ZT when I first started playing. You had to have a really thick skin to survive.

Barbara told me she picked up the idea for ZT while playing in Bermuda, which has an annual tournament that features everyone dressed properly – no bell bottoms, thank goodness – and being very civil. Barbara says that in Bermuda, they pride themselves on being proper in all ways: “Dress better, behave better.” She told me about an experience at her informal club after her visit to Bermuda. Barbara played with a friend who showed up in a suit and tie. “He proceeded to shake hands with each opponent as he sat down and they treated him so well that I couldn’t believe these were the same people.”

Barbara told me she and Alex used to own the largest bridge club in Canada, the Kate Buckman Bridge Studio. Now their club is smaller. Their games are not restricted by masterpoints but by attitude. Everyone has to be nice if they want to play there.

Some new-fangled practices in bridge are better, after all.

At Barbara and Alex’s club, there is a full-time cook. His name is Jimmy, and they tell me the ladies love him. He provides, great food at very inexpensive prices, and all the women want to know if he is married. As I found out, Jimmy makes the best Greek salad in Toronto. While I was there, he gave me a lesson in salad making. Wow!

Bob L and his new favorite cook, Jimmy

Bob L and his new favorite cook, Jimmy

Barbara was nice enough to take me to Hazel Wolpert’s club. It’s called, appropriately enough, Hazel’s Bridge Club.

Barbara and Hazel Wolpert

Barbara and Hazel Wolpert

Hazel was very charming, as well, and I’m told she is also a superb bridge teacher and a good player. Her son is Gavin Wolpert, recently married to Jenny Ryman (Blue Ribbon Pairs champions), both of whom just won big events in Washington. They are expecting their first baby in September. Hazel’s other son, Darren, is also a fine player. Hazel’s mother, Phyllis Bresge, was a highly competitive player in the world of duplicate as well. Hazel is loved and respected through the bridge world. Her large club averages about 30 tables on most afternoons.

We also went to Partners, Toronto’s newest bridge club. It was impressive.

The following was sent to Barbara by Sarah, a new fan of mine. I think it’s quite clever.

“What a doll! Tell BOB L that I don’t even need ONE SPADE to dig him. He has stolen my HEART, and if he promises me a DIAMOND, he can live at our CLUB. We’ll treat him like the KING he is, and play the fun and interesting game of bridge in our midtown REGAL location. A rousing cheer (but NO TRUMPets) for BOB L and his visit to our wonderful city!”

Well, gotta run back to the bridge table….There’s so much more to tell about my adventures in Toronto and the fabulous clubs and people there. Check back soon for more news!  Take a look at the gallery below for lots of photos of me having fun in Toronto.