Leading Lady

Photo by Peg Kaplan

For decades of work behind the scenes, Jan Martel slips into the spotlight as she is named the ACBL’s 2018 Honorary Member of the Year.

Roger Smith, who represented District 21 on the ACBL Board of Directors last year, chaired the Board’s Honorary Member selection committee.

“Jan is someone who has helped the whole bridge community in immeasurable ways,” Smith says. “She does a great job at everything she takes on – and she takes on a ton of work!”

“Nature abhors a vacuum,” Jan says. “I like to think someone would have filled it.”

Smith points out that Jan’s husband, Chip – ACBL Hall of Famer and seven-time world champion – was named Honorary Mem-ber of the Year in 2000. “This family has contributed so much to our game.”

Jan, also a Hall of Famer, is the go-to resource for information about anything in the bridge world.

“People ask me all sorts of questions,” she says, “and I think, ‘Now why on earth would I know the answer to that? Oh wait! I do know the answer to that.’”

In the early 1990s, Jan was one of the founders of the ACBL’s Women’s Committee, which oversaw the process for selecting teams for world championship play. In addition to creating a seeding point scale, the committee – “Kitty Cooper was the driving force here,” says Jan – started the child care program at NABCs. She served as the chair of the Women’s International Team Trial Committee; subsequently, she brought those same organizational skills to the Senior International Team Trial Committee.

Jan and the U.S. Bridge Federation are almost synonymous: When the organization was formed, Jan was recruited by Mike Becker, world champion player and one of its founders, to serve as a board member. She went on to serve as USBF president, and, when her term was up, she was named the organization’s chief operating officer (non-voting).

“This position was created for her because she had reached her term limit and the board was addicted to her organizational skills,” explains Becker. “The USBF functions a lot better because of her presence.”

She serves today as COO, secretary and webmaster, and is responsible for organizing sites for the Open, Women’s, Senior and Junior team trials, among other things.

Becker adds, “To do one of the many things Jan does well is challenging, but to do all of these tasks – many of them at the same time – and do them very well, is remarkable. It reminds me of the ‘Star Trek’ episode where Spock’s brain is running a planet.”

Of the contributions she has made to bridge, Jan says she is proudest of vugraph. She’s worked with BBO and the ACBL since 1994 to bring high-level bridge to a mass audience online. The phenomenon has come from single-table coverage of the Vanderbilt final to full-match coverage of the quarterfinals, semis and final of all major NABC team championships as well as all USBF championships.

Jan refers to herself as an improver. “Everything is a learning experience. We get better and better each time.”

Uday Ivatury, BBO’s chief executive officer, says, “Everyone thinks of Jan as the person who, visibly and invisibly, makes sure that the ACBL vugraph flows smoothly. And she’s definitely that, somehow managing to offer a cheery face while zipping from station to station during the NABCs.

“She’s also the person who makes the USBF team trials the best event in North America for players who enjoy stiff yet civilized competition, year after year,” Ivatury continues. “Neither would be the same without her. I’m quite respectful of her efforts and accomplishments.”

ACBL Bridge Hall of Famer Peggy Sutherlin says, “Jan and I have been buddies since the early 1960s. Little would I have envi-sioned all she would later do for bridge. How could I have fantasized, so many years ago, that I would be able to watch high-level bridge on the internet (What was that?) and that Jan would be responsible? What a contribution to all bridge players throughout the world!”

Jan looks to the challenges ahead. At the top of the list is fundraising. The ACBL, which has historically paid $165,000 in annual membership dues to the World Bridge Federation, is gradually transitioning that obligation to the three national bridge organiza-tions in North America: the USBF, the Canadian Bridge Federation and the Mexican Bridge Federation. As the largest of the NBOs, the USBF bears the lion’s share of the bill.

There will be a line item on ACBL membership statements enabling members to support international bridge by donating to the USBF if they wish, she explains.

“We don’t have money, but we have bridge stars who have expertise. How can we use that to give value in exchange for sup-porting international bridge?”

She floats a couple of ideas, including a fantasy bracket for the USBF trials for supporting members.

“That was an idea suggested by Jay Whipple,” she says, crediting the 2018 ACBL president. “And the winner could field a team and play the trials champions.”

She pauses. “Or how about reserved kibitzing seats at championships?”

Also on Jan’s to-do list for the next year or two: finding a successor.

She has been the non-playing captain of four Bermuda Bowl Teams – the most recent being the 2-IMP victory over the French team in Lyon, France, last summer.

Congratulating the winning team on the Bridge Winners blog, world-class player Bobby Levin says, “… and don’t tell me Jan Martel isn’t worth 3 IMPs as the captain.”

Michael Rosenberg, a member of the winning team, adds, “Jan would be worth her weight in gold – if the price of gold went up a lot.”

Jan has won seven NABC titles. Her favorite was the 1988 Baldwin North American Pairs, playing with her husband. Or was it the 2009 Grand National Teams Championship playing with Chip, Kit Woolsey, Kyle Larsen, Rose Meltzer and Sally Woolsey? “Anything with my wonderful husband,” she says.

On her own time, Jan is an avid equestrian. She proudly shares baby pictures and videos of Fairy, a chestnut mare who foaled during the 2016 Summer NABC in Washington DC. Born on the same day as Jan’s father, Fairy’s full name is Laissez Faire. (Jan’s dad is Nobel Prize–winning economist Milton Friedman.)

In June, Martel plans to ride for membership in the Century Club, which recognizes riders and horses whose combined age to-tals 100 years or more. Her mare, Lalique, is 25 years old.