Using Card and Board Games to Keep Minds Sharp (Excerpt)

By Amy Zipkin
Dec. 4, 2015

As people age, ways to keep the mind sharp are becoming one of their latest obsessions. A Brain Health Research study released in 2014 by AARP found that those questioned believed maintaining mental acuity (37 percent) was second only to a healthy heart (51 percent) in sustaining a healthy lifestyle.

While many older people are attracted to mind challenges and computer games, others like Mr. Wieder embrace competition in tried-and-true games like bridge, poker and chess.

The American Contract Bridge League, based in Horn Lake, Miss., estimates that 95 percent of its more than 167,000 members are over 55. About 12,000 new members join annually.

The United States Chess Federation, based in Crossville, Tenn., says its membership has grown to 85,000, from 75,000, in the last five years, and the number of those over 55 increased to 16,300 from 14,500. Membership rates range from $40 to $122.

And participation in the main World Series of Poker event in Las Vegas by those 50 and older increased to 4,193 players in 2015, from 2,707 players in 2009. Buy-ins to the various World Series of Poker competitions vary, from as little as $75 at satellite tournaments to as much as $10,000 for some competitions. Typically, the top 10 percent take home some winnings.

While tournament poker is limited to states where gambling is legal, like Nevada and New Jersey, an avid bridge player can play at some 3,300 local clubs or travel to three-day sectionals and seven-day regional events, all under the auspices of the American Contract Bridge League.

Wendeen H. Eolis, 71, founder of Eolis International Group in New York City, a legal recruiting and legal management consulting firm, was the first woman to finish in the money at the main event World Series of Poker, in 1986, and is considered a pioneer in bringing more women into the game. She has stepped away from the intensity of competing at the highest levels but is confident that the benefits endure. “Negotiation is a way of life,” she said.


By James McManus

The New York Times

July 10, 2005

The other tournament I’m skipping today is the “Ladies” no-limit hold’em event.

Be that as it may, world-class women players like Kathy Liebert, Marsha Waggoner, Cyndy Violette, … Wendeen Eolis, Maria Stern and Maureen Feduniak, all of whom hold their own in open events, showed up at 11 a.m. this morning. At last count, over 600 women had put up the $1,000 buy-in, establishing yet another World Series of Poker record.


By Marci Alboher Nusbaum

The New York Times

February 9, 2003

Carl C. Icahn financed his first investment on Wall Street with $8,000 he won playing poker in the Army in the 1960’s. Bill Gates says he spent more time playing poker in his first year at Harvard than attending classes.

Larry Flynt plays for up to $200,000 a night while sipping herbal tea. Even William H. Rehnquist and Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court justices, have a regular game.

Whatever their wins or losses, there is a compelling reason why so many corporate executives and government titans indulge in this great American pastime, and it’s not the hope of increasing their net worth. The game is entertaining, but one element sets it apart from other leisure pursuits: the opportunity for players to hone skills of their trade, like assessing risk, reading the faces of business rivals, leveraging their strengths, and masking themselves.

Wendeen H. Eolis, 58, the chief executive of Eolis International Group, the legal consulting firm became, in 1986, the first woman to reach the final event of the World Series of Poker with chips to cash in. She says there are always the macho players who attribute women’s winnings to luck. But she doesn’t mind male vanity. “Women actually have a multitude of advantages if they use their femininity wisely,” she said. “And there is an absolute parallel between the poker room and boardroom for me as a woman. Often, all I have to do is exceed the expectations to make a home run.”

Ms. Eolis, who has advised Gov. George E. Pataki of New York and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, says she often applies theories of poker to business and political strategy. For example, she conducts a seminar for her clients on how overrated bluffing is as a strategy in business, politics and poker. In her opinion, honesty has an element of surprise that can throw an opponent off guard.

The dynamics of the game may confer a business advantage, but so can the mere act of playing in it. “It never ceases to amaze me how people’s ears perk up when they hear you’re a poker player,” said Mr. Tedesco, the banker.

That has been Ms. Eolis’s experience, too. She has received much publicity, including a profile in GQ magazine, for her poker exploits, and she says clients are intrigued by them.

Deleted Graphic: photo of Wendeen Eolis

Graphic Caption: Wendeen H. Eolis who has played in the World Series of Poker, says that bluffing is an overrated strategy, whether  it is used in poker or business.

(This feature has been translated into Spanish. See Epoca, February 28, 2003)


By Paul Zielbauer

The New York Times

November 20, 2000

Like other tournaments, Foxwoods’ has attracted poker-playing men from around the world, as well as a few women, including Wen Eolis. A former aide to Gov. George E. Pataki of New York and one of the world’s top female poker players, she started gambling in London in 1967.

“I was thinking about how I could support the three children I was raising in addition to my waitress job” at the Playboy Club, she said.
Though she earns a living not from gambling but from consulting for blue-chip law firms in Manhattan, Ms. Eolis, 56, was the first woman to finish in the money at the World Series of Poker, in 1986. She takes great pride in her poker game and said that despite heavy doses of male chauvinism, she could still win enough to live well, if she wanted to.

“Most world-class players who play in major no-limit events are a little reluctant to think of me as a powder puff,” she said, referring to the games in which players can raise one another by unlimited amounts. “I’m a known quantity. But I don’t want to dissuade them too much until after I’ve won their money.”

Professionals, or in Ms. Eolis’s case, serious recreational gamblers, typically play poker, not blackjack, roulette or other games in which gamblers play against the house rather than one another.

“Most games in casinos are designed to minimize the influence of skill,” said Michael Pollack, the publisher of the newsletter Gaming Industry Observer, in Atlantic City. “Poker remains an exception. It is one of the only games to match player against player.”

Graphic: Wendeen Eolis;
Graphic Caption: Wen Eolis, who makes her living as a consultant to law firms in Manhattan is one of the top rated women in the poker world.


By William Glaberson
The New York Times

February 6, 1989

New York, they say, is just a collection of small towns. But that doesn’t only mean places like Bensonhurst and Little Italy. It refers to all the worlds that meet in the city that is the capital of so many Americas.

On the fifth floor of the federal courthouse in Manhattan last week, the connections that tie together one of the cities’ most powerful groups, the legal fraternity, were evident in the person of a small, carefully turned-out woman named Wendeen H. Eolis.

There in the courthouse within hours of each other, were two people whose friendships could mean healthy profits for her. In the afternoon, her friend Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former United States Attorney, would be at a reception for his interim successor, Benito Romano.

Across the marble hall that morning was another Eolis friend, James T. Sherwin, Vice Chairman of the GAF Corporation. He was in courtroom 506 where he is fighting criminal charges of stock manipulation brought against him and his company by the very same Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Early in the day, Ms. Eolis sipped coffee in the court’s cafeteria, and talked discreetly about her two friends. She discussed the turn of events that had pulled her into the celebrated case in which one friend was a defendant, and another his chief accuser who was at the same time conferring quietly with her.

“It’s a fluke,” she said, “that two people I regard as friends should be brought together in this way. But in the small town of New York’s big-time bar she seems to know everybody. She is a legal headhunter, placing blue-chip lawyers with firms or companies for fees that can be as much as 30% of a $1 million dollar salary. As a long time friend of Mr. Giuliani’s, she has been talking with him for a year about his opportunities in private practice. If he happens to select a firm she found, she acknowledged, she might make a large fee.

She is also a consultant for big law firms and Fortune 500 companies. In that capacity, she said, she was hired to help GAF and Mr. Sherwin, a friend and client for more than 20 years, assemble a legal defense team to fight Mr. Giuliani’s charges. She is still working for the company, she said.

The woman who would be every barrister’s broker more or less invented herself. Now 44 years old, she started her business, she says, in 1967 with an investment of $1800. Although her mother was a lawyer and her father was a New York state tax official, she had no interest in law school.

So she hung up a different kind of shingle as one of the early placement specialists in the legal profession. Then, with a little opportunity and a lot of hustle, one thing led to another. Now, she has a worldwide network of contacts that can help law firms with problems all over the globe.

Quickly, she said, she realized that she did not want to be just a headhunter, but a consultant on the management of firms, helping them merge with others. As she moved around behind the scenes, she gathered information and relationships. And she decided to market what she had.

It is a calling that requires patience and no embarrassment about going back to old friends for new favors. “I am in a business in which building relationships is what leads to the long term success of that business, she said, “and no single placement is critical in the big picture. For the moment, in Wendeen Eolis’s big picture, Mr. Giuliani’s future is just one little corner of a busy canvas.