Steve was born in upstate New York and has a Ph.D. from the University of Rochester. He is married to Shirley. Prior to his retirement, Steve taught and researched mathematics at the University of Alberta, plus authored a textbook on calculus and on topology. The preface of one of his books includes: “After I thank everybody that has helped me write this book, then I’m going to convince a few old friends to mount an expedition to rescue me from this blasted office.” One of those friends was Alvin Baragar who brought Steve down to Brook Tomlinson’s bridge club in the 1970’s. Steve learned bridge through the school of hard knocks at this club. Being a good student of the game, he soon became a life master at the Helena regional in 1975. Steve’s main activity outside of bridge is dabbling in the stock market.
Steve’s favourite partners are Alex Fowlie, Dick McKinney, and his wife, Shirley (he adds, however, that she seldom plays). Steve mentors many beginning players at the bridge club and is a kind and gentle teacher to partners who appreciate his bridge skills and savvy. Steve approaches the game of bridge with the view that “90% of bridge is judgment”. Steve plays matchpoints like Barry Crane did, in that Crane opened or overcalled any hand that was near 10 HCP’s. Steve feels that being disruptive is the best way to play matchpoints. Playing IMPs, Steve advises he is more conservative. He adds that he likes IMP’s better and plays IMP’s frequently at tournaments with his regular partner, Alex Fowlie. Steve and Alex have built up a reputation of being an excellent partnership in both demeanor and skill. They are regarded as two of the nicest bridge players in our area.
Steve’s sole memory of his first regional is, without further elaboration, “I got drunk, quit on Thursday and took a bus home.” As far as favourite tournaments, Steve says, “I like them all.” His pet peeve in bridge is slow play. Steve’s advice to aspiring bridge players is, “Work on developing your bridge judgment and not just substituting conventions for judgment”. Steve has been a good bridge citizen over the years. He was chairperson of an Edmonton regional and he has worked at the Edmonton Bridge Centre overseeing rubber bridge. Steve has played a lot of rubber bridge over the years. He was once in a rubber game with John Balanko, one of Edmonton’s more colourful players. Steve and John had a very lively auction that went way too many levels too high. The opponents doubled and when the dust cleared, the result was –2300 or thereabouts. John exclaimed, “You have to be a math professor to count that high!”
Alex Fowlie relates this story: “We were playing in the zone final in the CNTC’s in Regina against the Peter Jones team. Three hands in a row, Steve overcalled 2♣ to the opening bid. The first time, the opponents made a reopening double which was converted for –500. The next time, a negative double was converted for -500. The third time, the opponents landed in 3♥X for –530. At this point, I asked Steve for his 2♣ card from his bidding box so there would be no more 2♣ overcalls for the rest of this match!” Alex also tells us: “My daughter Meaghan used to play bridge at the math and physics lounge at U of A. One day they got discussing how they learned to play bridge and Meaghan said her dad taught her, and that he played a lot of tournament bridge with a retired math professor. One of the math grad students (who was familiar with Steve’s topology text) asked who that was and Meaghan said some guy named Willard, to which the other student responded, ‘Not THE Steve Willard!!’ It appears Steve is somewhat modest about the fame of his topology book. Indeed, it was reissued in paperback trade size a few years ago.”
Steve is not afraid of bidding, so many of his results are of the spectacular variety. He is difficult to play against because he always seems to be in the auction. If my partner and I are trying out a new bidding toy, we appreciate playing against Steve to help us figure out our defenses against interference. Steve does not often disappoint in that regard. Bridge is a bidders’ game and so Steve bids!