Friday, October 24, 2014

Bridge Blog 804: Buffalo Regional Day 4

It was at the Buffalo Regional in June 2013 that Betty Metz, then Unit 116 vice president, and I were matched up for a pairs game and the results were unexpectedly fabulous. 60.50%. 2.27 red points. Now we’re trying to see if the magic will happen again, this time in the team games with some good players, Mike Silverman and Helen Panza, as our co-conspirators.
The magic wasn’t there Friday morning in the first section of the Friday-Saturday knock-outs, which began with our favorite format, round robin, in which two of the three teams advance. But this time we did not become one of the chosen two. Half of Thursday’s Canadian Bain team skunked us and so did the local team of John Kirsits, Ken Meier, Paula Kotowski and Bill Boardman. The cards in our direction were so poor that we couldn’t push the opponents to overbid, while Mike and Helen weren’t taking as many tricks as the other guys.
Things would have been closer, though not victorious, without some costly errors on my part and some missed No Trump games  that we wound up playing for part scores in minor suits. In a hand that involved a director call, I didn’t see an intervening pre-emptive bid by John Kirsits and underbid in a New Minor Forcing response to Betty’s 1 NT inquiry.
The director ruled that since I was going to give a cue bid, Betty would not be able to bid any further. I went straight to 4 Hearts (I had seven of them), then took all the tricks. Same thing happened at the other table, but had I bid the small slam, we would have picked up enough IMPs to lose by one instead of 14.  
We tried our luck at single-session Swiss teams in the afternoon, but fell short there too, winning only one of the four six-board rounds, beating a team that included a couple from Pennsylvania who came to our table bickering. Our total take for the day: 0.20 of a red point. For the session, we had 37 Victory Points. We needed 48 to tie the team that finished third in the B strat and won 1.45 points.
In the final round against John Ziemer and Liz Clark, I sacrificed at 4 Hearts doubled not vulnerable against what I thought would be a certain 3 No Trump vulnerable contract. I went down four for minus 800. Mike and Helen took the bid for 2 No Trump at their table and made just eight tricks for plus 120. So instead of gaining 6 IMPs, we lost 12 and lost the round, 20-12. Winning it 18-8 would have given us 24 victory points instead of the 7 we got. And that would have tied us for second in B.  
At any rate, there’s always Saturday. No teams this time. Betty and I will play pairs. Mike Silverman decided to take the day off and come back for the big Swiss team game Sunday.
Random notes: Playing with Betty Metz provided plenty of insights into the planning for these regional tournaments, specifically the 2015 edition, which is scheduled for the last full week of June. The tournament needs a big venue and only five places locally will fit the bill now that the former Grand Island Holiday Inn is unavailable – the Adam’s Mark, the Hyatt Regency Buffalo, the Buffalo Marriott Niagara in Amherst, the Millennium in Cheektowaga and the Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls.
Complicating things further is the June date. The Event Center at the Fairgrounds is booked that week and the hotels are full of wedding reservations.
Since the Cleveland people like the Fairgrounds location in Hamburg (I walked into the Event Center with Cleveland honcho Susan Stark and she thought it was fine) and the Canadians we talked with didn’t consider it too inconvenient, Betty thought the somewhat smaller Grange Center on the grounds might fill the bill, but she couldn’t get anybody from the District 5 tournament committee to take a look at it Friday.
Betty’s other thought was to permanently assign an October date for the Buffalo Regional, which she’d prefer. It’s off-season for the hotels and they’d be cheaper. By the end of the day, she said she’d convinced the tournament committee to agree to move next year’s date. Good-bye, June. Hello, October. But apparently early enough in October not to crowd the Niagara Falls Regional, which is the first full week of November.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bridge Blog 803: Buffalo Regional Day 3

My distress was palpable as I arrived about 9:50 a.m. at the Event Center at the Erie County Fairgrounds. My Tuesday-Wednesday knock-out team was going into overtime, having unexpectedly gained admission to the Thursday morning semi-final round. But my Thursday partner, Judie Bailey, didn’t know about it yet. I left messages for her Wednesday night, but never got a call back. Now I had to break the news at the last minute.
Bless her soul, she did the expeditious thing when I found her at the registration table and explained my dilemma. She asked partnership chairwoman Faith Perry for a new partner for the morning pairs game. She got Eva Posner, Ted Kahn’s friend. Eva most likely had fewer master points than anybody else in that big barn of a room, so few that she and Judie, who has more than 1,000 points, qualified for the C stratification.  
Meanwhile, I scanned the room in vain for my teammates. Instead, I met the captain of our semi-final opponents, Sherill Bain from Oakville, Ont., who had the same missing team problem. At least she knew where her’s was – hung up at the border, where security was even stricter than usual because of the gunman killing the soldier in Ottawa on Wednesday.
As we pondered which of us would have to forfeit, I saw Usha Khurana come through the doors. Her car, which had been flashing its check-engine light, broke down. Teammate Joe Miranda drove from his home in Hamburg up to Amherst to get her and her partner Mona Karna.
A few minutes later, the Bain team arrived with tales of other drivers cutting them off in line at the international bridge. Finally, we got to settle down, shuffle and play. When we broke to compare scores after 12 boards, it was clear that our team was not only good at finishing second in round robin play, but also good at finishing second head-to-head.
The Bain team was ahead by 37 International Match Points, an insurmountable lead, but we did our best to surmount it in the second set of 12 boards. We made up half the deficit in the first six hands. But the rest of the way we couldn’t go. They won by 14 IMPs. We needed two big scores. If Usha and Mona had bid the 6 No Trump slam that the Bain team missed, that would have been one of them.
Nevertheless, just by showing up and playing, we got our master points – 2.64 gold, 1.32 red, 3.96 total. Had we won the semi-finals, that would be 4.66 gold, 2.33 red, 6.99 total. Winning the entire knock-outs in our bracket would be good for 6.60 gold, 3.30 red, 9.90 total.
Judie Bailey, meanwhile, had a superior game with Eva Posner – 50.60% – and finished first overall in the C strat, earning 2.12 red points. Playing in the B strat in the afternoon, we did better – 57.60%, third East-West, sixth overall, fourth overall in B, for 1.35 red master points. We were 0.15% behind the pair that was third in B overall (Damn, if I took that winning King of Clubs on Board 10 like I shoulda, we’d be third).
Our best round was against Eva Posner, where her partner, Marcia Turley, gifted us with a top board by inadvertently discarding a winning Ace on the next-to-last play, giving Judie an overtrick on a 3 Club contract (the printed hand record says it only makes 2 Clubs).
Random notes: Attendance continues to improve. The Thursday bulletin reports six tables in the morning pairs series, 27 tables in the Wednesday-Thursday knock-outs, 16 tables in the stratified open pairs, eight tables in the afternoon pairs, 14 tables in the Wednesday-Thursday compact knock-outs and 4.5 tables in the evening pairs. That’s 67.5 tables total.
Hospitality also is looking better. Nibbles at the end of the afternoon game included pasta salad (with and without onions) and hot dogs.
Meanwhile, sentiment toward the venue seems to be softening. A Cleveland-area pair in the afternoon game thought it was just fine. Judie Bailey found it agreeable, too. It helps to have a bigger crowd. There were more directors on duty Thursday, as well.
Personal tournament tally so far: 2.64 gold, 5.06 red, 7.70 total. That’s already 67% better than the 2013 Buffalo Regional. My total then was only 4.59.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bridge Blog 802: Buffalo Regional Day 2

My Tuesday-Wednesday teammates are agents of the unexpected. Instead of signing up for the stratified pairs, like they should have on Wednesday morning, they signed up for the Wednesday-Thursday knockout series.
As we saw on Tuesday, the knockouts can leave lesser players with nothing to show for their $12 entry fee but a bunch of shoulda-woulda-couldas at the end of the first round.
Plus, in the unlikely event that we survive that first morning round, and in the even unlikelier event that we succeed in the afternoon round, we’d be obliged to play in the third round Thursday morning, which we hadn’t arranged to do.  I, for one, am supposed to play with my Syracuse Regional partner, Judie Bailey, on Thursday.
But, lo and behold, instead of a head-to-head match, our morning game was a round robin – three teams competing, every team playing the others for 12 boards apiece, 24 total. So instead of just one team going on to the next round, the two winningest teams advance.
This format has been beneficial to my teams in the past and it was again Wednesday morning. Team 6, which included the highly competent Bob Padgug and Linda Burroughsford, skunked us in International Match Points, 54-0. It was a different story with Team 5, which included our buddies Barbara Sadkin and June Feuerstein. We beat them by 21 IMPs. Coming in second, we paid another $12 and advanced to the afternoon session and another round robin.
There were no Buffalo people among our afternoon opponents. First team included a brother and sister, Mike from Raleigh, N.C., and Mary Jo from Whitney Point, N.Y., who grew up in Niagara Falls. Second team was a pair of Canadian guys, one named Bob from Hamilton, the other named Dave from Oakville. At the break after 12 boards, we were trailing both of them – Mike and Mary Jo by 15 IMPs, Bob and Dave by 4 IMPs.
After the break, our fortunes turned. We overtook Mike and Mary Jo’s team, 23-6, beating them overall by just 2 IMPs. Bob and Dave, on the other hand, took us to the woodshed, 24-3. With the director standing over us, we were the last pair to finish tallying our totals. Yes, we’re playing Thursday morning, he told us. Another $12 apiece, please.
Advancing to the third round means that, win or lose Thursday morning, we will collect the master points allotted for third and fourth place – 2.64 gold, 1.32 red, 3.96 total. Hooray! But we have to play the round, the director informed us. If not, we don’t get the points.
Random notes: Attendance was not so dismal Wednesday, although I won’t see the count until the daily bulletin comes out Thursday. I didn’t notice as many St. Catharines players as I did on Tuesday. According to the Wednesday bulletin, the Tuesday evening stratified pair series had only five tables. There were three tables of stratified morning pairs, 14 tables of Tuesday stratified open pairs, 15 tables for the afternoon stratified pair series and 20 tables of knock-outs. It didn’t have any results for the 299er single session games scheduled at 10 a.m., 3 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. That big barn must have been lonely Tuesday evening.
Also improved Wednesday was hospitality, although teammate Mona Karna was complaining that she had to pay $1 for a cup of coffee from the Event Center Café. The smell of spaghetti sauce invaded the room at the end of the afternoon session, and there was egg salad, cheese, cut-up fruit and crackers, plus three boxes of Franzia wine. Nothing during the long lunch break, however. I revisited the place where I ate at the end of the game Tuesday – the buffet at the Buffalo Raceway casino next door.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Bridge Blog 801: Buffalo Regional Tournament Day 1

       I usually see the Events Center at the Erie County Fairgrounds filled with vendor booths and greenery for the early spring garden show, Plantasia.
Without the landscaping and the hoopla, it’s depressingly stark and barn-like, making the shockingly small opening day turnout for the Buffalo Regional Tournament seem even smaller. There was a general longing to be back at the Holiday Inn on Grand Island, where the tournament held forth for the past half-dozen years. Or even at the Main-Transit Fire Hall in Williamsville, the favored venue for the Unit 116 sectionals.
Location, location and location were working against it in several ways. Many players from the northern suburbs gave it a miss, figuring it was just too long a drive. A few St. Catharines players came over from Canada, but it’s much more of a haul for them, too. It’s easier for the Rochester players, but only a few made the trip down the Thruway.
It was a diminished experience in almost every way. Pat Rasmus, whose stellar hospitality made the tournaments on Grand Island brighter, was running boards around during the morning knock-out team game, wearing a T-shirt that said “Caddy.” As for the hospitality – plastic bowls of chips and popcorn, a few two-liter bottles of pop and a pitcher of beer from the taps in the Event Center Café, which otherwise was closed.
At regionals, the big ambition is to succeed in the knock-outs, a head-to-head team competition in which the winners advance to the next round and the big pot of gold points at the end. Our team – Usha Khurana, her delightful Indian friend Mona Karna from Sarasota, Fla., and Usha’s frequent partner, Joe Miranda – refused to consider the possibility of needing to find alternative plans if we lost.
It was in my head that I would be playing with Usha, but no. Usha and Mona were a pair. I would play with Joe and, although we never played together before, his approach is pretty much like Usha’s.
Even so, it took the better part of the first round of six hands to work out the kinks. Twice I failed to give Joe a return that would have defeated our opponents, a well-practiced pair of retired teachers from London, Ont., named Margaret and Wilma. This proved costly, accounting for most of the 19 International Match Points we were behind at the midpoint after 12 hands. We did better on the second set of 12, stepping up an already aggressive offense, but there were no opportunities for a big score. We lost that round by a single IMP. Oh well, there are more knockouts Wednesday.
Along with the other knocked-out teams, we turned to the open pairs in the afternoon and, by now, Joe and I were pretty much on the same page. Our coup was a top board against a familiar pair of opponents, Barbara Sadkin and June Feuerstein (See Blog 801-A). For the final round of the session, we faced off for two hands against Usha and Mona and flummoxed them with an unexpected opening bid from Joe (See Blog 801-B.)
We finished with 54.49%, first in B East-West in our section, second in B overall, for 2.39 red points. Usha and Mona also scratched, despite our shenanigans. Third in C overall North-South with a 47.60% for 1.45 red points.

Bridge Blog 801-A: Moon shot

The only absolute top board Joe Miranda and I registered in Monday afternoon’s open pairs game was Board 7 against Barbara Sadkin and June Feuerstein. South (June) is dealer. Both of us are vulnerable. Joe opens a Diamond, I respond 4 No Trump, he bids 5 Clubs (1430 Roman Key Card) and I go straight to 6 Diamonds. Barbara led the Jack of Hearts. “Are we underbid?” I asked Joe as I laid down the dummy. “I think so,” he said. Here are the hands:
Joe (West)
Spades: A-Q-9; Hearts: None; Diamonds: J-9-8-5-4-3; Clubs: K-J-9-8.
Dale (East)
Spades: K-5-2; Hearts: Q-2; Diamonds: A-K-Q-10-7; Clubs: A-6-4.
Barbara (North)
Spades: 10-8-7-6-4; Hearts: K-J-10-7-5; Diamonds: None; Clubs: Q-10-5.
June (South)
Spades: J-3; Hearts: A-9-8-6-4-3; Diamonds: 6-2; Clubs: 7-3-2.
Thanks to the FastResults folks, we can see the results, which show four other pairs bidding 6 Diamonds and making only 6. Usha and Mona also got a top board on that hand, bidding and making 3 Hearts doubled, the only North-South to get a number on their side of the scorecard. (Another went to 6 Hearts doubled, which the printed hand record says is the likely result.) Four other East-Wests stopped at 5 Diamonds, two of them wound up at 3 NT, amazingly making two overtricks, even though North-South should win half a dozen Hearts.

Bridge Blog 801-B: Don't ask!

Mona Karna isn’t sure she wants to play with Joe Miranda after what he and I did to her and Usha Khurana on the last hand of the day in the afternoon pairs game Tuesday. Board 28. North-South vulnerable. West deals.
Joe, as dealer, opens a Club. I respond with a Heart. He goes 3 Clubs. I think for a moment, then take the 3 No Trump plunge. Here are the hands:
Joe (West)
Spades: Q-9-8-5-3; Hearts: 6; Diamonds: 8; Clubs: K-Q-7-6-5-3.
Dale (East)
Spades: K-4; Hearts: A-Q-9-7-5-4; Diamonds: J-9-6-4-3; Clubs: None.
Mona (North)
Spades: J-6; Hearts: 10-8-3; Diamonds: Q-10-5-2; Clubs: A-J-9-8.
Usha (South)
Spades: A-10-7-2; Hearts: K-J-2; Diamonds: A-K-7; Clubs: 10-4-2.
The printed hand record says the likely contract is East-West 4 Hearts doubled, down three. That’s because North-South can make 3 No Trump vulnerable. What happened at our table was my 3 NT going down just two for a minus 100 instead of a minus 500 or 600.
The online record shows results all over the place. None of the North-Souths got 600 because none of them took the bid, although two of them got 500 for setting 3 Spades and 4 Diamonds, both doubled. A lot of East-Wests wound up at 3 Hearts, going down one or two, sometimes doubled. The ones who got plus scores stopped at 2 Hearts or 2 Spades. The top pair made an overtrick (!) in Hearts.

Bridge Blog 800: Ready or not

Continuity was hard to come by in the week leading up to the Buffalo Regional Tournament Oct. 21 to 26, and so were master points.
After the long weekend off for a trip to NY City, it was less than a stellar return to form – a 46.62% game with Marietta Kalman on Tuesday, an even 50% with Celine Murray on Wednesday. The point breakthrough finally arrived on Thursday, when the poorest game of the week – a 46.25% with the lovely Dianne Bloom – brought us in third in the C strat (!) for 0.28 of a point.
On Friday, a last-minute cancellation by Canadian partner Selina Volpatti (too busy campaigning for reelection to the Niagara Regional Council) threw me together with Airport Bridge Club manager Bill Finkelstein. Between my mistakes and his critiques, it was an experience only marginally less distressing than the cystoscopy I endured the previous afternoon. Nonetheless it proved rewarding – a 50% game, tied for first in B, 0.90 of a point. Another 50% with Bill Boardman on Saturday was less painful, but out of point range.
Giving all these struggles a final wacky spin was Monday’s game with June Feuerstein, who did things like open 1 No Trump with a singleton. Nevertheless, it reaffirmed my belief in miracles. Our 51.79% game put us third overall and earned 0.40 of a point, raising the total for the month to 6.68. OK, bring on the Regional!