Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bridge Blog 808: Raising the bar

How happy I would be to earn 20 master points this month, I reckoned as I returned to the tables at the Airport Bridge Club on Monday. Five days to play, not far to go. In addition to my regional tournament winnings of 9.77, I had 9.11 in club play.
Now, after a couple days among the club’s point winners, I’m beginning to think October could be a 25-pointer. Fumbling after a good start Monday, June Feuerstein and I wound up with 48.21%. But that was second in the B strat in that triple-point Howell game and it earned us 1.58 points.
Tuesday’s 10-table triple-point game saw June and me both do better with different partners. Eva Schmidt and I made few mistakes and nailed three top boards en route to 59.26%, third overall and second in B for 2.31 points. June, playing with Barbara Sadkin, was first in B. October total now – 22.77.

Bridge Blog 807: Regional recap

The heavy hitters were in the big room at the Fairgrounds Events Center for the Buffalo Regional Tournament last week, but I didn’t spot any of them. Three of the overall District 5 point leaders were on hand – Ohioans Fleur Howard, Phillip Becker and Michael Craeger – but they were immersed in the high-level knock-out games, so they never crossed my path.
Tied for the top of the heap in master point winnings were two of the Toronto honchos – Martin Hunter and John Duquette – who took home 85. They won three knock-out competitions for 20.12, 30.61 and 32.83 of those points.
You have to look down the list to 19th place to encounter the first player from host Unit 116 – Jim Gullo, with 34.82 points. Good work, Jim. After him, the locals start to show up with more and more regularity. Here they are through100th place:
Jay Costello, 28.85 (24th).
Mike Ryan, 28.18 (25th).
Saleh Fetouh, 25.63 (35th).
Davis Heussler, 23.70 (38th).
Yichuan Luo, 23.23 (39th).
Donna Steffan, 22.99 (43rd).
Judy Padgug, 20.98 (46th).
Ken Meier, 18.85 (52nd).
Kathy Pollock, 18.52 (53rd).
Judy Graf and Fred Yellen, 18.08 (tied 58th).
Liz Clark, 17.39 (64th).
John Ziemer, 17.31 (65th).
David Hemmer, 17.01 (71st).
Bert Feasley, 16.71 (72nd).
Linda Burroughsford, 16.37 (74th).
Joanne Kelley, Eugene Harvey and Chongmin Zhang, 15.44 (tied 81st).
Jay Levy, 14.78 (86th).
Gaurang Sheth, 14.20 (90th).
Bob Padgug, 14.13 (91st).
Martha and John Welte, 13.12 (tied 100th).
My 9.77 points put me in 138th place, tied with none other than Jerry Geiger. My playing partners are further down the list: Joe Miranda, 6.35 (202nd); Usha Khurana and Mona Karna, 5.41 (tied for 237th); Judie Bailey, 4.55 (259th); Ruth Wurster, 4.15 (278th); Betty Metz, 3.62 (298th); and Marilyn Sultz, 3.46 (300th). In all, 476 players earned points.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bridge Blog 806: Buffalo Regional Day 6

Swiss teams! The big tournament finale. Forty-five tables. We’re Team 38, which means we get to start off the day against Team 37 – Judy Padgug, Kathy Pollock, Davis Heussler and Tom Koralewski, a more high-powered lineup than ours (Judie Bailey, Ruth Wurster, Marilyn Sultz and myself), but a B stratification team nevertheless.
Then a funny thing happened. Tom Koralewski doubled Judie on a 4 Spade vulnerable contract when she had an awesome long suit and she made an overtrick. On the heels of that was a slam hand which Judie, after checking on my Aces, took all the way to 7 No Trump. Soon as her hand come down, it was obvious that we were taking all 13 tricks. In fact, we could have taken 14. At the other table, Judy Padgug and Kathy Pollock stopped at 6 NT. Thanks to those two hands, we wound up beating them by 4 International Match Points.
We would have been happy to stop right there and rest on our laurels, but there were six more seven-board rounds to go. Plus, having won in the opening round, we got to play another good team, an honest-to-God A team of Stan Kozlowski, Alex Kowal, Bert Hargeshimer and Christy Kellogg. They pretty much mopped the floor with us, 19-1 IMPs, although if our teammates hadn’t made a misplay on one hand, it would have been 12-7.
Incredibly, they were the only team we faced that wound up with a better record than we did, although we did our best to help the others out. But for an bit of over-eagerness on Judie’s part in bidding a slam on a hand that only made game, we would have beaten our next opponents – Rich Cramer-Benjamin and Jeff Bender – by a margin of 7-4 IMPs. Instead, they bested us, 15-7.
Well, we’ll get easier opponents now, I assured my teammates. Next up was a St. Catharines, Ont., team – Kit Nash and Mike Ritza, not so easy – who also were 1-2. On a bunch of low-scoring hands, they stymied us, 10-1.
At this point there might have been a break for lunch, but just a few minutes were added to the middle of the seven rounds so that players could line up for hamburgers, Italian sausage sandwiches and salads at the Event Center CafĂ©. (I brought a sandwich from the Lexington Co-op.) The Swiss team games at Unit 116 sectional tournaments, where there’s a lunch break and orders are taken for sandwiches in advance, are far more humane.
Another St. Catharines team faced us in the fifth round – Sharon Stevens and Maureen Clark at our table – and they benefited from a three-hand series where Judie and I zigged and zagged around bidding and making game. They beat us, 24-11.
So much for finishing in the upper echelon of the B strat and collecting gold points. We’d need at least four wins to do that. At this point, however, we were meeting teams that were even more desperate than us. Our sixth-round opponents, Dave Donaldson and Sushil Amlami, told us they hadn’t won anything at all. Nor did they beat us. We took them, 18-6.
Since there was an uneven number of teams, there was one three-team round robin afoot, reserved for the bottom-most teams, and we got caught in it for the final round, playing three-board sets against two different teams. Director Alex Bealles tried without much success to explain to us how to submit the scores until I finally assured him that we would somehow figure it out. We got one good hand against each of them – at our table, Eva Schmidt and Gabe Tannenbaum and then Martin and Barbara Pieterse – and won both sets.
Our final Victory Point tally was 94, almost respectable, but well short of the 110 that the eighth place B team chalked up to win 2.43 points. (The overall winners had 165.) Nevertheless, each victory in a round was worth 0.36 of a red point, giving us a total of 1.08 for the day. 

Bridge Blog 806-A: Random speculations

Random thought: Although I always approach the Buffalo Regional with high anticipation, it doesn’t reward me very well. This year may well have been the high water mark. Let’s go to the history books and see what’s happened in previous years.
2005 – 2.73 (all red points).
2006 – 1.94 (includes 1.59 gold).
2007 – 5.44 (all red).
2008 – 12.70 (6.81 gold, including 5.32 from that Swiss teams game I played with Paula Kotowski).
2009 – 4.15 (all red).
2010 – 7.59 (all red).
2011 – 6.97 (1.87 gold). I needed to play the Niagara Falls Regional later that year to reach the 25 gold I needed for my overdue Life Master status, which simultaneously became Bronze and Silver Life Master.
2012 – 12.12 (9.37 gold from a second-place finish in the knock-outs).
2013 – 4.59 (all red).
This year? All those bits and pieces of master points seem to add up to 9.77 (2.64 of them gold), my third-best Buffalo Regional.
Random question: Was Sunday’s 45-table Swiss team game as big as previous years or was attendance down? Let’s take a look. In June 2013, there were 48 tables. In October 2012, the count was 67 tables. In October 2011, it was 56 tables. In October 2010, it was 62. Also 62 in October 2009. In June 2008, it was 59.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Bridge Blog 805: Buffalo Regional Day 5

Things reached the silly stage sometime Saturday afternoon, around the time that Sam Maitra at Table 3 was telling the joke that asks what you call 20,000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean. To that, Guy Murray  across the aisle at Table 9 added the one about why man-eating sharks don’t eat lawyers.
Betty Metz and I had seen the ocean-bottom depths in the morning, coming in dead last at 39.89%, which was a lot better than the 29.89% I expected. It was so bad that my finest moment was a revoke. Not noticing a singleton King of trump (Hearts) in my hand when they first were led, I produced it to over-ruff the declarer. Director Alex Barrilles pronounced a one-trick penalty, distressing the declarer, a cute, youngish, but tightly-wound, dark-haired Torontonian named M-Christine El-Hoss, who was playing with her enigmatic shaved-head husband, Ragi (pronounced Ra-jee, I was corrected after I called him Ra-gee).  
So she was down one at 4 Hearts, but by rights, according to the printed hand records, she should have been down three. She got 12 of a possible 17 match points. After the match was over, she went over to the directors’ table to appeal, but apparently to no avail. Not that it ruined their game. They were first East-West with a stellar 71.10%. They went on to add a 60.68% game in the afternoon, third overall. Their aggregate performance won them the most possible gold points – 10.15.
At any rate, in the afternoon session, Betty and I were just having fun. Fun yielded a 50.98% game, fourth East-West in our section, the reward being 0.79 red points. Paltry? Yes, but it continues my record of accumulating points, no matter how fractional, each day of the tournament.  
Random notes: Prior to the morning game, Betty Metz remarked how people had been giving her a hard time about playing with me. Guess they think I’m the enemy. She said she didn’t care. I don’t care either. We had a good time.
Nevertheless, as Unit 116 president, she had plenty of things to be serious about, mostly arrangements for the next regional in 2015. She was in serious conversations all day long. The good part is that she’s gotten it moved to October, week and location still to be determined. Location probably will not be the fairgrounds again. The Canadians Saturday said they had trouble finding it. They also said they liked being able to leave the game and go right upstairs to their hotel room.

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.