Monday, November 13, 2017

Bridge Blog 997: Niagara Falls Regional Wrap-Up

Almost twice the size of the Buffalo Regional (1,166 tables vs. 628) with nearly twice as many players earning points (821 vs. 431). Point collection at the top wasn't as big, though (115.31 in Buffalo vs. 75.82 in Niagara Falls).
Niagara Falls was better for the top Buffalo player – Saleh Fetouh, who earned 60.63 points (fifth overall), vs. 52.34 in his home town (ninth overall). What made the difference were 18.64 points from a second-place finish in the Sunday Swiss team game with some top-flight teammates – David Hemmer, Chris Urbanek and Bud Seidenberg. (The same team was third in the Buffalo Swiss, earning 10.04.) Chris was second-best Buffalo player and eighth overall with 58.41 points.
What's also impressive is that they came so close to first, only 2 victory points behind the team of Jonathan Steinberg, Alex Hudson, Mark Itabashi and July Ratley. Three pros! Until John Ziemer mentioned it at the club game on Monday, I didn't realize that Jonathan Steinberg is a pro, too. A full recap of the week's games and winners can be found here

I looked at that Swiss team game as my last hope for being among those 800-plus point winners, albeit winning maybe only one round, like Judy Padgug or District 5 Ruby Life Master Mini-McKenney leader Sue Lan Ma. 
Next time I'm lining up partners early, not relying on last-minute twists of fate. And then there's that suggestion from David Hemmer, who follows this commentary. His comment after Blog 996: "Dale, have you considered some lessons?" 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Bridge Blog 996: Niagara Falls Regional Sunday

I pull past the entrance to the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Falls Street en route to the parking garage and who’s out there smoking? Amir Farsoud! He’s recovered from the back problems he told me about on Saturday? He’s playing with us?
In the hotel lobby, I find partner Selina Volpatti sitting across from the partnership desk. No, we do not have teammates. The partnership chairwoman, Janice Upenieks, is sympathetic. She joins us in hoping someone will show up at the last minute. But no.
Meanwhile, Amir is playing. According to the Janice, he hooked up with a woman he played with on Saturday – Suzanne Kosky from Toronto – and she found them teammates (a couple from Latham, N.Y.) at the partnership desk. They’re in. We’re out. (They go on to finish fifth in B and earn 3.26 gold points. Meanwhile, Saturday partner David Monro, playing with his wife, ties for fifth in the X strat – 4.60 gold points.)
Selina says now she can go help out at the fashion show her daughter is running that afternoon in Niagara-on-the-Lake. 
Me? Back across the bridge to Niagara Falls USA. The car is spattered with salt from Friday’s snow and low on gas. Very low on gas. I find the Delta Sonic in Niagara Falls and set the car straight, do some shopping at the nearby Target and come home to a strenuous afternoon of cleaning up leaves after confirming my original suspicion that the Bills-Saints football game won’t be worth watching.

So there it is – eight sessions of open or A/X pairs, $128 invested, no master points whatsoever. Three weeks after my best tournament ever in Buffalo, I have my worst ever in Niagara Falls

Bridge Blog 995: Niagara Falls Regional Saturday

         Will playing with an unfamiliar, but experienced, partner change my fortunes in the open pairs game? David Monro of Peterborough, Ont., and I will find out. He has 2,400 points. I have 2,300.
          We’re the last to sign up for the morning session and instead of an open pairs game, it’s an A/X pairs game. All heavy hitters.
Our morning opponents include top-notch Torontonians Rashid Khan and Vera Carpenter, the bodacious Buffalo pair of David Colligan and Davis Heussler, and Phyllis Jones of Brampton, Ont., who I’m seeing among the winners a lot this week. She’s a winner again Saturday morning.
          The other East-Wests, meanwhile, include Chris Urbanek and Saleh Fetouh, two of the best Buffalo players, paired today with savvy Canadians; four dominant St. Catharines players, Brian Macartney, Jeremy Smee, Clyde Paul and George Morrissey, plus Torontonian Jonathan Steinberg and his young pro from North Carolina, the sullen Alex Hudson.  
We are assigned to Table J-19, which doesn’t exist at first and which doesn’t have bidding boxes or a Bridge Mate scoring gizmo for a while either.
          Eventually, it all settles down. We finish with 49.04%, tied for 12th out of 19, my second-best score of the week, despite a few misunderstandings that lead to minus 1,100 scores, but at least there are no recriminations. One of those 1,100s was a 7 Diamond sacrifice that kept opponents Margaret and Paul MacFarlane from succeeding at 6 Hearts. Plus 3 match points.    
Nevertheless, David gives me pause when he’s late coming back from lunch (he was at the next table with a couple senior ladies at the buffet in the casino). While he tarries, director Martin Hunter, no slouch himself, sits in for the first two boards of the afternoon session. He gets weak hands, though, and has no impact. We have a near top and a near bottom. And, after David arrives, another near top.  
Our afternoon effort fades after that, though. We finish with 41.97%. No points again. None at all so far for eight sessions of the tournament. 
My hopes now rest with the big Sunday Swiss team game, where partner Selina Volpatti and I will have to compete again in the A/X division because it’s stratiflighted, not stratified, and any player with more than 2,000 points is barred from the B/C/D division.

But we don’t have a team. I collar Amir Farsoud, who Selina lined up to play with us, and he says his back is bothering him. Look how I’m standing, he says, hunched. He won’t play Sunday. I put our names on the bulletin board opposite the partnership desk. We’ll come up with something. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Bridge Blog 994: Niagara Falls Regional Friday

          Omigod! Not only am I late getting on the road, like after 9:05 a.m., but that sunshine and those clear streets at my house disappear in a cloud of snow flurries minutes later as I pass Buffalo State College.
          Worse yet, they start to accumulate on the Niagara Thruway. Flat-out speeding to pick up partner Helen Panza at her home on Grand Island is out of the question. Nobody’s daring more than 60 or 65 mph.
          Exit on Whitehaven Road and the pavement is actually slippery. There’s an oncoming salt truck. Can this really be ... winter? And, more immediately, can we get to the Crowne Plaza hotel in Niagara Falls, Ont., before the 10 a.m. game starts?
          Well, the sun returns as we zip along the Niagara River on the former Robert Moses Parkway, the mist of the Falls colluding into a huge clump in front of us. There’s no wait at the toll barrier (thank you, EZ-Pass!) and no wait at the border checkpoint, either.
I drop Helen at the front door of the hotel with Canadian cash for the entry fee. Despite the time it takes to park in the hotel/casino ramp (sixth floor, I was fourth floor Thursday), Helen is still at the registration desk when I rush into the Grand Ballroom. We’re in. We’re C strat, East-West, Table 16, which turns out to be a late addition in the front of the room near the desk. So late it has no bidding boxes. Big turn-out today.
Our section of the open pairs is 16½ tables, a little serpentine after the first 15. I feel more at home with Helen as a partner, but the final results aren't much better. Our 42.82% establishes a new midpoint in my scores, but it’s also my first last-place finish. However, the race for the bottom in the J Section is so tightly packed that one percentage point better – another 5 match points – would put us in 12th place.
Where could we make up those 5 match points? Perhaps in my misplay in the next-to-last hand in the final round against Ranald Davidson and Susan Cooper (who’s wearing a cap and clearly undergoing cancer treatments. Been there, I tell her.).
Anyway, as I yank out a pass card, all the auxiliary cards in my bidding box come out with it. They’re wet! While I spend the next couple minutes drying them with Starbucks napkins from my pocket, play commences and I pull a wrong card. Instead of taking a trick with the Ace of Spades, as I intended, I inadvertently pull a low Spade.  
So Susan makes an overtrick. Then Ranald takes the pile of cards I’ve been drying and gives them the finishing touch on the leg of his jeans.
If I play the right card, Susan makes 3 Clubs instead of 4. The 2 match point difference would lift us out of last place. To earn gold or red master points, however, we need to be over 50%. If there’s any comfort, it’s knowing that better Buffalo players than us – John and Martha Welte, John Ziemer and Vic Bergsten, John Kirsits and Ken Meier  also miss out on points in the morning. They rebound in the afternoon. We do, too, but not enough. 
After lunch in the Hard Rock Café with Canadian partner Selina Volpatti and her partner, Chris the priest, we return to find ourselves assigned to the same Table 16 where we began five hours earlier, this time as North-South.
I win a lot of auctions in the afternoon session, but it’s not necessarily a good thing. When we finish, the Bridge Mate scoring gizmo shows that both we and our opponents, St. Catharines heavyweights Brian Macartney and Clyde Paul, have 44%, but they’re 12th and we’re 14th!
The actual tally moves us up. We’re 13th, with an even 45%, still pathetic, but it’s my second-best game of the week.
When East-Wests skip a table in the afternoon, we avoid playing the pro, Mark Itabashi, and his lovely partner, July Ratley. Is she paying for him to be here, I ask someone who might know. Sure, she is, they say.

In that case, she does not get her money’s worth Friday morning. They’re ninth East-West in the I Section, earning 0.82 of a red point with a 52.17% game. In the afternoon, they come in second North-South with 61.85%, copping 5.01 points. Good, but nothing like our friends Rashid Khan and Vera Carpenter from Toronto, who are second overall for the day. They rake in 13.46 points. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Bridge Blog 993: Niagara Falls Regional Thursday

June Feuerstein and I follow up Wednesday's deep mediocrity by sinking to a new low in the morning open pairs session Thursday – 39.74%. Only two other pairs go lower, Susan Barreca of Dundas, Ont., and Keith Coutlee of Hamilton, with 38.83% among us East-Wests and, in the North-Souths, Ruth Kozower and Ed Drozen with 35.49%. When the movement requires us to skip a table, Ruth and Ed are the ones we skip. (Susan and Keith, meanwhile, were knock-out finalists Tuesday and Wednesday on a team with my Buffalo Regional Swiss team partners, Usha Khurana and Joe Miranda, and won 7.76 gold points.)
High point in the morning session is making what seems to be an ill-advised, sacrificial 4 Diamond contract doubled and redoubled (by June). I set up a vicious cross-ruff to nail it, then see later in the hand records that I should have taken 11 tricks. Here's the hand:

South (Waclaw Grin) dealer
Spades: K-7-6-5; Hearts: J-9-8-7-5; Diamonds: A-9; Clubs: 10-3.

West (me)
Spades: 10; Hearts: 2; Diamonds: K-Q-6-4-2; Clubs: Q-J-9-8-6-4.

North (Steve McGrahan)
Spades: A-9-2; Hearts: Q-10-6-3; Diamonds: 3; Clubs: A-K-7-5-2.

East (June)
Spades: Q-J-8-4-3; Hearts: A-K-4; Diamonds: J-10-8-7-5; Clubs: none.

Not sure how things get started, but since June and I don't employ the unusual 2 No Trump convention, and since we have the advantage in vulnerability, I ignore my lack of high cards and jump right in with a 1 Diamond opening bid, intending to rebid my Club suit. Waclaw and Steve find their Heart suit and push the bidding up to the 3 level. When they double our 4 Diamond bid, June pulls out the blue card and redoubles.
Steve leads the Ace of Clubs. I trump it in the dummy, get rid of my singletons on the Ace-King of Hearts and commence the cross-ruff. It's exhilarating, to say the least, and we're sure it's a top board. Turns out, it isn't. At another table, against Bing and Mary Wong, somebody makes a doubled 6 Diamond slam.
We play the Wongs later and get our only top game of the morning there. We cross-ruff Mary mercilessly and she goes down three on a 4 Spade contract. The hand record says it could be a grand slam, but nobody takes more than 11 tricks.   
Meanwhile, still high from the redouble, we sit down next with California pro Mark Itabashi and partner July Ratley (See Wednesday's blog). Today June's complement to July is about her dress, a simple black knit with a tasteful little blue accent at the neck. It looks terrific.
Do we fare any better against them than we did on Wednesday? Not really. On Board 19, I miss a chance to beat Mark on a 4 Heart contract when I fail to return my singleton Diamond to set up a ruff after I take June's opening Spade lead. Hand record says he only makes 3 Hearts. They get 12.5 match points, we get 4.5. Setting him would be a 7 match-point swing.
On Board 20, Mark bids 4 Clubs, makes an overtrick, as the hand record says he should. (He deliberates a couple minutes, a pro at work, counting cards in his mind, before he decides to ignore my pitch of the Queen of Clubs and not to take a finesse, thereby catching the second half of my Queen-Jack doubleton). They get 10 match points, we get 7, our best result against them so far. Board 21 finds me at 4 Hearts doubled, but not vulnerable. I'm down for sure, but it should have been down one, not down two. They tie for a top board, 15 out of 17 match points. Down one would have been 6 match points better. Against us this time, they're 73.53% in three hands. Wednesday they were 71.74% in two hands. Gee, we're good to them.
The afternoon feels better. When we check the electronic Bridge Mate scoring gizmo after the last hand, it says we're fourth North-South with 51%. At last, a breakthrough! But it doesn’t hold up. Although our final 49.13% is our best effort, we're fifth (only three pairs out of 12 are over 50%), missing a fourth-place finish (and a fractional master point) by only 0.11%.

Offsetting our disappointment as the afternoon results are posted is the joy of Saleh Fetouh and Glenn Milgrim, who end their nail-biting when they narrowly win the overall open pairs, collecting a magnificent 31.06 gold points. Saleh is such a seasoned player that it's a surprise to see him so genuinely excited. Clearly, no matter how many you have, points are still good when you get them. And lots of points are better. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Bridge Blog 992: Niagara Falls Regional Wednsday

A beautiful frosty morning it is, Wednesday, and I get to Niagara Falls, Ont., so early by taking the Peace Bridge that I exit the Queen Elizabeth Way early on McLeod Road and pick my way through the deserted tourist town streets to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, the former Sheraton Brock, overlooking the Falls and the Rainbow Bridge.
Lots of familiar faces in the lobby on my first day at the tournament, which got started without me Tuesday. At a table in the Grand Ballroom sits my every-Wednesday partner, June Feuerstein, whose ride has gotten her there early, too.
We settle in at East-West in a 12-table section of open pairs for what seems a pretty happy game – we're hardly fatigued at all when it ends after 27 boards shortly after 1 p.m. – but the Bridge Mate scoring gizmo tells another tale.
So does the final tally. We're not last, thanks to a couple pairs from St. Catharines, Ont., but we're a sorry tenth with a 40.10%. Only Buffalo players to win points in our section – Jim Easton and Dennis Clary – were fourth with a mere 50% even.
After lunch at the buffet in the adjoining casino, we return as North-Souths in a 13-table section, two boards a round. We vow to improve – and we do – but not nearly enough. Missing a grand slam against eventual East-West winners Max Rutherford and Dennis Glazebrook doesn't help. We're up to only 43.30%, which puts us next to last.
Winners in our section, morning and afternoon, are Ranald Davidson of Montreal and Susan Cooper of Thornhill, Ont., who follow up their 72% morning effort with 59.15%. They collect 31.06 gold points. Our good friend from St. Catharines, the broodingly handsome Amir Farsoud, and long-bearded partner Peter Kosacky are third, taking 10.49 gold points. My Canadian partner, Selina Volpatti, has attempted to hook us up with Amir for the Sunday Swiss teams event, but apparently that's off.
Highlight of sorts for the afternoon is a round with two outstanding players from California – Mark Itabashi, a pro written up in the now-defunct bridge column in the New York Times for winning the Summer North American Championships in 2013, and July Ratley, a professor at Shasta College who teaches bridge and plays a lot of tournaments.
June complements July on her figure. I'd been struck by her abundant waves of auburn hair and her sprightly youthfulness. She's clearly one of the most attractive women in the room. They're a pleasant pair as they pretty much nail us, taking a full complement of 11 tricks in a 4 Spade contract, then snatching a hand for 2 Spades, down just one, where we should have bid up further in Clubs or Diamonds. Despite our help, they finish only at 46.94%. They'd got their points in the morning.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Bridge Blog 991: Another regional already?

Just three weeks after the annual Buffalo Spooktacular Regional Tournament, we have the biennial Niagara Falls Regional Tournament, starting Tuesday in the Crowne Plaza Hotel overlooking the great natural wonder.
How much do I adore the Niagara Falls Regional? Let me count the ways:
I scored my Life Master hat trick there in 2011. Missing a handful of gold points, I hit Life Master, Bronze Life Master and Silver Life Master all at once as part of a victorious team in the knock-outs.
It’s Canada. Friendly, familiar, foreign and near, as the tourist slogan used to go.
The hotel, which everyone of a certain age (including me) wants to call by its former name, the Sheraton Brock. Lots of free parking. That terrific dining room on the upper floor overlooking the Cataract. A pair of Starbucks coffee shops almost next door to each other at street level. And, as a fallback, the city’s old casino next door has a very nice buffet.
          Getting there and crossing the border. Making the 10 a.m. start for the morning game means getting up early, leaving the house by 9 and paying tolls for the Grand Island and Rainbow bridges. At least EZ-Pass makes it quicker.
          It starts on Election Day, so I’m missing the first day. I feel honor bound to be in the newsroom Tuesday night to help handle the returns, even though this is an off-year.
          The prospect of really late nights Wednesday and Thursday. My plan is to play three sessions both days, but I feel obliged to check into the newsroom on my way home to tie up loose ends and make sure nothing urgent has popped up. Plus blogging. Although arrival home should be in the 1 o’clock hour, the early wakeup means a couple days with high potential for sleep deprivation.
          (Sudden thought a few hours later: Am I out of my mind? Let's just skip those evening sessions, take care of business at the office, get home relatively early and pick up some zzzs.)
          Plus I don’t have partners lined up for all 11 sessions I hope to play – there’s June Feuerstein for the daytime pairs on Wednesday and, if she can find a ride, on Thursday; Helen Panza, with whom I’ve played infrequently, for pairs on Friday; and Selina Volpatti for an incomplete Swiss team on Sunday. Nobody for Wednesday and Thursday nights, nor for the pairs on Saturday. Nevertheless, there’s always a chance of getting lucky at the partnership desk.
          Finally, despite my affection for this tournament, does it really love me? Let’s go to the history books.
          2006 – 2.32, thanks to coming in second in the C strat in the senior pairs on Friday with pickup partner Brian Bretzlaff, who was impressively good back then and still is.
          2008 – 1.50, no big score, just bits and pieces.
          2011 – 13.67, mostly as part of the team – Selina Volpatti, Helen Panza and Mike Silverman – that won the Whirlpool Bracketed Knock Outs B section. 12.07 gold points for that alone.
          2013 – 2.02, nothing special this time, either.

          2015 – 6.78, thanks to low-ranking success in Swiss team games Wednesday with Barbara Sadkin and pickup teammates, and again Sunday with Selina Volpatti, Marilyn Sultz and Ruth Wurster.