Thursday, November 19, 2015

Bridge Blog 871: Wham Bam Slam

One thing I regretted again and again at the Niagara Falls, Ont., Regional was the inability of me and my partners to bid and make slams. But that deficiency ended in a big way on Thursday at the Airport Bridge Club. Tom Koralewski, with whom I was playing for the first time, and I bid and made three of them en route to a superlative 63.69% effort. Second overall, we earned 2.08 points.
Two of the slams were small ones – 6 Spades, 6 No Trump. But one of them was grand and it came in the very first round. Board 5, North-South vulnerable, but not us in East-West. Tom opened a Heart. Holding 17 high card points, I went 2 Diamonds. If I recall correctly, he gave me 3 Clubs next.
Moments earlier, when we reviewed which conventions we played, we'd skipped over slam procedures. “I guess this is something we didn’t discuss,” I conceded, slapping down a 4 No Trump bid to ask for Aces. Tom thought for a minute and went 5 Diamonds. Hopefully, that’s one Ace. Terrific, I had the other three. On to 5 No Trump. Kings? He responded 6 Spades. OK, we have all the Aces and Kings. What the heck. 7 No Trump.
West (me)
Spades: A-4; Hearts: A-5; Diamonds: A-8-6-5-3; Clubs: K-Q-9-6.
East (Tom)
Spades: K-J; Hearts: K-Q-8-6-3; Diamonds: K-10-7; Clubs: A-J-2.
North (Eleanor Whelan)
Spades: Q-10-9-7-3-2; Hearts: 10-7-4; Diamonds: J; Clubs: 10-7-3.
South (Sharon Wilcox)
Spades: 8-6-5; Hearts: J-9-2; Diamonds: Q-9-4-2; Clubs: 8-5-4.
Eleanor led a Spade and I thanked Tom for the dummy. No question that we had two Spade tricks, four Clubs, the top two Diamonds and at least three Hearts. But that’s only 11. The other two would have to come from one of the long red suits. Best to test the Hearts first and see if the opposing hands split 3-3. Hallelujah. With five Heart tricks, I didn’t need to try for extra Diamonds, which would have been fatal.

At other tables, people stopped at 6 NT if they got to slam at all. One of them even went down one. Nobody else went all the way. According to the hand record (a new feature at the Airport Club and much appreciated), East-West can make three other slams – 7 Hearts, 6 Diamonds and 7 Clubs. But match-point-wise, why settle for less? 

Bridge Blog 870: Niagara Falls Regional Wrapped

The Niagara Falls, Ont., Regional Tournament felt bigger than the Buffalo Regional three weeks earlier. And it was. Buffalo attracted the Ohio and Rochester people. Niagara Falls drew them in from Burlington, Oakville, Toronto and points beyond.
Buffalo had 699 tables. Niagara Falls had 1,094 (down from 1,177 in 2013). A total of 732 players earned points in the Falls. Just 487 did in Buffalo.
In Niagara Falls, the big winner, Jack Shinehoft of Dundas, Ont., earned 76.60 points. In Buffalo, the couple tied at the top, Stephanie and Robert Alexander of Mentor, Ohio, took home 63.15.
In Niagara Falls, Buffalo’s leading point man was Saleh Fetouh, fifth overall with 67.77. He also was our biggest winner in Buffalo, 20th overall with 46.13.
In Buffalo, there were local players racking up impressive point totals who usually don’t do that sort of thing. In Niagara Falls, our representatives on the leaderboard were the people you expect to see there. To wit, Dian Petrov, 40.07 (27th), Jill Wooldridge, 36.37 (37th), Chris Urbanek, 32.72 (42nd), Bud Seidenberg, 26.91 (53rd), John Ziemer, 25.28 (60th), Shakeel Ahmad and Manju Ceylony, 25.23 (Sunday Swiss team winners once again and tied for 61st), David Hemmer, 25.14 (63rd) and Mike Ryan, 19.22 (87th).
Personally, I found Niagara Falls more rewarding. With 6.78 points, 1.67 of them gold, I was tied for 268th on the list, joined by Teri Ford of Amherstburg, Ont., and John Abbott of Windsor, Ont., neither of whom I recall meeting. In Buffalo, I earned 5.38 points, 2.65 of them gold, and was all by myself at 220th.
Other points of comparison:
Hospitality food. Better in Buffalo, a respectable hors d’oeuvre each evening, though not without a foul-up or two by the Adam’s Mark Hotel. In Niagara Falls, it was chips, popcorn, cheese and crackers.
Wine. Better quality in Niagara Falls, at least on Saturday evening, when they were pouring pinot noir and meritage from Between the Lines Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Better quantity in Buffalo, where one of the committee got a deal on box wines and you could fill your own glass.
Parking. Easier in Buffalo, both in terms of finding a space (always got one near the elevator on the second level, sometimes had to go to the sixth level in the Falls) and quickness of exit.
Restaurant food. In the Falls, I hit the mini food court outside the Crowne Plaza Hotel twice for a Subway sandwich for lunch, then opted back to the buffet in the attached casino for more food, more variety, same price. Evening choices were Swiss Chalet, a retro trip since the chain no longer has an outpost in Buffalo, and Mandarin, a Chinese buffet bigger and better than what we have over here. Dinner Saturday night was back in Buffalo, actually Blasdell, at the Brick Iron Bystro, by far the best food I had all week.

Things also were better during the Buffalo Regional.  Ventures outside the hotel were rewarded by lunches in great downtown places – Osteria 166 (twice), Merge and the Allen Burger Venture. Wait’ll next year.  

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Bridge Blog 869: Niagara Falls Regional Final Day

        Swiss teams! Lots of them on this, the last day of the Niagara Falls Regional Tournament. In the A/X division, 28. In the B/C/D bracket, 34. The main ballroom at the Crowne Plaza Hotel was teeming with players.
        Thanks to the fact that partner Selina Volpatti and teammates Marilyn Sultz and Ruth Wurster have an average of about 500 points apiece, we wound up in the C stratification and we started out by kicking some B strat butt, winning by 27 International Match Points. That warmed us up for a second-round shutdown of a D strat team, 42-6.
        My teams never win the first two rounds in Swiss matches, but here we were. The third round brought us back to reality, with the Paul Pointet-Lezlie Cullen team (also a D bunch) drubbing us, 14-1, en route to their second-place finish.
        But we won the fourth round, beating the Adrian Record team (which ultimately finished third), 24-12, then had a lunch break that was light with elation. Marilyn checked the scoreboard and reported that we were in third place.
        Our good fortunes faltered in the fifth round, however. Selina and I had a series of crummy hands and watched another D team – Alan and Leslie Wilson of Port Elgin – whip us, 23-11. But then we rallied to win round six, 20-14, against the Anne Pettigrew team, our opponents being scary old and such slow players we feared the directors would take away our final two boards. We rushed and got them played.
        If we win our final round, I told the team, we could collect some serious gold points. Indeed, we stood a chance of finishing fourth, fifth or sixth overall, good for 2.86 to 4.44 gold points. However, we got blanked, 17-0, by the Polish guys from Burlington, the Henyrk Nowak team. They finished fourth.
(The big winners, by the way, were the doctors – Shakeel Ahmad and Manju Ceylony – who also won the Swiss teams at the Buffalo regional. They went undefeated in all of their rounds with a team that included Judy Kaprove and a last-minute pick-up guy and collected 10.01 gold points.)

We wound up tied for tenth overall, out of point range in the B strat, which rewarded just the top nine with gold points. But we also tied for the eighth and final extra-point position in the C strat. I thought the C strat paid off only in red points, but according to the ACBL Live results e-mail, it actually gives gold. A whole 1.67 points for us. After a week of red points, gold, gold, gold at last.  Total take for the entire tournament, despite no big winners – 5.11 red, 1.67 gold. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Bridge Blog 868: Niagara Falls Regional Day 5

Playing regional tournaments is like banging your head against a wall. You keep doing it until you draw blood. Or, in the case of the tournaments, red points.
That’s the way it was Saturday. Partnered for once with all-week teammate Beverly Ganim from Ohio, we failed to find an amenable second couple for the compact knock-out game, so we did the open pairs instead.
We did better than OK in the morning. With three boards to go, we were at 58.51%, third place North-South.  Then we failed to take the 5 Heart doubled sacrifice on Board 22, which would have kept our opponents from making 5 Clubs vulnerable and earned us an extra match point or two.  
And thennnn on Board 23, we should have stuffed the next pair at 1 No Trump, but they made an extra trick instead. That would have been worth an extra 7 match points.
And finally, I jumped the gun on the slam on Board 24, not giving Beverly my number of Kings on her 5 Club Gerber bid, but going directly to 6 Clubs instead. She would have wound up at 6 NT, although it could make 7 Clubs or 7 Diamonds. Nobody bid the grand slam, but four of the 16 pairs wound up at 6 NT and one other bid and made 6 Hearts. We lost a couple more match points there. Given an extra 11.5 match points, we would’ve finished second, earning 1.72 red points. Instead, we were sixth with 55.45%, taking home 0.41 of a red point.
And that’s all we got. Our afternoon game was much worse than it felt. Had Beverly not made her most grievous mistakes – the big one in my book was pitching the good 13th Heart that would have given her a game contract and a top board instead of going down one – we would have been around 50%, not next to the bottom East-West at 44.23%. But still not earning points. To do that, we would have had to eliminate my mistakes too.
How bad was I? On the hands I played where Beverly and I bid them right, I was 65%. But then there was that push to 3 NT on a couple hands that could only make 2 NT.

And then there was the confusion over what to do after interference when she opened 1 NT. I bid 3 Diamonds over the opponents’ 2 Spades, hoping for a transfer to Hearts. She left it there. Down three. Bottom board. However, 3 Hearts would have been only marginally better: Down two, despite my six-card Heart suit. At most tables, North-South took the bid in Spades. I should have let them. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Bridge Blog 867: Niagara Falls Regional Day 4

Friday the 13th. No other explanation for the way our best intentions cratered. Even getting there in good time was a failure. Arose 15 minutes earlier than Thursday, still had to make a mad dash down the Queen Elizabeth Way, buffeted by high winds, after a 15-minute wait for Canadian customs at the Peace Bridge, and arrived a minute before starting time, just like I did on Thursday.
We got stuffed in the first round of the compact bracketed knock-outs, the round robin competition where we had two out of three chances of winning, thanks to one bad hand against each opponent. When we also lost the consolation round on International Match Points (though winning one set of six boards by just one IMP to earn 0.30 of a red point), teammate Larry Murray was ready to jump ship. His partner Beverly Ganim had let a negative double stand, with disastrous results. After that, he said, he couldn’t take the afternoon game seriously.   
Nevertheless, he hung in for the single session Swiss team match. We started off brightly, as a team ranked in the C stratification, beating our first B strat opponents, 17-12 IMPs, then losing honorably in the second set of Bs, 17-11, putting us exactly in the middle of the pack.

But then we ran into two A strat teams, the first being Buffalonians Jerry Geiger and Mike Ryan. They stuffed us, 41-0. So much for our hopes of bonus points. Then we hit another A team, Canadians, the Bambrick team, who nailed us, 31-0, en route to a third-place finish. Our reward for winning that first round – 0.20 of a red point. 
In retrospect, just an awful day, winning just half a red point, although we did better than some of our Buffalo acquaintances, namely John Kirsits, Bill Boardman and Paula Kotowski, who played in the same games and got nothing at all. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Bridge Blog 866: Niagara Falls Regional Day 3

It took two melodic bursts from the alarm clock in my smart phone to get me out of bed Thursday morning and I spent the next two hours trying to make up for the lost time.
My phone was ringing again as I searched for a spot to park on the sixth level of the garage behind the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Niagara Falls with the final minutes ticking off toward the 10 a.m. start. This time it was Thursday teammate Beverly Ganim, distressed that I wouldn’t show, despite assurances from my partner, Barbara Sadkin, and ready to bring someone else aboard to play.
But it all worked out. It always does. And 15 minutes later we were settling into a three-way round robin match in yet another knock-out team game. This time we were in Bracket III, the lowest-ranked group, right where we belong, and we vanquished both of our opponents, 16-10 and 41-25 International Match Points, the first one being an estimable Buffalo team of Linda Burroughford, Davis Heussler and the Weltes, John and Martha.
The second session after lunch, head-to-head, found us well-matched once again, winning three of our four rounds against a St. Catharines team of Max Rutherford, Michael Ritze, Maureen Clark and Sharon Stevens and having a jolly old time with Max and Michael.
However, our three winning rounds were small margin affairs – 15-12, 14-12 and 10-5. What determined our fate was the second round, where we went down 21-6, thanks to one unfortunate hand. Teammates Beverly Gamin and Larry Murray (from Windsor) attempted a 6 No Trump slam and came up one trick short, while Max and Michael stopped at 3 NT and made two overtricks. That cost us 13 IMPs, a deficit we could not quite make up.
Our reward for the day – 1.18 red points for winning the round robin. Had we been successful in the second session, we would have been guaranteed at least 4.71 gold points, more than enough to make Barbara a Life Master. Meanwhile, Linda Burroughford, Davis Heussler and the Weltes were afternoon winners. They’ll continue Friday, with a chance to win 8.25 or 11.78 gold points.

Our loss, however, simplified our Friday arrangements. Barbara was going to cancel a bridge date with Nadine Stein and postpone a dentist appointment if we won Thursday afternoon and I was going to have to cancel my Friday tournament date with Art Matthies. Now, despite our disappointments, we can at least proceed as planned. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Bridge Blog 865: Niagara Falls Regional Day 2

Thought I’d play all three sessions Wednesday at the Niagara Falls Regional, but then I woke up feeling like crap. The stubborn cold I came down with during the Buffalo Regional was making a comeback. The evening game, perhaps with Beverly Ganim from Ohio, an option I was looking forward to, was out of the question.
A decongestant and a grande Starbucks dark roast coffee had me feeling almost human by the time Barbara Sadkin and I teamed up with David and Maria Deaves for the new round of knock-outs in the morning. But the knock-outs didn’t do much to brighten my outlook. We were the lowest-rated team in the top-ranked knock-out division and we were up against some serious contenders.
Once again, however, we were put into a round robin match and once again there was hope. We lost to both pairs in the first round, 30-1 and 12-6 (this to teammates of Kevin Loughlin, my partner Tuesday, and the estimable Jill Wooldridge). We deepened one hole in the second half, losing that one 34-3 for an astounding 60 International Match Point deficit, but filled the other, 18-7, thanks in part to me making a 6 No Trump doubled vulnerable bid. So all three of us robins beat at least one of the others. Since we had the lowest IMP score, we were knocked out, but our victory round earned us some points – 1.23 red.
The afternoon found us in a single-session Swiss team game, thrown up immediately against some of the heaviest hitters in the room – Bill Koski, of the long salt-and-pepper beard and tens of thousands of master points, and Polish-born Paul Janicki, the ACBL rep for District 2. They were great company and, of course, they whupped us, 17-6 IMPs, on what was the first step toward their eventual second-place finish among 14 teams.
A successful slam bid gave us the second round against Dennis Glazebrook from St. Catharines and Junko Hemus, a Florida woman he played with in the Buffalo regional, 13-4 IMPs. And then, remarkably, we won the third round on part-score contracts against some Rochester-area ladies.
Suddenly, should we win our fourth and final round, we realized we were looking at earning bonus points. But playing against Gary and Lynn Sturch from over the other side of Peterborough, we ran to a 13-13 tie. Would it be enough?

Turns out, yes, it was. A tie for fifth in the A strat (with Saleh Fetouh and Dian Petrov, who proposed a playoff), but got better points (1.41 vs. 1.01) for finishing fourth in the B strat. After dinner at Swiss Chalet on Montrose Road, 10 minutes and a world away from the hotel and the tournament, Barbara and I headed for the Rainbow Bridge and home, satisfied in more ways than one. With a total of 3.02 (red) master points so far, this (see Blog 863) is already my second-best Niagara Regional.