Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bridge Blog 492: Quiet exit

          I should thank Pawan Matta for taking my bridge year out on a small positive note when she stopped back in Buffalo to play on Tuesday between her trip to see her daughter in Florida and her trip to see her son in New York City. Although I played most of our contracts, she brought home three small slams, bidding one of them boldly and making another one that most pairs didn’t bid and didn’t take 12 tricks. The result was a 49.77% game, not my finest effort during these last two weeks of 2011, but worth half a point for coming in fourth in the B strat.
          So it was a muted finale to a couple relatively stellar months – November, when I finally became a Life Master, and December, when I had a big week in the Sectional Tournament at the Clubs (STaC). Nevertheless, the past two weeks reminded me of the shortcomings of my game and suggested a few goals for 2012. First goal – 200 points for the year at least, a mark I didn’t reach in 2011. Sobering thought – at 200 points a year, it will take me until 2018 to become a Gold Life Master.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Bridge Blog 491: Sour patch

          Mike Silverman and I have done well together in the past and something in me thinks we always should do well together. Even so, we knew we were having a sour day Friday in the 11½ table game at the Bridge Center of Buffalo. It started in the first hand against Bob Feasley and Elaine Universal. Declarer at 4 Spades, I went down one on a bad break in trump, which I could have avoided by finessing Elaine. Then again, I’d stand a better chance in No Trump. So 2.5 points out of a possible 8. Then Mike allows an extra trick to get away in a 3 Heart contract on the third hand. Down two. An absolute bottom board. Out of a possible 24 points in the first round, we get 4.
          We never recover. I cap it off in the final round against Harry Cheung and Liz Clark by pushing Mike’s weak 2 Spade bid to 4 Spades, doubled not vulnerable, rightly figuring that Harry and Liz will make 3 No Trump vulnerable. Trouble is, I have only a singleton Ace of Spades and the rest of the trump breaks 5-1. Down four. Another bottom board. We also had two slams bid and made against us. We finish with 40.74%, not last North-South, but just barely, thanks to Betty Bronstein and Christy Kellogg, who have 40.37%. Only one East-West did worse than us – Joyce Greenspan and Nadine Stein, who posted the lowest score I’ve ever seen in a club match: 21.30%. Mike and I did our part. We got 18.5 out of a possible 24 game points against them.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bridge Blog 490: Joel II

          I got to play Thursday after all. Kathy Pollock decided to append an open pairs game to the Thursday Non-Life Master session at the Bridge Center of Buffalo and, sure enough, the experienced players came out – the ACBL Player of the Year among them.
          Joel Wooldridge was in a different section when he and his mother, Jill, won Sunday’s Unit Game, but Thursday’s match was a four-table Howell. Everybody would have to face him and his mom for a four-board round. As for me, I came without a partner. Originally I was playing with Usha Khurana at the Airport Bridge Club, but that’s closed, so she found a Non-Life Master to play with.
          So I was paired with another newly-minted Life Master, Tova Reinhorn. Tova and I hadn’t played together in years and I don’t recall us doing well, but no matter. Aside from the fact that I don’t play two-over-one, we seemed to be pretty much in sync.
          We met Joel and his mom at the turnaround table in the second round. Two things about them – they seem to bid really well and they take a long, long time to think over their next moves. So what happens on the first hand? I’m in one of my patented sacrifice situations. If I recall correctly, I bid Diamonds over Tova’s take-out double. Sure enough, it was down one for a minus 50, but it was better than the previous pair, which had gone down three at the same contract.
          The second board found Jill at 3 Clubs, just making it. The other score on the slip was 50 for the North-South pair. Bottom board. Board three found Jill as declarer again at 4 Hearts. I think I had three High Card Points. She blew us away by making two overtricks. The previous pairs had played it a 3 No Trump, making three overtricks.
          Board four found Joel as declarer at 5 Diamonds after a convoluted bidding sequence which involved all the suits. The previous players had stopped at 3 Diamonds, making two overtricks. Top board, Joel, but at least we didn’t disgrace ourselves. In fact, it seemed like we played 50% against them. Looking at the summary sheet, I see that up until that fourth board, we were a little better than 50%. After it, we were 41.67%.
          Still, Tova and I kept feeling like this was a good game, good enough that I was disappointed when the preliminary scores showed us only a fraction over 50%. In the final tally, we came in at 51.79%, winning no master points at fifth out of the eight pairs but, amazingly, one notch ahead of the Wooldridges.
          Then Tova found a scoring error, a rather odd one where the totals were reversed. I dismissed it, thinking it would make no difference to us. But half an hour later, as I was walking into Talking Leaves Books on Elmwood Avenue to pick up the latest issue of Artvoice, my cell phone rings. It’s Kathy Pollock. She readjusted the scores to correct the error. Our score remained the same, as I had suspected, but John Kirsits and Ken Meier had gone from a top to a bottom. They fell behind us. Now we were fourth overall and second in B for a grand .28 of a master point – first time I’ve scratched in a week.

Bridge Blog 489: Not enough mojo in our so-so

          One of my favorite Olaf Fub quotes in the Reporter’s Notebook column I compile for The Buffalo News goes something like this – the good thing about mediocre people is that they always live up to their potential.
          I’ve certainly been living up to my potential this week in my excursion into Buffalo’s other bridge club. In the big 14.5-table game Monday at Bridge Club Meridian – in a field that included both Meg Klamp and Bud Seidenberg – me and Marilyn Sultz managed to hold our heads up with a 46% game, but not much more. Back at Meridian on Tuesday, the field was smaller – 10 tables – but my result with Marietta Kalman was no better, just 47.07%, which tied us with club director Dian Petrov, who was playing at the next table.
          I had higher hopes for Wednesday at the Bridge Center of Buffalo, teaming up with my regular Wednesday partner, Celine Murray. She and I do better than 50% at least half of the time. This was not one of those times. The partial results in this 9½ table game with one round to go showed us with a 39% score, with only one North-South pair more pathetic than that. We finished with 43.29%. No reward for that, even though we were in the C strat. We’d need to be better at so-so, at least 48%. 

Bridge Blog 488: Joel

          My colleague Jane Kwiatkowski tells me that Bud Seidenberg told her that the New York Times wrote up a nice article about Joel Wooldridge. Turns out it’s one of bridge writer Philip Alder’s columns, from Sunday, Dec. 11. Check it out here:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Bridge Blog 487: Unit united

          Had Bill Finkelstein not gone on the ailing list, I would have been severely conflicted about Sunday’s choice between the annual Unit 116 game and meeting and Bill’s competing holiday party. Without the holiday party, the unit affair was fine – a full house in the Bridge Center of Buffalo. They would have been hard pressed to hold more than 20 tables full of players. As it was, director Dian Petrov had to snake the two sections of tables through each other. Any bigger and maybe they should move it to St. Catharines.
          At any rate, it ran smoothly and the food – roast beef sandwiches, salad, scalloped potatoes, a ton of desserts – was fine. The business meeting seemed pretty much to the point – it was especially sad to hear the list of bridge players who had passed away this year (so many of them). There was even a death on the board – Franklin Kidd, who was chairman of Sunday’s event.
When the winners in the election to the board were announced – Paul Zittel, Tova Reinhorn and Betty Metz – Betty, who is president, announced that the new board would name a replacement for Frank. Bill Finkelstein, when he heard about this, pulled out the unit by-laws and cited a paragraph that covers the filling of vacant seats on the board. The board used to make the appointments, but that led to a lot of cronyism and it’s no longer kosher. They have to take the next-highest vote-getter in the election.
          A surprise to me was the presence of Joel Wooldridge – announced as the ACBL Player of the Year. He was unprepared to speak, but they pressed him to say a few unprepared words anyway. He went on to play with his mother, Jill (in the other section from Bob Kaprove and me), and cruised to the highest percentage – 70.16% -- in a room that included some of the best players in town (Jim Mathis, Saleh Fetouh, Bud Seidenberg and Dan Gerstman, to name some of them). Hmm, one top player missing was Chris Urbanek. And Bev Cohen, announced as a Diamond (5,000 point) Life Master, was out of town. Hmm again, no Judi Marshall or Jerry Geiger, either.
          Gerstman, to whom I’d never before spoken, buttonholed me in the front hallway after the game and expressed the wish for a bridge hero in this town, preferably in the newspaper. I explained that I couldn't assume that role, even if I were qualified for it, because The News has many other things they want me to do and little interest in bridge (they rejected this blog for their website), despite owner Warren Buffett's fondness for the game. Gerstman, for his part, noted that he was one of the guys that the New York Times bridge columnist consults with. I’m impressed.

Bridge Blog 486: Change of complexion

          It’s such a game of highs and lows. A week ago I felt great, coming off a super STaC (Sectional Tournament at the Clubs) week with nearly 14 silver points. This week it’s the opposite. I’ve collected fractional points in only three of my seven games since last Monday, adding up to less than a full point. A week ago, 200 points total for the year seemed attainable, if I could pick up 13 additional points in regular club play. But half of them needed to come this week. At this point, I won’t make 200. I’m only playing five more times before year-end.

Bridge Blog 485: Analyze this!

          Friday’s game in St. Catharines and Sunday’s unit game featured something I don’t see at the Airport Bridge Club – hand records – which offer the perfect opportunity to see why my partners and I did so poorly in both games.
          Selina Volpatti and I knew we were in trouble on Friday. Nothing seemed to go right. Take Board 1. I’ve got a 15-point 1 No Trump opener, bid it, East doubles with a six-card Club suit, Selina passes and so do I. Down two. One point out of a possible 12. Next one is worse – a vulnerable sacrifice at 5 Spades doubled which runs aground on two offside kings, two Diamond tricks and a Club trick. Sure, they can make 5 Clubs, but it would have been preferable. And it keeps going like that – the opponents bidding and making games where they should have been set, us failing to do the same. No wonder we wind up at 41.03%.
          Still, we do a couple things right. We bid the 6 Heart slam. Selina made a 2 Spade contract on a hand that didn’t even register any sort of contract for us on the hand records. That’s what kept us from being dead last.
          The unit game, like the St. Catharines game, was scored on pickup slips, so Bob Kaprove and I had no idea how well we were doing as we played. Maybe 45-50%, we reckoned. Sure enough, we pull in at 46.59%. Playing in the B strat, we’re far from catching points.
          Looking at the progression of hands, I can see why. After the first three rounds, we were at 34% -- 39.5% against Bob’s wife Judy and Marietta Kalman, 31.25% against Pow Wooldridge and Bill Bascom, both top players; another 31.25% against Ann Watkins and Rita Sofia, thanks to me leaving in Bob’s double of Rita’s 1 Spade opening bid (hey, I had five of them, but I should’ve bid 1 No Trump). Rita made it, although the hand record (Board 27) shows us East-Wests making 1 Spade, so we should’ve set that contract. We also can make 2 NT, so I’m doubly guilty on that one.
          After that, we played a little better than 50% -- 58% against Fran Kurtz and Sue Neubecker, 72.9% against Pat Lakeman and Mary Terrana, 68.75% against Luke Danielson and Nita Ferrell (including a pass-out that gave us seven out of eight game points). Then came a poor finish – another 31.25% against Chongmin Zhang and Joanne Kelley, 47.91% against Ann and Mary O’Connor (Mary’s looking frailer these days), and a 37.5% in the final round against Stan Kozlowski and Berta Brown.
          Looking at this record doesn’t bode well for my upcoming games at Bridge Club Meridian and the Bridge Center of Buffalo during the next three weeks. Bob and I did best against people we know best, not so hot against the folks from the other clubs.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bridge Blog 484: The unthinkable

          After Friday, all the games at the Airport Bridge Club are canceled until after the Buffalo Winter Sectional Tournament ends on Jan. 9, which means that if I’m going to follow my passion for the game, I’ll need to do it at the other clubs.
What it means is fewer games (the only regular Saturday game is in Lockport and it starts too late in the day for me) and fewer points, because nobody else in town buys into extra points like Airport club manager Bill Finkelstein.
So it looks like next week I’ll be playing Monday and Tuesday at Dian Petrov’s Bridge Club Meridian, back in the Zion Church social hall. Wednesday would take me to the Bridge Center of Buffalo and so would Friday. On Thursday, no game. The Bridge Center’s daytime session is for non-life masters only.

Bridge Blog 483: All STaC'ed out

          I’d hoped to fatten my silver point collection on STaC week by playing Saturday and Sunday at the Airport Bridge Club, but because club manager Bill Finkelstein was in the hospital, the Saturday and Sunday games were canceled.
          But now that all the scores have been tallied, it looks like my best STaC week ever. 13.91 points – 29th in District 5. Jerry Geiger, who got off to such a good start, was second with 24.36. Other Buffalo players who did better than me – Judi Marshall (18.25, 12th), John Ziemer (17.05, 15th) and Bev Cohen (14.72, 27th).

Bridge Blog 482: The greener grass of home

          It was not a happy morning Friday at the Airport Bridge Club. The threat of the season’s first big lake-effect snow hung over everybody who ventured in. And so did the absence of club manager Bill Finkelstein, who, we learned, was hospitalized with a bowel obstruction. In fact, he’d undergone surgery overnight.
          So when substitute director Mike Silverman figured it was time to get the 10 a.m. game going at about 10:10, we had 4 ½ tables, not enough for a full-fledged STaC game. Instead it would be what they call a “small game,” with the potential for fewer district-wide points.
          The best players in the room, Bev Cohen and Judi Marshall, decided they did not want to play for peanuts, got up, announced they were going over to the Bridge Center of Buffalo, and left for where they figured the grass would be greener and the silver points more abundant. Indeed, the Bridge Center had a full-fledged STaC game – 11 ½ pairs. And did Bev and Judi win the big points? They were fifth in the A strat with a 49.54% game and got .37 of a point.
          Meanwhile, I was supposed to play with Mike Silverman, but because he was directing and because there were people who needed partners, I was paired with Barbara Libby, one of the best players in the room after Bev and Judi left.
Barbara proved to be excellent company and I tried to rein in my wilder instincts. The result? We won the morning game with 57.94% and were tops in the district (the only small game in the district), getting 2.33 points. In the afternoon, 5 ½ pairs showed up and it was a full-fledged game. Barbara and I didn’t fare quite as well (55.56%) but scratched nonetheless. And we made the list of district winners – fifth in B for another 1.11 points.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Bridge Blog 481: Hot and cold

Sometimes I do really well with my Wednesday partner, Celine Murray. Sometimes we are really horrid. We did some of both in Wednesday’s two STaC games at the Airport Bridge Club.
Sitting East-West in the morning, we were half on offense, half on defense, and had a good time, finishing with a 59.87% game. First in A and B in our direction; 1.5 silver points at the club. Even our bad hands didn’t hurt us (see Blog 480).
But the breaks that went our way in the morning did not follow us in the afternoon when we sat North-South. Out of 24 boards, we were defenders on 16 and our opponents seemed to find their best games when they came to our table, making overtricks or simply resisting the urge to overbid. Three 2 No Trump contracts were successfully played against us. And nowhere did we have a chance to beat a double, like I did in the morning when Joyce Greenspan plopped the red penalty card down on one of my 4 Spade gambles.  We finished dead last North-South, but at least we avoided falling into the 30% range – 40.51%.
District 5 continues to be on the ball today. The Wednesday morning composite scores are posted. Celine and I were sixth overall, but first in the B strat in the district. Our 1.5 silver points suddenly turned into 4.92. That’s 10.39 for the week so far, if my math is right.
Sounds good, but it pales in comparison to the week that Jerry Geiger is having. He won 12.04 points Monday morning, another 2.25 Monday evening, 3.16 Tuesday morning and 4.75 Tuesday afternoon.

Bridge Blog 480: Right or wrong?

Partner Celine Murray took me to task for my decision to plow ahead to 4 Spades, down one, on this hand Wednesday morning – Board 6 in the third round against Dave Donaldson and Mary Davey-Carr. I should have picked up on her Heart bid and let her play it at 4 Hearts, she said. She thinks it would have made 4 Hearts. But I wondered, so I copied it down. Let’s see if she’s right.
East-West is vulnerable and I’m the dealer, sitting East. I open this hand with a strong 2 Club bid.

Spades: A-Q-J-9-8-4. Hearts: A-Q-10.
Diamonds: A-Q-8. Clubs: 3.

Mary, sitting South, doubles. Celine, instead of bidding 2 Diamonds (waiting), like I expected, offered 2 Hearts. So she’s got five of them with two of the top three honors, right? But I’ve got Spades. I bid 2 Spades. Celine goes 2 No Trump, if I recall correctly. But I want to trump Clubs, which I won’t be able to do if I accept her Heart invitation. Plus, she can’t have two of the top three honors in the suit. I go 4 Spades and Mary leads a Club. Here’s Celine’s hand.

Spades: 7. Hearts: K-9-8-6-3.
Diamonds: J-10-3-2. Clubs: A-6-2.

Unfortunately, I get a bad trump break. Here are the other two hands.

Spades: K-10-6-5-3-2. Hearts: 4-2.
Diamonds: 6-4. Clubs: K-10-9.

Spades: None. Hearts: J-7-5.
Diamonds: K-9-7-5. Clubs: Q-J-8-7-5-4.

Everybody plays it in Spades. Two pairs stop at 3 Spades and make it. Me and two other pairs go to 4 Spades, down one. One unhappy twosome goes down two.

    So what about Hearts? Let’s find out. If Dave leads a Spade, Mary trumps it. If she returns a Club, Celine wins and maybe leads a Club to trump in the dummy. Then she draws Hearts in two rounds, staying in the dummy, and leads a Spade to trump. Now she can do the finesse low to the Queen of Diamonds, which loses. If Mary returns a Club, she also loses that. But then what? Another Club? Celine trumps in her hand, runs the Diamonds, making 4 Hearts. She was right.
    That would have been a top and a boost to 61.83%, making us third in A, ahead of the club’s overall morning winners, Judi Marshall and Bev Cohen. Wouldn't matter. We still get more points for being first in B.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bridge Blog 479: One month to go

          Right on time, the ACBL has updated its master point races. Let’s see where we stand as we enter the last month of the year. My Ace of Clubs total is 142.84, which lifts me to fifth in Unit 116 (Buffalo), just ahead of Vince Pesce with 140.54. Mike Kisiel is still tops, now with 234.76, followed by Liz Clark (177.58), John Ziemer (173.35) and Carlton Stone (158.14). Rounding out the list are Carolyn Siracuse (124.57), Judy Padgug (114.18), Jim Gullo (98.92) and Paul Libby (98.48).
          For the Mini-McKenney, which includes both club play and tournament play, I’ve advanced to seventh place in the unit with 173.88 points. Dian Petrov tops this list with 338.70, followed by Mike Kisiel (244.87), John Ziemer (240.02), Judy Padgug (224.29), Liz Clark (190.72) and Carlton Stone (179.91). After me comes Vince Pesce (149.39), Kathy Pollock (147.38) and Mike Ryan (142.70).
          On the District 5 level (Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh), I’m seventh in Ace of Clubs and still haven’t quite cracked my way onto the Mini-McKenney Top 25. I’m just short of Lois Bulter of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, who has 176.78. Maybe my STaC points can lift me up at year-end. Leader on this list is Hao Ge of Bay Village, Ohio, with 642.81. Dian Petrov is second. Kisiel is ninth.
I’m nowhere to be found on the nationwide lists, which go 100 deep. I’d need 164.58 to tie the bottom guy on Ace of Clubs (top once again is Zita Lechter of Sunny Isles, Fla., with 356.66 – Kisiel is 11th) and to make national Mini-McKenney, I’d need to have 323.37. Top dog again here is Geeske Joel of Palo Alto, Calif., with 890.38. Hao Ge is sixth. Dian Petrov is 78th.

Bridge Blog 478: STaC 'em up

If I had my way, I think I’d play every day with Selina Volpatti and not just because she’s such an attractive and spirited partner. We’re a pretty good pair. That was borne out again Tuesday in the morning and afternoon STaC (Sectional Tournament at the Clubs) sessions at the Airport Bridge Club.
          The morning, when we spent 19 of the 24 hands on offense, was respectable – 52.64%, third in the A strat, second in B, .83 of a silver point. Best moments – bidding a 6 Heart slam and watching Selina make it and scoring 800 for successfully doubling a 4 Heart contract.
But the afternoon was better, thanks to a stellar final round in which we made 4 Hearts doubled vulnerable (Not a top, though. Just 4.5 out of 6 game points. Others also did it.) and the successful double of a the opponents’ 4 Heart contract on the last hand of the day. Down four. Earlier, I’d beaten a Mike Kisiel double of a 3 Diamond bid for another top. Our final tally – 59.03%, first in A, first in B, 1.5 silver points.
Believe it or not, the folks at District 5 now have toted up all the STaC games for Monday and Tuesday. Selina and I got bumped up to 2.22 silver points – third in B district-wide – for our efforts. As it turns out, that was not much less than what Marilyn Sultz and I got for our 65.67% game Monday afternoon. District-wide, that was seventh in A, sixth in B, good for 2.42 silver points. If my math is right, that’s 5.47 silver in two days.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Bridge Blog 477: Not so quicksilver

It’s STaC Week – Sectional Tournament at the Clubs – a chance to earn silver master points without interrupting your routine visits to your local bridge club. Also a chance to earn quite a few silver points if you score well, because they pump up the points at the district level when they tally up scores from all the clubs. For instance, Celine Murray and I had one fabulously successful 71% round in the Summer 2009 STaC that got us 10.74 points.
But we won’t know just how well we did for a couple days. Clubs around the district are slow to report. And the people who tally these things for the district are sometimes slow when it comes to doing the math. So it’s hard to say how much my Monday afternoon game with Marilyn Sultz at the Airport Bridge Club will be worth. It was a good afternoon – I was declarer on almost half the hands and beat a couple doubles. The result: a 65.67% game. Second in A strat. Second in B. On the club level, it was worth .93 of a silver point.
District-wise, we won’t know until maybe Wednesday, but I could extrapolate. If we had such a game on a Monday during last June’s STaC, it would have netted us 7.53 points. Last December, it would have been worth 5.24. I see that some preliminary scores are up on the District 5 website and there are five pairs better than us. Make that six, because Barbara Sadkin and June Feuerstein came in first in A and B  this afternoon. Considering that I got only 1.92 points for the week in the June STaC, anything will be an improvement.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Bridge Blog 476: Giving thanks for November

No matter how many points I got in November, it would be a landmark in my career as a bridge player. It’s the month when I finally became a Life Master. Not just a Life Master, but also a Bronze Life Master and a Silver Life Master. A hat trick. At long last! Hallelujah!
But now that my “pending points” have been posted on the ACBL website, it looks like November was the best month of 2011 – better than October. The total is 28.22. Tally for the first 11 months now is 173.88. This calls a review of all the monthly totals so far. Here goes:
January 11.94
February 15.92
March 14.48
April 13.99
May 5.46
June 14.06
July 16.61
August 8.33
September 12.44
October 24.01
November 28.22

Bridge Blog 475: Another country

          Most days of the week, I wouldn’t be able to play at the Bridge Centre of Niagara in St. Catharines, Ont. Their open pairs games routinely start at 1 p.m. My shift at The Buffalo News officially starts at 5. Given the uncertainty and the delays involved in the international bridge crossings, I couldn’t guarantee just when I’d get back. But Friday is different. No work Friday night. So when Selina Volpatti invited me to play there, I was delighted to accept.
          Getting there was a breeze. I crossed the Peace Bridge a few minutes before noon, got off the QEW at Thorold Stone Road, followed the highway through the tunnel under the Welland Canal, turned onto Highway 406, turned off immediately at Glendale Avenue and there I was. Elapsed time: A little more than half an hour. I was there early enough to grab a sandwich at the Tim Hortons in the strip mall where the club stood in a row of storefronts that includes a cat clinic.
          The club itself occupies a double storefront. It’s big and bright inside, with large windows that face west from the room where we played. How delightful to see the afternoon sun! They had 14½ tables, a big game, but not their biggest, I was told. Sometimes they spill over into the tables in their other room. Membership, someone said, was about 400 – a serious bridge community. I recognized about a quarter of them from the sectional and regional tournaments.
          No shuffling the cards, either. They had computer-generated hands and the cards all had little bar codes on the edges so that the machine could deal them. Scoring was on pick-up slips, giving us no idea how other tables played the hands, and those hands seemed rather tricky at first.
          It took Selina and me a while to get our footing. We were winning bids at auction, but going down. We got caught in cross-ruffs. Every time we needed a finesse, it failed. With a big hand opposite Selina’s opener, I pushed her to slam, but it was a trick short. A couple times, she claimed a contract early while conceding a trick, only it was a trick she didn’t need to concede. I wound up telling her that we absolutely must not claim early when we play again the STaC at the Airport Bridge Club on Tuesday.
          And then there was the uproar over our bidding. Selina opened a weak 2 Hearts while I was holding a seven-card Spade suit missing the Ace, plus four Diamonds headed by Ace-King. Counting eight tricks if we played in Spades, I bid 2 Spades and Selina passed. Our opponent called the director. Unless it was alerted, he complained, it was a demand bid.
We explained to the director that we hadn’t run into this before and, although we had a convention card from the regional tournament, it was out in my car. She let us keep bidding – the opponents doubled and competes – and when we were finished, she said to call her back later. The auction ran to 4 Spades, which the complainant doubled. After I made 4 Spades, he called the director again. He wouldn’t have doubled, he said, if we bid correctly. She said she’d look at all the results and adjust accordingly. When we had a sit-out on the next-to-last round, she came over and told us that she was scoring us for simply making 4 Spades. No double. It was still a good hand for us.
Unable to predict how we were doing from the scoring slips, we speculated about our final score. Over 50%? Doubtful. I’d be happy enough with something between 45 and 50%. I’d be OK with finishing in the low 40s, I added. Below 40%, I’d feel bad. When the results were posted on the bulletin board, we wound up with 46.70%, which nevertheless was good enough to be second in the C strat in our direction. The C strat, believe it or not. They must have averaged our master point totals. We earned .28 of a point.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bridge Blog 474: Brighter day

There’s always another hand, another round, another day at the tables. So I usually don’t let myself get too discouraged when things go bad. But our abject wipeout in the Swiss teams game Sunday at the Airport Bridge Club left me shaken. There was no joy to be found when it was over. Mike Silverman and Art Matthies quickly disappeared. Usha and I bid rueful goodbyes and didn’t stick around to see which of the two teams finishing late would come in second.
          Come Monday, I was sitting across from Usha once again while at the next table Mike was paired with Frank Kidd, who’s a Life Master also. This time we get off to a good start and, aside from a couple slips (see Blog 473), we have a much better time. Better than we think. The partial results after the game show us in first place North-South (Mike and Frank, alas, are last and already have disappeared).
When the final results are announced, we’re still first North-South with a 58.58% game and, since we’re in the A strat this time, we need to finish high. Being a double-point occasion, it’s also good for 1.04 master points. My club total for the month rises to 12.55. What a pleasant surprise.

Bridge Blog 473: Too much = not enough

One fine day when I’m a really good player I’ll know what to do when I pick up a 29-point hand. I didn’t on Monday when I surveyed this little gem nestled in Board 15. I’m North, North-South is vulnerable, South is dealer.
Spades: A-K-7. Hearts: A-K-8-6-5.
Diamonds: A-Q-6. Clubs: A-K.
The problem with a hand this good is that my partner could have absolutely nothing. She passes. So does West. Do I bid 2 Clubs, 3 No Trump or something else entirely? I do a 4 Heart pre-empt, figuring that if nothing else, it’s probably makeable. When I see the dummy, however, I realize that someone much better is makeable.
Spades: 9-6-5-3. Hearts: Q-9.
Diamonds: 5-2. Clubs: Q-J-8-6-5.
I wind up losing the last two tricks – a Spade and King of Diamonds, the problem being that I can’t throw off my losers on dummy’s Clubs because I can’t reach them – but in No Trump, that’s not an issue.
Spades: 10-4-2. Hearts: 10-4-2.
Diamonds: 9-7-4. Clubs: 9-7-4-3.
Spades: Q-J-8. Hearts: J-7-3.
Diamonds: K-J-10-8-3. Clubs: 10-2.
My 650 score gets us only two of a possible six game points. Worse than me are the people who bid 6 Hearts (down three) and the ones who don’t make an overtrick at 4 Hearts. The winners are in No Trump. Two of them are at 3 NT making 6. One is at 3 NT making 7. And then there’s the brilliant pair (I believe it was Mike Kisiel) that went to 6 NT. Making 7.
How do I get there, I ask club manager Bill Finkelstein when I lay out the hand after the game. The opening bid, he says, is 2 Clubs. The second bid, after partner comes up with a 2 Diamond waiting bid, is 5 No Trump, showing those 29 points. Then she should bid 6 NT. Trouble is, Bill noted, partner may not understand the bid and either bid a suit or leave me there at 5 NT.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bridge Blog 472: Swiss miss

          Did I mention a while back how I love Swiss team games? I do. There’s the camaraderie, the frequent score checking, the thrill of trying to improve your team’s standing from round to round. Plus there’s almost certainly the prospect of earning master points, no matter how fractionally small.
          It was in this spirit that I forsook Saturday’s double session triple point pairs game at the Airport Bridge Club and opted for the Sunday triple point Swiss teams. Plus I needed to rake up all my leaves and do all my laundry – chores that had been neglected since the beginning of the Niagara Falls, Ont., Regional Tournament nearly two weeks ago.
          We seemed to have a competitive foursome – me and Mike Silverman, both Life Masters now, paired up with Art Mathies, who’s a better player than his point count indicates after two years of competition, and Usha Khurana, who’s progressing well these days.
          It turned out to be a four-team Swiss, which meant that we faced each of the other three teams twice. With triple points, first overall and first in the B strat were worth more than three points each. So half the field would score big. Even if we washed out, we’d get a quarter point for each round we won. So at least we’d win something. Or would we?
First time around, we were skunked thoroughly. We missed games that our opponents bid and made. I mishandled a Jacoby transfer bid over interference. Silverman doubled a 5 Diamond contract that the other team made (we went down one at 3 NT). And so on. I tried to rally the troops after our pizza lunch by saying that we had just warmed up, but we really hadn’t. Closest we came was a one International Match Point loss to the Judi Marshall-Nancy Wolstoncroft team. We were shut out completely.
I had hoped that this final chance for triple points would plump up my November totals, since I’m going to miss most of next week due to Thanksgiving obligations at home. But nooooo. I’ve still got 11.51 points at the club for the month. Add my regional tournament take and it’s nearly 25. Best month of the year, to be sure, but it could be so much better.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bridge Blog 471: Odometer check

          Overlooked by me amid all the excitement about passing the Life Master milestone was a mini-mile marker – my 1,200th master point. If I’m not mistaken, the master point odometer zipped past 1,200 during the triple-point double session at the Airport Bridge Club on Tuesday, when Marie Suprinick and I collected 4.36 points. If that didn’t do the trick, then June Feuerstein and I did it in the morning session on Wednesday, adding another 1.25 points with a 56.37% game that put us third in the B strat and fifth overall in a 13-pair match.
          Mike Kisiel, meanwhile, noted that while it was fine to become a Life Master, Bronze Life Master and Silver Life Master all at once, the next step up the ladder is a big one. No additional specially-colored points are needed for Gold Life Master, just a lot of points of any color – 2,500 of them. At the rate I’m going (200 to 250 points a year), that could take until 2017 unless I start traveling to tournaments.

Bridge Blog 470: Spikes

More congratulations on Tuesday, which keep me walking on air, but led me to observe to more than one well-wisher that actually I only had one good game. Or event, if you will. The rest of the month has been anything but Life Masterful. It’s sort of like that modern music piece I heard the Buffalo Philharmonic do many years ago (Ned Rorem?), in which the music was an ambient drone for many measures and then suddenly erupted into a single loud note.
I had no reason to expect anything more for my double session on Tuesday with Marie Suprinick, since we seem to be stuck in the low to mid 40% range. But some unusual opportunities came along in the morning session (see Blog 469) which lifted our ambitions and our spirits. We figured it was better than our average game, but it was better than better – 57.74%, first North-South, second in the A strat overall for 2.25 points.
The afternoon game didn’t feel as good and didn’t present any memorable hands that I recall. When the partial results showed us in second place, I shrugged it off. Our bad boards obviously hadn’t been registered. But no, we really did do well, fractionally better than the morning game with 57.94%. This time we were second North-South and third in the A strat overall for 2.11 points.
The two sessions gave me and Marie (who was lamenting her lack of winnings lately) a total of 4.36 points. It nearly doubled my previous total of 4.5 points at the club for the month. Another spike!

Bridge Blog 469: Doubly outrageous

In Tuesday morning’s game with Marie Suprinick, I made two outrageous bidding decisions, one which paid off and one which didn’t. The bad one came first on Board 9 against Jerry Geiger and Judi Marshall. East-West vulnerable, North (Marie) is dealer. She opens 1 No Trump. Jerry passes. I’m holding this hand.

Spades: A-7-2. Hearts: A-8-5-2.
Diamonds: A-J-9-2. Clubs: 8-5.

Well, it’s an opener opposite a 1 NT opener. We’ve got game, for sure, but where? I bid 2 Clubs for Stayman, asking for a major. Marie bids 2 Diamonds, denying a four-card major suit. Then Jerry doubles. How many tricks do we have, I wonder. Do we make 5 Diamonds? Maybe. I pass. Judi thinks long and hard before she passes. Marie passes. It’s 2 Diamonds doubled. Marie could have made 4 Diamonds if she took a marked finesse on Jerry, but she didn’t and only made 3. Unfortunately, the score for that is just 280. It was a bottom board. Everybody else is making 3, 4 and 5 No Trump. Jerry remarks that the pass was a good bid, but Marie should have redoubled. That would have given us a top score. Then again, maybe I should have redoubled. Here are the other hands.

Spades: K-10-8. Hearts: K-Q.
Diamonds: Q-7-6-4. Clubs: A-J-9-2.

Spades: Q-6-3. Hearts: 10-9-4.
Diamonds: K-10-8-5. Clubs; 10-7-4. He led a Diamond.

Spades: J-9-5-4. Hearts: J-7-6-3.
Diamonds: 4. Clubs: K-Q-6-3.

The second outrage was more successful. It rescued us from a bottom board on the losing side of a slam by Art Schumacher and Barb Multerer and gave us an average score. It was Board 19. East-West is vulnerable. I’m South and I’m the dealer. I pass with the hand:

Spades: None. Hearts: 9-8-6-5-2.
Diamonds: 10-9-7-3. Clubs: J-6-4-2.

West (Barb) opens a Spade and Marie jumps in with 2 Diamonds. East supports the Spades – was it with a Jacoby 2 NT bid, I don’t remember – and I look at my hand again. Worthless, but I have ruffing values. If we play Diamonds, they don’t take any Spade tricks. I bid 3 Diamonds.
Eventually, after Art and Barb check for Aces and settle for 6 Spades, I reach for the bidding box and pull out the card for 7 Diamonds. Astounding! But, of course, the vulnerability is in our favor. If they make 6 Spades, which is likely, they get 1430 points. If we manage to go down only six doubled, they get only 1400 points. They doubled and indeed that’s what happened. Here are the other hands.

Spades: 9-7-3. Hearts: 10-3.
Diamonds: K-Q-8-6-2. Clubs: K-Q-10.

Spades: K-8-6-4. Hearts: A-K-J-4.
Diamonds: 4. Clubs: A-9-7-3.

Spades: A-Q-J-10-5-2. Hearts: Q-7.
Diamonds: A-J-5. Clubs: 8-5.

Of course, not everyone bid 6 Spades (which made an overtrick). Four of them did and got 1460. Three of them stopped at 4 Spades and took all 13 tricks anyway, scoring 710. We were in the middle, capturing four out of a possible seven game points.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Bridge Blog 468: Regional reflexions

Results are up on the ACBL website for the Niagara Falls, Ont., Regional Tournament and there we are, me and Selina Volpatti, tied for 109th with 13.67 points. Best Buffalo player in the tournament is the same one who was best Buffalo player in the Buffalo Spooktacular Regional on Grand Island, Christine Urbanek. She had 36.61 points, which placed her 17th. Leader of the pack, or rather co-leaders, are William Woodcock of Sarnia, Ont., and Dwight Bender of London, Ont., with 73.56.
Second-best Buffalo player is Saleh Fetouh (28.45, 24th), followed by Chongmin Zhang (22.13, 38th), Bert Feasley (18.90, 56th), Jay Levy (18.57, 58th), John Sinclair (16.54, 69th), our knock-out teammates Mike Silverman and Helen Panza (14.63, tied for 95th – they got bonus points in Sunday’s Swiss team game), Dian Petrov (14.55, 97th) and John Toy (12.79, tied for 121st). That’s it for Buffalo players in the double digits. Not very well represented, our unit.
Meanwhile, I’m still getting congratulations. There was a round of applause when I arrived (a couple minutes late) for the morning session at the Airport Bridge Club. And numerous individual plaudits, often with the comment that it’s been a long time coming. Yes, indeed. Six years. Longer than some. Not as long as some others. Let’s just say it’s nothing special.
       Judging by what’s happened since I made Life Master on Thursday, it really hasn’t been transformational at all. I collected only a point and a half for the remainder of the tournament and struck out entirely on Monday with partner Usha Khurana. We came within striking distance of scratching in the morning session with a fraction over 50%, but were fourth out of six pairs in the afternoon with a mediocre 45%. No miracle of stratification for us.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bridge Blog 467: Basking

          After Thursday’s big win in the knock-out game at the Niagara Falls, Ont., Regional Tournament, after I became Life Master, Bronze Life Master and Silver Life Master all in one swell foop, it’s been a weekend of congratulations. Helping it along was my appearance on the front page of the Daily Bulletin on Saturday, the caption (“A Hat Trick!”) and the goofy hands-up pose that the newsletter photographer had me repeat after I did it for him and his camera didn’t flash. Several people noted it on Saturday and still more did on Sunday. I even got a congratulatory hug from sweet little Kit Nash, the grand old lady of the St. Catharines club. Yes, Life Mastery is good.
          But it wasn’t that good at the tables. Playing the Daylight Open Pairs games in the fifth floor meeting rooms in the newer part of the Crowne Plaza Hotel (formerly the Brock), Selina Volpatti and I flirted with getting points, but succeeded only in our first try on Friday morning, when we were fourth in B with a 48.88% game and earned .72 red point. We just missed in the afternoon with 50.64% -- a 50.96% pair tied for fifth, getting .48 point. These were big pairs games – 16 tables in the morning, 15 in the afternoon, playing two-board rounds. Saturday was a little smaller – 11.5 and 11 pairs – but instead of doing better, we fared worse. Saturday morning found us at 45%, third from the bottom. The afternoon brought us back up to a little over 50%, but we needed 53% to scratch.
          Back on Thursday night, I had visions of collecting 20 points at the regional, but come Sunday morning, I found my name in something like 48th place on the big list of master point winners with 12.76. Success in Sunday’s grand finale Swiss teams game would bump that up, I hoped, especially since our team – Selina plus Marilyn Sultz and Ruth Wurster – would qualify as a C team since they all have fewer than 500 points.
          We started off like gangbusters, winning our first two rounds handily. And after a Chinese couple from Toronto nailed us in the third matchup, we came back to tie our fourth round opponents. After the lunch break, however, we came up empty in the fifth and sixth rounds, losing by 26 and 10 International Match Points, respectively. I was afflicted by my usual post-lunch narcolepsy and misplayed a couple cards. Focus, I told myself, reaching for some gum to chew myself awake. If we won our final round, I told the others, maybe we’ll qualify for something extra.
          Our final round opponents were folks from home – Ken Meier and Penny Shui (Marilyn and Ruth played their teammates, Paula Kotowski and John Kirsits). They had roughly the same record as we did at that point: 2.5 wins, about 75 victory points. It turned out to be a close match. In fact, if Selina made what I thought was an obvious lead into my Ace-Queen finesse of the dummy’s King of Diamonds, we would have sent them down two on a 4 Heart contract. Instead, she led into the five-card Ace-King Club suit on the board, while holding five Clubs herself. Perhaps she thought I was void in Clubs and could pick up a ruff. Wrong. Ken Meier was void in Clubs. He threw off his two losing Diamonds on the Ace-King. The 10 IMPs they won on that hand were the key to their 5 IMP victory.
          The final hand gave us one last weird little memory. We were playing Board 20 and Selina, with a 17-point holding, did a take-out double that led me into a hopeless 3 Diamond contract that went down two vulnerable. But the director – Dick Rasmus, taking a break from retirement, I guess – came over and asked us how we got that board. He brought over another player who looked at Penny Shui’s West hand and said that he had played it. Seems the caddy brought us the wrong Board 20. The right one was produced and we played it – a better hand for me, a safer contract of 2 Hearts, but it went down one vulnerable thanks to bad distribution. Our teammates had the same result.
No glory, then, in the Swiss and nothing near 20 points for the weekend. Our reward -- .36 for each game we won, a total of 0.90, giving me a tournament total of 13.66, with 12.04 gold.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bridge Blog 466: Gold rush

Going through Canadian customs on the Rainbow Bridge took so long around 12:30 p.m. Thursday that my teammates in the Whirlpool Knock-Outs were prompted to make an anxious phone call. But not to worry. I was there with about 10 minutes to spare, ready to take on the Mulhall team, which teammates Mike Silverman and Helen Panza recalled as toughies from the Grand Island regional.
We played Mulhall’s teammates – Bob and Dave – and played so steadily that even our opponents spoke admiringly of our restraint. When we compared scores at the midpoint in the 24-hand match, we were 24 International Match Points ahead of them. But things have a way of turning around, which partner Selina Volpatti and I started to fret about during the final set of six boards, when I took a 5 Heart sacrifice bid to keep them out of game, then went down four doubled, and on the next hand bid 4 Spades, got a bad trump break, and went down two vulnerable.
The Mulhall team outpointed us on that set of six boards, but we skunked them on the other set of six. We finished 33 IMPs ahead. Winners in the semi-final round, we now were guaranteed at least a second-place finish – 8.45 gold points.
The finals Thursday evening put us back up against the Benny team, the people who had slam-dunked us by 35 IMPs in the first three-way session Wednesday afternoon. However, we noted, the other people in the three-way game had beaten the Benny people. They could be had.
Tucked away along the edge of the main ballroom, we once again took up the cards with Jocelyn and Catherine from London, Ont. Once again, we started off steady, but stumbled in the second set of boards when Selina doubled their 4 Spade bid and I passed with a weak hand on what would have been a 5 Club contract for us. We lost 14 IMPs on that little disaster and suddenly felt the ground shift beneath our chairs. We got 11 IMPs back on the next hand, though, beating their 3 No Trump contract by one trick on a board where our teammates bid and made the 3 NT. At the halfway point, we were ahead, but only by 7 IMPs. Anything could happen.
What happened was that everybody started getting tired, these being the 37th to 48th hands played this day. So we had seesaw results. They took 10 IMPs when Selina and I failed to bid game. We got them back when I made a 4 Spade contract where the opponents went down. They nailed us on a 3 NT contract our teammates didn’t bid. We got them back when Jocelyn and Catherine went down three on a 6 NT slam, while Helen and Mike made 4 Spades. It was going to be close.
     But not that close. On the first set of six boards, we came out 2 IMPs ahead. On the final set, we prevailed by 6 IMPs. We did it! We won! Champions of the B division, we collected 12.07 gold points (plus some unspecified prize on Friday or Saturday from the prize desk). More than enough for my purposes. Selina and I celebrated with glasses of merlot upstairs in the hospitality room off the 10th floor Rainbow Room restaurant. We were the first players to arrive.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bridge Blog 465: Yes-s-s-s!!!

          We did it! Our team has won a spot in the semi-finals in the Wednesday-Thursday knock-out game in the Niagara Falls, Ont., Regional Tournament. No matter what happens Thursday, we’re guaranteed 4.83 master points. Gold master points. All Selina Volpatti, Mike Silverman, Helen Panza and I have to do is show up at 1 p.m. and play. If we’re good enough to win our semi-final round, it’s 8-plus points. Go all the way in the finals and it’s 12.
          So congratulate me. I went to Niagara Falls this morning 2.8 gold points short of becoming a Life Master and now I’ve got ‘em. With more than 1,000 points overall, I get to skip right past the Bronze Life Master category and become a Silver Life Master. Hallelujah! Thank you, bridge gods.
          Thank you especially, bridge gods, for putting us in three-way contests in the first two knock-out rounds. In the three-way game, there are two teams that continue to the next round – much better odds than the head-to-head matchups. The afternoon round found us crushing one team by 63 points and losing to another by 35, so we got to play on.
        The evening three-way started out much tighter – we led one team by 5-1 International Match Points at the midway point and trailed the other one, 20-12. But we made up that deficit in the second half, thanks to a 6 Heart slam where our opponents went down three (Helen and Mike bid 3 Hearts and made an overtrick) and a 5 Hearts doubled contract that Selina brought home (Helen and Mike didn’t double). We happily paid the knock-out director $15 apiece for Thursday afternoon’s round. Life Master! At last!