Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bridge Blog 421: Belated

          Visiting Canadians took the top place and three of the top 10 spots in the Buffalo Spring Sectional Tournament last weekend (May 13 to 15). A guy named Ranald Davidson, who played variously with two of our heavy hitters – Dan Gerstman and Brian Meyer – was top dog with 18.05 points. Second was one of our experts, Saleh Fetouh, with 17.43, followed by Bud Seidenberg, who seems to be having some really good games recently, and Chris Urbanek, tied with 16.30. Me? 80th place with 1.80 points.
          Not much, but it must have primed the pump. Back in my usual haunts at the Airport Bridge Club, I scratched three days in a row – 52.22% on Monday with Usha Khurana for another .33 point, 58.10% on Tuesday with Mike Silverman when double points kicked in for 1.15 points and another miracle of stratification on Wednesday with Celine Murray, yielding .42 point for a 49.66% game. Lessee, that’s .96 + 1.90 + 1.80 = 4.66. But then a long weekend out of town. No bridge. I’ll have to work hard next week to bring the month home with double digits.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bridge Blog 420: Spring Sectional

          My misadventures continued at the Buffalo Spring Sectional Tournament on showery Saturday. On one of the first hands of the day, steering home what looked like an airtight 3 No Trump contract, I went on autopilot as I ran out the dummy’s long Club suit, so much so that I failed to notice that one of the opponents had absolutely no Clubs, which meant that the other one had 10-9-8-x-x.
So when I called for the last Club, I also failed to notice that the 10 beat it. And because I failed to notice it, I called for the dummy’s King of Diamonds, thinking dummy was still on lead. Mr. Long Club, however, had quickly led a Heart. The dummy was out of Hearts and the King had to stay as played.
So instead of a sure 3 NT, or down one, like I should have gone, I was down three. Bottom board, I reckoned ruefully. What a chump!
But that seemed to snap the morning session with Celine Murray into focus. We finished with 52.21% – best game I’d had all week -- just missing a place in the overall standings, but winding up eighth in A and fourth in B North-South (in two combined sections – 11½ and 12 tables). That small reward -- .71 point – nearly doubled my point count for May so far. And that godawful mental lapse wasn’t an absolute zero, after all. It earned 1.62 game points (out of a possible 17). Others apparently failed miserably there, too.
The afternoon session was smaller (two sections of nine tables) and we weren’t as sharp. This time the North-Souths were separated into two sharply defined tiers – above 55% and down around 45%. Fortunately, we were among the best of the have-nots at 47.92%. Once again fourth in B, this time we earned .57 point – 1.28 for the day.
A cold, soaking-wet Sunday saw Swiss teams – 28 teams in all – and I had double booked for it. Back in January, I promised Flo Boyd and Faith Perry I’d play with them. Later, I unwittingly promised Usha Khurana and Dottie May and Janet Frisch I’d be on their team. I was unable to find a new partner, so the dilemma came to a head on Saturday. There were apologies and disappointments, but Janet, sainted Janet, managed to hook Usha up with the personable Dave Donaldson. They got along fabulously.
We played their team in the sixth round. By then, we recovered from our early defeats (shut out completely by experts Jim Mathis and Saleh Fetouh in the very first round) and, after winning two rounds, were tied for fourth in the C stratification.
But, alas, we failed badly, losing 27-13 in International Match Points on a fluke. Faith’s partner, the lovely Pawan Matta, revoked, allowing Usha and Dave to make a doubled contract where they should have been down two. Without that, we’d beat them 19-15. After another loss in our final round, we took consolation in the small fruits of those victories in the two rounds, .26 point each. Tournament total – 1.80. Total for May – 2.76. Still needed for 1,100 points lifetime – 5.39.
Postscript on tournament amenities: Main-Transit Fire Hall is big, bright and commodious as ever, a good place to play. Padded chairs, too. We look forward to Unit 116’s new, larger tables, due to arrive this summer. The old tiny ones were cramped and spartan.
Hospitality, courtesy of Tova Reinhorn, consisted of bagels (nice ones from Wegmans) and cream cheese on Friday and Saturday mornings, donuts on Sunday. For the afternoon, cheese and crackers and a fruit tray. For Sunday's brief lunch break, they had ham or turkey subs for $8, which, sad to say, were not as tasty as those slices of six-foot party subs at the Airport Bridge Club for free. My sub was so big I gladly sold half of it to Pawan. I didn’t drink the coffee (which leaked massively from one of the urns on Friday) or the pop, but when I took a glass of ice water on Sunday, it was so heavily chlorinated I found it undrinkable and poured it out. Do people in Amherst suffer from water like this all the time?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Bridge Blog 419: That was then

          I got to the opening session of the Buffalo Spring Sectional Tournament in Main-Transit Fire Hall in Williamsville Friday morning just in time for the awarding of the certificates to the winners of last year’s Ace of Clubs masterpoint races. And, for the third year in a row, one of those winners was me.
          But, as I reminded people who congratulated me during the game, that was last year. Now I’m in a much tougher point division – the 1,000 to 2,500 level – and I’m not anywhere near on top. The leading player is Mike Kisiel and I’ve never gotten more points in a year than he has.
          Furthermore, I’m in one of the worst slumps of my bridge playing career. For proof, we need look no further than my record on this wretched week leading up to Friday the 13th: Monday with Sharon Chang, 44.18%; Tuesday with Mike Silverman, 44.01% (seventh of nine North-Souths); Wednesday with Celine Murray, 37.18% (dead last); Thursday with Eva Schmidt, 44.44%. At the end of the games this week, my partners just headed for the door. They didn’t want to see a summary. I entered the weekend with the same 0.96 points for the month that I had when the week began.
          As Pair 13 East-West (with Mike Silverman again) at the Sectional, I thought my luck might change. We started off well – average plus games against Betty Bronstein and Judie Bailey (26 game points out of 50), Ruthie Kozower and Nadine Stein (34 game points), a  pair of women from Rochester (Leah and the one from New Zealand – Christchurch) (27.59) and Luke Danielson and Nita Ferrell (28.64). That, my friends, is a 57% game after four rounds. But it was all downhill from there. Here’s one of the ways we went adrift.
          It was Board 2 against Pair 7, a couple of husky elderly guys (Walt? And Stan?) that I didn’t recognize. North-South is vulnerable. We’re not. I’m East and I’m the dealer. Here’s my hand:

          Spades: Q-J-10-6-4-2; Hearts: A-Q-7-5; Diamonds: 8; Clubs: 9-8.

          Emboldened by non-vulnerability and distribution (nine high card points, two-plus points for the six-card suit), I open 1 Spade. South passes. Mike bids 2 Clubs. North goes 2 Diamonds. I rebid the Spades. South rebids their Diamonds. Mike goes to 4 Clubs. OK, there’s our eight-card fit. I pass.
          Mike makes 4 Clubs and a mistake by the opponents gives him an overtrick, but it was clear from the start of play that we should have been in another suit. Hearts. Four Hearts. We lose a Diamond, a Spade and the King of Hearts. Instead of rebidding my six-card Spade suit, I should have recognized the strength of Mike’s hand (after all, he did bid at the two level) and bid 2 Hearts. Then I could go back to Spades if he didn’t raise the Hearts. Here are the other hands:

          West (Mike)
          Spades: 7: Hearts: 10-9-3-2; Diamonds: K; Clubs: A-K-Q-10-5-4-2.

          Spades: 9-5-3; Hearts: J-6-4; Diamonds: Q-J-10-9-3; Clubs: 7-5.

          Spades: A-K-8; Hearts: K-5; Diamonds: A-7-6-5-4-2; Clubs: J-3.

          In the final tally, it wasn’t the worst of hands for us. We got 13.54 game points for our plus 150. But plus 420 for 4 Hearts would have been much sweeter. Other hands – the overbid and under-defended ones – were much less fortunate. We finished the session at 37.06%, 12 th of 15 East-Wests (there were two sections). Mike, who had an early evening engagement, was gone before the final results were posted.
Without a partner for the afternoon session, I contemplated the sunshine, the 83-degree air and my end-of-the-week sleep deprivation and decided that, teamed with a stranger, my game would hardly be any better the second time around. Instead of returning down Main Street to the fire hall after lunch, I swung left on Transit and headed for home.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Bridge Blog 418: The long view

            It’s the 6th and, right on time, last month’s tabulations are posted on the American Contract Bridge League’s website. In 2009 and 2010, I would be eager to see where I stood in the national standings, especially the Ace of Clubs, where I was among the Top 10. This year, competing primarily as a B player in the tough 1000-2500 point division, I’m nowhere nationally. The hopes instead center on the Unit 116 (Buffalo) and District 5 (Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh) lists. Let’s take a look and see who’s where.
          My Ace of Clubs total (masterpoints earned in club play only) now stands at 52.39 for the year, which puts me fifth in Unit 116, after Mike Kisiel (79.09), John Ziemer (62.96), Liz Clark (58.58) and Carlton Stone (58.42). Behind me are Vince Pesce (42.83), Judy Padgug (38 even), Jim Gullo (36.48), Bill Finkelstein (!) (32.62) and Janet Frisch (31.98).
          Over in the Unit list for the Mini-McKenney (club play plus tournaments), I’m seventh with 56.33. Tops is Dian Petrov, director of Bridge Club Meridian, with 134.81, best of anyone at any level. He just picked up 30 points as part of the winning B team in the North American Pairs preliminary last weekend. Wonder if that’s included. Kisiel is second with 79.78. He doesn’t go to the tournaments these days. Next are Judy Padgug (79.04), John Ziemer (65.30), Liz Clark (61.27) and Carlton Stone (58.42). Behind me are Jim Gullo (50.94), Kathy Pollock (50.39) and Mike Ryan (45.01).
Take that to the District 5 level and I’m eighth in Ace of Clubs, behind four Unit 116 people, two from Pittsburgh and one from Cleveland. Kisiel is second, trailing Francine Feldman of Pittsburgh (81.46). In the Mini-McKenney, I’m not even on the list.  The woman from Cleveland in 25th place has 63.43 points. Tops is Hao Ge of Bay Village, Ohio, with 190.59, followed by Fred Schenker of Pittsburgh with 153.85. Dian Petrov is third.
Needless to say, I’m on neither list nationally. To make the bottom rung of the top 100 in Ace of Clubs, you need 60.62 points. Top player nationally is Ronald Andrews of Vero Beach, Fla., with 116.56, followed by Zita Lechter of Sunny Isles, Fla., with 108.32. Mike Kisiel is 14th.
In the Mini-McKenney, the number needed to land on the list is 121.39. Tops again is Geeske Joel of Palo Alto, Calif., with 384.21, followed by Louise Clark of Glencoe, Ill., with 353.01. District 5’s Hao Ge is 14th. Unit 116’s Dian Petrov is 73rd.

Bridge Blog 417: Worthy?

Without benefit of double points this week, or particularly smart play on my part, May has gotten off to a very quiet start. It began well enough on Monday, when Marilyn Sultz and I turned in a 58.33% effort, second overall in an eight-table game at the Airport Bridge Club and good for .56 point.
Tuesday with Mike Silverman, I had a pair of terrible mental lapses in a row – calling for the wrong card from dummy in one hand, missing a bid on another. We finished with 48.96%, out of the money, but even without my mistakes we wouldn’t have scratched. Celine Murray and I picked up .40 point on Wednesday with a 53.27% game, third overall. Disappointment dogged me with Flo Boyd on Thursday (41.90%, next to last) and with Ruth Wurster on Friday (46.49%, fifth of eight East-Wests) in a frustrating run of mismatched hands.
The following hand came up Thursday when Flo Boyd and I reached a table with two expert players – Judy Padgug sitting North, Bev Cohen South. I thought the bidding on this was interesting, but Judy disagreed. You decide. It’s Board 6, East-West vulnerable, East (Flo) is dealer. She passes. Bev Cohen bids a Club. I bid a Diamond with this hand:

Spades: Q-6; Hearts: A-10-6-4; Diamonds: A-10-9-8-3; Clubs: A-3

Judy Padgug doubles. Flo bids 3 Diamonds. Bev Cohen doubles. I bid 4 Diamonds. Judy Padgug doubles. Pass-pass-pass. It’s 4 Diamonds doubled vulnerable. Before I can start wondering why on earth I’m making what seems like a sacrifice bid in this situation, Judy leads a low Club. Flo puts down this hand. “Partner,” I say to Flo, “I love you.”

Spades: K-9-3; Hearts: 3; Diamonds: Q-J-7-6-5-2; Clubs: 9-5-4.

Luckily, the two outstanding trumps are split 1-1. Once they’re drawn, the rest is automatic. We lose to the Ace of Spades and either the King or the Queen of Clubs. With the overtrick, it’s a plus 910, one of our few triumphs on an otherwise dismal day of play.
Here are the other two hands.

Spades: J-8-7-2; Hearts: K-J-5-2; Diamonds: 4; Clubs: Q-7-6-2.

Spades: A-10-5-4; Hearts: Q-9-8-7; Diamonds: K; Clubs: K-J-10-8.

It wasn’t a top board (our only two top boards were defensive), but it was good for 6.5 out of a possible 8 game points. All the scores went to East-West. Top was plus 1100, which went to an East-West that doubled North-South at 5 Clubs and set them five tricks. (What would that be? A Diamond, a Heart, a Spade and three trumps?) Another pair that won an overtrick at 4 Diamonds doubled tied us at plus 910.
Beyond that, someone bid 5 Diamonds and made it (plus 600). A couple of them stopped at 3 Diamonds, making two overtricks (plus 150). The others let North-South take the contract. Four Hearts doubled, played by South, went down two (plus 300 for East-West). Four Hearts not doubled, played by North, went down three (plus 150 for East-West). Bottom board went to the East-West who let North play it at 3 Hearts, down only two for just plus 100.

Bridge Blog 416: The fallen

The thing they never tell you about getting old is how much of your golden years is spent attending funerals and feeling the sudden eternal absence of people who once seemed like a constant part of your life. This year has already seen the deaths of at least three people with whom I played bridge, two with whom I was relatively cordial.
There was Bruce Bronstein, the jovial retired podiatrist and former volleyball player who died from chronic heart problems on Jan. 28. A large man who tried to fight his weight by having his stomach stapled (but like many who have the procedure, he found new ways of eating, as attested to by the giant cup of frappucino he always sipped from), he was an easygoing partner and our games were relatively similar, so I always looked forward to playing with him. In fact, I was hoping to have him as a partner in Swiss teams at last year’s Buffalo Spring Sectional until I heard that he’d become a long-term patient at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester.
A couple days ago, I spotted a death notice for Cliff Vogelsang, with whom I’d been paired a few times in 2006 and 2007 in games at the former B&P Duplicate. Cliff was a retired businessman – I think he owned a factory – and was well into his 80s, to the point where his mental faculties were slipping. The last time I played with him, he slipped a lot and we had the first sub-30% game I’d ever registered. After that, I didn’t see him again.
And then there was Chester Fell, a modest and mostly private guy who walked with a pronounced limp (reminiscent of Chester from the “Gunsmoke” TV series) and always arrived at the games a couple minutes late. What attracted him the most notice was his car – a rusting gray 1951 Buick Special sedan. It proved noteworthy once again on Palm Sunday, this time in a report from the Amherst police. He was driving the Buick when he apparently ran a red light on Sheridan Drive at Frankhauser Road, struck a woman turning left in front of him and hit a house. It didn’t seem like something that would turn out to be life-threatening, but Chester died the next day, age 85. I suspect a medical problem may have been involved.
The late Peg Rieker (whose obituary I wrote last August) first paired me with Chester at one of the B&P Duplicate games (I think it was one where they had to play in the Sunday school classrooms across from Kuck Social Hall, where they usually set up). Chester’s game was as old-fashioned as his ride. He played virtually none of the current conventions. He didn’t do Jacoby transfers over 1 No Trump opening bids. He’d open bidding with a four-card major suit. He also played as slowly as he drove. Nevertheless, he played well and I often earned points with him.
We’d just seen Chester two days before the crash, when he came in late to the Airport Bridge Club – as usual – without a partner, also as usual. He hadn’t played much recently and he was showing what I thought were hints of decline. His limp seemed more severe and his hair, usually flattened down, was tousled. His game, however, was sharp. He had a 55.36% with Marilyn Sultz and finished first in the B strat.