Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bridge Blog 447: Potpourri

          I should blog about today’s stratification, Airport Bridge Club manager Bill Finkelstein declares after the scores go up for Tuesday’s game. As miracles of stratification go, it certainly is remarkable. Out of 17 pairs in this 8½ table game, it looks like a dozen of them have won master points.
Partner Celine Murray and I are among them with our 54.47% effort – third in A and second in B among the East-Wests, third in B overall. It’s good for .97 points, bringing my total for the month into double digits – 10.81. Hooray!
Meanwhile, great fun in the West seat, which seemed to get all the cards Tuesday, including a 24-point hand (opposite East’s one-pointer) that was good for just 4 Hearts, and the weakest of weak 2 Spade bids (Q-10-9), doubled by Mike Kisiel, bumped up to 3 Spades by Celine, doubled again by Paul Ganley, and left there. Celine had an opening hand and five good Spades. I made the contract – vulnerable, plus 730, the most satisfying of our four top boards of the day.
Bill had apologized for the stratifications on Monday’s game – only half a dozen players took home points because the winners were all C strat pairs and no amount of miracle-making would spread the points  any further.
* * *
Twice in the past week I’ve looked in my datebook, seen names crossed off and then discovered that, no, they weren’t supposed to be crossed off at all. I thought dark thoughts about Chuck Schorr when he was a no-show last Thursday. I had him crossed out for the 29th. Isn’t that the high holy days? Isn’t that what he said? But no, he contends. It was the 22nd. We’re playing on the 29th.
Fine, but it happened again on Monday. I arrive at the Airport Bridge Club to have Bill Finkelstein announce to me that I have two partners. I look in my book. Marie Suprinick’s name is crossed out. Usha Khurana’s is penned in. Marie often cancels on me. Perhaps she forgot. She claims she didn’t.
At any rate, Bill calls in a sub, Ruth Hnath, to play with Marie and I play with Usha (who said she would go home if she had no partner). Marie and Ruth come in second in C with 46% or so and get points. Usha and I are a fraction of a percentage point behind them and get nada. Plus we’re in the B strat. We’d need 57% to earn points.
* * *
I love Swiss teams. Especially after Sunday’s Swiss teams game. During the previous week, I accepted an invitation from Selina Volpatti to play, then lured Mike Silverman to join us. We had no fourth member until Sunday, but Bill Finkelstein provided us with a good one – Florence Notto. We won our first three rounds, were shut out by the Jerry Geiger-John Ziemer team on the fourth, won two more and were in first place going into the last round. Four points behind us was the last team we were facing – the Kaproves and the Ahmads. We could lose and still win if we kept the margin close enough, but alas, we didn’t. Coming in second was nothing to sneeze at, though. We got 2.87 master points apiece.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bridge Blog 446: Buffalo Fall Sectional -- Sah-weet!

          The absolute sweetest of September days – sunshine, the air like Chablis, a total delight. What better place to spend it than inside the Main-Transit Fire Company’s social hall.
          Is it equally sweet indoors? On a social level, kinda. On a competitive level, let’s remember who’s on the Swiss team with me – Faith Perry and Florence Boyd, who had an even more dismal Saturday afternoon game than Celine and I did. And Pawan Matta, who’s a newbie. Lovely, all of them. And unlike some people, we don’t need to win to have a good time.
          Good thing, too. Our first game against some Canadian ladies goes about as expected – lost by 9 International Match Points – mostly from me going down two on a 4 Heart contract that the other team made with an overtrick. Fine. Don’t want to win too early. We’ll have to face the really good players. No danger of that now.
          So guess who’s at our table for the second round? Two of the best players in the room – Jim Mathis and Saleh Fetouh. They got trounced by another A team in the opening round. Hey, all we have to do is hold our own, I tell myself. We do that exactly once in seven hands. On the other six, they rack up 41 IMPs against us.
          Now we’re really right where we want to be, I tell my teammates. Now we’ll play only the folks on the bottom. Sure enough, we squeak out a 15-11 IMP victory against the Judy Kaprove-Marietta Kalman team. Our first win. Now we’ll get some kind of master points. Round four, however, finds us up against Shakeel Ahmad and his wife Manju Ceylony. We do not win a bid. And from my notations, it looks like we let them take an extra trick in three different hands. On two of them, one less trick would set them. But losing 19-6 IMPs, those two hands wouldn’t make up all of them. We’re just outplayed.
          After lunch, we score our second and last victory of the day against the Harry Lyons-Clare Garelick team, a modest 10-4 IMP effort. We’re so low by the end of the day that we get shoved into the round robin game that pits the bottom three teams against each other. We don’t win there either.  Two matches won x .26 per match = .52 master points for the day. 

Bridge Blog 446-A: BFS 3 -- The other game

          Should I take my Walkman so I can follow the Bills game? No. But Stan Kozlowski does. Well, not a Walkman. One of those Sony headphone radios. No score, he reports between games around 1:30. At the lunch break, it’s around halftime and the score is Raiders 21, Bills 3. No need to go to the car and listen.
          Ken Meier and tournament director Dick Rasmus assess the team at the director’s table. Ken says they’ll win six or seven games. Dick says no, just four, including the one they’ve won already.
          Did you hear about the game, Monica asks when I get home. They were losing, right? So I didn’t pay any attention. No, she says. It was amazing. They won, 38-35.

Bridge Blog 446-B. BFS 3 -- Table talk again?

          How do you like the tables, I ask the Canadian ladies in the first round. The short one sitting north thinks they’re too high. Kind of like back when you were a kid. In the final round, I ask again. This it’s Art Matthies. He thinks they’re fine and says it in such a casual way that it seems like this has become an irrelevant question. So it’s settled. The tables are good.
          The tournament committee does a little retirement display for Dick Rasmus – a sign saying Thank You and a big Wegmans sheet cake, half white, half chocolate, with chocolate icing.
          How many teams today? I think 23. As it turns out, the overall winners are the Jim Mathis-Saleh Fetouh team. We aren’t the only people they steamroller. We, the Perry team, aren’t last, but we’re only a couple steps away with 71 victory points. We’re in the C strat, thanks to averaging in the low career totals of Flo Boyd and Pawan Matta, but to win something extra there, we need 99 vps. To hit the extra point jackpot in B, we’d need 118.
          These are silver points, but for my money, they’re gold-plated. My $60 in entry fees gives me 1.11 master points, or 54.05 cents per hundredth of a point. Note to self: Skip lunch and fill up on the bagels and cream cheese they put out for breakfast on Sunday. Pawan reminds me that she’s getting .52 points for only $20.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bridge Blog 445: Buffalo Fall Sectional Day 2 -- Morning glory (not)

          On time. Hooked up with my most familiar partner. Celine Murray. What could go wrong? Plenty. By the time we finish our first round against the amiable Ken Wagner and Rich McGowan, we’re at 37.55% (of course we didn’t know it then – this is after seeing the final score sheet. We think we’re off to a good start.)
          Our opinion begins drooping after we bid a 6 No Trump contract and make an overtrick. Who knew it was a grand slam? I open I NT, she transfers me into Hearts, then goes to 4 NT. I show my one Ace and she jumps to 6. She has all the other Aces. “I only had one King,” she says afterward. “I didn’t want to ask for Kings and find out you only had one.” I remind her that math would tell her. If I bid I NT and have only one Ace, there’s a good chance I have Kings. Indeed, I have three. Out of 17 match points, it’s good for 7.97.
          There are others. I still marvel at how Jim Mathis and Saleh Fetouh engineered a sure undertrick at 4 Spades into an overtrick, especially when Celine opened the bidding and I had five of their Spades, headed by Ace-King. Note to self says, “Drive out trump.”
          Then there’s Vince Pesce and Harry Cheung beating our double of their 4 Spade contract with an overtrick. Shoulda bid 5 Hearts and gone down two, not vulnerable. Or better yet, just passed.
          Our only top is against Bev and Betty, the ladies from Wellsville. We hold them to 4 Spades while every other North-South apparently makes the preordained overtrick. Final outcome – 43.27%. Tenth out of 12.

Bridge Blog 445-A: BFS 2 -- Afternoon delight (not)

          We vow to do better in the afternoon session and we do. But not much. 45.21%. Eighth out of 10 East-Wests. I have hopes of leapfrogging past the seventh-place 45.64% pair (Kathy Pollock and Marc Sylvester – much better players than that) when I find a discrepancy between the official score and what’s on my sheet. Tournament director Dick Rasmus looks it up and the sheet John Ziemer filled out has us down three on a 3 No Trump hand Celine played instead of the down two that I had (a difference between an absolute zero and maybe eight game points). Down two’s not asking for much. According to the hand record sheet, we’re cold for 3 NT.

Bridge Blog 445-B: BFS 2 -- Double or nothing

          Our Saturday dilemmas include doubling. Not doubles against us;  the ones we make against our opponents. In the morning, our only foray into the dark world of doubles is the aforementioned disaster, where Vince Pesce makes an overtrick. In the afternoon, it’s a fresh mountain stream of doubles. (Well, actually only three). We double Faith Perry and Florence Boyd (my teammates in tomorrow’s Swiss team game) twice. In the first, they’re down two on a hand where we can make game. The second, however, is one of our 17-game-point top boards, down four. We rack up another 17 on a double later that goes down three. 

Bridge Blog 445-C. BFS 2 -- More table talk

          People like the tables (see Table Talk in Blog 444). Or at least Barbara Landree does. She says Franklin Kidd got them. Between games, Frank says he researched them for a year and thinks they’re a big improvement. Lightweight. Indestructible. Won’t stain either, he says. What’s not to like?
          Director Dick Rasmus really is retiring. He’ll do next year’s Buffalo regional, but otherwise he’s only available on call and only if they can reach him. “I don’t have a cell phone,” he says. Are you really old enough to retire, I ask. Just turned 69, he says. You're still a kid, I say.
          Morning snack is Tim Bits from Tim Hortons. Celine has a little plate of them waiting for me when I arrive. Afternoon snack is more cookies. The chocolate chips are yummy. Someone says Joyce Greenspan made six dozen.
          And how many tables? Not as many as Friday – sections of 11.5 and 12 in the morning, 10 each in the afternoon.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Bridge Blog 444: Buffalo Fall Sectional Day 1 -- Wakeup call

          How long from my house on Buffalo’s West Side to the Main-Transit Fire Hall? If you say 20 minutes, like I do as I step into the shower moments before 10 a.m. Friday because you can get everywhere in Buffalo in 20 minutes, then you’re wrong. It’s 25 minutes, even when you hit 80 mph on that little stretch of the Thruway between the Williamsville toll barrier and the Transit Road exit.
          So partner Marilyn Sultz is greatly relieved to see me rush into the fire company’s social hall with seconds to spare. I’m pushing the deadline so I could soak up as many zzzzees as possible after getting home from work around 4 a.m. As usual, I didn’t soak up enough and even copious swigs of coffee don’t keep me from making a fuzzy-brained mistake in the very first hand we play.
          We’re defending against a 2 No Trump contract, me having noodged it up from the one level. My secret weapon –- a five-card Club suit headed by the Ace-8, an outside Ace of Spades and a 2 Club bid over North’s 1 NT opener. Marilyn’s opening lead – the Queen of Clubs, which holds. Second Club, North puts up the Jack, taken by my Ace. Third Club, North’s King takes it. Later, I get in with the Ace of Spades and don’t remember if all the Clubs are out. Better not lead one. But all the Clubs really are all out. Shoulda counted. Shoulda made 1 No Trump, but South makes 2. Our score – 6.28 game points out of a possible 25.

Bridge Blog 444-A: Bflo Fall Sectional 1 -- Downside

          Marilyn and I soon realize we’re not doing so great. People keep doubling our game attempts and sacrifice bids and we keep going down. Example: Eva Schmidt nails us good on what I think is a perfectly reasonable stretch to 4 Hearts on a hand that’s cold for 3 Hearts.  Down 2 doubled, 2.1 game points out of 25. Hard to believe, but someone apparently did even worse. We finish wayyy down the list with 43.77%, 10th out of 13 East-Wests.

Bridge Blog 444-B: Bflo Fall Sctnl 1 -- Table talk

          Most startling innovation at this tournament is the debut of Unit 116’s new tables. They have bright white tops made out of some sort of heavy-duty plastic with the word “Lifetime” stamped into it. The best thing about them is that they’re big. No more cramping to work around the bidding boxes. Most players seem to like them.
Odd little extra feature – a little non-skid rubber mat under every  bidding box to keep it from sliding on the slippery plastic. Odd thought that crosses my mind – aren’t white tables going to look like a white linen suit in a rugby game after a while? Odd observation that comes from the mouth of none other than Bev Cohen – it’s hard to see the white cards on the white table tops.

Bridge Blog 444-C: BFS 1 -- Other talk

Flyer for Bridge Club Meridian says the club will start Monday night games 11/1, the week after the 76- or 77-year-old Buffalo Whist Club folds up its tables and shuffles off to bridge oblivion. The Airport Bridge Club is planning a Monday night game too.
How come, I ask, someone doesn’t just start going to the Whist Club games and keep the club alive? Not that many people want to come out on Monday night, someone suggests. Not that many people like to go to the social hall at the Zion Church, someone else proposes. Too dark at night. Too hot in the summer.

Bridge Blog 444-D: BFS 1 -- Upside (sorta)

Marilyn Sultz and I vow to do better in the afternoon session. This time we’re North-South and it does indeed feel like a better game. We make doubles and they work. Other people double us and, on at least one memorable occasion, we beat the double.
I’d put the hand diagram in here if my departure routine had included picking up the hand records for the afternoon session. But memory will serve well enough. We’re up against two game directors – Dave Larcom, who runs the East Aurora club; and Bill Rieker, longtime director of B&P Duplicate, predecessor to BC Meridian. Dave opens 2 No Trump, Bill bumps it up to 3 NT.
Me, I’ve got a wacko hand – seven hearts, King-Jack-Ten; five Clubs, Ace-Jack (or was it Ace-King-Jack? I’ll have to get that darned hand record Saturday); and one anemic Diamond. They’re vulnerable, we’re not, so here goes – 4 Hearts. Dave seems a little taken aback, but wastes little time in bidding 4 No Trump. Pass-pass to me. I don’t think I can beat 4 NT, but I can make at least 2 Hearts, can’t I? Five Hearts. Dave doubles, smiling. He leads the Ace of Spades.
Marilyn has a lovely dummy hand. Queen-little in Hearts. Five Spades to the King. Six mediocre Diamonds. No Clubs. I let Dave win the Ace of Spades and pitch my singleton Diamond. He leads a Diamond. Trump. I lead a low Club to the dummy’s void. Trump. Diamond. Trump. Another low Club. Trump Queen. Diamond. Trump. King of Hearts. Dave takes the Ace. I win his return, draw out the remaining trumps and cash the high Clubs. Making 5 Hearts. Plus 650. An absolute top … on top of another absolute top – 6 No Trump making an overtrick – on the previous hand.
Even our worst efforts can’t overcome good luck like that. We finish with 51.39%, fourth in B in our section, winning .59 of a silver point.

Bridge Blog 444-E: BFS 1 -- Two more things

Morning session has what looks like 34 tables, split into two sections of 17. When tournament director Dick Rasmus asks for a show of hands from everyone who isn’t sticking around for the afternoon session, nearly half the place responds. Afternoon count is 10.5 tables in our section, 10 in the other. Little more than half.
Morning snacks are assorted baked goods, which prove tasty. Afternoon crowd gets cookies, some or maybe all of them baked by Joyce Greenspan. Everybody raves about them. Having had more than enough lunch at Old Country Buffet (second helping of jambalaya), I belatedly summon up some will power. Not to worry. Plenty of cookies for Saturday, I’m assured.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bridge Blog 443: Nowhere man

          August’s statistics have been posted for nearly a week on the ACBL website, but I’m been too busy to give them a glance, thanks to my extended stay on the Buffalo News city desk and the fact that I’m way out of the running on the national standings. But now that I’m leading the more relaxed life of a reporter, I’ve got a little bit of time to go over and see what’s shaking on the unit, district and national levels.
          Ace of Clubs (now designated as Helen Shanbrom Ace of Clubs), which is just for club play, finds me in sixth place in Unit 116 (just Buffalo) with 99.92 points. Top dog is Mike Kisiel with 159.79 – I’ll never catch him – followed by Liz Clark (131.44), John Ziemer (128.55), Vince Pesce (107.89) and Carlton Stone (101.75). After me, there’s Carolyn Siracuse (96.32), Judy Padgug (84.87), Paul Libby (82.72) and Jim Gullo (78.23).
          And now the Mini-McKenney, which is club play and tournament play combined – in other words, everything. My total there is 109.21, which puts me in ninth position on a list of 10. The others: Dian Petrov (237.72), John Ziemer (170.68), Mike Kisiel (169.90), Judy Padgug (167.19), Liz Clark (142.05), Kathy Pollock (117.51), Carlton Stone (116.11), Vince Pesce (111.32) and, in 10th place, Jim Gullo (107.06).
          OK, let’s see if I show up at all on the District 5 (Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh) level. On the Ace of Clubs I do. Eighth place, behind a couple Pittsburgh players sitting fourth and fifth on the list of 25. No such luck on Mini-McKenney. The list cuts off at 133.69 points. Only five Buffalo players are on it. Leader once again is Hao Ge of Bay Village, Ohio, with 431.53 points, followed by Fred Schenker of Pittsburgh with 278.59. Dian Petrov is third.
          Nationwide, I’m nowhere. You need 120.16 to make the Top 100 in Ace of Clubs. Top player once again is Zita Lechter of Sunny Isles, Fla., with 272.27. She has a 57 point lead over second-place Ronald Andrews of Vero Beach, Fla. Mike Kisiel is 12th. Mini-McKenney, you need 234.61 to make the list. Top is Louise Clark of Glencoe, Ill., with 688.76 (wow!), followed by good old Geeske Joel of Palo Alto, Calif., with 619.32. District 5’s Hao Ge is eighth. Unit 116 leader Dian Petrov is 93rd.

Bridge Blog 442: Zingless

          Twelve days into September, 13 chances to have a game at the Airport Bridge Club and how many times have I played this month? Five. Adding golf to my week – I’ve played twice this month – has crimped things even more.
          And while I’ve long maintained that even a mediocre day on the golf course is better than a great day at the bridge table, I’m starting to wonder. I struggled to find the fun in my last round of golf and, after shooting seven strokes worse than I did the previous week, started wondering if that was what I can expect for letting myself get so far away from the game.
          En route to the card game this morning, I started wondering that about bridge. If I keep playing in this part-time manner, would I lose enough of an edge to take the zing out of the game?
          Fortunately, the fun was there in my game with Marilyn Sultz – she’s still in denial about being 15th in the country in her point division – and I’m looking forward to playing with her in the Sectional Tournament on Friday. Our game, however, was odd. At first it seemed like we were doing horribly. Then after a few top boards, it seemed like we were doing very well. When the scores came out, we were neither horrid nor torrid, but right in the middle with 50.30%. Looking at all the bottom boards we had, that was a minor miracle. Fourth in the A Strat, it was good for exactly .50 point. Total for the five days of play this month – 3.86 points.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Bridge Blog 441: Mustard round

          Nothing like the August doldrums to take all the blogging spirit out of you. My doldrums were double. Firstly, my game was in slump, one 40-odd percent round after another and no points to speak of. Beyond that, in the great shuffle at The Buffalo News in the wake of the latest round of buy-out retirements, I’m been dragooned over to the city desk for three weeks, which pushes me at the outer limits of my time and my writing energies. When I finally get clear of my obligations around 3 a.m., the gas tank’s empty.
Not that I haven’t had things to write about. Reflecting on my slump, there was the question of whether the problem was with me or my partners. And after the slump, there was a month-end bump. And finally there was still another death in the bridge family – the woman who was my first regular partner, Maggie McNamara. So in the spirit of Bill Rieker, former director of the former B&P Bridge Club, here’s the mustard round, where we ketchup on things with three new blogs in all, and get back on schedule.

Bridge Blog 440: Bump

It’s bad enough for my point count not to be playing weekends, but it was particularly grievous when I learned that my brother and sister-in-law weren’t going to end their visit on Sunday, as I’d expected, but were staying over to Monday. I mean, I had plans. What’s more, I had even taken pains to remind my partner for the day – Niagara Regional Councilor Selina Volpatti, who would be coming over from Canada – that Monday was a double session and the morning section started at 10 a.m.
She wound up playing the morning session with Bill Finkelstein and shrugged off his abrasiveness. They had a 57% game. With me, the score wasn’t nearly as wonderful. We limped in at 45.83%, helped along by a couple complete disasters on my part. But that wasn’t the end. We were playing Tuesday, too.
Maybe we just needed to get used to each other, because Tuesday was stellar. In the morning, we did 59.47%, first in North-South, second overall, 2.58 points. The afternoon was 62.98%, second in A, first in B in our direction and overall, 2.38 points. This also lifted me to second place in the club’s monthly series for Tuesday, another .76 points.
On Wednesday with Celine Murray, the getting-to-know-you factor again was in force. Our morning session was 44.14%, followed by a 55.67% in the afternoon for another 1.07 points. My monthly total practically doubled in two days – unofficial tally for August: 15.12 at the Airport Bridge Club, of which 4.54 are red points.

Bridge Blog 439: Maggie

I was instantly drawn to Maggie McNamara when I saw her playing at the old B&P Bridge Club during my first year of duplicate in 2005. Like me, she was one of the youngest people in the room. She was thin and attractive. And she had a feisty attitude as prominent as her Scottish accent.
So I was delighted and flattered when Maggie suggested that we become regular partners. In those days, I just showed up at games solo, as did she. What’s more, we were practically neighbors. She lived on Ripley Place then, not even half a dozen blocks from me. And she frequently needed a ride, which I was happy to provide.
I heard a lot about Maggie on our rides to bridge – her multiple marriages and her current dating (even old Gerry Fried was asking her out), the deaths of her children – all three had passed away, and her health problems, including her mastectomy and breast replacement. And then there was her book. She’d written this romance and published it. It was a source of pride for her and a marvel for the other players. I bought a copy and got halfway through it – it’s wonderfully plotted and the characters were well-drawn, but it was way overwritten. Monica’s mother loved it.
In the end, Maggie and I weren’t the best of partners. Our game was inconsistent and I was even less of a player in those days than I am now. Furthermore, some of the plays and conventions she was so certain about were just plain mistaken.
When she sold her house on Ripley and moved to Tonawanda, she didn’t need rides any more. She started playing more tennis and less bridge. And when Bill Finkelstein’s club moved to the edge of the airport, she was less inclined to make the trip over there. When she played bridge, it was at the Bridge Center and B&P. I’d only see her at the tournaments.
Last time I saw her, last winter, she looked faded, shockingly so. She didn’t say anything about her health, but I had a hunch that the cancer had come back. I was saddened to hear a couple weeks ago that she was in hospice, but not surprised. And then in last Sunday’s paper, a short death notice. She died on Aug. 25. Services had already been held.

Bridge Blog 438: Slump

I didn’t realize how deep my late summer funk had gotten until the fourth week of August, when I was sitting with about half a dozen points and was way down the list in the monthly master point race at the Airport Bridge Club. If I recall correctly, that was when I was tied for 33rd place with Joe Rooney, who hasn’t been playing much this month.
It started on Saturday the 20th, actually, the day after I skipped bridge to play my first round of golf of the year. Paired with a really good player, Judi Marshall, who also didn’t have a partner, we had a 43.65% game. Not last, but way below what we both expected. She apologized repeatedly for playing badly, but I wondered – was it her or was it me?
The next week was a litany of mediocrity and noble misses. After a 51.44% game with Usha Khurana on Monday, I assured her we did really well as she acknowledged ruefully that if we had been in the C strat, we’d have gotten points. With Marie Suprinick on Tuesday, I was hoping to repeat our 54% effort of the previous week, but no luck. Just 42.45%. Celine Murray and I struck out on Wednesday with 47.87%. My first outing Thursday with Nancy Littenburg had promise – she usually does well – but our 49.15% was out of the money. And on Friday, Dede Kluckhohn and I had a lot of fun and wound up at exactly 50%, fourth in the A strat, second in B, for .78 point. That brought my total for the month to 8.33. As you can see, it’s nothing to write about.