Friday, March 30, 2012

Bridge Blog 517: Brighter days

Maybe March will be OK after all. Thanks to the last three days at the Airport Bridge Club, which is awarding double points this week, I’m closing in on double digits for the month.
On Wednesday with Chuck Schorr (regular Wednesday partner Celine Murray had a personal conflict), it was a 54.29% game, with only four or five bad miscues. First in the B strat, 1.3 points. On Thursday with Florence Boyd, we had lots of fun and still managed to come in second in C with 46.76%. A miracle of stratification and .73 point.
And then, on Friday, I’m paired with Usha Khurana. Sometimes we do well. Sometimes we don’t. Usha had finished well in the afternoon and evening games at the Bridge Center of Buffalo on Thursday, so she was optimistic, but her optimism faded as play went on (see Blog 517).  When the results were announced, we were happy to be beneficiaries of another miracle of stratification, getting a fraction of a point despite a 46% performance. But wait, that was the score for Pair 2 North-South. Club manager Bill Finkelstein had indavertently switched our names. We were pair 4. Pair 4 was first North-South with 57.08%, for 1.3 points.
Now that I have something like 9.35 for the month, I’m no longer debating whether I should play the Airport Bridge Club’s individual game on Saturday.  I’m there, even though my car won’t be. It’s in the shop overnight awaiting a brake job so it can pass inspection.

Bridge Blog 516: Claim jumping

Never claim the rest of the tricks too soon. I learned this lesson the hard way a couple years ago at a sectional tournament, when I claimed the rest of the tricks, threw down my remaining cards and watched with dismay as Chris Urbanek called the director and contended that I could have played it in such a way that I would lose (even though I maintained that I wouldn’t). On Friday at the Airport Bridge Club, partner Usha Khurana learned it the hard way on Board 19. I was North, she was South and she was dealer. East-West – Dianne Bloom and Jerry Geiger – were vulnerable. We weren’t. Usha opened the bidding with 1 Club and I immediately smelled a slam:
Spades: A-Q-2; Hearts: K-Q-10-6; Diamonds: K-Q-J-7; Clubs: A-2.
Twenty-one high card points. A 2 No Trump opener. But where to play it? I bid a Diamond to see whether Usha had a four-card major suit. She bid 1 No Trump, denying it. Since she had an opening hand and must have values somewhere – at least one of the missing Aces – I saw no reason not to go for the gusto. 6 No Trump.
Geiger led a Club, which Usha won with my Ace, and although she seemed a little nervous playing the slam, she got more confident as the tricks came down. She knocked out the missing Ace of Diamonds, ran the winning Diamonds and Hearts, then laid down her hand and claimed the rest. Not so fast, Geiger said. He would get a Club. It turned out he started out with six of them and his long Jack would be good. We’re down one. Everybody else made the 6 No Trump slam. Here are the other hands.
Spades: K-J-4; Hearts: A-5; Diamonds: 6-5-4; Clubs: K-Q-9-8-6.
Spades: 9-8-6; Hearts: J-4-3; Diamonds: 2; Clubs: J-10-7-5-4-3.
Spades: 10-7-5-3; Hearts: 9-8-7-2; Diamonds: A-10-9-8-3; Clubs: none.
Chuck Schorr, who was playing with club director Bill Finkelstein, said he opened a Club and Bill jumped straight to 6 No Trump. With North as declarer, there’s no Club lead. At any rate, there should be no trouble making 6 NT. And Usha probably would have, if she played out all the tricks. Three Spades, three or four Hearts, depending on what East throws on the Club tricks, two or three Diamonds, three Clubs.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bridge Blog 515: The long March

You’d think I would be snapping up master points now that the Airport Bridge Club has gone into offering double points almost every day, but not so. With a handful of days to go, I’m sitting at a little under 6 points for the month.
Not that I’ve been striking out completely. My first partnership with Art Schumacher (whose normal partner Barbara Multerer is in Florida) was productive on Friday – a shade over 50% (50.01%, to be exact), for .34 points at second in the C strat. My pairing with a really good player on Saturday – Mike Kisiel – could have been at least as rewarding, but our 52.74% was just short of what we needed to score in the A strat (my scorecard is full of remonstrations to myself – these cards could use more space for that kind of thing, maybe I should follow Don Grant’s example and make up some of my own).
I got lucky on Monday in that my scheduled partner, Marie Suprinick, called to say she got a last-minute doctor appointment. Teamed with sub Ruth Hnath (the first person I played duplicate with back in 2005), we had a stellar session – 56.25%, fourth overall, second in B, .98 of a point. Tuesday wasn’t as lucky. Ruth Wurster and I stumbled in at 44.30%, sixth out of eight East-Wests, thanks in part to hands like this one, Board 21, the very first board of the day. If I’m not mistaken, I believe I shuffled the cards:
Spades: None; Hearts: K-J-9-7-6-5-4-3-2; Diamonds: 10-9-6; Clubs: 7.
North-South is vulnerable. North is dealer – John Kirsits. He passes. Ruth opens 1 Spade. South – Paula Kotowski – goes 2 Clubs. Me, I don’t think I’ve ever had a nine-card suit before, but I think it’s worth going straight to game – 4 Hearts. Ruth bids 4 No Trump, asking for Aces. Having none, I bid 5 Clubs. She goes to a shut-out bid of 5 Hearts, clearly figuring that’s all it’s worth.
John leads his partner’s suit, a Club, and when I see Ruth’s hand, I’m certain that we’re making 5 Hearts, plus an overtrick:
Spades: A-Q-J-9-8-5-3-2; Hearts: A-Q; Diamonds: A; Clubs: 5-2.
I play Ruth’s low Club, Paula comes up with the Ace and I trump it. Bad move. I must have been thinking Spades. She leads something else that I take and then run out the rest of the tricks, losing only a final …Club. Naturally, there’s a director call. Two-trick penalty. Down one. Not a good omen for the rest of the session. Here are the other hands:
Spades: K-10-7-4; Hearts: 10; Diamonds: K-Q-8-5-2; Clubs: J-10-3.
Spades: 6; Hearts: 8; Diamonds: J-7-4-3; Clubs: A-K-Q-9-8-6-4.
But it wasn’t a bottom board. Judi Marshall remarked later that she played it at 5 Spades doubled and went down two. She was the bottom, but she did well otherwise in spite of it. Top was Mike Kisiel, who bid 6 Hearts and make an overtrick. Only one other West bid the slam. Two of them stopped at 5 Hearts, making an overtrick, like I should have. That would have given me 4 game points, instead of 2.5. The people who boosted me up were the ones who played it in Spades. Aside from Judi, one bid 4 Spades, down one, and the other played 4 Spades, down two.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bridge Blog 514: Tempest on a tabletop

          The bridge community sure is stirred up over Airport Bridge Club director Bill Finkelstein’s current burst of counter-programming. Here’s how it was reflected in the Duplicate Bridge column in last Saturday’s Buffalo News:

   Today sees the debut of the Bridge Center of Buffalo's Bagel Game at noon, while the Airport Bridge Club is countering with "Bill's Better Than Bagel Game" at 11 a.m. today and corned beef sandwiches for St. Patrick's Day next Saturday. Meanwhile, Lockport's Saturday game is suspended.
    Bridge Club Meridian will host the ACBL Inter Club Championship game at 7:15 p.m. Monday.
    The Bridge Center of Buffalo is having a "Pi Day" extra point party at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, while at 12:30 p.m., the Airport Club has a "Pie Day" game with a free pie for each player. The BCB also offers lunch for $4 at its 10:30 a.m. game Friday.

     At the tables, some players thought this put too much emphasis on food (see Blog 512). The oldest ACBL player in town – Doug Dean – characterized it as “a trade war.” Bridge Club Meridian director Dian Petrov prefaced his latest e-mail submission of results by asking if someone else wrote this. I assured him that I write these things from the stuff that people send me, attempting to use their own words wherever possible.
The club manager and publicist for the Bridge Center of Buffalo, Elaine Universal, had considerably more to say in an e-mail I received Monday. Among other things, she attributed “malice” to me. I have many shortcomings, to be sure, but I believe this is the first time I’ve been characterized as malicious. (If I were malicious, I’d paste a copy of her e-mail here.)
At any rate, Elaine cc’ed my boss, Margaret Sullivan, who passed it along to the features editor, who discussed it with me Tuesday. The features editor saw nothing particularly objectionable about it, said that no apologies were needed and concluded that bridge players are lucky to have local results and notices published at all, since few other sizeable newspapers in the nation do such a thing.
Soooooooo, I have tried to be equitable to the clubs in the past. I will try to be equitable to the clubs in the future. Although I consider the Airport Bridge Club to be my home club, I bear no grudge against the Bridge Center of Buffalo or Bridge Club Meridian or anyone else. May they all live long and prosper. It would be lovely if the Buffalo bridge community wasn’t such a contentious bunch, but I have a feeling this is just the nature of the beast.
Meanwhile, I will continue to use the names that the clubs attach to their promotions and the language they use to describe them, as long as they are accurate, in good taste and there’s room enough to do that in the 18 lines or so that I’m allotted for announcements. And I hope that readers will be able to differentiate between the message and the messenger.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bridge Blog 513: Diss a point

          Would pairing with a more experienced player improve my miserable game this week? Yes and no. Hooked up with Dotty May, who’s a life master, on Saturday, there were more conventions to employ and better hands played, but we barely made the list of master point winners. That was thanks to a miracle of stratification which put the cut-off point for the C strat at 1375. Our 48.08% game put us first in C for .24 points, bringing my total for the month up to 3.10. (Had we registered the same score at the double-point Bridge Center of Buffalo game, we would have been second in C, but better off point-wise: 0.85.) At this rate, I’ll be lucky to hit double digits.
Of course, I might improve my luck by eliminating a few mistakes. On Saturday, those included taking 11 tricks on a distributional hand which easily would have yielded all 13, failure to make a jump bid with an 11-high-card-point hand after Dotty’s take-out double, and failure to continue bidding to game in a hand where Dotty gave a strong response (then went on to take 12 tricks). Eliminate those errors and we’d be over 50%. Perhaps we can do that the next time we play together – next Saturday.

Bridge Blog 512: Food fight

          “You read the paper today and it seems like all bridge players care about is eating,” one of the players at the Airport Bridge Club said as the game started Saturday. This player was unfazed by club manager Bill Finkelstein’s “Bill’s better than bagels” game, for which he prepared two trays of ham and cheese roll-ups and laid out at least two dozen bananas. The bagels were the offering of the rival Bridge Center of Buffalo, which debuted a Saturday game to replace the Lockport game, which is suspended while director Marge Schomers recovers from whatever put her in the hospital.
          Counter-programming with food is one of the keys of Bill Finkelstein’s promotional campaign to bring back players who drifted away to the other clubs while he was closed for a month and a half for illness. Saturday he had a six-table game, while the Bridge Center had 6 ½ (and gave extra points with a club championship game). None of the Lockport people were at either game.
          We’ll see what happens on Pi Day (Wednesday 3/14), when the Bridge Center has a special triple-point game and Finkelstein plans to present each player with a whole pie of some sort. And we’ll see what happens next Saturday – St. Patrick’s Day – when Finkelstein plans to do what he always does on that day – corned beef sandwiches.
          Finkelstein’s already planning a dietary duel with Unit 116 on the day of the unit picnic in July by offering a chicken barbecue that day, but he’s distressed to discover that picnic chairman Paul Zittel will be calling on the same caterer for chicken. Zittel noted Saturday that the caterer is his neighbor and one of his family members works for them. Who else would he call?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Bridge Blog 511: Incomplete grade

          Mystery of the missing half point resolved (see Blog 508), thanks to Bob Padgug. He says that a computer glitch kept the Bridge Center of Buffalo scores from registering with the ACBL in time for the monthly master point tally. Many people are missing credit for their play in February. No wonder I placed so high on the Unit 116 Ace of Clubs list. Bob says everything will catch up next time they tabulate, i.e., next month.

Bridge Blog 510: Trail of tears

          Talk about a slump … I came into Friday’s game at the Airport Bridge Club with two straight dead-last finishes – a 38.78% with Celine Murray on Wednesday and a 33.98% with Marie Suprinick on Thursday (Celine got another 38.49% playing with Marilyn Sultz). Come to think of it, the earlier part of the week wasn’t so hot either, what with 44.74% with Isabelle Banas on Sunday (which nevertheless earned us a fraction of a point in the C strat) and a 40.83% with Sharon Chang on Monday. The exception was Tuesday’s game with the lovely Pawan Matta, who was bidding adventurously. We were good with a 55.56%, first in B in our direction, harvesting 1.38 points, this being one of the club’s double-point games.
          I originally was playing with Mike Silverman on Friday, but I wound up having to schedule a hard-to-get medical appointment for 12:30 p.m., so I let Mike off the hook and he lined up Mike Kisiel. Then, when my appointment got moved to a more bridge-friendly time on Thursday, I e-mailed Selina Volpatti to see if we might renew our usually profitable partnership. She, however, is too busy with taxes and her duties as a regional counselor over in Canada, so she bowed out.
          So who do I get paired with when I arrive without a partner? One of Mike Kisiel’s favorite partners, Alex(andra) Miller. Alex says she plays a very basic game, so basic that when we were presented with one of club director Bill Finkelstein’s pre-prepared hands that demanded a Michaels cue bid, I bid my five-card suit instead. The bidding went differently, but the outcome was the same – the opponents (Kisiel and Silverman) still bid and made their slam.
          Alex was sure that we were doing poorly, and I couldn’t contradict her, but I was pleasantly surprised when the partial final tally was posted and we were at 50%. Unfortunately, our bottom boards hadn’t been included yet. We finished at 44.94%, a fraction of a percentage point ahead of the last-place North-Souths and, amazingly, a percentage point ahead of the two Mikes.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bridge Blog 509: The long and short of it

          The new ACBL master point totals for the year so far have been posted and I’m back in the pack, at least in the Ace of Clubs (club play only) scheme of things. Among players with 1,000 to 2,500 points in Western New York Unit 116 (metro Buffalo), I’ve gone up from 10th place in January to fourth place with a total of 16.98 (which should be half a point higher – see Blog 508).
          Leader is Vince Pesce with 26.18, followed by Barbara Libby (22.38), Liz Clark (19.77), me, Judy Padgug (16.77), Mike Silverman (16.71), Carlton Stone (15.89), Luke Danielson (13.98), John Ziemer (13.97) and Chuck Schorr (11.12).
          My Mini-McKenney total (clubs plus tournaments) is only fractionally higher, 17.91, which misses the Unit’s Top 10 by more than a point. Carlton Stone is 10th with 19.25. Top is Bridge Club Meridian director Dian Petrov with 31.61, followed by Judy Padgug with 30.11.
          Take it to the District 5 level (Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh) in the Ace of Clubs and, believe it or not, I’m still respectable – ninth place. Vince Pesce is still first. On the Mini-McKenney, you need 28.05 to reach the Top 25. Only two Buffalo players appear on it – Dian and Judy Padgug, 16th and 18th places, respectively. Tops are Nancy Steele of Bridgeport, W.Va., with 70.42 and Roy Larson of Wadsworth, Ohio, with 70.23.
          Nationally in the 1,000 to 2,500 division, Buffalo doesn’t exist on the Mini-McKenney Top 100, where you need at least 73.54 to gain entry. Come to think of it, District 5 doesn’t exist, either. Ditto for the Ace of Clubs, where the 100th player has 32.17 points. Top dog there is Michael Wolf of Coral Springs, Fla., with 62.73.

Bridge Blog 508: On point(s)

          I’ve noted previously that the pool of available master points shrank dramatically when the Airport Bridge Club was closed in January and the proof can be seen in the ACBL’s latest Ace of Clubs tally on the District 5 level (Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh). In my division, the 1,000 to 2,500 point group, there are precious few of us Buffalonians, far fewer than there were in the past couple years.
          Meanwhile, my point production showed an improvement from January (7.11 in club play, 8.04 overall) to February (9.87 in just club play), even though I was out of action nearly half the days in February.
Wait a minute, I should have half a point more for February. According to my ACBL tally, the Bridge Center of Buffalo didn’t report the fraction of a point that I won on Feb. 1 when Marilyn Sultz and I came in first in C. Director-r-r-r!!!

Bridge Blog 507: Partnership blues

I’ve got to have a word with Wednesday partner Celine Murray about laying down a trump as her opening lead. She did it four or five times this afternoon and every time she did it, it finessed my King or Queen. On the final hand of the day, she did it again, even though she was holding three trumps (as was I) and I’m sure it cost us a trick somehow.
That was only one of our misadventures, though. There was her 2 Club opener which wound up at 6 Diamonds, down four doubled vulnerable, after I showed her strength in my four-card Ace-King Diamond suit. She had just two Diamonds. The hand made 7 Clubs. There was the time I started dozing (curse that blood pressure medicine) and played my Ace of Spades, even though the finessed King was still lying there in the dummy. Not surprisingly, we finished with 38% in the 15-pair Howell game. Dead last.