Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bridge Blog 526: Historic

Was the Buffalo Spring Sectional Tournament last weekend my most productive sectional point-wise? It certainly beat the winter sectional, when I took home less than a full point. But what about the others? Time to go to the ACBL website and see what I can find out.
Well, the December STaC was better – 13.91 points – but what about real tournaments? Most of them give me 2 or 3 points at the most. Best I found was the 2009 Spring Sectional, when I scratched in both pairs games on Friday (both with Judie Bailey as partner), one on Saturday and was on a Sunday Swiss team that won three rounds, for a total of 4.99.
So my 7.52 points last weekend was a personal high point, but in the grand scheme of things, I’m only 14th overall among 143 players who got points, and just 10th among the top local players – all the others having 10 points or better.
Chris Urbanek, who was on the winning Swiss team Sunday (7.75 points for that), leads the list with 20.34, followed by teammates John Toy, 19.26; and Saleh Fetouh, 18.06. Then come Jim Gullo, 16.36; Jay Levy, 16.12; Fred Yellen, 11.10; Bob Padgug, 10.71; Dan Gerstman, 10.63; and Judy Padgug, 10.37.

Bridge Blog 525: Biding my tongue

          Partner Pawan Matta said Tuesday one reason she likes playing with me is that I don’t yell at her if she makes mistakes. I don’t yell at anybody for what I think are misplays, although I may try to make a constructive suggestion after the hand is over. Plus, I’m no authority. I make mistakes, too. And some of the things that I think are right -- they’re dead wrong.
          A more combustible partner might have yelled at Pawan on Tuesday for Board 7, where Jerry Geiger and John Ziemer inserted themselves into our halting march toward a vulnerable Heart contract by bidding Spades. When they hit 3 (also vulnerable) Spades, I doubled and Pawan left it in for penalty. I was happy enough. Despite my good hand, I wasn’t sure we’d make 4 Hearts.
          We were well on our way to setting them on the sixth or seventh trick when Pawan trumped a Diamond. Two or three tricks later, however, she discovered the Ace of Diamonds sticking to the back of another card in her hand. (Note to club director Bill F: She thought the cards were sticky.) We limped to the end of play, setting them one trick, but sustained a two-trick penalty, giving them plus 930 and giving us an absolute bottom board. Hey, I shrugged, it happens to all of us.
          At the end of the day, however, I couldn’t help wondering if that revoke made the difference between our 51.22% game and what we needed to get some points (around 54%). A 10-point swing, from bottom to top board, would’ve done it. Surely we could have set them by two tricks. I checked the travelers, the scoring slips. Turns out 3 Spades doubled was a loser even if we put them down two. At three or four tables, our hand made 4 Hearts. Even if we bid it and made it, we wouldn’t have inched into the point column.
          There was no danger of getting points Monday in my game with Marie Suprinick, a sorry 37.50% effort. She took me to task, however, for a No Trump bidding sequence. I’d opened 1 NT against Carolyn Siracuse and Doug Dean, Marie bid 2 Spades for a relay to the minors, then Carolyn bid 3 Clubs. Well, shucks, that was supposed to be my bid. To register a stolen bid, and for penalty, too, I doubled. Marie bid 3 Diamonds. The correcting bid. I passed.
But it wasn’t correcting, Marie said later, after we went down four for a bottom board. She wanted to transfer to Hearts. I should have known that, she suggested. But on Tuesday, she withdrew her protest. She’d talked to Mike Silverman. If she introduced a suit at the 3-level in that bidding sequence, he told her, it wasn’t a cue bid. It would be real suit.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bridge Blog 524: Buffalo Spring Sectional Day 3

          “You should stay home,” my better half tells me as I shuffle to the shower Sunday morning. Well, I should, I say, but I left my little tote bag at the fire hall Saturday. It’s got my date book and phone numbers in it. I’d have to go out there to pick it up. Besides, after 12 hours rest, I felt better, although my voice sounded like the late Levon Helm after he got throat cancer.
          My Swiss team – Faith Perry, Jane Larcom (replaced at halftime by her husband Dave) and Flo Boyd – were happy to see me. I was happy to see that my tote bag was right where I left it. And I was definitely happy to see that Sunday morning hospitality involved plenty of bagels and cream cheese, from Panera’s, someone said. The lunch, although I didn’t buy one, also looked good – paninis, also perhaps from Panera’s.
          There were 21 teams in the game and, as always, our aim was to lose early so we wouldn’t be pitted against the strongest players, then make a comeback against the weaker teams. We succeeded in the first round, in a moderate way, losing by just three International Match Points, 19-16, to Bob Padgug and Tova Reinhorn. We followed that up by blitzing new Life Master Barb Landree (she got her final qualifying points Saturday morning) and Carol Bedell. 43-6, and squeaking past Gaurang Sheth and Sushil Amlami, 24-21.
          That made us sitting duck for the Feldman team, a quartet of Canadians down from Oakville, Ont. We fell to them, 10-0, right before the lunch break. Dave Larcom checked the scoreboard and informed us that we were in eighth place overall.
          After lunch, we lost a 19-18 squeaker to Beena and Madhav Deshmukh (their teammates were the Ahmads, who are always tough), then ran into the rebounding John Ziemer and Jerry Geiger, who had started out poorly but now were back to normal. They gave us our worst defeat, 19-4.
          Going into the final round against the Montgomery team, from Rochester (the New Zealand woman, Jenn, who did well Friday and Saturday, was on their team), I didn’t expect us to recover much.  What’s more, I kept picking up biddable hands that I couldn’t overbid with. So in our first hand, when Mary Ann Montgomery bid 2 Hearts over my opening Spade, I looked at my four-Heart holding and passed. She’d taken my bid. At the other table, West had doubled. Same result. South was down three, but that was 8 IMPs for them because of the double. Restraint paid off the rest of the way, though. We set them four more times and wound up with another blitz, 36-8. That translated into 30 Victory Points, lifting us to a total of 112 for the day, just enough to land us in the fifth and final bonus point slot in the B stratification. The bonus – 1.9 points. Total for the tournament: 7.52. Am I grateful? You bet. That’s as many points as I’ve earned in club play so far all month.

Bridge Blog 523: Buffalo Spring Sectional Day 2

          “How’d you do?,” my editor asks as I roll into the city room 90 minutes later than my scheduled starting time Sunday. I manage to croak out the word “good,” then settle down to make up for lost time on the things I have to have written for Monday’s paper. I’m still sick. I should’ve taken the night off from work. Or, if I were a sane, reasonable person, I’d have taken the whole weekend off from bridge and devoted myself to bed rest and warm cups of medicinal chicken soup.
          But I didn’t, even after a wretched night of sleep on Friday. I felt good enough after a shower to tell myself that I would try to get through the morning session, then maybe beg off for the afternoon. I got to the Main Transit Fire Hall Banquet Hall to discover that partner Judie Bailey also had a terrible night’s sleep and to realize that I should have brought some sort of breakfast, because (in the only lapse of hospitality all weekend) there were only doughnut holes – Tim Bits, I think – for snacks.
          Despite our infirmities, however, Judie and I had a highly respectable, if not memorable, morning game – 56.70%, fifth in B overall, third in our East-West direction in that two-section, 26-table game. We collected another 1.54 master points to go with the 3.8 from Friday. I felt better. I felt better still after getting chicken soup and a salad at lunch.
          It was an illusion. I crashed badly in the two-section, 20-table afternoon session. I dozed repeatedly. At one point, when we were playing Joyce Greenspan and Andrei Reinhorn, my elbow slipped off the table, suddenly jolting me awake. It was getting so bad that I was unable to follow the play of the cards – at one point, I missed an obvious trump play, then put that trump on one of Judie’s winners.
          Fortunately, I woke up for the bright spot in the afternoon, a visit from two of the best players in the room – Jay Levy and Jay Costello – who were all business, as usual. After I beat their double of my 3 Spade contract on our first board, Judie put me at 4 Hearts with a jump bid on the next hand. This time they didn’t double, though I was expecting one. Here’s my holding:

Spades: 10-7; Hearts: K-Q-J-8-7-6-3; Diamonds: Q-4-3; Clubs: 10.

          Levy, sitting East, led the Ace of Spades (or maybe the King, I can’t recall exactly if Costello bid his Spades – I think Levy started 1 Diamond, Judie bid 2 Clubs, Costello may have passed and I bid 2 Hearts) and Judie put down these cards, drawing a reproach from Levy when she said, “I hope I didn’t lead you down the garden path.”

Spades: 6-5-3; Hearts: A-9; Diamonds: 10-2; Clubs: A-K-Q-7-5-3.

          Anyway, Levy takes the Ace-King of Spades, then gets to Costello with a Diamond. I brace for the coup de grace, the Diamond return, which would set us, but Costello wants to give Levy a chance to trump a Spade. Shucks, I’ve counted Spades, too, so I put up a trump he can’t beat – the Jack. Then I draw trump in three rounds, cross to the dummy’s long Clubs, pitch my two losing Diamonds and make 4 Hearts. Here are the East-West hands:

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

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

          According to the hand record, North-South should only make 3 Hearts, while East-West is successful at 4 Spades. They get their revenge on the third hand – making two overtricks at 1 No Trump on a non-descript deal that the hand analysis says is only good for seven tricks in any suit in either direction. 
          We went downhill after that. When the partial results were posted, I started looking for our names at the bottom of the list. We were somewhere in the middle, just middle enough, in the end, to come in sixth in B in our direction. 47.39%. 0.28 of a point. Tournament total for two days – 5.62 points. I went home, had some more chicken soup and conked out.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Bridge Blog 522: Spring Sectional Day 1

            What are you going to write about this, partner Judie Bailey was wondering in the Friday morning session of the Buffalo Spring Sectional Tournament in the Main-Transit Fire Hall social room. I’m feeling low to begin with, fighting a stubborn sinus infection that I’ve had since Tuesday, and as things kept getting worse and worse, I realized that even the Prophet Job could find no reasonable way to rail about it.
            Bad sacrifices, poor pitches on squeeze plays, overbids, failure to return partner’s lead-off suit, you name it, we did it. It seemed like every hand was designed to suck us in, chew us up and spit us on the floor – a succession of tempting three-suiters or crazy unbalanced holdings with seven- and eight-card suits. When the preliminary results were posted, our names were on the bottom with a 33% score. Believe it or not, it got better when the final tally came around. 38.38%. Last North-South, but not last overall. The final couple we played gave us 42.68 points out of a possible 50 and that brought us up.
            Yes, top score for a hand in the morning session was 25. There were two sections – 27½ tables – with a fair representation from Rochester and St. Catharines, Ont., even a couple guys from Erie and Meadville, Pa. Things seemed to run smoothly enough under director Mike Roberts, whom we’ve seen working with the retired Dick Rasmus for several  years. The coffee cake and cookies in the morning, and the cookies and fruit in the afternoon, seemed sufficient. Under the guidance of first-time chairwoman Judy Kaprove, it seemed just like the last sectional at Main-Transit Fire Hall, which is to say, just fine, although the morning session needed air conditioning and, once it was turned on in the afternoon, it got frigid.
            As usual, the field shrank for the afternoon session. 21 tables this time. Judie Bailey and I were North-South again, and the cards seemed more agreeable now. (Everybody in the morning session seemed to think East-West got the better cards.) We noticed the difference immediately. In the first four rounds, 12 hands, we were playing a 66% game. With success, however, comes boldness, which is not always such a good idea. When Jim Madan and Mark Pascale came to our table, the boldness was in full boil on this, our first hand. It was Board 4 and another apparent bonanza for North-South. Both sides are vulnerable. West, Madan, is dealer. He passes. Judie, sitting North, bids a Heart. Pascale, passes. Opposite Judie’s opener, here’s what I’m holding:
Spades: A-K-5-2; Hearts: A-7-5; Diamonds: A-8-3; Clubs: A-8-7.
            All the Aces, five instant tricks, support for my partner’s five-card Heart suit. Is this not slam? I bid it. Six Hearts. Madan doubles. Pascale leads a Spade and I put down the dummy.  Judie’s distressed. She loses two Heart tricks and I think a Spade at the end for a minus 500. It was an absolute bottom board. Here are the other hands:
Spades: Q-10; Hearts: J-9-8-4-2; Diamonds: K-J-10-4; Clubs: K-Q.
Spades: J-8-7-6-3; Hearts: 6-3; Diamonds: 9-6-5; Clubs: 9-4-3.
Spades: 9-4; Hearts: K-Q-10; Diamonds: Q-7-2; Clubs: J-10-6-5-2.
            So was 4 Hearts the good score here? Not hardly. Many pairs got 4 Hearts with an overtrick. Some bid the slam and made it. And some went down at slam, but not doubled. According to the hand records, North-South should make 5 Hearts, but South also can make 6 No Trump. That’s what I shoulda bid.
            My bidding passion was hardly cooled by this setback, though. I went to 4 Spades vulnerable on the next hand, which Madan doubled again. This time it was down only one and we kept them out of a slam in Hearts. On the third and final hand of the round, I was back at 4 Spades, keeping them out of Hearts again, vulnerability in our favor, with Judie bidding Clubs (I have Q-J-10) and supporting my Spades on the rebid (I have six of them, A-10-9-8-x-x). Madan doubles a third time. I’m down two, pretty much what I expected. What I also expected was that they’d make a vulnerable game in Hearts. As it turns out, they can only make 2 Hearts. I shoulda quit while I was ahead.
            Despite all this, when Judie goes to look for our names on the preliminary results, she can’t find us on the bottom. She has to search all the way up to third place North-South. We’re still there in the final reckoning with 56.86%. Fifth overall, third North-South, first in the B stratification overall – 3.80 silver master points.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Bridge Blog 521: Floating upstream

April could be the happiest month of 2012 so far. Midpoint finds me with something like 5.25 points in just nine days of club play. Does this mean double digits by month’s end? Why not? Especially with the clubs all offering double points.
What won’t count toward Ace of Clubs, though, is next weekend’s Buffalo Spring Sectional Tournament. Not that I don’t need tournaments points if I want to see my name on the Mini McKenney lists, although regional tournaments seem to be better places to get them. At the Winter Sectional in January, of the 145 players who earned points, only a dozen earned 10 or better (I had a pathetic 0.93), and the top players, Saleh Fetouh and Jim Mathis, won about 20.
But I have higher hopes this time around. Judie Bailey, the Unit 116 secretary and keeper of the newsletter, the Bridge Buff, has asked to play with me for both pairs sessions Friday and Saturday. She’s a Life Master, a sophisticated player, and we’ve done well together in the past – notably at last October’s Buffalo regional. Earning five to 10 points at the sectional with her as my partner is not out of the question.
So I’ve looked forward to my club dates with Judie. The first one, a week ago, found us missing signals on a couple conventions and ending up with 48.12%. That set this week’s game with her up as fine-tuning, but it was more like off-tune, 47.32%, thanks in part to some unfortunate sacrifice bids that gave us three bottom boards. We’ll do better in the sectional, I assured her. I think I was assuring myself, as well.
The unreassuring thing was that it was my worst round of the week. I did better on Monday with Marie Suprinick (50.83%, third in B, 0.69 point), on Wednesday with Bill Boardman (56.02%, tied for third in A, 0.86 point – after Celine Murray shed me to play with Joyce Greenspan and Usha Khurana begged off due to a family matter), and finally with Usha on Friday (56.92%, 0.72 point, second in B North-South).

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Bridge Blog 520: First quarter report

My master point count for March was 9.63 – I didn’t earn enough in that final individual game on March 31 to make double digits – but my tally amounted to double digits anyway. The ACBL added in those late-arriving February points (.45) from the Bridge Center of Buffalo. So now, at the end of the year’s first quarter, I have the grand total of 27.99, of which 27.06 count as Ace of Clubs (club play) points. Time to readjust my aims for the year.
If I continue at this rate, I’ll wind up with around 110 points. Let’s start by setting a negative goal – at least 100 points. Then let’s try a positive one – hitting the top 100 on the national Ace of Clubs list. Hmm, last year I would have needed nearly 179 to do that. Won’t happen at this rate. Which makes me wonder – will anyone from Western New York Unit 116 make the top 100 Ace of Clubs list in the 1000 to 2500 point division? They’d need to have about 45 points so far. Let’s look at the list.
Maybe so. Our leader, Vince Pesce, has 45.49 points so far. He led the Airport Bridge Club overall in March with 19.37. After him comes Carlton Stone, 37.38 (11.62 in March at the Airport Bridge Club); Barbara Libby, 33.21; Judy Padgug, 31.65; Jim Gullo, 28.97; Liz Clark, 28.69; John Ziemer, 28.05 (11.92 at the club); then me. Rounding out the Top 10 are Mike Silverman, 26.20; and Luke Danielson, 21.97.
On the District 5 level (Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh), I’m smack in the middle of the Top 25 – 13th. Vince is first. Carlton is fourth. Barb Libby is sixth. Nationwide, you need at least 46.91 points to make the Top 100. Vince isn’t there.
Over in the Mini-McKenney, which counts all your points in club play and tournaments, I’m nowhere to be seen. Judy Padgug tops Unit 116 with 56.72, followed closely by Dian Petrov with 56.23. Vince Pesce is third with 45.49 – no tournament points for him this year. Mike Silverman is 10th with 29.55.
          The District 5 Mini-McKenney Top 25 is led by Michael Creager of Brecksville, Ohio, with 129.19. Judy Padgug is 12th, Dian Petrov is 13th. Carlton Stone is 25th with 40.74. None of our Unit 116 people make the national Top 100, where at least 96.16 is needed to gain entry. Top is Leslie Amoils of Toronto with 276.85. Creager is 30th.

Bridge Blog 519: Hot and cold

April started with such joy – three straight days of winning master points in the most unexpected fashion. I had no illusions of doing anything at all on Monday aside from having an initial game with Judy Zeckhauser – a rookie whom I’ve known since she was still a teacher in the Buffalo schools. No special conventions, just a basic game, one that turned out to be 55.17%, second in our direction, fourth overall, for .83 of a point.
Tuesday was a game with Marie Suprinick at which Marie actually showed up. She cancels a lot because she doesn’t feel well and often I wind up having a better game with a pickup partner than I would have with her. It wasn’t our finest day, but it wasn’t our worst, either. We came in at 48.15%, second in B, for .56 of a point.
Wednesday’s partner, Celine Murray, had told me she couldn’t play because of her hospital guild meeting, but then it was canceled, I hadn’t found a substitute partner and we were back where we started. Celine and I do well sometimes, and sometimes we don’t. This turned out to be one of our best – 63.79% -- first overall, 1.63 points (see Blog 518).
Feeling confident having earned 3 point in three days, I figured the streak would stretch to four on Thursday with Judie Bailey, an experienced player, a Life Master, just back from Florida. But we had miscommunication problems – on several hands we weren’t sure what each others’ bids meant. The upshot was that we turned a couple big hands into bottom boards and finished out of the money with a nevertheless semi-respectable 48.12%. Hey, that score earned points on Tuesday.
          No such luck on Friday. The lovely Pawan Matta and I often do well in a freewheeling way, bidding aggressively, but not this time. After three or four rounds, we were happy to see that we’d managed an average board. Our dead last finish – 30.21% -- was no surprise.
What did surprise me was a look back at the end of March, where I’d gathered in points on the final four days in a row, including Saturday’s individual game. That was a seven-game streak (not counting Sunday, when I didn’t play). Here’s hoping that the current slump doesn’t last that long.

Bridge Blog 518: Thinking big

          Celine Murray and I would have won by an even bigger margin in our 63.79% game last Wednesday if we hadn’t gotten off to a bad start. First hand of the day – Board 21, North is dealer, North-South vulnerable and I’m North, looking at a hand the likes of which I rarely see.
Spades: A-Q-10; Hearts: A-K-10-7; Diamonds: A-K-5-4; Clubs: A-Q.
That, my friends, is a 26-point hand, although for some reason I kept thinking it was 28. As a result, I opened it 4 No Trump, when I should have gone just 3 NT if I’d counted properly. Still, I wanted a slam. Celine, having nothing, bid 5 Clubs. 5 NT. 6 Clubs. Oh, well, where else could I go? 6 NT.
Carl Hasselback, playing East, led the Queen of Diamonds, if I recall correctly, and I saw the error of my ways the moment Celine laid down this hand with some disbelieving remark about my bidding:
Spades: J-5; Hearts: 9-6-3-2; Diamonds: 7-6-2; Clubs: 10-9-8-7.
I was cooked, no doubt about it. Down three. Minus 300, certainly a bottom board. Here are the other hands:
Spades: K-9-8-4-2; Hearts: Q-8-4; Diamonds: Q-J-10-8; Clubs: K.
Spades: 7-6-3; Hearts: J-5; Diamonds: 9-3; Clubs: J-6-5-4-3-2.
This being a small game, it was played only three other times. One North-South bid 2 NT and made an overtrick. Another one bid 3 NT and made game for top board. And the third one bid 3 NT and went down three, just like me. We actually salvaged half a game point out of three on that one.
I rattled Celine further on the next hand when, taking advantage of favorable vulnerability, I overcalled what seemed like a certain 4 Spade bid by Carl and his wife Jan, sticking Celine with 5 Clubs doubled (she’d overcalled the original 1 Spade bid). She went down three for minus 500, but that was the top board. Everybody else played it in Spades and East-West made the vulnerable game.