Players in the Buffalo Fall Sectional Tournament are saying Friday how nice the main banquet room is at the Father Justin Knights of Columbus Hall on Union Road in Cheektowaga. And indeed it is, despite the gloomy painting of Father Justin Figas giving us all a hard look from the back wall. (Father Justin, former pastor of Corpus Christi Church on Buffalo’s Polish East Side, in 1931 started the nation’s oldest continuous religious radio program in the Polish language – “The Father Justin Rosary Hour.”) But, truth be told, it comes in second to the Main-Transit Fire Hall on several counts.
1. Although it’s more easily reached from the Thruway than the fire hall, it’s a longer drive for most of the bridge players, who mostly live north of the city. It’s also harder to find, since it’s tucked behind a big Christmas store. A couple Canadian players say they didn’t see it, turned right instead of left onto Union Road and wound up in … what’s that town called? West Seneca, I tell them.
2. The fire hall doesn’t book competing events. The Knights of Columbus, on the other hand, host a Friday night fish fry. Before the afternoon session can start, players are asked to move their cars from in front of the building over to the left side to make way for the dinner crowd.
3. According to partner Judie Bailey, the kitchen facilities are better at the fire hall.
Turnout seems a little light on opening day of the tournament – 25 ½ tables in the morning session, 18 ½ for the afternoon, both divided into two sections. There’s talk about how some of the players aren’t there because they’re traveling – one group of three couples is over in China together for a couple weeks. There are three or four Canadian pairs and another pair from Olean who say they’re staying in town overnight.
Judie and I get off to a bad start against Joe Rooney and Ken Meier, with me going down four doubled vulnerable on what should have been a proper 4 Spade sacrifice bid (they bid 4 Hearts and they can make it, while us North-Souths are supposed to take at least 8 tricks in Spades).
Later, when Judie opens and I’m holding a 19-point hand, I jump straight to the 4 No Trump Blackwood bid, asking for Aces, ignore John Marvin’s double of Judie’s 5 Diamond (one Ace) response, and plow forward to 6 Hearts. Marvin leads Ace-King of Diamonds and we’re down. Judie loses two more tricks later. Be considerate of your partner, she tells me. It’s a problem I keep having all morning. We’re pretty sure we’re having a bad game and indeed we do – 40.74%, 10th out of 12 North-Souths in our section. For consolation, we note that two good veteran players, Luke Danielson and Bob Andersen, finished 11th. I do a little quick scoresheet reckoning by figuring out how much better our five worst hands would be if we did them right and determined that we were beyond redeption – we could have improved 20 to 25 game points, but not enough to overtake the ninth place pair.
I try to have consideration for my partner in the afternoon session. The upshot is that we win fewer bidding auctions. In the morning, we were declarers on 18 of the 27 hands. In the afternoon, we’re declarers on 12 of 27. But there are fewer regrets. We only have two bottom boards, the first coming in the first round when I push to slam in Spades on a hand that the hand record says can’t make slam (although a couple of the North-Souths succeed). Offsetting them are three absolute tops – two on little part-score hands, another by setting Unit president Betty Metz’s attempt at 2 No Trump.
The scores go up and we’re among the leaders – sixth overall among 18 North-Souths, third in the B strat, fourth and second respectively in our direction, nosing out third-place Sue Neubecker, the tournament chairwoman, and Elaine Kurasiewicz. We’re 58.22%, earning 1.90 silver points. Maybe I should bump up my point goal for the tournament.