A message is waiting on my cell phone Wednesday morning from a woman named Alison Burkett from the 519 area code who says she’s picked up the info card I left at the partnership desk at the tournament Tuesday. She and her partner would like to be teammates with me and Usha Khurana in the knock-out competition that afternoon.
When I call back, I say fine, except somebody from the partnership desk told me Tuesday night that they already had teammates for Usha and me. Not sure why you have our card, I tell Alison, but since you have it, I think you should have preference, but we’ll sort it out with the partnership people when we get there.
The partnership chairwoman – Faith Perry – confirms that yes, she told me Tuesday night she lined up Kit Nash, one of the stalwarts from the St. Catharines, Ont., club, and Betty Metz, our own Unit 116 president, to play with us. Then why did Alison have our card, we wonder. Alison is getting a little snappy. Betty Metz begins reaching for her upper vocal register. Clearly, if we’re all going to play in the knock-outs, another pair needs to materialize.
And they do. Burly Lane Byl, a good player from Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., whom Celine and I had faced Tuesday, is looking to fill out a team. Who do we want? Faith asks. I think for a second and say we should go with the people who picked our card – Alison and her partner, Al Charters, a genial 80-something guy we also played against on Tuesday. Turns out they’re from Canada also – Kitchener-Waterloo.
That settled, we go to the auxiliary ballroom for the game. It’s a huge game, divided into four sections according to master points. Even Bridge Bulletin cover guy Joel Wooldridge, last year’s grand national champion, is there. We’re Team 54 and, since our point total is less than 3,000 (Al has 850, Usha and Alison have about 250 each), we are in the third section, mostly C strat players. The game is so huge that half a dozen of the knock-out games are transferred to the main ballroom.
There also are three three-way games and we’re in one of them. I like three-way knock-outs, because the pressure to win or die is off. The top two teams survive. Our first opponents in the 24-board opening round are Ed and Doug, a couple genial guys thrown together at the hotel, one from the Pennsylvania-Delaware border, the other from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (we’d seen him Tuesday, too). The others are familiar friends from home – Helen Panza and Dorothy May.
Although I warn Usha that no game is complete for me unless I rack up at least one score of minus 800, we don’t do that. Closest I come is a 3 Club non-vulnerable bid over Helen and Dottie’s Spades. I have six Clubs, nine high. Usha has a low singleton. Down four. Dottie says afterward she should have doubled. She should.
This is after Helen calls the director on the opening hand, where she passes after Dottie doubles Usha’s 1 Club opener and I erase it by bidding 2 Clubs with a weak hand (I have five of them). Helen contends that Usha talking had distracted her and she didn’t notice the double. The director tells her she has to watch the bids. We beat them by 12-7 International Match Points on that round and that hand gives us 7 of our IMPs. We wind up bettering both the other teams – 20-11 over Ed and Doug, 43-7 over Helen and Dottie (we trounce them badly in the second round). Despite this, Helen and Dottie’s team survive to play in the evening game. That’s why I love three-ways.
After another dinner at Dick & Jenny’s, we return to face a pair of totally agreeable Rochester ladies – Claire, who grew up in eastern Tennessee, and Mary, who grew up in Dunkirk (DHS, Class of ’63, we know people together). They’re very smooth players, but like Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, there’s a big inning early in the match and it’s all over.
It comes on the second board, Board 26, with our East-West opponents vulnerable. Claire opens 2 Spades weak, Usha passes, Mary bids 3 Diamonds. Holding about 10 high card points and five-card suits in Hearts and Clubs, I double to show preference for the unbid suits. Amazingly, Usha passes on it and the double stays in. Mary gets to play the hand in Diamonds, which Usha has plenty of. Down four – 1,100 points, which translates later into 16 IMPs. Our teammates, who don’t overcall the opening 2 Spades, also have a plus score on that hand. The rest of it is uneventful. We win all four rounds – 21-2, 10-5, 7-0 and 19-14. We live to play in the semi-finals on Thursday. And having won two rounds, we get gold points, 5.36 of them. Usha is overjoyed. These are her first gold points. If we continue to be successful on Thursday, I tell her, we could win 9 or 13.