Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bridge Blog 729: Stuck on STaC

I’m still recovering from the STaC (Sectional Tournament at the Clubs). Two games a day for seven days seemed like tournament regimen, except in a real tournament I would have taken the nights off from work. When it’s over, there’s laundry to do, plants to water, mail to open and loose ends to tie up.
Loosest end was the final District 5 tally for the STaC and my personal reckoning for the week. You’d think all that bridge and nearly $100 in entry fees would have been massively rewarding, but noooooo.
I had one big score – that 61.93% game Monday afternoon with Barbara Sadkin – fourth in the district-wide B strat, 4.09 silver points. After that, it was dribs and drabs. First overall with 57% in a three-table game Wednesday afternoon with Celine Murray, which gave us 1.33 points. Second in B with 51% with Dotty May Friday afternoon, winning 0.69 of a point. And a single-round victory in Sunday’s Swiss team match with Beverly Dale, good for another 0.26 of a point (after Beverly and I came in dead last twice on Saturday – 42.26% and 35.40%).
Total for the week: 6.37. That puts me in a tie for 104th in the district with the lovely Linda Milch. I won’t complain, even though more points were there for the taking. The overall master point winner, Kathleen Sulgrove of Twinsburg, Ohio, had 30.69.
Top Unit 116 (Western New York) player was Harry Cheung. Fourth overall, he had 25.37. Next local player was John Ziemer, seventh with 23.33. After them come Jerry Geiger (15.12, 22nd), Vince Pesce (14.79, 23rd), Judy Padgug (11.86, 32nd), Mike Silverman (10.81, 40th), Stan Kozlowski (10.35, 44th) and partners John Fiegl and Joanne Lafay (8.72, tied for 56th, all from one 63.22% game Monday morning).
How does this compare with my previous STaCs? Summer 2013 was 11.61, 24th overall. Winter 2012 was 10.37 (36th). Summer 2012 was 9.28 (48th). Winter 2011 was 13.91 (29th). To find a less productive STaC than this one, we have to go back to Summer 2011, when I got a miserable 1.92 points.  

Friday, December 13, 2013

Bridge Blog 728: What is wrong with these people?

I just checked the District 5 website to see what Celine Murray and I collected on the district level for winning our small game STaC session Wednesday afternoon and the results are incomplete. Nothing, in fact, from the Airport Bridge Club. One day late I can understand, but two days???


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Bridge Blog 727: Unitary

Foolish me for not lining up a partner for the annual Unit 116 meeting and game Sunday. When I called Kathy Pollock and told her of my shortcoming, she said Ted Kahn needed someone and, not having played with Ted in two or three years, I figured it would be a good chance to get reacquainted, even though someone told me he opened four-card major suits.
Ted put that rumor to rest when I brought it up. He doesn’t open four-card majors. In fact, he plays a pretty basic game and I was quite comfortable playing it with him. In our opening round against Joan Rose and her husband, she noted that Ted might have picked up an extra trick here or there when he was declarer, but otherwise he was fine. In fact, I tripped him up a couple times myself, the worst being a bad weak 2 Diamond bid that encouraged him to head for 3 No Trump, down four vulnerable (it made 3 Diamonds instead).
On other hands, though, I did my best to bring us up. In successive rounds, I beat doubles against us – once when Paul Zittel’s son-in-law let Paul’s take-out double ride at 1 Heart vulnerable (two overtricks, plus 560, second best board behind a plus 800, the details of which are fearsome to contemplate) and then when Paula Kotowski and John Kirsits doubled my 5 Heart bid after a competitive auction and failed to get the third trick they should have gotten. That was plus 650, an absolute top.
We finished with the bridge equivalent of a gentleman’s C – 48.78%. In the C strat, that would have earned us a gentlemanly fraction of a point, but we were in the B strat and well short of the lowest B pair that scratched. They had 52.19%, earning a whopping 0.23 of a point.
Meanwhile, the lunch was terrific. Catered by Charlie the Butcher, it featured a green salad, potato salad, pickles and tons and tons of beef on weck, so much that the crowd didn’t finish it off even though they had a chance to nibble at it all afternoon.
In the business meeting, Sue Neubecker noted that our $13 tickets for the event were paying for the meal, not the bridge game. This was after a treasurer’s report that showed a $426.15 profit for the unit during the past 12 months, allowing the unit to maintain a balance of about $10,000, and a question from Paul Libby wondering why the unit needed to carry such a big balance.
Joan Rose, having a long memory and having been treasurer for 14 years, knew exactly why. They lost more than $4,000 once when a snowstorm kept everyone away from a sectional tournament. Two setbacks like that in one year and somebody would have to make things up out of their own pocket, she said.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Bridge Blog 726-A: Mustard round

Have you stopped writing in your blog, Judy Kaprove wondered Monday. Well, ain’t been much to report. Plus I missed eight straight days at the tables over Thanksgiving. But now that December’s here, it’s time for a four-part catch-up (see Blogs 726-B, C, D and E).

Bridge Blog 726-B: Thanks for nothing

That week off from bridge over Thanksgiving sealed November’s fate as a single-digit month for master points, first single-digit month I’ve had since March 2012.
At the Airport Bridge Club, I earned a measly 5.02 points. It took a search to find my name down around 33rd on the list in the most recent update of November master point race.   
To that I can add 2.02 from the Niagara Falls, Ont., Regional and another point, well, 1.05, from a couple scratches at the St. Catharines club on Fridays. Hardly blog-worthy.

Bridge Blog 726-C: Extended outlook

Awful thought – my slump, now three months long, could derail my plans for Gold Life Master by 2017. I need 200 points per year to get me there. So far this year I have about 170.
My last hope for reaching the double-century mark will come next week – StaC Week, the Sectional Tournament at the Clubs – when the Airport Bridge Club will be hosting two sessions each day. My best previous STaC silver-point stack-ups have been mid-teens, but you never know …

Bridge Blog 726-D: Dismal December debut

Then again, my game will have to step up a couple notches if I hope to stack up any silver points. I haven’t disgraced myself at the tables since I returned to play on Monday, but I haven’t won anything either.
Monday’s session with Marilyn Sultz was a perfectly respectable 51.69%, but we needed to pass two other pairs and get better than 54% for points. Tuesday’s pairing with Marietta Kalman had a promising start (Marietta and I were on offense for 18 of the first 21 hands), but deflated to 49.50%, one place short of earning points in a 10 1/2-table game.

Bridge Blog 726-E: Wham bam thank you slam

Airport Bridge Club manager Bill Finkelstein introduced a new set of cards for Tuesday’s game which he said were pre-shuffled, but later conceded that they might have been arranged by the guy he bought them from.
Could be. Two players pointed out that the North hands on Boards 1 and 17 were identical. And then there was Board 22, where almost everybody bid to a grand slam and a good many of them were doubled.
East, Nancy Kessler, opened a Heart. Marietta, sitting South, bid the unusual 2 No Trump, showing long suits in Diamonds and Clubs. West, John Kirsits, went to 4 Spades. I’m sitting with five low Hearts, A-K-x-x-x in Diamonds, A-x-x in Clubs and no Spades whatsoever. We’re not vulnerable, so I don’t hesitate to bid 5 Diamonds, figuring we can cross-ruff our way to 10 tricks at least.
Anyway, Nancy bids 5 Spades, Marietta bids 6 Diamonds, John doubles, Nancy bids 6 Hearts, I bid 7 Diamonds and Nancy bids 7 Hearts, which I double.
As it turns out, East-West have all the Spades and South and West are void in Hearts. West, with eight Spades and five Clubs, is void in Diamonds. Nancy trumps Marietta’s lead, the King of Clubs, then goes on to make a grand slam doubled vulnerable for 2470 match points.
We’re the only table to play it in Hearts. Almost everybody else makes the grand slam in Spades. But 2470 is not a top score. At one table, the grand slam is redoubled. Marietta, meanwhile, wishes we could have bid 8 Diamonds. At the table where East-West let North-South take the bid in Diamonds, they won all 13 tricks.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Bridge Blog 725: October from a distance

One of my worst point-getting Octobers ever, coming on top of a pretty darn poor September. Since the Airport Bridge Club was late reporting the September scores, the latest master point tallies on the ACBL website will show two months worth of deterioration. I’m almost afraid to look. Almost, not entirely.
OK, my year-to-date point total is 162.21, of which 140.03 are Ace of Clubs points, earned in club play. Where does that stand me?
Miraculously, I’m still fourth in the Unit 116 Ace of Clubs race. John Ziemer tops the list with 222.40, followed by Mike Silverman (167.82), Liz Clark (167.29), me, Ken Meier (123.73), Fred Yellen (109.49), the late Carlton Stone (101.65), Paul Libby (100.98), Judy Padgug (99.99) and Carolyn Siracuse (95.31). Biggest Ace of Clubs winner in the unit is Jerry Geiger (2,500 to 5,000 points) with 250.36.
Over in the Unit 116 Mini-McKenney race, which includes all the points from everywhere, I’m seventh. John Ziemer’s on top of this list, too, with 322.14. Next come Liz Clark (193.43), Mike Silverman (183.41), Ken Meier (174.83), Judy Padgug (173.84), David Hemmer (162.74), me, Fred Yellen (140.73), Paul Libby (125.06) and the late Carlton Stone (111.31).
Onward to the District 5 level, which includes Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and surrounding areas. The Ace of Clubs list once again is dominated by Unit 116 players. We hold the first five positions and 10 of the first 13. Missing the Unit Top 10 but making the District Top 25 are Vince Pesce (92.66, tied for 15th), Elaine Kurasiewicz (81.25, 24th) and Dorothy May (80.29, 25th).
In the Mini-McKenney, the Cleveland and Pittsburgh players show their power. Continuing in first place is Michael Creager of Brecksville, Ohio, with 450.69, followed by Peter Merker of Mentor, Ohio, with 323.69. John Ziemer’s 322.14 makes him a very close third. A somewhat more distant fourth is Fleur Howard of Gates Mills, Ohio, with 313.32.
Liz Clark is ninth, Mike Silverman is 12th, Ken Meier and Judy Padgug are 15th and 16th, respectively. David Hemmer is 17th and I’m 18th. No other Buffalo players are on the list. It closes out at 142.06.
On the national level, Judy Zhu of Naperville, Ill., tops the 1,000 to 2,500 point Ace of Clubs list with 338.08, followed by Robert Ramos of Davie, Fla, with 279.83 and Kenneth Wagner Jr. of Hollywood, Fla., with 259.76. John Ziemer is eighth. Mike Silverman is 57 th. Liz Clark is 58 th. The list stops at 151.51.
As for the Mini-McKenney, it’s Jim Johnsen of San Diego with 1,012.41, followed by Shan Huang of Toronto (that’s where I’ve heard the name – see Blog 724) with 964.26 and Judy Zhu with 728.62. District 5 leader Michael Creager is 21st. John Ziemer is the lone representative from Unit 116. He’s 88th. The list cuts off at 309.57.

Bridge Blog 724: Niagara Falls Regional: Postscript

My sense that the Niagara Falls Regional was more crowded with players this year was confirmed with an announcement during Sunday’s Swiss teams game. Up 175 tables from 2011. They’re already looking forward to 2015.
One of the four guys who tied for the top of the master point winners list is a vaguely familiar name – Shan Huang. All four of them took home 70.13 points. Clearly a team effort.
Top Buffalo player on the list is Chris Urbanek with 58.06. She’s fifth, right behind the magic foursome. Only other Buffalo player in the Top 20 is Saleh Fetouh, who’s 15th with 44.25. He’s right behind the biggest point winner from the St. Catharines club, Lane Byl, who had 45.83.
Not too many Buffalo players in the Top 100, either. Davis Huessler is 39th with 30.18 points. Bud Seidenberg is 47th with 27.30. Kathy Pollock is 80th with 21.06. Tom Koralewski is 81st with 20.36. And that’s it. Just missing the Top 100 were Dian Petrov (16.51, 104th) and Judy Padgug (16.24, 105th).
Me? Way down the list with 2.02, tied for 595th with Eva Snelgrove of St. Catharines, who was my opponent on Saturday, if I’m not mistaken.
Of my partners, Selina Volpatti, who scratched in Thursday’s Gold Rush pairs for players under 750, had 4.42 and was tied for 396th. Usha Khurana was 573rd with 2.24. And Eva Schmidt had just the 0.62 we earned Sunday, which put her in a multi-player tie for 752nd. In all, 802 players earned points.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Bridge Blog 723: Niagara Falls Regional, Part V

It wasn’t great success that distinguished the final day of the Niagara Falls, Ont., Regional Tournament for our little B strat team. It was a bizarre round involving the pair from Saturday’s incorrect score incident (see Blog 722), a round that resulted in director calls so complicated that we might as well have pulled up a chair for one of them and let them keep watch on us full-time.

It began on the first hand of the round. Partner Eva Schmidt, midway through playing out an iffy 3 Diamond contract, led a Heart and ruffed it in the dummy. The woman in the opposing pair – Susan, the guy called her – overruffed with the 10 of Diamonds. Then, a few cards later, she played not one Heart, but two of them.

Her partner called her on it and, after play finished on the hand, called for a director. Susan, meanwhile, folded up her cards. The other three hands were intact, though, and after a second director joined the deliberations, we sorted out which tricks belonged to whom and wound up with an overtrick.

But it didn’t end there. A couple hands later, after Eva dropped a Pass card before Susan, as declarer, could make her lead-off bid, we got into a bidding snafu in which I played a major role.

We all decided to ignore Eva’s out-of-turn bid and Susan opened 1 No Trump. Eva passed. The partner, sitting North, bid 2 Diamonds for a transfer to Hearts. I’m holding four Aces (no Kings, Queens or Jacks) and five Diamonds in a 5-3-3-2 hand. I feel that I’m obliged to bid something, but what?

Doubling would either be regarded as lead-directing or imply that I had cards in the major suits, where I was 3-2. (Belated thought: I could follow up a double by bidding Diamonds on the next round, couldn’t I?) I also thought of bidding 2 No Trump, but with an Aces and spaces hand and us being vulnerable? Forget it. I wanted Diamonds, that was it. So I bid three Diamonds, which still looked like a cue bid.

Susan asked Eva what my 3 Diamond bid meant. Eva said she didn’t know, but thought I was asking for major suits. Susan unhappily bid 3 Hearts, passed all around, and called for a director. We got two directors again, to whom I expressed a little of my perplexity. Susan said she wouldn’t have bid 3 Hearts if she knew what that 3 Diamond bid really meant.

The directors considered the whole thing highly suspicious and stuck around to see how the hand played out. I took tricks with all four of the Aces and Eva had the King of Clubs. Down one. The directors asked Susan if she would rather have played it at 3 No Trump. Still down one. A minus 50 score either way.

At our teammates’ table, the bidding also began with 1 NT and a 2 Diamond bid transferring to Hearts. The other East player did not feel compelled to say something, despite those four Aces. Usha and Joe Miranda stopped at 2 Hearts, bid and made.

All those director calls delayed us considerably. We still had two hands to play when the end of the round was announced. Those two unplayed boards? Wouldn’t count. Zeros for both teams.

That was our first victory of the day – 22 International Match Points to zero. Unfortunately, we added only one more win after that and it took until the final round to get it. Our victory point count was 85. To earn gold, we needed at least 125. We needed to be like Bob and Judy Kaprove, who won their first four rounds and picked up a fifth win later to score 129 victory points and finish eighth in the B strat. Our consolation prize – 0.31 of a red point for each of our winning rounds.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Bridge Blog 722: Niagara Falls Regional, Parts III and IV

Clearly, it was a mistake. That minus 200 for a zero board in Saturday afternoon’s open pairs game. That wasn’t us. We set the other guys down two on a 4 Spade contract. We should have had plus 100.
This was some 20 minutes after the game ended. The directors had disappeared, but wait – there was Bernie Gorkin. After I explained the problem, we stepped into the directors’ room, he fired up his laptop computer and found the game.
That hand makes 2 Hearts East-West as well as 2 Spades North-South, he said. Are you sure you didn’t play it at 4 Hearts? I was sure, but at this point would there be a way to prove it? He then mentioned that in the nationals, if you found a mistake like this, it would cost $25 to fix it.
This, however, would be no problem. The other pair was dead last anyway and our improved score still wasn’t enough to overtake anyone else. Originally, we were 46.53%. Now it was 48.84%. But we needed to beat a pair at 49.77% to win red points.
We also missed by one place in the morning session Saturday, finishing with 50.27%. It made for a disappointing couple of days with Selina Volpatti, who had won gold points in the Thursday game for players with fewer than 750 master points.
We started Friday in the compact knock-outs, teamed with a couple from the Toronto area. We totally thrashed our first-round opponents, then got skunked in a three-way second round (part of that was me doubling a 4 Spade contract, then failing to take the trick that would have set). Playing pairs in the Friday afternoon side game, we had a dismal 42.01%, a fraction of a percent ahead of the two pairs who tied for last.
I have no idea what kind of point reward we got for Friday morning’s first-round knock-out win, but it had to be less than one. Unless we hit it big in the Swiss teams on Sunday, this will be one of my poorer showings in the Niagara Falls Regional.
2011, of course, was the big one, the Life Master hat trick – regular Life Master, Bronze and Silver, all at once, with a win in the knock-outs. In all, that tournament brought me 13.67 points. This year could be more like 2008, when I earned just 1.50.  

Bridge Blog 722-A: Victories in defeat

What made Saturday afternoon the most satisfying of my rounds with Selina Volpatti was our two top boards – a pair of slams that I bid and brought home. The first was on Board 27, played at 6 No Trump. I’m East. Here are the hands.   

Spades: A-J-5; Hearts: K-5; Diamonds: K-Q-8-3-2; Clubs: A-J-2

Spades: Q-10-3; Hearts: Q-7; Diamonds: A-5; Clubs: K-Q-8-6-5-4

Spades: K-7-6-2; Hearts: A-10-9-4; Diamonds: J-6-4; Clubs: 7-3

Spades: 9-8-4; Hearts: J-8-6-3-2; Diamonds: 10-9-7; Clubs: 10-9 

Nobody’s vulnerable. South was dealer and passed. Selina opened a Club. North passed. With 18 high-card points, I figured we had something big, so I kept things slow by bidding 1 Diamond. Selina came back with 2 Clubs. Maybe we have something really big. Six Club tricks, for sure. I jumped to 4 No Trump, asking for Aces. Five Diamonds, she bid, indicating one. OK, we’ll lose one trick, I reckoned. Six No Trump.
North led the Ace of Hearts. Terrific. There’s our loser. I won the second Heart, tried the Diamonds first and ran five tricks when they broke evenly, tossing the dummy’s Spades and eliminating the need to try the Spade finesse (which wouldn’t have worked). Then came the six Club tricks.
According to the hand record, it also makes 6 Clubs and 6 Diamonds and a couple East-Wests must have gone that route, because the scores included a couple 920s. Four others stopped at 3 NT, one of them taking all 13 tricks (at 3 NT, you wouldn’t get an Ace of Hearts lead). And one unfortunate didn’t bid game in the minor suits.
The other slam – 6 Hearts on Board 16 – was even more satisfying. Nobody else bid this slam and only one East-West took 12 tricks, even though the hand record says it will make 6 NT, 6 Spades and 6 Hearts. East-West is vulnerable. West is dealer.

Spades: A-J-9-3; Hearts: A-K-5-4-3-2; Diamonds: 7; Clubs: A-J

Spades: K-Q-10-7-6; Hearts: J-9-6; Diamonds: K-J-5; Clubs: 10-5

Spades: 8-4-2; Hearts: 10-7; Diamonds: Q-10-6-3; Clubs: K-Q-8-4

Spades: 5; Hearts: Q-8; Diamonds: A-9-8-4-2; Clubs: 9-7-6-3-2

I opened a Heart, Selina bid a Spade. I believe South bid the unusual 2 No Trump, showing a 5-5 holding in the minors. I bid 3 Spades. Selina went 4 Hearts. Banking on a windfall from distribution, I went straight to 6 Hearts.
What was North’s opening lead? I don’t recall, but it may have been a low Diamond, which South would have taken with the Ace. From there, it hinged on how the trump suit broke. Happily, it was 2-2. I tossed my losing Club on the good King of Diamonds.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Bridge Blog 721: Niagara Falls Regional, Part II

Partner Usha Khurana was uneasy about playing in the open pairs on Thursday from the minute we were knocked out of the knock-outs on Wednesday. She thought she should be playing the Gold Rush Pairs, which were limited to players with fewer than 750 points, and which might give her a better chance at her much-wanted gold points.

Instead, we were in the Daylight Open Pairs where, I assured her, gold could be had if you win. That’s a tall order, though, even though we were in the B strat. We started off well enough. In an early round against expert Buffalo player Kathy Pollock, I even made an overtrick on a 5 Clubs doubled vulnerable contract.

After that, triumphs were more scarce. I doubled opponents and lost a couple times, figuring erroneously that Usha’s bids implied Aces in her suits. We still looked like contenders after eight rounds, sixth in the B strat with 52-odd % when preliminary results were posted, but we sank in the final tally to 48%, well out of the running.

Well, there was another session in the afternoon, but it didn’t feel nearly as good as the morning.  The preliminary list had us next to last with 42%. When the final reckoning was posted, we had dropped to 38%. Usha didn’t want to stick around to analyze the results hand by hand. She still thought she would have done better in the Gold Rush Pairs. Friday she gets her wish in the Gold Rush Swiss Teams, when she plays with Joe Miranda.

Meanwhile, I checked in with the partnership desk and lined up teammates for the Compact Knock-outs on Friday. A couple named Hughes from Scarborough, Ont. Mr. H. said on the phone that they don’t have a lot of points, but they play like they do.

Random notes: Our pairs games were in the fifth floor meeting rooms, which were packed with two sections of players. One of the rooms had mesh-bottomed office chairs, akin to my super-comfortable Herman Miller Aeron chair at The News, and they were a delight in the morning session. Usha’s back didn’t get nearly as sore as it did on Wednesday. In the afternoon, we were in the other room, with standard torturous upholstered chairs. Usha had her Tylenol out before the session was over.

Parking problems solved. I got a ticket from the registration desk at the hotel. When I showed it to the attendant on the way out of the ramp, he said hold onto it. I’m good for the weekend.

Poppy problems overcome, at least for now. I acquired a new Armistice Day poppy to replace the one I lost Wednesday, then heard people say they lose them and ante up additional donations to replace them all the time. Could be a racket. I pinned this poppy higher on my sweater vest and dropped only once. Thanks to Saleh Fetouh for calling the drop to my attention.

Lots more Buffalo people around on Thursday, including John Kirsits and Ken Meier, who we faced in the final morning round. They took a top board off us on the last hand by making a 3 No Trump bid, sinking us and getting enough of a boost to win their strat.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Bridge Blog 720: Niagara Falls Regional, Part I

Fresh from earning my first fraction of a point for November on Tuesday in a 53% game with Ruth Wurster at the Airport Bridge Club, I was primed for the Niagara Falls Regional.
I was further encouraged by the prospect of good teammates – Ruthie Kozower and Judy Kaprove – for me and Usha Khurana in the knock-outs.
And I figured our fortunes were pretty much assured when we were put in a three-way round robin match in the first round, since the best two of the teams advance to the next round.
Aside from a slip by Usha on the first board – she opened 2 Clubs instead of 1 Club and we wound up in a bad contract going down two vulnerable – we proved ourselves to be the roundest of the round robins, scoring solid wins in all four rounds against a St. Catharines team headed by Dennis Glazebrook (15-4 and 24-18 IMPs) and a team of little old ladies from the Rochester area (39-5 and 27-9 IMPs).
After lunch, we also started out strong against the Marlene Benny team from London, Ont., all the while chatting them up. Marlene was a retired public health nurse and her partner Cora was traffic manager at the radio station owned by the London Free Press, the local newspaper.  
By the halfway point, we’d scored modest victories, 17-12 and 25-13, but I reminded our team that this was not an insurmountable lead.
Indeed, it vanished in the next round. Usha and I stopped getting the good cards and our opponents stopped giving us breaks. They beat us 24-8, reducing our 17 IMP margin to a single point, then ran away with the final six boards, 26-2, the face-saving 2 IMPs coming on the final hand when Marlene and Cora failed to tap my weak suit in a 1 No Trump contract and I made three overtricks.
Had we won, it would be meant 5-plus gold points, plus a chance to win more in the final two knock-out sessions Thursday. As it was, for our first round victory, we collected 0.96 of a red point. Usha, who needs at least 10 gold points for Life Master, was disappointed. I was encouraged, however, by our good play together. Perhaps we can strike gold in the pairs Thursday.
Random notes: The morning knock-out session was delayed 15 minutes because players coming down from the Hamilton-Burlington area were hung up by an accident on the Queen Elizabeth Way near the Glendale Road exit in St. Catharines.
The registration desk was selling red poppy pins for Armistice Day (Veterans Day to us Yanks) and, wishing to do in Canada as the Canadians do, I donated a blue $5 bill and got one each for me and Usha. The pin didn’t hold it in place very well on my sweater vest, however, and by lunch time it had disappeared. Usha’s fared better. It lasted until the ride home. I found it on the passenger seat of the RAV-4.
I thought that the parking in the hotel ramp had been free at previous Niagara Falls regionals if you flashed a Player Card from the adjacent casino. It got us into the ramp just fine when we arrived, but the attendant on the way out said that parking wasn’t free any more until the card showed that you spent money at the casino. If not, it’s $20. Guess I’ll have to hit the buffet or pump some coins into the slot machines if I want free parking for the rest of the week.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Bridge Blog 719: Witchcraft

Just in case it wasn’t a double-digit month already, Dianne Bloom and I took October out on a Halloween high note. Maybe her hat bewitched the opposition.
Playing mostly defense North-South, we had four top boards, a couple more ties for tops and only one absolute zero. A 52.08% game, it was still second-best overall and tops in the B strat for 0.49 of a point, bringing the total for the month to something like 11.87. It’s a far cry from last October’s 35.15, though. At this point in 2012, I had 202 points overall and 164.50 for club play.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Bridge Blog 718: Talk of the town

It was a hand that people kept talking about all day Tuesday at the Airport Bridge Club. Board 3, which Barbara Sadkin and I played in the second round against Marietta Kalman and Dottie Soong. East-West is vulnerable, South is the dealer. I’m South with this hand: 

Spades: A-Q-J; Hearts: A-K-8-7-6
Diamonds: J-6; Clubs: Q-10-5  

I don't hesitate to open 1 No Trump with a five-card major suit, so that’s just what I did. Barbara, with a devilish smile, jumps to 4 Clubs. Gerber, asking for Aces. Then she goes 5 Clubs, asking for Kings. And then, with a bit of gambler’s glee, she plunks down the 7 No Trump card. Needless to say, I’m blown away.
Dottie, sitting West, leads the Queen of Hearts and Barbara puts down this collection of cards: 

Spades: 8-7; Hearts: 10-2
Diamonds: A-K-Q-10-4; Clubs: A-K-J-6 

Wow! I count my sure tricks. Five Diamonds, four Clubs, two Hearts and the Ace of Spades. Can I get a third Heart trick? Not likely. Dottie’s lead indicates she has the Jack of Hearts and it’s not a doubleton. So the 13th trick is going to have to be a Spade. A Spade finesse. If it doesn’t work – down one. So I run out 11 winning tricks and wind up in the dummy to lead a Spade through Marietta. She plays the 10. I put down the Queen. It holds. I start breathing again.
Here are the other hands: 


Spades: K-10-5-3-2; Hearts: 5-3
Diamonds: 7-5-3-2; Clubs: 9-4 


Spades: 9-6-4; Hearts: Q-J-9-4
Diamonds: 9-8; Clubs: 8-7-3-2

All the other eight tables played it at 6 No Trump, making an overtrick. Ours was the only grand slam. Director Paula Kotowski kept coming over to us and updating us on how nobody else was bidding it.
When the game was over, Paula added that she was giving everyone a black star for the way they entered that hand on the traveling score slip. Every single North, including Barbara, put the winning numbers in the East-West column.
The slam upstaged my other amazing hand for the day, which came a few minutes earlier in the first round. I opened 1 Spade on an iffy point count and a six-card Spade suit headed by the 9. Barbara, holding an opening hand and A-Q-x in Spades, jumped to 4 Spades. Bid and made. Top board. Nobody else found it.
Our freewheeling ways proved rewarding for a change: 53.01%, third North-South and first in the B strat in our direction. 1.42 points. Total for the month is now an estimated 9.32. Looks like a double-digit October after all.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bridge Blog 717: Belated returns

The ACBL has posted pending points for September, the points from the Airport Bridge Club which they got after their internet update on Oct. 6. My winnings at the Airport Club last month amounted to 9.30 points.

Add that to the results registered from the St. Catharines club and the fall sectional and I picked up 11.52 for the month. So I’m gratified to be in double digits, appalled that I’m so short of the 17-point average I need for a 200-point year.


Bridge Blog 717-A: Scoping October

Lagging in September, I’m acutely aware of the need to step up my game in October, but so far that hasn’t happened in any reliable fashion. So in order to maximize my chances, I’m looking to take every available opportunity to play.

I would have played today, Sunday, Oct. 20, if the opportunities were right, but the Unit 116 Eight Is Enough Swiss team game starts too late for me to make it to work on time, or even reasonably late. I was all set to show up partnerless and teamless for the Airport Bridge Club’s rival Swiss team game(s), where the time frame works for me, but I got a call in my seat at the Buffalo Sabres game last night saying, “No Swiss.”

I know I need the points, but since the Airport Club has not posted anything about the October master point races yet, I’m in the dark about how well or poorly I’m doing. Unless, of course, I look in my datebook and piece things together. Let’s do a rundown of the month so far: 

Oct. 1 with Marilyn Sultz. 43.98%. No points.

Oct. 2 with Celine Murray. Couldn’t find the score sheet. Probably no points.

Oct. 3 with Ruth Hnath (thought I was playing with Dianne Bloom, but nooooo). 50.93%. No points.

Oct. 4 morning with Selina Volpatti at the Airport Club. 55.72%, first in B. 1.04 points.

Oct. 4 afternoon with Selina Volpatti at the Airport Club. Swiss teams. 0.38 points, including 0.09 gold.

Oct. 5 with Usha Khurana. 50.60%, second in C. 1.40 points.

Oct. 6 with Myra Razik. Swiss teams. Tied for first in morning session. 1.63 points.

Oct. 7 with Usha Khurana. Can’t find this score sheet, either. Pretty sure we earned no points.

Oct. 8 with Barbara Sadkin. 43.40%. No points.

Oct. 9 with Celine Murray. 55.55%. First in our direction. 1.38 points.

Oct. 10 with Dianne Bloom. 46.99%. Second in C. 0.22 point.

Oct. 11 with Selina Volpatti in St. Catharines. 50% even. No points.

Oct. 12 with Beverly Dale. 49.39%. No points.

Oct. 14 morning with Marilyn Sultz. 49.30%. Third in B. 0.32 point.

Oct. 14 afternoon with Marilyn Sultz. 44.70%. No points.

Oct. 15 with Barbara Sadkin. 50.32%. No points.

Oct. 16 with Celine Murray. 44.05%. No points.

Oct. 17 with Dianne Bloom. 39.35%. Dead last.

Oct. 18 with Selina Volpatti in St. Catharines. 51.10%. No points.

Oct. 19 with Beverly Dale. 55.70%. First in B in our direction. 1.53 points.  

OK, let’s add up this sorry collection of results. If I’m not mistaken, it’s 7.90, almost as miserable as September.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Bridge Blog 716: September unremembered

Sixth of the month and the ACBL web genies are right on time with their latest updates of the master point races. After my dismal September, the ACBL says my totals for the year are 118.57 Ace of Clubs, for points earned in club play, and 140.77 Mini-McKenney, for points earned in tournaments and special games too. Hmm, maybe not. My August totals were 117.15 and 138.55. Something’s missing. The genies may be on time, but seems like the Airport Bridge Club isn’t.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Bridge Blog 715: Sad September

             Sayonara, September. You’ve inspired more than your usual grim contemplations of mortality, thanks to death of our beloved cat just before you began. What am I playing bridge for, anyway, I wondered, as my days dwindle down to a precious few. Thoughts like these took all the joy out of the game. So did my results.
          One dismal session after another piled up – successive games of 44.84%, 44.48%, 46.92% and 41.96% in the second week of the month. It’s taken until almost October for things to start brightening. In fact, I may even have hit double digits for the month, impossible to even contemplate last week. As for the 17 points I need keep pace for my 200-point goal for the year, forget it.
          I was helped along by Monday’s partner, June Feuerstein, who pronounced herself feeling better than she had in ages because she’d finally gotten the right diagnosis for what was ailing her and it’s clearing up. Our 55% game made us first in the B strat North-South, second overall in our direction and fourth among all pairs, earning us 1.15 points on this, the final day of double-point ACBL International Fund games.
          A check of month-to-date point totals at the Airport Bridge Club showed 7.75 as of last Thursday, the last day the club was open. Uncertain if that counts Thursday’s game, though, when I was reunited with the lovely Dianne Bloom for a 52.78% effort, earning 0.68 points for being third in the A and B strats in our direction. And then there are those club series statistics, which award points for wins on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, etc., which have not been updated at all this month.
           So, at the least, there’s 8.90 points at the club, to which we can add another 0.78 from Sunday’s Swiss team game at the Buffalo Fall Sectional Tournament and a couple scores with Selina Volpatti from the Bridge Centre of Niagara over in St. Catharines, Ont. – 0.32 from a 50.15% effort on Sept. 6 and 1.12 from our 61.79% game on Friday the 13th. Minimum point count for the month – 11.22. A few lucky bounces and that might be 13.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Bridge Blog 714: All's well that ends well

           The Buffalo Fall Sectional Tournament certainly had a grand finish. Attendance was robust – I forgot to look at the total number of teams, but we played against a Team 24 – and it was announced that this year’s tournament was up 40 tables overall from last year.
          Things also worked out well for the Paula Kotowski-Barbara Pieterse pairing, which I almost hooked up with until I was reminded that I had long ago made other arrangements. Barbara’s husband didn’t have to go to Mexico after all, so he played and they wound up sixth in the B strat with 107 Victory Points.
          Our team of Eva Schmidt, Usha Khurana and Joe Miranda started off like experts, vanquishing the team of Dede Kluckhohn, Cynthia Helfman, Barb Landree and Carol Bedell in the first round by an International Match Point margin of 24-7. Not a good thing, I advised my teammates after we compared scores. We’ll have to play the tough guys.
          And so we did. At our table, it was Jay Levy and Bob Cannizzaro from Rochester (yes, he said, he’s related to the baseball player – a cousin). At the other table, it was Jay Costello and Donna Steffan. They were the day’s overall winners and they had no trouble stampeding us, 31-1 IMPs, for a shutout.
          I gave away the next round to Pat Rasmus and the delightful Jo Finton, wife of Gene, who I was playing against for the first time. I messed up a sure 4 Diamond contract, going down one and losing 4 IMPs, maybe a couple more. Then I bid 4 Diamonds over what would have been an unsuccessful 3 Spade contract for them, and I went down two doubled vulnerable. Their teammates were down one, not doubled. That was minus 9 IMPs. We lost 16-2. Take away those two hands and it would have been our round, not theirs.
          Against Dian Petrov and his partner Bishara in the next round, I chickened out on a 4 Heart contract, making 5. Instead of a draw, it was minus 10 IMPs. We lost to them by nine IMPs. Our fortunes revived against Barbara Kopko and her friend Donna from down Allegany and Salamanca way, routing them, 39-8. Then we floundered again against Ron Henrikson and Andy Fairweather, 20-8, and rebounded in the last round against Ginny Panaro and Judie Bailey, 25-8.
          Our final Victory Point total was 99, which put us a couple points ahead of the team headed by another of my would-be partners for the day, Selina Volpatti, but we would have needed 107 to tie for sixth place in the B strat with the Pieterse team. And there were a few other teams in between us – the Bishara/Petrov team with 106; the Kluckhohn team, a C team, with 104; the Ritza and Lakeman teams with 103; plus the Walt Olszewski team tying us at 99. Nevertheless, we mined a little bit of silver, point-wise, for our three victorious rounds – 0.26 for each one.
          By winning the Swiss teams, Jay Levy captured the most points overall for the tournament with 17.96. Meg Klamp was next with 15.72, followed by Donna Steffan at 12.10, Brian Meyer at 10.67 and Jay Costello and Bob Cannizzaro with 10 even.
          Meanwhile, the snacks were winners, too. Plenty of bagels and no shortage of cream cheese. Paul Zittel’s irresistible corn salsa (which suddenly evaporated right before the Bocce’s subs arrived for lunch). And an equally irresistible lemon cake among the desserts. Bravo to the organizers. Bravo also to director Mike Roberts, who kept a firm, but polite hand on the proceedings.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Bridge Blog 713: Day 0.5

           Missed all of Friday’s first day of the Buffalo Fall Sectional Tournament, which is something I never do (see Blog 712), and then I only play half the second day Saturday due another pressing social obligation. Worse yet, after Friday’s freewheeling bid fiesta in St. Catharines, I had little to work with sitting east in the morning session with Celine Murray.
          Not that I mind playing a supporting role, but Celine was not at her best. Twice she made a mistake in play akin to the whopper I committed Friday, putting down the wrong card. She plunked down a Queen of Hearts on one hand, thinking it was trump, but Diamonds were. Not only did she fail to take that trick, but she also missing collecting a Heart trick later with the Queen.
          I was guilty of even more disastrous mishaps when I eventually became declarer. Twice I guessed wrong in trump finesses where there were three cards left, one of them honors. In both cases, if I went up with the Ace from the dummy, I would have nailed the outstanding honor card on the fence. In each case, I discovered later, this cost me about 10 match points. Give us those and we would have had a 50% game, or maybe a little better. As it was, we finished at 45.35%, 11th out of 14 East-Wests in our section.
          Attendance seems to be very good at this sectional. There were 28 tables in the morning session, including at least four Canadian pairs that I had seen Friday, and someone said there were 32 on Friday, a total boosted by some folks from Rochester. Could make for a bigger-than-usual Swiss team session on Sunday.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Bridge Blog 712: Unhinged

           The Buffalo Fall Sectional Tournament started Friday and, for the first time in years, I missed it. My arrangements for the sectional have been in great disarray all month. At first I was going to play with Wednesday partner Celine Murray in both sessions on the first day. Then a friend invited me to her 65 th birthday party on what I thought at first was Saturday, but then turned out to be Friday. And not just a party, but a sit-down dinner at 6 p.m., well before the afternoon session ended. So I told Celine I’d just do the morning. And then I decided to hook up with Canadian partner Selina Volpatti and play over in St. Catharines instead.

          They had 18 tables at the St. Catharines club – I wonder if they had that many at the sectional – and it was an extra-point International Fund game, to boot. Selina and I bid our heads off, as we prefer, and I wound up as declarer in 15 of the 26 hands. For all that, however, we finished at 50.79%, less than a percentage point behind the sixth place pair North-South in the B strat, which would have earned us a third of a master point.

          I know exactly the hand that made the difference. I was declarer at 3 Diamonds vulnerable and I was going to make it on the nose. But then, instead of putting a King of Clubs on top of Norman St. Denis’ Queen, I played low. Why? It was so stupid, a total brain lapse. Had I kept my wits about me, that hand would have given us 11 game points instead of 3.5 and we would have been tied for fifth in B.

          My sectional plans are in disarray for Saturday, too. Originally, I was going to give it a pass. Then Cleveland Fleming asked me to play. Then Celine Murray wanted to make up for not playing with me on Friday. And then my teacher friend wanted me to help her at a poetry gig in Niagara Falls at 6 p.m. The upshot – I’m playing the morning session with Celine.

          The Swiss teams Sunday have been even more fouled up. Originally, I spoke with Usha Khurana about playing. Then she got Joe Miranda as a partner and I accepted an invitation from Eva Schmidt to fill out the team. But that was a couple months ago. I didn’t write it down. I totally forgot about it. So I asked Selina to play with me. Then Paula Kotowski and Barb Pieterse were looking for another pair to fill out their team. Fine, I said.

          That little house of cards quickly collapsed earlier this week. Selina said she was going to play with her buddy Adrian Figliotti instead. Then, just as I was looking for a replacement for Selina, Eva reminded me of our previous arrangement. Paula was not at all happy, despite my profound apologies. I am such a screw-up.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Bridge Blog 711: Bereavement leave

   The first week of September was going to be bridgeless anyway – we were going to motor over to visit my youngest brother in Michigan – but everything got blown off course when one of our beloved cats – Tosh – suddenly lost the use of his hind legs and, two days later at the emergency animal clinic, we had no choice but to put him down.

   Grieving deeply and having canceled my partners for the week, I stayed away from the tables except for a dismal pair of short games – low 40 percenters – with Wednesday partner Celine Murray, who’d forgotten we weren’t going to play. (Since then, Airport Bridge Club manager Bill Finkelstein has abandoned his experiment at running two 18- to 20-board games every day but Sunday. I’d been looking forward to it as a master point bonanza, but many people just didn’t get the hang of it and complaints were abundant.)

   Finally, on Friday, I ventured over to Canada to play in St. Catharines with Selina Volpatti (whose husband of 50-odd years passed on just a month ago – and, jeez, here I’m so bent out of shape about a cat). We improved upon our previous week’s effort – 50.26% was good for third in the B strat North-South and 0.26 of a master point in a 15½ table game.

   Partnerless on Saturday, I nevertheless returned to the Airport Bridge Club. Paired with Paula Salamone for a series of hands that encouraged and mostly rewarded exuberant bidding – slam bid and made in our first round – we finished first in B North-South with a 54.17% score. This being a month of double points at the club, it was good for 1.02 master points. I’m still bereaved, but things are starting to look brighter.

Bridge Blog 710: Adding up August

   I had high hopes for August. It’s been a good month for me in previous years. But my game wasn’t up to it. The end result? End of July I had 100.38 Ace of Clubs points and 121.78 overall. End of August, it’s 117.15 and 138.55, up 16.77 points, all club points.

   On the Unit 116 level, for just Buffalo, that means I stay in fourth place on the Ace of Clubs list, way behind first-place John Ziemer (188.41), second-place Mike Silverman (139.28) and third-place Liz Clark (132.74), but safely ahead of David Millward (107.36), Fred Yellen (91.40), Ken Meier (91.13), Judy Padgug (87.14), Paul Libby (86.99) and Carlton Stone (83.04).

   As for the Unit 116 Mini-McKenney race, which rolls up all your club and tournament points, I’m still in seventh place, although a hot streak would lift me up a couple places. Again John Ziemer is first (283.43), followed at a considerable distance by the rest of us – Judy Padgug (158.28), Liz Clark (157.60), Mike Silverman (152.45), David Hemmer (142.60), Ken Meier (139.40), me (138.55), David Millward (121.64), Fred Yellen (119.51) and Paul Libby (111.07). The only players in other categories who have more points than John Ziemer are Dan Gerstman (321.03), Chris Urbanek (298.48) and Jerry Geiger (286.76).

   Moving up to the District 5 level (Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and bits of Maryland and West Virginia), once again us Unit 116 players hold down the top five places on the Ace of Clubs list for those with 1,000 to 2,500 master points. Indeed, we have 10 of the first 11, the only interloper being James Quigley of Pittsburgh in sixth place with 92.88. Plus we add a few more down the list – Vince Pesce (79.32, 12th), Carolyn Siracuse (77.81, 14th), Elaine Kurasiewicz (67.69, 21st) and Chuck Schorr (66.84, 24th).   

   Last month’s leaders hold their own on the district Mini-McKenney. Michael Creager of Brecksville, Ohio, continues on top with 385.10. John Ziemer is second, followed by Peter Merker of Mentor, Ohio (262.64), and Fleur Howard of Gates Mills, Ohio (229.72). Here only eight Unit 116ers make the Top 25. Judy Padgug, Liz Clark and Mike Silverman are 10th, 11th and 12th, respectively. David Hemmer is 14th. Ken Meier is 19th. I’m 20th (down from 14th last month). David Millward is 25th.

   And nationwide? Leaders in the Ace of Clubs (1,000 to 2,500 point division) are same as last month: Judy Zhu of Naperville, Ill, with 267.47, followed by Kenneth Wagner Jr. of Hollywood, Fla., with 213.70 and Robert Ramos of Davie, Fla., with 205.61.

   John Ziemer’s 188.41 puts him sixth, ahead of last month’s No. 4 guy, Michael Vermilion of Albuquerque, who now has 185.80, and good old Charlie Christmas from Tallahassee, Fla., with 184.64. Mike Silverman is 46th, Liz Clark is 62nd and I miss the cross-country bus again. Cut-off point is 119.56.

   Over on the national Mini-McKenney, Jim Johnsen of San Diego is still on top, now with 803.81 points. Next come Shan Huang of Toronto (761.89) and Sylvia Shi of Baltimore (579.37). Michael Creager is 22nd. John Ziemer is 69th. Cut-off is at 254.50.