Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Bridge Blog 653: February finale

Nothing like a respiratory condition to make February seem even longer and drearier. Through the fog of decongestants, the only bright spots have come at the bridge table and they’ve been unexpected.
The first was at the Unit 116 Pro-Am game on Sunday, with me, the groggy 1,500-point pro who had just called in sick to work that night, teaming up with a total stranger, amateur Jim Tao. Jim is a good amateur, though, and I didn’t get in his way too much. In a big, two-section game, we finished with 59.44%, third overall, second in B, 2.31 points.
The other was even more accidental. After Wednesday partner Celine Murray canceled to go to her country club group, I walked into the Airport Bridge Club without a partner and was paired with the guy with the most points in the room, Jerry Geiger. His partner, Jim Mathis, a guy with twice as many points as he has, had forgotten the date.
Jerry was sleep-deprived, having driven his wife to eye surgery at dawn, and I was still decongesting. Add to that the first few hands, which were wildly distributional, and my bidding, which was not the best. Nevertheless, after I plunged ahead to 5 Diamonds doubled vulnerable (A-K-Q-x-x-x-x in Diamonds, A-K-J-x in Hearts) and made it (thanks to Jerry’s Jack of Diamonds and Queen of Hearts), I figured the gods must be looking after me. We finished second with a 59.24% game, good for 1.40 points, giving me 12.17 at the club for February.
I have no irrational expectations for the final day of the month Thursday. Last time I played with Florence Boyd, we had a really good time, but we were lucky not to finish last.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Bridge Blog 652: Silver Friday

Sprung from the weekday routine, crossing the Peace Bridge at noon, my elation overshadowed my low-grade respiratory infection. To raise my spirits a little higher, I popped the new Harry Connick Jr. CD, "Smokey Mary," into the player. Silvery snow still punctuated the flat fields, just like a week ago, and some of the frozen stretches of standing water looked big enough to play hockey on. It was hauntingly bleak. Every mile or so there was something – horses wearing blankets, ramshackle abandoned buildings – that beckoned to be taken with me on my camera. But I resisted.
I was rolling. There was hardly any traffic on back roads through Netherby and under the Welland Canal. Other motorists didn’t appear in numbers until Highway 406, the express route from Welland to St. Catharines. Past the construction zone, it opened up into four lanes and suddenly they all were going 80 mph. A minute or two after 12:30, I was exiting at Glendale Avenue and turning into the Bridge Center of Niagara’s strip mall.
I was early, but partner Selina Volpatti already was there and she’d paid for us – a couple extra bucks this time because it’s STaC week in Canada, Sectional Tournament at the Clubs. What a good time to be on a little hot streak. I’d had 64% and 58% games on the previous two days. Could this hold up? Maybe. Selina got a succession of bidding hands and, after an initial stumble, we were making our contracts and setting our opponents. At the halfway point, after seven rounds, we were at 63.73%.
But it didn’t last. I led out of turn at the start of the eighth round and it cost us the trick that would have set the opponents’ 2 Heart contract. That was a bottom board. A few hands later, I pushed Selina to what I thought was a 5 Diamond sacrifice. The hand record said she should have made it, but the opponents found a way of getting an extra trick. Still at 55% when we hit the final round, I played two successive 3 No Trump contracts, down one on each for near-bottom boards. Our final outcome – 52.37%. Fifth overall North-South, fourth in the B stratification. We got 0.49 of a silver point. Selina needs silver. She was pleased. Outside, it was flurrying. My new windshield wipers got a workout on the ride home.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Bridge Blog 651: Feels like a feeling

Sometimes you don’t even need to see the numbers on the traveling score slips to know if you’re having a good day or a bad day. On Tuesday at the Airport Bridge Club, Joyce Greenspan and I knew we were having a bad day right from the first hand, when we went down two vulnerable. Try as we might, we couldn’t find any traction. Or any good contracts, for that matter. I considered us lucky to avoid slipping below 40%. We wound up in a three-way tie for last with 42.5%.
With Wednesday partner Celine Murray, on the other hand, everything felt good. Our defense was awesome. We were bidding and making our contracts. Sure enough, when everything was tabulated, we were first overall with 64%, earning 1.87 points.
Celine and I were so elated we said we should play again on Thursday, Diane Bloom having canceled her date with me. But she didn’t call Wednesday night to confirm (she was having phone problems Tuesday night) and when I showed up at the club Thursday morning, she wasn’t around and I got her voice mail when I called her house.
But substitute Ruth Hnath came in and had a stellar day, right from our first hand, when she took my 2 No Trump opening bid to 6 NT on a hand where we took all 13 tricks. It wasn’t quite as awesome as Wednesday, but our 58.04% was good for third North-South and 1.25 master points. Point total for the month at the Airport Club is 11.92, plus the .25 from last Friday and the .36 from the sectional back on Feb. 1. Now I feel fully primed to take on those tough Canadians Friday at the club over in St. Catharines.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Bridge Blog 650: Inglorious 1,500

Partner Usha Khurana and I managed to cobble together a couple miracles of stratification Monday at the double-point double session at the Airport Bridge Club. In the morning session, where we thought we didn’t do badly, we had a 45.85% game, which put us second in the B strat North-South and gave us 0.48 of a point.
Although I thought at the time that this lifted me over the magic 1,500 lifetime master point mark, it actually left me teetering at 1,499.95. It took the afternoon game, where we were logy from the barbecued chicken lunch and were certain that we were doing more poorly than we did in the morning. Not so. It was a 47.89% game, second North-South in B and fourth overall in B, 0.59 of a point.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Bridge Blog 649: For better or worse

Why don’t you play with the better players?” Paula Salamone asks as we walk into the Airport Bridge Club’s Swiss team game Sunday. Basically, I said, the better players and I never ask each other to play and besides, my datebook is full. I’ve got dates booked in May already.
Plus, I added, I am playing with a better player today – Eleanor Whelan, my birthday sister, since we share the same July 18 birth date. Eleanor noted that she was glad her plow guy came and cleared the driveway at her house in Lewiston. In Buffalo, there’s so little snow that I whisked it off my sidewalks with my sweeper shovel in five minutes.
At any rate, I was glad she made it and I was equally glad to see the rest of the Swiss team that club manager Bill Finkelstein had put around us – Nancy Wolstoncroft and Liz Clark, also good players. Among such talented company, I tried to be on my best bidding behavior and pretty much succeeded.
The game was split into morning and afternoon sessions, with each of the five teams playing nine boards against two of the other teams in each session. In the morning, we lived up to our potential of being the second-best squad in the room, finishing second and earning 1.59 master points.
The afternoon found us up against the best team in the room – the Mike Ryan-Howard Foster-Jerry Geiger-John Ziemer team, who had rolled up maximum scores against both their morning opponents. They did the same with us, abetted by a bad bid on my part (a double) that gave them 13 International Match Points. The final round pitted us against Cleveland Fleming and Clare Schultz, who were teamed with Mike Kisiel and Paula Salamone, and we struggled to the only IMP tie score of the day. For our half a victory, we collected another 0.17 point.
Add to that the .25 of a point I got Friday at the Bridge Center of Niagara over in St. Catharines, Ont. I had a good player for a partner there – Selina Volpatti – though she confessed that she hadn’t played bridge since before Christmas. Our 49.17% was good for fourth in the B strat in a 13½ table game. First points I’ve ever earned at the St. Catharines club.
Lifetime total is now 1,499.47. Monday is another double-point double session at the Airport Bridge Club, with a Presidents Day chicken barbecue thrown in, and I’m partnered with Usha Khurana, a C player. With a little bit of luck, there will be a milestone moment.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bridge Blog 648: Inch by inch

The grand plan was to win a bunch of points in the Swiss team game at the Airport Bridge Club on Sunday, but like a lot of grand plans, it got derailed. Having convinced Usha Khurana to be my partner, we failed to reconstruct our good game earlier in the week and our teammates – Jim Brown and Ruth Hnath before lunch break, Jim Brown and Cleveland Fleming after lunch – couldn’t save us. We came close on a couple rounds, losing by 2 or 3 International Match Points, but only won one round – our last one – for 0.23 of a point.
Nevertheless, it was my third straight game that produced points, to which were added a fourth on Monday (52.44% with Joyce Greenspan, third overall, for 1.25 points) and a fifth on Tuesday (55.79% with Ruth Wurster, who was playing stellar defense to make up for my lapses, second North-South for 0.78 of a point). That gives me 4.74 in club points, plus those 0.36 silver. Lifetime total now – 1,497.46. Looks like 1,500 may have to wait for the weekend.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Bridge Blog 647: Warning: milestone ahead

Unless I get hit by a beer truck, this will be the month that I reach the magic mark of 1,500 master points. My lifetime total, the ACBL tells me, was 1,492.41 as of the end of January.
Since then, I’ve picked up 0.36 at the St. Catharines Sectional and scored three times at the Airport Bridge Club this week – 1.18 points for my 54.42% game with Usha Khurana on Monday, 0.91 for that stellar 63.75% second-place overall game with Celine Murray on Wednesday and another 0.34 on Thursday for a 47.40% game with sub Ruth Hnath after previously arranged partner June Feuerstein couldn’t make it. Let’s see, that’s 2.79 for the month so far, which puts the total at 1,495.20. With double points all next week at the club, 1,500 should arrive by next Thursday, maybe sooner.

Bridge Blog 646: Wrapping up January

It’s the seventh day of the month and we point hounds know what that means. The ACBL has posted the monthly updates on the master point races. Let’s see how January treated us.
With nearly 1,500 master points, I’m in the 1,000 to 2,500 point division. We'll start with the standings for Western New York Unit 116, which is just Buffalo.
In the Ace of Clubs race, which counts only points earned in club play, I have that 15.85 (see Blog 645), which puts me second to John Ziemer, who earned a few points at other clubs and has 19.54. The others in the Top 10 are Liz Clark, 12.54; Mike Silverman, 11.78; Ken Meier, 9.38; Fred Yellen, 8.94; Carlton Stone, 8.86; Vince Pesce, 8.79; Paul Libby, 8.60; and Elaine Kurasiewicz, 8.56.
In the Mini-McKenney race, which includes club points and tournament winnings, I have 17.91, which places me fifth. Leader is David Hemmer with 73.46 (!), followed by Judy Padgug, 30.78; John Ziemer, 23.87; Fred Yellen, 20.04; me; Ken Meier, 16.80; Liz Clark, 15.92; Bill Rushmore, 14.11; Mike Silverman, 13 even; and Warren O’Connell Jr., 12.40. Hemmer has the most points of anybody in the unit so far.
Moving on to the District 5 level (Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and parts of Maryland and West Virginia), John Ziemer and I are still one-two in the Ace of Clubs race. Unit 116 players hold four of the top five places on the list of 25 (exception is third-place John Ferry of West Parkersburg, W. Va., with 14 even). We continue to have a good presence in the Top 25, holding 12 places (adding Dorothy May with 8.29 in 19th place and Gene Finton with 7.86 in 22nd).
Over in the District 5 Mini-McKenney, David Hemmer outdistances last year’s district Mini-McKenney champ, Michael Craeger of Brecksville, Ohio, who has 54.94; and Fleur Howard of Gates Mills, Ohio, with 52.22. Judy Padgug is 11th, John Ziemer is 17th, Fred Yellen is 19th and I’m 22nd. The list cuts off at 17.20 points.
Nationally, the Ace of Clubs leader is Scott Donaldson of Scottsdale, Ariz., with 32.97, followed by Gary Zlot of West Palm Beach, Fla., with 32.60. Perennial leader Charlie Christmas of Tallahassee, Fla., is seventh with 28.59. John Ziemer is 59th and I’m not on the list. You need at least 17.83 to be on it.
Leading the national Mini-McKenney list is Shan Huang of Toronto with 192.45 (wow!), followed by Jim Johnson of San Diego with 136.12 and Denis Murphy of Port Williams, Nova Scotia, with 133.27. David Hemmer is 17th and is the only Unit 116 player present. Michael Craeger is 53rd. Fleur Howard is 63rd. The list cuts off at 46.08.
Most January master points of all belong to a pair of 10,000-point plus players from Las Vegas – Mike Passell with a towering 371.74 and Geoff Hampson with 333.38.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Bridge Blog 645: Nothing lasts forever

The streak is over. St. Catharines sectional tournament partner Barbara Sadkin and I got too bold Tuesday at the Airport Bridge Club and didn’t have enough top boards to balance out our bottoms. Two of our bottoms involved doubles that failed to set the opponents. And then there was my misguided push to slam when I forgot that we weren’t playing Cappelletti. On the other hand, there was the 6 Spade slam we bid that everyone else missed. Final result: 44.68%.
Usha Khurana and I preserved the streak handily on Monday, finishing first in the B strat overall with 54.42%, winning 1.18 points. Usha agreed to be my partner in the Swiss team game at the Airport Club on Sunday and wants to nail down dates to play knock-outs at the regional tournament in June. She thinks I might be her guide to gold points.
The Airport Bridge Club, meanwhile, has posted final results for its master point races for January and I’m third with 15.85, just ahead of John Ziemer’s 15.56. “Must have been those club series points,” he remarked as I was copying down the figures Tuesday afternoon. And indeed it was. I picked up fractional points in two of the January club series. Top point-getter at the club once again was Jerry Geiger, with 19.47, followed by the venerable Jim Mathis with 16.28.

Bridge Blog 644: St. Catharines in the rearview mirror

          The 0.36 silver point that Barbara Sadkin and I earned Friday at the St. Catharines Sectional Tournament tied us for 322nd place on a list of 337 point winners. Not much glory there.
          The glory belonged to the unstoppable Saleh Fetouh, who racked up 35.75 points for the weekend – 10.50 for winning the open pairs on Friday afternoon, 11.25 for second place in the A/X pairs Saturday afternoon and 14 as part of the winning Swiss team on Sunday.
His Swiss team partners had the highest totals of the other Buffalo players at the tournament -- Chris Urbanek (14.31 points, seventh), Bud Seidenberg and David Hemmer (14, tied for eighth). It was Saleh’s second straight sectional tournament triumph, having led the Buffalo Winter Sectional the previous weekend with 19.04 points.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Bridge Blog 643: Snow daze

Lake-effect snow has just wiped out my big bridge-playing weekend. Just got off the phone with Saturday St. Catharines Sectional partner Selina Volpatti, whose house in Niagara Falls, Ont., is enveloped in a squall. I’d checked highway conditions and reckoned I could make it (maybe), but she’s reluctant even to drive to her local drug store. Truthfully, although it looks like Buffalo has only 4 or 5 inches, the air is clear and traffic is moving (slowly) on the bus route outside my window, I’m relieved.
Then there’s the e-mail from the Airport Bridge Club, where I planned to play in the Swiss team game on Sunday. Closed today because of the snow. AND closed Sunday. Suddenly I’m bridgeless.  

Friday, February 1, 2013

Bridge Blog 642: St. Catharines Sectional Day 1

Partner Barbara Sadkin is an experienced border-crosser. She’s got her passport. She’s got the bridge crossing information numbers programmed into her cell phone. No delay entering Canada via the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, she determines, so we take it and, indeed, no waiting. From there, we’re in St. Catharines in a flash, although I have a moment of doubt as we approach the Quality Hotel/Parkway Convention Center. It’s no longer a low-slung Quality Hotel, but rather a Holiday Inn with a tower. I swing into the driveway and follow the “Psychic Fair” signs. Behind the tower, all is familiar. We’re in the right place. There’s one of the Buffalo players, John Toy, out copping a last-minute smoke.
The St. Catharines Sectional is quite a bit bigger than the Buffalo Sectional. The open pairs game, where we’re playing, is almost as big as the entire Buffalo tournament – two sections of 12 tables each. And then there’s a 299er game in the other half of the big ballroom and still another game, a women’s game, in the basement.
Barbara fears she signed us up as A stratification players, but they sort that all out in the scoring. As for scoring, they have the little electronic gizmos, which take some getting used to. Barbara sits North and pretty much masters ours by the third round. Barbara pretty much masters everything that comes her way. She plays most of the hands. Me, the big bidder, I mostly pass the auction over to her. She’s declarer on five of the first six boards and 12 out of 27 overall. I play just three. Our best boards, however, turn out to be on defense, including a 17-game-point top on the last one, where we send our opponents down four.
We finish fifth in B in our section with 53.49%, earning 0.36 of a silver point (the streak continues). Big winner was the man who racked up the most points last weekend at the Buffalo tournament, Saleh Fetouh. He had a 63% game and won 10 silver points.