Friday, March 29, 2013

Bridge Blog 662: Bad Friday

            The radio warned of  big delays on the international bridges. Hour and a half coming into the U.S. at Lewiston-Queenston. Hour at the Peace Bridge. Forty-five minutes at the Rainbow Bridge. No delay, the announcer added, almost as an afterthought, for traffic headed into Canada.

            Just to be on the safe side, I left a little early for my game with Selina Volpatti in St. Catharines, but sure enough, I had no wait whatsoever at Canadian Customs in Fort Erie. Coming toward Buffalo, however, the cars were backed up past the turnoff to the duty-free store. When I turned off the Queen Elizabeth Way at McLeod Road in Niagara Falls, I realized why. The parking lots were empty at the mall. Everything was closed. Canada shuts down for Good Friday. When I got to St. Catharines, the usual traffic snarl on Glendale Avenue was nowhere to be seen. The only thing open was Tim Hortons.

            And the Bridge Centre of Niagara, although attendance was light. Instead of the usual 13 or 14 tables, they had eight. And their automated scoring gizmos – the Duplimates – were in Toronto at the regional tournament. Scores were on pick-up slips. Selina and I had a lovely time together and thought we were winning, but discovered otherwise when the director handed out summaries to everyone before the final round. 44%. You can find your final scores online later, he said. Our disappointment was palpable. Well, one more round, maybe we jumped up a little. Wrong. I just looked and discovered us at 41.07%. Next to last. One more chance to break out of this slump before the month is over. We’ll see if Bad Friday can turn into Good Saturday.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bridge Blog 661: Unsprung

If I'm not amassing any points, is there anything worth blogging about? Well, like the weather, although I'm not getting much warmer at the bridge table, my tales of woe for the past couple weeks are getting gradually brighter.
Case in point, my Wednesday partner, Celine Murray, and I improved our game from a tied-for-next-to-last 43.45% last week to a next-to-last 47.03% this week. And on Tuesday, partner Marietta Kalman and I poked our heads above 50%, a basis point shy of winning a fraction of something. (If only I had informed her properly when she asked what trump was on that one hand ... if only I had counted my cards on that hand where I had only 12 of them ... coulda-shoulda ad infinitum).
It's still adding up to a dismal March and the chances for redemption are running out. If Thursday turns out to be Maundy and Friday fails to be Good (over in St. Catharines), then I'll have to reach out for a touch of the divine on Holy Saturday. Or maybe a miracle of stratification.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Bridge Blog 660: IMPish

            It looked like fun, Sunday’s double session at the Airport Bridge Club, and it looked like a good deal – two full games plus corned beef sandwiches and coleslaw for lunch, all for $14. The fun part was the scoring. Instead of the usual match point game, it would be scored in International Match Points. Your score would be measured against the average score for each hand, then translated into IMPs (or, if you stretch the metaphor, St. Patrick’s Day leprechauns). You could get plus points. You also could get minus points. What we didn't expect were the wild swings in IMP points. One team, Mike Kisiel and Alex Miller, had a minus 84.55 IMPs in the morning and a plus 36.25 in the afternoon, a 120-point swing. Strategy? A little like Swiss teams, except you don’t worry about how the other half of your team is doing. Sort of like Swiss teams for individual pairs.

            Except I was solo. I’d asked Selina Volpatti, my Friday companion in St. Catharines, but she was unavailable. Club manager Bill Finkelstein said Judi Marshall was unattached, but she only wanted to play one game, the afternoon game. If I played only one game, I wanted morning so I could make a 5 p.m. show at the Sportsmen’s Tavern. So no Judi.

            I would up playing with Bill Boardman, who’s easygoing and does well and indulges more conventions than I remember from the last time I played with him, maybe a year ago. We started off like drag racers, racking up more than 30 IMPs in the first two four-board rounds. But then the air leaked out of our game. Particularly damaging was the slam that Paul and Barbara Libby bid and made against us, which gave us minus 11. We were still on the plus side at the end, but only by about five IMPs. No master points.

            The afternoon game was a five-table Howell movement, the perfect Howell, and Bill and I found our groove. “You’ll want to stick around for the results,” Bill Finkestein said as we played the final rounds. Sure enough, we were wayyyy ahead – 49.17 IMPs. First overall for a full master point. That brings my total for March at the club to 6.67. Add another 5 bonus points from the ACBL-wide Charity Game last Tuesday night. And another quarter of a point from St. Catharines. Hey, double digits! And coming up – a week of double points.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

Bridge Blog 659: Good standing

For a change I got to the Niagara Bridge Center in St. Catharines, Ont., before partner Selina Volpatti on Friday, which presented me with a choice: pay $7 to play as a non-member or do something I’ve considered since we first played there a little more than a year ago - join the club. The decision was made easier by the membership table set up near the door. It’s time for all the members to renew. Full-year member for $50 or a six-month member for $30. What the heck, six months. The ladies at the table assured me that I'd get one of their little nameplates, which I've long coveted. They also gave me a slip for a free play. I’ve saved $5 or $7 already!

It was a 13-table game, which seemed to move along even more quickly for people like us sitting East-West. It also seemed like we were playing an extraordinary amount of No Trump - 13 No Trump contacts in both directions out of 26 boards. Our first game was 3 NT, me pushing Selina there despite being a little weak, and we went down one. Sure enough, according to the hand record (yes, they provide hand records), we should only have made 2 NT. It was a zero.

Despite this, we seemed to be having a pretty good day. On the second hand, I was declarer at 3 NT and the opponents missed a chance for an extra trick, so the illicit second overtrick gave us a tie for top. By the fourth round, we hit a high point with a pair of 75% outcomes at a couple tables, then reverted back to average. Against Pair 13, however, there were three passes to me and I was sitting in fourth seat with this hand:

Spades: J-3; Hearts: 9-7-2; Diamonds: A-Q-J-10-8; Clubs: K-6-3.

I counted 11 high card points, added one for the five-card Diamond suit and thought for a moment. No major suit potential. It didn’t even fulfill the Rule of 15. Plus we’re vulnerable. In the third seat, non-vulnerable, I’d bid a Diamond, but not in this situation. I passed it out. Turns out it was not a good hand for us, 3.5 game points out of 12, even though the hand records show that it will make only 1 Club or Diamond for East-West and 1 Heart for North-South. Guess we have to encourage the opponents to go crazy and bid.

Final results gave us a 51.76% game, fifth in the A strat (we were playing in A, no miracles of stratification here), which was good for a fraction of a point – 0.26. Selina and I may get to renew our partnership on Sunday at the Airport Bridge Club’s St. Patrick’s Day double session. I’ve got my fingers crossed that her husband will give her the green light to play.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Bridge Blog 658: Selfish

Part of me really wanted to play the ACBL-Wide Charity Game. That would be the point-hungry part of me. But the game was Tuesday night and my nights are spoken for. I work nights. Even though I was clear of outstanding assignments, it didn’t seem right to bail out on a night in the office at short notice, especially on pure speculation.
But then in the middle of Tuesday afternoon’s game at the Airport Bridge Club, club manager Bill Finkelstein suggested that assistant director Paula Kotowski could be my partner if her husband gave the OK. Suddenly, the game didn’t seem so speculative. Paula’s a good player and we’ve had success on other occasions. So I called my city editor straightaway and told him something had come up. I needed the night off, a/k/a a personal leave day. If obituaries were waiting for me, they’d have to wait a little longer.
I got to the game half an hour early and Paula was not far behind. Thorough person that she is, she went through the entire convention card. New minor forcing? Yes. Cappelletti? Yes. Roman key card? Yes.
The Airport Club had seven full tables for the game with a fair number of expert players in the field. The pre-arranged hands seemed particularly devilish. There were seven- and eight-card suits that didn’t play. There were seemingly flat hands that yielded 11 tricks out of seven-card trump suits. On offense, Paula and I didn’t seem to be particularly brilliant, but defense was another matter entirely. We were killers on defense. In the nine hands where we set our opponents, we had an 80% game.
Overall, it felt like a good session. It felt even better after we scored three top boards out of four in the final round against Bill Boardman and Joe Rooney, who left us grateful for gifts such as the slam that they failed to bid. Our final score – 64.11%. Runaway overall winners, we collected 2.83 points (which doubles my point count for the month), plus whatever bonuses we might qualify for on the district level.
It turned out that two pairs ranked better at the Bridge Center of Buffalo – John Toy and Chris Urbanek, who like us were playing North-South and got 68.03%, and Kathy Pollock and Chongmin Zhang, who were tops East-West over there with 64.94%. Since these are the only two clubs in District 5 that took part in the game, it looks like Paula and I were third overall, which means an extra 5 master point bonus, doubling my point count again. Am I sorry I indulged my bridge addiction by taking the night off? Not at all.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Bridge Blog 657: Mired

I am in a slump of massive proportions so far this month, a fact driven home on Monday when the lovely Pawan Matta and I glided down to a 38.32% game in a five-table Howell session at the Airport Bridge Club. With six absolute bottom boards in 27 hands and another five ties for bottom, there was no single mistake or even cluster of mistakes that we could have corrected to gain some redemption.
I’m so hungry for points that I insisted to my significant other that I absolutely had to play the Swiss team game on Sunday at the Airport Club, since even a losing effort might stand a chance of bringing home some fractional rewards.
Allied with partner Judy Kaprove and teammates Dotty May and Florence Notto, we won two rounds and lost two by the time the pizza arrived for lunch. Two more wins, I told them, and we’d be among the leaders, albeit on the bottom rung. Well, we won only once after lunch and finished sixth overall, but thanks to the miracle of stratification, we were first in the C strat. It got us 1.69 points, which boosted my haul for month from less than one point to more than two.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Bridge Blog 656: Feb's in

The latest master point race totals have been posted on the ACBL website. Let’s take a look.
Ace of Clubs for Unit 116 (Buffalo, just club play) in my division (1,000 to 2,500 points) finds me in second place with 32.57 behind the excellent John Ziemer, who’s way out front with 44.95. The rest of the Top 10:
Mike Silverman, 29.41; Ken Meier, 26.87; Liz Clark, 25.41; Elaine Kurasiewicz, 18.86; Gene Finton, 18.39; Vince Pesce, 17.92; Fred Yellen, 16.05; and Judy Padgug, 14.12.
Heading the other Unit 116 Ace of Clubs races are:
0-5, Robert Farwell, 3.40; 5-20, Judith Bailey (not Judie Bailey), 3.14; 20-50, Joel Brownstein, 5.90; 50-100, Jim Tao, 8.33; 100-200, Dave Donaldson, 28.69; 200-300, Larry Soong, 13.85; 300-500, Art Matthies, 21.18; 500-1,000, Bill Boardman, 25.39; 2,500-5,000, Jerry Geiger, 46.23; 5,000-7,500, Bud Seidenberg, 14.84; 7,500-10,000, Meg Klamp (who’s down in Florida), 44.90; and 10,000 plus, only one name, Jim Mathis, 25.89.
Mini-McKenney for Unit 116 (all points from all sources) shows me fourth with 35.07. The Top 10: David Hemmer, 75.46; John Ziemer, 49.28; Judy Padgug, 40.46; me; Ken Meier, 34.29; Mike Silverman, 30.63; Liz Clark, 28.79; Fred Yellen, 27.15; Elaine Kurasiewicz, 21.04; and Gene Finton, 18.39.
Moving up to District 5, which includes Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and parts of West Virginia and Maryland, I’m still second in the Ace of Clubs. Unit 116 players hold down the top five places. In all, nine of us are on that Top 25 list. It cuts off at 14.35.
As for the District 5 Mini-McKenney, perennial top dog Michael Creager of Brecksville, Ohio, leads the list with 77.24, with David Hemmer right on his heels. Fleur Howard of Gates Mills, Ohio, is right behind him with 73.99. John Ziemer is seventh. Judy Padgug is 10th. I’m 15th. Ken Meier is 17th. Mike Silverman is 21st. Liz Clark is 23rd. Fred Yellen is 25th.
Do any of us make the big nationwide Top 100s? In my division, in the Ace of Clubs, leader is Judy Zhu of Naperville, Ill., with 57.02, followed by Paul Harris of Phoenix, Ariz., with 56.12, and good old Charlie Christmas of Tallahassee, Fla., with 53.16. John Ziemer is 12th. I’m 86th. The list cuts off at 31.78.
Tougher still is the Mini-McKenney. Leader there in the 1,000 to 2,500 bracket is Jim Johnsen of San Diego, Calif., with 266.29, followed at a distance by Shan Huang of Toronto with 205.51 and Sylvia Shi of Baltimore with 156.05. District 5 leader Michael Creager is 71st. David Hemmer is 81st. Fleur Howard is 88th. The list stops at 72.09.
Most points of all this year belong to a 10,000-points-plus guy named Jacek Pszczola of Chapel Hill, N.C., who has 500.15.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Bridge Blog 655: Pending

Sure enough, the ACBL says my pending points for February are 17.16. And then there’s that other 0.36 from the sectional, for which they’ve already given me credit. Last February, when the Airport Bridge Club was closed due to club manager Bill Finkelstein’s health problems, I had fewer than 10 points for the month and a total of just 18 or so for the year.
Nevertheless, at 17 points a month, I’ll wind up the year with about 200. What I really want is 250 or better, which will bring Gold Life Master into view a year sooner (like maybe 2016). A step-up of some sort is in order. To that end, I’ve decided to play the double-point Swiss team game next Sunday at the Airport Club.
Meanwhile, it’s taken five days to break into the scoring column for March. Celine Murray and I couldn’t reach 40% on Friday. Saturday and Sunday were off. And Monday, with Marilyn Sultz, our 49.83% result in the ACBL Senior Pairs event was respectable, but out of the money.
After Ruth Wurster canceled so she could go bury her 94-year-old father in Nebraska, I showed up Tuesday without a partner, was paired with Bill Boardman and had a game without serious negatives until the final hand, when Bill took a flyer by bumping his weak 2 Heart opening bid to 4 Hearts. Doubled. Vulnerable. Down three. Our only bottom board. Even so, we came in third in the B strat with 51.39%. In this week of normal, non-inflated point awards, that was worth 0.32.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Bridge Blog 654: Far-flung February

February finished on a surprise upbeat with Florence Boyd – a 56.55% game that put us first in the B strat and earned us 1.5 points. Normally, the points I get at the Airport Bridge Club are all the points I get in any month, but February was an exception.
There was the St. Catharines Sectional, which was good for 0.36 of a silver point. There were those two games at the St. Catharines bridge club with Selina Volpatti, which yielded about three-quarters of a point. And then there was that Unit 116 Pro-Am game with Jim Tao, which brought in 2.31 points. When it’s all rounded up, it should pretty much match January – around 17 points.