Friday, May 24, 2013

Bridge Blog 677: Long road back

            At the tables again after 10 days away, it was as if I’d forgotten everything I knew about the game. Not that I expected much more from my first day back on Monday than the 43.45% I got with Usha Khurana. Mistakes were made, but it could have been worse. At least we weren’t last.

            Tuesday’s session with Eva Schmidt really was worse. Sitting South, the cards were so awful that other players were talking about how bad they were for two days afterward. It felt so disastrous that I feared we would break my all-time low of 24.48%. We didn’t, although a 32.41% game is nothing to brag about.

            I had hopes for improvement Wednesday with Celine Murray, who had scratched on Tuesday, but the results were almost as dismal as Tuesday – 36.11% – although the cards were better, good enough to make me adventurous enough to go down big on a couple doubled contracts. Those two minus 800 match point scores were both bottom boards.

            The lovely Dianne Bloom, my partner Thursday, cited a couple bidding rules I violated (she’s big on rules) after a couple disastrous contracts, rules which club manager Bill Finkelstein reaffirmed, and it got me wondering if I’m lurching into senile dementia. How could I not know that a 2 No Trump bid over an opponent’s bid shows 13 to 14 points, not 18 to 19? How could I not recall that the Jacoby 2NT convention no longer applies if the opponents interfere? The final score was an improvement – 42.75% – but the position in the standings wasn’t. Still last overall.

            I could hardly expect better times on Friday as I drove to St. Catharines, Ont., for a game with Selina Volpatti at the Bridge Centre of Niagara, where the competition is tough. How tough? Tough enough so I couldn’t get away with my usual sacrifice bidding. Lorna Johnson, a merciless A player, nailed me with a double after I bid 3 Spades with this holding:

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

            Selina had 5 Spades, but only 5 high card points. The Spades split 4-0 and Lorna had ‘em. Not vulnerable, which is why I overbid East-West’s 3 Diamonds (they make 4), but she got the extra trick and gave us minus 300 match points. I should have only been down one. Instead of a good sacrifice, it was a bottom board.

            There was a huge turnout – 21½ tables, thanks to another bridge game in town being closed for the day. The main room was full and there were more players in the side room. At the Airport Bridge Club, the field probably would have been split into two sections, but not here. So we only played two-thirds of the East-Wests in our 13 rounds.

            Selina was disappointed when the electronic scoring pad showed us at 50% when the final round was over. I, on the other hand, was gratified to have had my best game of the week – indeed, my best game since May 8. It turned out that the scoring device rounded us up, sort of like when they do at the cash register in Canada now that they’ve stopped using pennies. Our actual outcome was 49.84%. Still, that gave us fifth place in the B strat in our direction and a whole 0.21 of a master point.

            My point count for the month is so anemic – 3.13 at the Airport Club, 0.57 at St. Catharines – that I feel the need to hit the tables again over Memorial Day weekend to try to pump things up. Fortunately, the Airport Club is giving double points Saturday and for both sessions at its chicken barbecue doubleheader on Monday. I’ll be there.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Bridge Blog 676: Adding up April

Now that the ACBL has posted its monthly updates on unit, district and national master point races, it confirms what I suspected. More slippage. In the Unit 116 Ace of Clubs race, I was second at the end of February, third at the end of March. Now, with 60.40 club points for the year, I’m fourth, thanks to the arrival on the list of David Millward, who apparently has been tearing up the tables down in Florida. David hasn’t shown up at the Airport Bridge Club for the summer yet.
Still leading the 1,000 to 2,500 master point list locally is John Ziemer, who now has 84.71 club points. David Millward is next with 69.90. Then there’s Mike Silverman with 60.70. In fifth place is Liz Clark with 58.57, then there’s a drop to the second tier – Ken Meier, 46.73; Fred Yellen, 41.49; Judy Padgug, 36.01; Paul Libby, 35 even; and Elaine Kurasiewicz, 32.71.
Over on the Mini-McKenney list, which includes club points and tournament points all together, John Ziemer also is the leader with 120.67, having overtaken David Hemmer, who has 115.44. Next come David Millward, 75.29; Liz Clark, 69.42; Judy Padgug, 69.33; and then me in sixth place with 65.60, down one place from last month, again thanks to David Millward. Rounding out the list are Ken Meier, 64.45; Mike Silverman, 61.92; Fred Yellen, 59.44; and Paul Libby, 43.26. Overall Mini-McKenney point leader for the unit is Chris Urbanek, who’s in the 7,500 to 10,000 point category. So far this year she’s gotten 163.52, of which 41.30 are club points.
Moving along to District 5 (Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and parts of West Virginia and western Maryland), the Buffalo players hold down the first six places on the Ace of Clubs list and all 10 of us are in the Top 25.
It’s a different story on the District 5 Mini-McKenney. John Ziemer is third. David Hemmer is fourth. David Millward is eighth. Liz Clark and Judy Padgug are 11th and 12th. And I’m 16th. Ken Meier, Mike Silverman and Fred Yellen also make the top 25.
Leading the list are the usual top dogs – Michael Craeger of Brecksville, Ohio, who now has 204.05; and last month’s third place holder, Fleur Howard of Gates Mills, Ohio, who has 128.91. Last month’s second-place guy, James Gray of Murrysville, Pa., has dropped to sixth with 112.69.
The national Ace of Clubs list leads off with Judy Zhu of Naperville, Ill., who has 109.14; followed by Michael Vermilion of Albuquerque with 106.18. John Ziemer is 15th. David Millward is 45th. Mike Silverman and I just miss making the list. It cuts off with a three-way tie at 61.20.
Over on the national Mini McKenney list, the leaders have surpassed the 500-point mark. Jim Johnsen of San Diego, Calif., has 539.74, while Shan Huang of Toronto has 510.05. The District 5 leaders? Michael Craeger is 17th, while Fleur Howard is 99th. Nobody from Unit 116 is on this list.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Bridge Blog 675: Unaccountable

Just as suddenly as the weather has turned perfectly springlike, my bridge game as taken a turn for the sunny side.  I’ve scratched now for three sessions in a row.
First was with Usha Khurana on Thursday, a 51.62% game, third in the B strat, 0.28 points, despite being perplexed at times (see Blog 674) .
Then Selina Volpatti and I had our best session yet in the St. Catharines club, 56.92%, 0.36 points, fourth in the B strat overall in a 16-table game where everyone was jammed into the room they don’t use any more because the floor was being replaced in the room they always use. This despite Selina being exhausted from chairing a six-hour meeting the night before.
Finally there was the individual game Sunday at the Airport Bridge Club’s Cinqo de Mayo sesssion, where you have a different partner every round and play by the standard yellow card, which means no fancy conventions.
One which works despite the restrictions is the 2 Spade bid relaying to 3 Clubs over a 1 No Trump opener. I know, because I needed to consult with the yellow card before I used it. I corrected my partner to 3 Diamonds and he went on to 3 No Trump, making it.
In a game where you never know how well you’ll do, I did well – 57.95%, third overall, for 0.60 point, doubling my point tally for the month so far.
Speaking of monthly points, the ACBL has my pending total for April at 16.50, plus those 5 points they’re belated getting around to including from the ACBL-wide charity game in March. But there’s still something missing – that quarter of a point from April 26 in St. Catharines.

Bridge Blog 674: Caught looking

When you’re at bat in baseball, you get only so many pitches worth swinging at. Same goes for bridge hands. At any given session, only a few fat contracts come your way and the good players get home runs off them.
Usha Khurana and I watched a home run pitch go past us late in the session on Thursday at the Airport Bridge Club and we instantly regretted it. Board 17. Nobody vulnerable. I’m sitting North and I’m dealer. Here’s the hand:

Spades: A-7; Hearts: A-K-Q-J-7-5
Diamonds: J-9-4; Clubs: 10-7

I open 1 Heart, Usha bids 2 Clubs, I rebid the Hearts and she offers 3 Diamonds. With six sure tricks in Hearts, an Ace stopper in Spades and my partner covering the minor suits, I had no trouble bidding 3 No Trump. When East led a low spade, I knew we should have swung for the fences as soon as Usha laid down the dummy:

Spades: K-3; Hearts: 2
Diamonds: A-K-8-2; Clubs: A-K-9-8-5-3.

Three sets of Ace-Kings to go with my six Heart tricks. Fool proof as long as the fool bids it. Here are the other two hands.

Spades: 10-6-5-4-2; Hearts: 10-3
Diamonds: Q-5-3; Clubs: J-6-4

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

It wasn’t a bottom board for us, just a little below average. We got 3.5 out a possible 8 match points. Only one North-South bid the slam – at 6 Hearts, yet – and made it. Another bid 6 NT, played from the South, and, unaccountably, went down two. Three pairs who played it at 4 Hearts took all 13 tricks. Two others bid 4 Hearts and took only 12 tricks. One other pair wound up at 3 NT, getting the same result we did.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Bridge Blog 673: All April wrote

No last-minute additions to the April point total in the month’s waning days. The 51.19% game with Sharon Chang on Monday could have been good enough to deliver, had a miracle of stratification come along, but it didn’t. And the 41.84% effort with the lovely Pawan Matta on Tuesday was a certain miss, although at least we weren’t dead last. (See Blogs 672-A and 672-B).
Nevertheless, April is nearly a 17-point month. There’s the 13.80 at the Airport Bridge Club, another 0.25 at the Niagara Bridge Centre in St. Catharines and the 2.70 from the sectional tournament.

Bridge Blog 672-A: Bad to good

Pawan Matta and I lost all hope right from the get-go on Tuesday at the Airport Bridge Club. On our very first hand, we ventured to the edge of a slam in Hearts, but stopped at a 5-bid. I played it and made an overtrick. That will be bad, Pawan reckoned. Everybody else will bid it. Here’s the hand.

Spades: None; Hearts: K-J-8-7-6-5-2
Diamonds: K-Q-8-6-2; Clubs: 6.

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

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

Spades: K-J-10-8-3; Hearts: A-3
Diamonds: 10-9; Clubs: 10-8-7-5

It’s Board 1, so nobody’s vulnerable. I’m sitting North and I’m the dealer, looking at a fistful of red cards. I open 1 Heart. I forget Pawan’s response. It could have been 1 Spade or 2 Diamonds. I rebid the Hearts. She ultimately goes to 4 No Trump to ask for Aces and, having none, I bid 5 Clubs. She signs off at 5 Hearts.
I think East led a low Spade, taken with the Dummy’s Ace. I pitched a Diamond and led a Heart from the board. West (Don Grant) appropriately held up his Ace and my King won. I led another Heart and watched Ace and Queen fall together. Clear sailing after that.
This terrible hand gave us 7.5 match points out of a possible 8. North played the contract at 4 Hearts at all but one of the other tables. Only one fared as well as I did. Six times they made just one overtrick. Then there was the unfortunate North who bid the slam in Hearts and guessed wrong on the trump play. Down one.

Bridge Blog 672-B: Beyond bad

While I was wondering about the outcome on Board 1 Tuesday (Blog 672-A), people were talking about Board 12 in tones of disbelief before the game was over. 3 No Trump, they’d say as they tried to keep from laughing. OK, it was a gamble. I admit it, but I thought it had a chance. Here are the hands.

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

Spades: A-7-4-3; Hearts: 10-9-5
Diamonds: 6-5; Clubs: K-J-8-6

Spades: 9-2; Hearts: Q
Diamonds: A-K-Q-10-9-4-2; Clubs: A-7-2

Spades: J-10-5; Hearts: 8-6-4-3-2
Diamonds: J; Clubs: 10-5-4-3

For Board 12, West is dealer. North-South is vulnerable, East-West is not. West (Ken Meier) passes. I bid 1 No Trump. East (Joe Rooney) doubles. Pawan bids 2 Clubs – Stayman – and I go 2 Hearts, bidding my four-card major suits up the line. Rooney bids 3 Diamonds, revealing the long suit implied by his double. Pawan might have passed, but goes 3 NT. OK, she’s got a stopper in Diamonds. The rest just might work out.
Wrong! Joe leads his Ace of Diamonds and I see just how exposed we are. He takes seven Diamond tricks and the Ace of Clubs. Down four. Joe, who’s usually quick to double my wilder bids, says he didn’t want to double this time and chase us into one of our suits.
No question that it’s a bottom board. Only a few North-Souths wound up with plus scores on this one. Top board was 3 Spades, played by South, making the bid. Next best were North-Souths who let East-West play it at 4 Diamonds (down two) and 3 Diamonds (down one doubled).
Four North-Souths went to 4 Spades (three of them down one – yes, it only makes 3 – and the other down two). Another went down two at 3 Hearts. No Trump? Naaahhh!