Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bridge Blog 691: Buffalo Regional Days 5 & 6


        Bridge players waiting for results from the Swiss teams game.

        It was the most devastating of errors. In Round 6 of the Sunday Swiss teams competition, against a married couple from London, Ont., we’re vulnerable and partner Usha Khurana opened 1 No Trump, which set my mental gears spinning.
I had a seven-card Diamond suit – King, Queen, Jack, 10, x-x-x, four Spades headed by the Ace-King, a singleton Jack of Hearts and a non-descript Club. At our teammates’ table, this hand played at 5 Diamonds, making six. But not us. I reckoned that if my partner had at least two Aces among her 15 to 17 high card points, this sweet little setup could make 6 NT. So I did not bid Diamonds. I bid 4 NT.
Usha didn’t give me a Blackwood response to tell me how many Aces she had. She jumped straight to 6 NT. OK. She won the opening Heart lead with my Jack, of all things, and crossed to her Queen of Spades.
But then she continued Spades. She had three of them. One of our opponents had four, including one that was higher than the one that was left in my hand after the A-K-Q were played. That same opponent also had the Ace of Clubs, which she promptly cashed. We won all the rest. Had Usha run out the long Diamonds first, the slam was in the bag.
If we made the slam, we'd win the sixth round by an International Match Point margin of 18-6, which would translate into a 25-5 Victory Point win and give us a distant, but palpable chance of getting gold points in the B stratification, which went to the top 10 teams.
Usha felt very badly about it and I tried to reassure her that it wasn’t too big a deal, really. She went on to atone herself in the final round against a pair of ladies from Rochester by making a very sketchy 3 NT vulnerable contract that I put her into. That provided most of our 19-8 IMP victory.
We wound up with three winning rounds, 0.36 red master points each, and 81 Victory Points, well short of the magic top 10 in the B strat. Winning round six would make us 20 VPs better, but still short. The teams that tied for ninth and 10th had 105 VPs.
Not a good regional for me, as it turned out. In pairs games Saturday, Betty Metz and I failed to replicate the fine game we had Friday morning and registered a 48.42%, best of the pairs who were out of the money. In the afternoon, Alicia Kolipinski and I did a little better than that, 50.83%, but still not good enough to earn points. So my final tournament tally is something like 4.5 red points, worst I’ve done on Grand Island since 2009.
Notes, Part I: End of an era
This was the final regional tournament at the Grand Island Holiday Inn, which is due for a total rebuild by the investors from Dubai who bought the place at bankruptcy auction last fall. When it’s finished, it will be a high-end resort, well out of range for price-conscious bridge players.
In its current holding pattern, the hotel showed signs of benign neglect. Everything was a little down at the heels. Lights were dim in the main ballroom and ladders littered the stage. Nobody cleaned said ballroom Friday night, prompting this writer to go around between the morning and afternoon sessions Saturday picking up trash.
It also was the last tournament to be chaired by Pat Rasmus, whose husband, Dick, was one of the directors. You have to marvel at all the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes into putting on one of these affairs and Pat shone especially brightly in providing two of the most prominent amenities – the late-night hospitality and the prizes for the individual event winners.  
I’m not sure how much of the late-night eats Pat made herself, but the trademark sloppy joes were definitely hers and probably the Mexican nibbles on another night. Everybody seemed pleased. One night, she sent me home with a big helping of leftover three-bean salad – she’d just have to throw it out, she said. For Usha and me on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, this was like a third meal.
As for the gift room, I wasn’t fortunate enough to get to pick a prize this year (a previous year’s win provided the alarm clock that woke me up each morning of the tournament), but a visit there on Wednesday showed a remarkable array of desirable stuff. Pat had been accumulating it all year and it filled one of the rooms in her house. She trucked it all out to Grand Island on Monday, one of her day-before preparations. She’ll be hard to replace.
Next year there will be a new chairman and a new venue, and while I didn’t hear any speculation about who will run the 2014 tournament, I heard plenty of talk about where it might or might not be held. Downtown at the Adam’s Mark? Not a great venue, especially when you have to eat lunch or dinner there to get free parking in the ramp. The Marriott on Millersport Highway? Probably too expensive. Where else is there a cheap hotel with a couple ballrooms, extra meeting rooms and the other stuff you’d need? That place along the river near the Grand Island Bridge in Niagara Falls? Hard to say.
Notes, Part II: Shark-infested waters
The big gold-point payoffs at a regional tournament lure some big players. Dan Gerstman, the man with the most master points in Unit 116, was there, playing team games with his out-of-town expert cronies. Joel Wooldridge, who has gone on to become a full-fledged high-level tournament maven, picked up some 38 points in one of the top-strat knock-out games. And then there was Bridge Club Meridian director Dian Petrov, a formidable player partnered once again with non-life master Ted Kahn.
More remarkable were the out-of-towners. In the pairs game Friday afternoon, Eva Schmidt and I encountered Donna Compton, dark-haired, 40ish and passingly attractive, whose slightly severe countenance was accentuated by angular glasses. (“Google her name,” someone told me – and sure enough, here it is: “Donna Compton is a full-time bridge professional, teacher, author and team captain/coach in international play. She owns the Bridge Academy of North Dallas.” The Bridge Academy site tells us further that “Donna is the reigning World Mixed Champion and a WBF World Life Master.”)
Her partner was a tall 50ish woman with straight straw-blond hair and no makeup named Kay. She said she was Donna’s student. When Kay got to be declarer on a 3 No Trump contract, she remarked that this was one of the rare moments Donna let her play one. They were declarers on all four hands they played with us (Kay got to play another) and whipped us thoroughly, taking 14.5 out of a possible 20 match points.
The expert I ran into more often, however, was Barry Graham, a rotund and relatively genial retirement-age native of Regina, Saskatchewan, with two packs of cigarettes in his shirt pocket, a ready supply of chocolates and a big prescription bottle full of assorted pills.
Betty Metz and I played him and his partner, another Regina retiree named Fay Teal, in the Friday and Saturday morning pairs. Betty and I did well against them Friday, bagging 13.5 out of a possible 21 match points. Not so on Saturday. They nailed us for 15.5 out of a possible 20.
On Sunday, they were our very first opponents in Swiss teams and Graham opened the bidding on the first hand with an emphatic 4 Spades. Making an overtrick. He knew he had six tricks, he told Fay, and the vulnerability was in his favor.
We finished early, thoroughly trounced, 48-0, and while Barry hobbled away from the table, presumably to have a smoke, Fay told us they were old friends in Regina and he was a pro. He makes his living from bridge, she explained, and had 14,000 master points. She had 6,000 herself, was one of his students and had trouble finding suitable partners. So being a well-off widow, she goes to tournaments with him, paying his way. They’re off to St. Charles, Ill., in a few weeks and then Saute Ste. Marie.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Bridge Blog 690-A: Buffalo Regional, Day 2

          There was an air of discouragement around Usha Khurana and me as we drove out to the Grand Island Holiday Inn Wednesday morning for the second day of the Buffalo Regional Tournament, but I was determined not to breathe it. OK, we got slam-dunked in the Tuesday morning knock-outs (by a team that went on to win the B section) and we posted 38% games in both sessions of open pairs afterward. But, I assured Usha, we got the bad bridge out of our system. We’ll do better today.
          For our second stab at the knock-outs Wednesday afternoon, our teammates were Ron and Cynthia Helfman, who often do well together, and our opponents included our pickup teammate from last year, Alison Burkett from Kitchener, Ont., who picked up Buffalo player Rich Cramer-Benjamin, and another Kitchener pair – Louise, tall, dark-haired and tart of tongue, but sweeter than I’d surmised before we met her, and Al, a genial octogenarian who is head and shoulders shorter than Louise.
          We were gratified to discover that we didn’t do badly at all against them in the first half of the session – we were down only seven International Match Points after 12 boards. Under 10, anything can happen, Louise says. And it might have happened for us except for two hands.
One came in the first half, when I let them play and make 4 Hearts vulnerable, failing to go for a non-vulnerable 4 Spade sacrifice (which actually made 4 Spades doubled at the other table). Instead of a minus 15 IMPs, it would have been only minus 1 IMP and we would be ahead of them by seven points at the interval.
The other came in the second half, when Usha bid to game with unfavorable vulnerability, without any encouragement from me, then went down four doubled for minus 1,100. That was another minus 15. And we lost the second half by only 7 IMPs, too.
Without those boards, the second half score would have been a plus for us and we would have gone on to round two. Instead, we went to dinner at the Beach House and figured we’d play the single-session Swiss team game at night. When we returned, however, Cynthia determined that there were no gold points to be earned in that particular Swiss team game and decided we’d fare better in the open pairs, where a chance for gold existed, slight as it might be. Neither of us came anywhere near gold status, but Usha and I were nearly 10 percentage points better than Tuesday – 47.50% – and the Helfmans were a little better than that. Thursday, I assured Usha, we’ll be even more improved.

Bridge Blog 690-B: Buffalo Regional, Day 3

Our intention was to play pairs again Thursday, but at the registration table we ran into Mike Silverman and Alicia Kolipinski, who were looking to fill out their team for the two-session Swiss team game that was about to start. Better chance for gold. We signed on with them.
Who should we run into in our first round but one of the toughest A teams – Chris Urbanek, Bud Seidenberg and, at our table, John Toy and expert Jan Assini from Cleveland. They skunked us by 42 IMPs for a victory point shutout. Our second opponents were another strong team that happened to be down on its luck. At our table were Allan Beroza and John Ziemer. They shut us out on IMPs, 17-0, but translated into victory points, it was only 27-3.
We blanked a weak Toronto team in the third round, 25-0 IMPs, then hit some more experts – Mike Ryan and Jerry Geiger – who handed us yet another IMP shutout, 20-0. When we broke for dinner, we had won just one match and had only 34 victory points. On the scoring chart, we were sitting in the middle of a bunch of luckless C-strat teams. That, I told my teammates, is who we’ll play tonight.
Sure enough, we feasted on a couple of them with IMP margins of 43-0 and 17-2, which brought us up to 90 victory points, 50% of a possible 180 at that moment. We narrowly missed on the next round, losing by one IMP, then won the final round by a single IMP. Our final total – 120 victory points out of a possible 240. It had been fun, we all agreed. Much more fun than knock-outs.
I tried counting down the incomplete results on the scoring chart and determined that we could wind up as high as seventh or eighth in the B strat, which awarded gold master points to the top eight finishers. Alas, we finished ninth – five VPs below the eighth place team. Each winning round, however, was worth 0.31 red points and we won four of them. 1.24. Finally, Usha and I broke into the point column.

Bridge Blog 690-C: Buffalo Regional, Day 4

I was waiting to get a cracked exhaust pipe repaired Thursday morning when the cell phone rang. I almost didn’t recognize the voice. It was Selina Volpatti, my Canadian partner. We were supposed to play morning and afternoon pairs Friday and Saturday, then finish together with the Swiss teams on Sunday. She can’t do it, she said. That back injury she got playing golf earlier in the week was so painful that she couldn’t sit for extended periods. The doctor advised her to recline.
So I checked in with partnership chairwoman Faith Perry at the tournament. By late Thursday afternoon, she lined up former Unit 116 president Betty Metz to play with me in the Friday morning pairs. More to come later.
I’d never played with Betty, but we decided to stick with the basic game, few conventions, and got off to what felt like a good start. Indeed, it was. In the first two rounds, the scoring summary shows that we had 25.5 out of a possible 42 match points. We maintained that pace all the way through, notching a 60.50% game, my best in a while. It gave us second place overall (winner had 62.54%) and 2.27 red points. Betty and I agreed to play together again Saturday morning. This time perhaps we’ll get some gold.
Eva Schmidt asked me to play in the afternoon and our luck wasn’t as good – a 50.83% game, fourth overall out of seven tables in our side game, but within hailing distance of the pair who got points in third place with 51.25%. If only I hadn’t risen with the Ace of trumps and taken Eva’s King on Board 14. If only I had taken the safer trump option in our 6 Heart slam on Board 4 (who knew that West also had a singleton Spade???).

Bridge Blog 690-D: Oddsmakers

Currently, I’ve accumulated 3.51 red points in the Buffalo Regional, but is that bad or just mediocre? As I recall, I don’t usually do well at this tournament, although there have been some notable exceptions. Let’s look at the record:

2012: 12.12, 153rd place.
          2011: 6.97, 247th.

2010: 7.59, 243rd.
            2009: 4.15, 420th.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bridge Blog 689: Buffalo Regional Tournament -- Day 1

Talk about your Longest Day. In the bridge marathon on the first day of Summer last week, I played 65 boards. On the first day of the Buffalo Regional Tournament in the Grand Island Holiday Inn on Tuesday, I played 74 – 24 in the morning knock-out competition, 26 in the afternoon open pairs game and 24 more in the evening open pairs. Now I’m really, really bridged out. The rest of the tournament will be a piece of cake by comparison. I’ll be playing only two sessions daily, not three, and the Swiss team game on Sunday will probably be 49 boards.
Partner Usha Khurana and I played a lot of bridge, but we didn’t play a lot of good bridge. In the knock-outs, with the capable Canadians Linda Burroughsford and Peter Patterson as our teammates, we were trounced by some even more capacious Canadians – the Scott team – who went on to play the finals Tuesday night.
Our direct opponents were a delightful, but odd pair from Burlington – a woman brain surgeon oncologist named Linda and an Australian named Jan. The two had been playing bridge online for a while and finally met last year when Jan was en route to visit someone in Florida. He never made it to Florida. They’ve been together ever since. When he asks for a card from the dummy, he calls her “Darlin’.” Among their other quirks was an opening 2-bid that was not weak, but indicated that they could take 6 or 7 tricks playing in the suit they bid.
Our teammates left after we tabulated the sorry results – beaten 19-3 in the first half, 52-18 in the second half – and we signed in for the two-part open pairs game. While the morning crowd of players was sparse – a little more than a dozen knock-out teams, five tables of open pairs – the afternoon turnout was respectable: more than 30 tables in our game and a bunch more in the single-session pairs game.
Usha and I finished 14 th out of 16 North-South pairs in the afternoon session with a dismal 38.21%. We thought we did better playing East-West in the evening and we did, but just barely – 38.23%. This time we were dead last.
“Did you make both slams?” another East-West, John Marvin, asked after the evening session. No. We only made one of them. The other one was a point of contention for Usha, who felt that I should have not have raised her 1 Heart opening bid directly to 4 Hearts. She was still unconvinced after John Marvin said that it described my hand as being long in Hearts with 9 or 10 high card points. She thought I should have bid 3 Hearts and then she would go to 4 No Trump to ask for Aces. Here’s my hand:
Spades: 9-8; Hearts: Q-9-6-5-4-3
            Diamonds: A-K-3; Clubs: 8-7

And here’s hers:
Spades: A-3; Hearts: A-K-J-8-2
Diamonds: J; Clubs: A-Q-J-6-3

It makes 7 Hearts. Most players stopped at 6 and collected the overtrick. Our score on that board – 3.5 out of a possible 25.
Our best board succeeded through a bit of defensive strategy. Despite a disadvantage in vulnerability, we bid our opponents up to 5 Hearts and set them by one trick. The hand record for that board says it should succeed at 5 Hearts, while our ill-fated Club suit would have gone down, making only 8 tricks overall.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Bridge Blog 688: Going long

            Back when I was golfing two or three days a week, it seemed to me that the perfect way to spend the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, would be to head to my favorite course and chase the little white ball around from sunrise to sunset, 72 holes at least. Maybe 90. Never did it and at this point probably never will, but lo and behold, the world of bridge came up with a facsimile.  
            Fittingly, they called it The Longest Day and, to give it an altruistic shine, they tied it in with a fundraiser on that theme benefiting the Alzheimer’s Association. Some 100 bridge clubs across the country signed up to take part. Locally, there were two Longest Days, one at the Airport Bridge Club, where new games of 12 to 16 hands would begin every two hours, starting at 9 a.m., $4 per game with food in between, and one at the Bridge Center of Buffalo, sponsored by Western New York Unit 116, with full-length games beginning at 6:30 a.m., alternating between open pairs and non-life-master pairs. (Results from only two games – the late morning NLM and the 12:30 p.m. open pairs – appear on their website.) At the Bridge Center, there also was a side game, where teams could challenge the Z Team, a group of expert players captained by expert player Jay Levy.
            I rolled into the Airport Club a couple minutes before 9 a.m., thanks to waking up before my alarm clock went off, and settled into a 4 1/2-table Howell game with Judy Kaprove. We played 12 hands in all (with a three-hand sit-out) and had a good time, but in a small game like that, you need to do well consistently. We didn’t. “At least we didn’t break our record,” Judy said afterward, referring to our all-time low game of 24.48%. True, the record was safe, but we were still dead last with 37.50%.
            The crowd swelled for the 11 a.m. game, allowing a seven-table Mitchell movement. Partner this time was my regular Wednesday compadre, Celine Murray. Celine, playing with Paula Kotowski, had finished just ahead of us in the 9 a.m. game. Certainly we both could do better. But I pushed the bids to the three level in the two hands we played against our opening opponents, Eleanor Whelan and Carlton Stone, and went down, registering minus 200 on each. This game went 14 boards, none of them tops. One of our best was an average-plus for a hand we didn’t finish playing because time ran out. Our final tally – 37.62%. Not only a slightly better percentage, but also not last. Judy Kaprove and Chuck Schorr brought up the rear East-West with 37.30%.
            After two dismal games like that, The Longest Day was starting to feel endlessly grim. Well, at least there was the food that club manager Bill Finkelstein was putting out between sessions – Paula’s doughnuts after round one, a party sub from Walmart with coleslaw and potato salad after round two.
And there was hope. Friday partner Selina Volpatti agreed to come over from Canada to play with me in the third, fourth and fifth sessions and perhaps we might succeed in this, our warmup for the regional tournament next week. The 1 p.m. game had seven tables again and we were North-South. Who do we face first? Celine Murray, this time playing with Marilyn Sultz. They stifled us on two hands, making two overtricks on a 1 No Trump contract and going down just one at 4 Clubs, keeping us from something better. Our fortunes improved, however, and the 13-board session ended with us at 52.46%, third North-South and fourth in the B strat overall, winning 0.63 points.
People started getting bridged-out and punchy, making for more laughter in the 3 p.m. session, which was back down to four tables. Again, consistent good play was in order and we didn’t have it – two top boards out of 14 played, four bottoms. Our score suffered accordingly – 44.05%. A few new players arrived for the 5 p.m. session, just enough to make up for the ones who left. It was another four-table Howell and, since the 3 p.m. game ran long, we didn’t play the seventh two-board round. This time Selina and I hit our stride – six top boards, just two bottoms. In a tight cluster of winners, we finished third overall, but first in the B strat, with 60.14%, good for 1.35 points.
Now it was 7 p.m. and, not only was I bridged out after 65 boards, but I had to go pick up my significant other from the Ride for Roswell opening night ceremonies in the University at Buffalo football stadium. Most of the other players exited, too, and only one new player showed up. Without enough people to make a three-table game, The Longest Day at the Airport Bridge Club had an early sunset. Outside it was approaching the magic hour, perfectly mild and still sunny. I rolled down the windows, cranked up some tunes (Over the Rhine, a Cincinnati folk-rock band that’s my current fave) and took the long route via the local streets out to UB.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Bridge Blog 687: Pennies from heaven

When Dianne Bloom said she couldn’t play Thursday because of other commitments, I figured, OK, I’ll get another partner. But I hadn’t. And then the reminder call came from my dentist’s office about an appointment at 11 a.m. Thursday. That sealed it. Thursday would be a day away from the tables.
But I also told Airport Bridge Club manager Bill Finkelstein that I would be out by noon and available by 12:20 or so if he really needed me to fill in. The call came just as I was arriving at the dentist. Don Grant’s lost his partner. Come as soon as you can. Half an hour and two quick fillings later, I was on my way.
When I arrived, Don had played one full round, taken average-pluses for two missed hands on another round and had a three-board sit-out. Sitting East-West, the hands were mostly dismal. Of our 21 boards together, we were declarers on eight of them.
I played three – an ill-considered down 3 at 3 Diamonds for a bottom score on a hand where I should have done a negative double and thereby uncovered our fit in Clubs; an overtrick at 2 Diamonds for an average board; and a top board for making 4 Spades doubled vulnerable.
Overall, it didn’t shape up well, but the results were respectable – 50.97%, third in B East-West, fifth in B overall, for 0.76 points, half of them red. Now I’m only six shy of my goal of 27 for the month.
Bill Finkelstein, meanwhile, said I was beneficiary of his play with Don (and those unplayed hands, scored at average-plus) before I got there. Let’s look at the summary sheet and see if he’s right. On the four boards he played, they earned 16 out of a possible 32 match points. 50% even.
Beyond that, the two average plusses were 60%, of course. My hands were 12.5 out of 24, or 52.8%. And when Don was declarer, he kicked butt with two top boards and a near top. Of a possible 40 match points, he notched 33.5.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Bridge Blog 686: Lining up the goalposts

To stay on track for Gold Life Master by 2017, it’s going to take 200+ points per year. Which means at least 17 per month. Since I have only 73.50 for the first five months of 2013, I’m lagging. Some catch-up is in order.
Can June be the 27-point month I need? Checking the monthly master point listing at the Airport Bridge Club, I find myself with 1.76 red points and 3.66 black points. Add that 5.44 to 11.61 STaC silver points and we’re at 17.05.
After a near-miss at points in a 49% game with Barbara Sadkin on Monday and an awful, awful dead-last 39.81% effort with Paul Libby on Tuesday, I felt stalled out, but Wednesday was back on track. Celine Murray and I came in  first overall in the B strat with 53.49%, earning 1.13 red points, 1.12 black.
So that’s 19.30 for the month, with the Buffalo Regional Tournament coming up next week and at least five games ahead during The Longest Day all-day bridge marathon on Friday. A 27-point June? Could be doable.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Bridge Blog 685: STaC wrap-up

The 2013 Summer Sectional Tournament at the Clubs turned out to be my third-best STaC ever. Final total was 11.61 silver points, thanks to that bump of 3-plus points from the Swiss team game on Sunday. What surprised me was how high up on the list I finished – 19th! And fifth among the Buffalo players.
Leading light locally was John Ziemer, whose 22.41 points made him second only to Constance Hoechstetter of Coraopolis, Pa., who nosed him out with 22.55. Right behind him was Robert Quinlan of Pittsburgh with 22.40.
Other Buffalo players who landed in the Top 30 included Jerry Geiger, 17.28, fifth in the district; Judi Marshall, 17.08, sixth; Saleh Fetouh, 14.98, ninth; Tom Fraas, 11.55, 20th; Mike Kisiel, 10.36, 26th; and Michael Ryan, 10.16, 30th.   

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Bridge Blog 684: Cherry on the top

Five of the seven teams in the STaC (Sectional Tournament at the Clubs) Swiss team game Sunday at the Airport Bridge Clubs were assigned to the C strat, my team included. And looking at the field, I figured we were probably one of the two strongest C teams, what with our lineup of me, Selina Volpatti and Bob and Judy Kaprove.
Sure enough, although we got shut out by the winning A team – John Ziemer, Jerry Geiger, Mike Ryan and Howard Foster – we won four of the other five rounds and lost the fifth by a narrow margin. Second overall when all the dust settled, winning 3.44 silver points. Hoo-ray! Double-digit silver for the week.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Bridge Blog 683: STaCking down, STaCking up

            Saturday partner Dotty May complains about her bad luck and in our morning Sectional Tournament at the Clubs (STaC) game at the Airport Bridge Club, I saw what she means. Where other people overbid, our opponents wisely stayed within the realms of possibility. We made tough, sensible contracts only to find it for naught because other pairs had gone wildly off the rails. To that we added a few of our own mistakes, like not taking an Ace when I should, and we wound up last among the 10 pairs in the Howell movement with 41.81%.
            The afternoon five-table Mitchell game went a little better, despite the three disasters I noted on my score sheet – failing to set a contract by setting up a ruff for my partner, losing an extra trick in a contract that should have only gone down one, neglecting to knock out the opponents’ Spade stopper in a 3 No Trump game. Nevertheless, we emerged with a 55.38% game, second North-South, first in the B strat, fourth overall, earning 0.98 silver points at the club. Is this worth something district-wide? We’ll see. For the moment, my silver point total for the week is 7.72.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Bridge Blog 682: STaCking up

            Selina Volpatti and I always think we’re doing better at the bridge table that we actually are. That came up again Friday a the Airport Bridge Club when she came over from Canada for the double-session Sectional Tournament at the Clubs (STaC) games. Although we blew a couple game attempts in the morning session and underbid a couple others, we were still pretty satisfied until the preliminary results were posted. Next to last. Barely over 40%. The final tally showed a slight improvement, to 47.52%.
            We  seemed to be bolder and better focused in the afternoon, so when our final score came in at 47.08%, worse than the morning session, it was a profound disappointment. Nevertheless, we got silver points, or rather 0.69 of a silver point, because we were second in the B strat. “A miracle of stratification,” club manager Bill Finkelstein declared. Wait a minute, I protested. There aren’t any miracles of stratification in the STaC. He insisted that indeed there could be.
            But a more tangible miracle turned up on my game summary, scoring errors on not one, but two hands. Once our match points were corrected, things looked a lot brighter – 51.67%, first in the B strat, second in A in our direction, for 0.98 of a silver point.
            That’s still way below what you need to earn bonus points on the district level, like I did the previous three days. Now that the District 5 website has a complete tally for Thursday, I see that my best game of the week, the 58.26% with Dianne Bloom, has gotten a bump. We were fourth in the B strat district-wide, which means that instead of 1.11 silver points, we get 2.31.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bridge Blog 681: Hot STaC, cold STaC

Should I be grateful that I’ve been able to snag some silver points in at least one of the two Sectional Tournament at the Clubs (STaC) games every day at the Airport Bridge Club? Or should I be dismayed that, unlike the really good players, I can’t score silver twice in one day?
Well, as Ray Wylie Hubbard says, as long as I keep my gratitude ahead of my expectations, I’m having a good day. And so the pattern continued Wednesday with Celine Murray. Our morning game was almost brilliant – 56.67%, first in the B strat in our direction, 1.12 points – but the afternoon found us on the low end of a cluster of pairs just over 50%. Our 53.32% was out of the money.
On Thursday, the lovely Dianne Bloom said at first she didn’t want to stay for the afternoon session – she had to practice with her team for dragon boat races on Saturday – but, fortunately, she stuck around.
It would have been sad to stand with our performance in the morning, when we barely escaped being dead last with 46.90%. The afternoon found us understanding each other’s bidding better and the results reflected it. The posting of the preliminary scores showed us first East-West with more than 60%. That settled down when the rest of the hands were recorded. In the end, we had 58.26%, which made us second in the A and B strats and gave us 1.11 silver points.
Although I didn’t expect that my scores under 60% would win any bonuses district-wide, there’s more gratification when I check into the District 5 STaC website.
Tuesday afternoon with Pawan Matta (57.55%) was fifth in B districtwide, earning 1.15 points, a fraction (0.03) more than we got at the club. Wednesday morning was more rewarding. Fifth in B districtwide again, but this time it was worth 1.56 points. When results for Thursday afternoon eventually get posted, they should put me at around 5 overall.
How have previous STaCs treated me? Let’s go to the archives:
Winter 2012 – 10.37, 36th overall.
Summer 2012 – 9.28, 48th.
Winter 2011 – 13.91, 29th.
Summer 2011 – 1.92, 424th.
Winter 2010 – 7.83, 86th.
Summer 2010 – 5.06, 167th.
Winter 2009 – 5.84, tie 139th.
Summer 2009 – 13.31, 16th.
Winter 2008 – 2.27, 414th.
Summer 2008 – 6.01, tie 98th.
Winter 2007 – 4.69, tie 145th.
Summer 2007 – didn’t scratch.
Winter 2006 – 1.39, tie 613th.
Summer 2006 – 5.05, tie 129th.
Winter 2005 – 2.58, tie 318th.
Summer 2005 – 0.29, tie 1,249th.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Bridge Blog 680: Short STaCs

I’m in full tournament mode for the Sectional Tournament at the Clubs. Two sessions a day for six days straight. It’s wake up, feed the cats, rush through a shower, zip out to the Airport Bridge Club, spend all day in competition,  zip back into the city, feed the cats some more, go to work, try to get home at a reasonable hour to go back to sleep again. About the only thing that’s been undisciplined so far is the time at the tables.
First day of the STaCs, my partner is Barbara Sadkin, who’s almost as irrepressible a bidder as I am. We were so aggressive in an early round that we provoked Mike Silverman to double Barbara in a 4 Spade contract, on which she made an overtrick. It was our top board of the session, offset by a couple minus 200 bottom boards due to bad bidding on my part.
Our 48.42% didn’t seem so great – you usually need at least 60% to get bonus points in the STaC – but we were second in the B strat in our direction and earned 0.74 of a silver point. We racked up a better percentage in the afternoon game – 51.88% – but went unrewarded. No points for our efforts.
With the lovely Pawan Matta on Tuesday, we were just as aggressive, but I was reminded that she’s not as strong a player as Barbara when we fell a trick short on a couple contracts in the morning session and sailed into the danger zone on a few competitive bids. We knew it wouldn’t end well, but we still were dismayed at our final percentage – 37.36%. Our consolation was that we weren’t dead last.
In the afternoon, we seemed to find our groove, scoring three top boards and three more near-tops, suffering only a couple defeats on doubled contracts (including the last hand of the day, in a show of non-vulnerable bravado by Pawan). We were surprised again when it was over, pleasantly this time. Final score was 57.55%, second North-South and first in the B strat, earning 1.12 silver points. Might this be good enough to get us district-wide bonus points? Unlikely. In Monday’s games, to place in the B strat on the district level, you needed 60% or better.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Bridge Blog 679: Slip-sliding out of May

The monthly updates are posted on the ACBL website for the master point races and I fear for my position in them in the wake of my dismal point production – a mere 7.90 – during the month of May.
Let’s start at the Unit 116 level, which is just Buffalo. In the Ace of Clubs race, for points earned in club play, I’ve gone down another notch to fifth place in the 1,000-2,500 point division.
Still leading the pack is John Ziemer, who’s cracked the century mark with 107.33. In fact, he has more Ace of Clubs points than anyone else in the unit. He’s followed by David Millward (85.22), Mike Silverman (79.54), Liz Clark (74.60), me (68.30), Ken Meier (63.46), Fred Yellen (51.49), Judy Padgug (42.72), Elaine Kurasiewicz (40.63) and Paul Libby (40.34).
Over in the Mini-McKenney race, which counts tournament and club points together, John Ziemer also is on top with 143.29. He’s one of only 13 players in the unit to hit triple figures so far. Meanwhile, I’ve slipped from sixth place to eighth. Here’s how we line up behind the leader:
David Hemmer (116.41), Judy Padgug (96.94), David Millward (90.61), Liz Clark (85.45), Ken Meier (81.18), Mike Silverman (80.76), me (73.50), Fred Yellen (69.44) and Paul Libby (48.60).
Taking it to the District 5 level, which includes Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and pieces of Maryland and West Virginia, Unit 116 players hold the first six spots in the Ace of Clubs race and seven of the top eight. All 10 of us are among the select 25, which cuts off at 39.68 points.
Over on the Mini-McKenney list, Ohio players sit in the top three positions – Michael Creager of Brecksville (312.56), Fleur Howard of Gates Mills (162.01) and Peter Merker of Mentor (147.86). John Ziemer is fourth. Other Unit 116 players on this list of 25 include David Hemmer (seventh), Judy Padgug (12th), David Millward (17th), Liz Clark (20th), Ken Meier (22nd) and Mike Silverman (24th). I was 16 th on this list last month. This time I fell short of the 79.86 cut-off point.
Nationally, Judy Zhu of Naperville, Ill., leads the 100-name Ace of Clubs list with 141.15, followed by Michael Vermilion of Albuquerque with 124.24 and Robert Ramos of Davie, Fla., with 119.98. John Ziemer is 14 th, David Millward is 42 nd, Mike Silverman is 62 nd, Liz Clark is 90 th. Cut-off point is 73.19.
As for the national Mini-McKenney, District 5 leader Judy Zhu is 11th. Top dogs are Jim Johnsen of San Diego with 630.35, Shan Huang of Toronto with 523.45 and Sylvia Shi of Baltimore with 387.74. No Unit 116 players on this list. It cuts off at 157.30.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Bridge Blog 678: Pass the mustard

Mustard round. That’s what the late great Bill Rieker, director of the B&P Duplicate Club, would say when the game was running behind schedule, the mustard round being the round when everybody had to … ketchup.
Anyway, many bits and pieces have been bouncing around my bloggy brain in the past few days and finally here’s a chance to get them out. Let’s start with today’s – Sunday, June 2 – Swiss team game at the Airport Bridge Club, then move on to a tentative wrap-up for the not-so-merry month of May and a recounting of the ups and downs of the past week or so.

Bridge Blog 678-A: Steep challenge

It’s always pot luck in the Swiss team games at the Airport Bridge Club if, like me, you don’t succeed in rounding up three other people to play with you. I had just one – June Feuerstein, who was eager to have any sort of game with me (it’s been a while) and with whom I’ve had middling success.
Our teammates turned out to be Len and Nancy Knabelkamp, relative newcomers who sometimes do well. In fact, they were winners in the Friday evening game at the club, the first of club manager Bill Finkelstein’s three “Party for the Players” birthday games.
June was doubtful, but I saw it from the bright side. Since the Knabelkamps have about 60 master points apiece and June has about 300, we had the lowest point total of any of the six teams and thereby were assured of competing in the C stratification. There, perhaps, we stood a chance.
I still was optimistic after our first round against Liz Clark and Chuck Schorr, whose super-expert teammates were Judi Marshall (just back from hip replacement) and Jim Mathis. Sure, they trounced us, but take away those two awful hands – the one where I should have left June at 2 Spades, but bid 3 No Trump and went down 5 vulnerable, and the one where the Knabelkamps should have bid game in No Trump like our opponents did – and they would’ve beaten us 5-0 instead of 27-0.
We also got trounced 27-0 by the other expert team – Jerry Geiger, John Ziemer, Michael Ryan and Allen Beroza, the ultimate winners – at the end of the day, Ryan and Beroza nailing the Knabelkamps on two hands.
In between, however, we had more success than I anticipated, winning two rounds and tying a third. At least we’ll go home with some master points, I assured June after our first victory. In the end, we were fourth overall and first in the C strat, winning 1.92 master points.

Bridge Blog 678-B: Tops and bottoms

The weather continues to blow hot and cold and so does my game. Hoping to keep the month of May from being a complete bust, I played almost every chance possible. Here’s the rundown:
Saturday, May 25, coming without a partner, played with sub Ruth Hnath in a 57.64% game, my best since coming back from a week in New York City. First in B. (Not sure of the master points.)
Monday, May 27, also without a partner for the Memorial Day double session with chicken barbecue. Paired with Bill Boardman, with whom I sometimes do very well. Morning session was great – 60.58%, first overall, 1.87 points. Afternoon session not so great – 45.92%, out of the running.
Tuesday, May 28, I managed to arrive even later than my perpetually-late partner, Barbara Sadkin. We could tell early on that it wasn’t going well. Even the hand we passed out was a bottom board. 43.06%.
Wednesday, May 29, things improved with regular Wednesday partner Celine Murray, but we were at the bottom of a cluster of pairs just over 50%. Our 51.23% was not quite good enough to scratch.
Thursday, May 30, playing with the lovely Dianne Bloom, we had hopes of beating her Wednesday partner, Jerry Geiger. Indeed, we were ahead of him by a percentage point when the partial scores were posted with two hands still playing. When those two hands came in, our positions on the score sheet were reversed. Nevertheless, Dianne and I were first in C with 50.83%, good for 0.32 of a point. Add that to my point count at the club of 6.53, in 20th place on the list of point winners in May.

Bridge Blog 678-C: Honesty is such a lonely word

Third round of the day on Friday, May 31, and partner Paula Salamone and I are playing venerable Platinum Life Master Jim Mathis when the topic of honesty comes up. Mathis had a story.
There were some players in a 28-board team game who would leave their scorecards in the washroom for their teammates to find, so they would know the results of the hands they hadn’t played. Their comeuppance? Mathis (or was it one of his friends?) swapped in a different scorecard, sending the cheaters down to defeat via their own evil device.
We’d rather lose honestly than win a game unfairly, Paula and I attested, little realizing how soon our high principles would be invoked. We finished with a 53.69% game, second in the A strat, first in B in our direction, earning 0.49 of a point.
But then we checked our scoring summaries. Uh-oh.  Error. We were credited with 100 match points on a hand where we foiled a 6 Heart slam, but it wasn’t vulnerable. We only should have gotten 50.
After we called this to director Bill Finkelstein’s attention, he corrected things. The result? We slipped behind the second-place pair, who were hot on our heels. With 53.39%, we were third in A, second in B, earning 0.35 of a point.
It didn’t end there. On Saturday, June 1, with Dotty May, we finished with 51.65%, good for third in A, first in B among East-Wests, second in B overall. This being the first of the North American Pairs qualifiers, it awarded extra points, half of them red. Our haul? 0.79 red, 0.79 black. We’re qualified.
    But wait! On Board 16, where Dotty made an overtrick on a 1 No Trump contract, our summary showed a score of 1210 match points. It should have been 120. Correction made and we no longer had a top board on that hand. Our score sank to 50.17%, making us second in B in our direction and third overall in B. The master points shrank accordingly – 0.60 red, 0.59 black.

Bridge Blog 678-D: Too soon, too soon, the first of June

Looks like May will be my first month of single-digit master points since those dark days of January 2012, when the Airport Bridge Club was closed due to illness. The tally is likely to be fewer than 8 points overall. Missed 10 days on vacation, that’s what happened. Winning would have helped too. May should’ve stuck around for a couple of encores. The first two days of June could have added 3.11 points.