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.