Thursday, July 25, 2013

Bridge Blog 700: One for the books

          Getting an early start on next week’s duplicate bridge column for the Buffalo News on Thursday night, my eyebrows jumped when I saw the results from Monday morning’s game at Bridge Club Meridian. The winners – Bud Seidenberg and Fred Yellen – had a 76.44% game.
          I’ve had a couple games just over 70% in my eight-year career, but nothing as big as that. How rare is it? Rare enough that it will get reported in the Bridge Bulletin, the ACBL’s monthly magazine, where anything over 75% is acknowledged. 
         What does a 76% game look like? Go to the Bridge Club Meridian website and you’ll witness a lot of top boards East-West. Four absolute tops, nine ties for tops in 24 hands, plus a lot of above-average scores. In fact, the only pair who got an overall plus against them (12.57 out of a possible 24 match points) were the North-South winners, Howard Foster and Mike Ryan, who had a 63.64% game.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Bridge Blog 699: Anxiously awaiting

          It’s become a days-dwindling-down kind of ritual, toting up the points I’ve earned for the month, counting down the games left until the month is over and fretting over my chances of making the goal I’ve set for the month.
          This month, of course, is no exception. I set a goal – 20 points. Or better, since I’d dearly love to break onto the national Top 100 in the Ace of Clubs race.
          And what have we got? The Airport Bridge Club’s monthly master point race list shows me with 10.08 as of Monday. Nearly a dozen other players have done better than that, but the total has come up in the past couple days.
          On Tuesday, June Feuerstein and I scratched in the morning session, despite registering just a 47.92% game. We turned out to be the best of a bunch of 40-percenters lagging way behind the two leading 60% pairs, so we were first in the B strat in our direction, earning 1.27 points, half of them red (another NAP qualifier). The afternoon was better, 55.01%, which made us first in B overall for 1.97 points, half red.
          Add another 0.89 to that total after Wednesday’s session with Celine Murray. Our 51.92% was fourth in the B strat overall.
          That should bring my Airport Club total to 14.21 for the month. Then there’s the Unit 116 picnic, where Flo Boyd and I scraped up 1.21 points in two sessions (already recorded as pending points on the ACBL website), and that best-yet date with Selina Volpatti in St. Catharines back on July 12, where we earned 0.91.
          So overall, if my math is working, that’s 16.33 for the month, not quite all Ace of Clubs points. How many chances do I have to hit 20? Well, taking off Friday, Saturday and Sunday to primp my garden and prep for our party for the Buffalo Garden Walk, it leaves just Thursday, Monday, Tuesday and a pair of games to end the month next Wednesday. Fortunately, they’re all NAP qualifiers.

Bridge Blog 698: Non-milestone

          Last year, as part of my two-month celebration of my 70th birthday, I decided to treat everybody to a free evening game at the Airport Bridge Club. And what a wonderful evening it turned out to be – one of the high points of my whole birthday bonanza.
          This year I still wanted to treat everyone to a free evening game – do something twice and that’s how traditions are born. But this wasn’t a milestone birthday and, what’s more, the Airport Bridge Club isn’t doing evening games on Thursdays, the day of the week that July 18 fell upon. Closest I could get was Wednesday.
          OK, it’ll be an un-birthday, the last day that I’ll be 70. And, unlike last year, when people brought all kinds of things to eat, there wouldn’t be any of that this time around. I discouraged several ladies who offered. Instead, club manager Bill Finkelstein and I rushed around from big box store to bakery to supermarket Wednesday afternoon before finally settling on some cheesecakes and other sweets at Walmart.
          And it all turned out fine and just enough lower-key. Last year there were 12 tables. This time, 11. Last year there were all kinds of cards and gifts. This year there were still lots of cards, but only a couple gifts, including a little package of books that Paul Ganley published. Didn’t know he was a small-press guy.
          The big improvement was in my game. Last year, playing with Celine Murray, I had 46%, well short of earning master points. This time, playing with Selina Volpatti, who came over from Canada for the occasion, we had a 54.09% game, third in the B strat north-south, fourth in B overall, for 1.07 points.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Bridge Blog 697: Picnicking


  On the face of it, the Western New York Unit 116 picnic doesn’t seem very picnic-like. This year’s edition on Sunday was not held al fresco, but rather indoors. The tables were card tables, not picnic tables. The ambiance was more tournament than cookout.

   In the end, what made it a picnic was the food. And what wonderful food it was – fresh veggies from picnic chairman Paul Zittel’s farm in Eden (Zittel telling one and all how he went to steal broccoli from a neighboring farm, but couldn’t find it and had to ask). The corn salsa was irresistible. The cut-up cauliflower (from Zittel’s own fields) was fabulously crisp. And the corn on the cob with the lunch between sessions, also picked that morning, was supernaturally sweet. Zittel wins top prize at the Eden Corn Festival year after year.

   Add to that the chicken from the place where Bill Finkelstein always gets his chicken barbecue and a bunch of heavenly desserts, pound cakes, coffee cakes, light and dark brownie squares, courtesy of former Unit president Betty Metz, if I remember correctly. It was so good and so satisfying that I kept wanting to drift off into a contented sleep throughout the afternoon play. And I wasn’t the only one.

   At least we weren’t being laid low by the heat. On Buffalo’s first 90-degree day of the year, we were cool. For some, it was too cool. Ted Kahn and Dian Petrov moved their table to a corner to get away from a direct blast of A/C.

   This climate-controlled oasis was a venue I didn’t even know existed – the Carousel Room at the Erie County Fairgrounds in Hamburg, your basic 50- to 200-seat banquet hall complete with glass-brick bar, a big etched mirror and Americana chandeliers with little merry-go-round figures on them. It’s tucked back between the grandstand and the livestock barns and would have been a complete mystery destination, save for a couple large signs saying “Bridge” with big directional arrows.

   The promise of picnic food and the location in the Southtowns drew more than the usual number of new faces – new to me, at least. For example, the attractive lady playing with Joe Miranda turned out to be a player whose name I’ve seen in the results for the East Aurora game – Denise Mattingly.  

    At any rate, it was a big game – two sections, 11 or 12 tables each. Partner Florence Boyd and I, who play a rather uncomplicated game, sat East-West both morning and afternoon and were unsure just how well or poorly we were doing. Many of the hands defied easy assessment. More than once we bid on high card points and were laid low by distribution.

    So we were gratified to find ourselves fourth in the B stratification when the morning game ended – 51.94%, winning 0.54 of a master point. We were even more gratified in the afternoon, when my drowsiness was making it hard to keep track of the play of the cards. Nevertheless, we improved upon our morning record – 54.42%, fourth in the A strat, second in B, for 0.67 of a master point.

    Every little bit helps advance toward that goal of 20 or so master points for the month. As of Thursday, I had 5.23 points at the Airport Bridge Club. Add Sunday’s combined 1.21, the 0.91 in St. Catharines and the 2.13 for winning Saturday’s game at the Airport Club (58.11% with Cleveland Fleming), and it’s almost 10 points halfway through July.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Bridge Blog 696: Learning to love defense

It was the kind of game I love, that Wednesday session with the ebullient Judy Kaprove at the Airport Bridge Club. Heavy on offense. We were declarers on 16 of 24 hands and wound up with 59.33%, first overall, for 1.98 points.

Did we win because of our offensive play? Let’s look at percentages. I played seven hands and won 25 match points out of a possible 35, or 71.42%. Judy played eight hands and 27.2 match points out of a possible 40, or 68%. Guess there was nothing wrong with our offense.

The double session with the lovely Dianne Bloom at the Airport Club was quite the opposite. We were on defense all day long, first as North-South, winning the bid on only six of 23 boards, and then as East-West, when we successful bidders 10 of 21 times, although there were at least three hands that we should have left alone.

          Our defense was good enough in the morning session to win us master points, 0.45 red, 0.44 black, with a 47.23% game. On the three hands where I took the bid, we took 14.5 of a possible 21 match points, or 69.04%.

          When the cards continued to frown on us during the afternoon session, I decided to shake things up by getting more aggressive despite my weak hands. The results were not pretty – minus 1,100 points. Twice. Add another three bottom boards and it’s no surprise that we finished at 39.13%, dead last among the East-Wests, but fortunately not last overall.  

          Thus chastened, I was determined to accept my fate if the cards dictated defense on Friday with Selina Volpatti at the Bridge Centre of Niagara over in St. Catharines, Ont. Sure enough, that’s what they did on 15 of the 26 boards we played.

          Destined to play defense, we played it pretty solidly, setting our opponents eight times. A couple of those times they were doubled. Out of a possible 180 match points in our 15 defensive hands, we collected 125.5, or 69.72%. If only our offensive play was up to that level. Nevertheless, it was our best game yet in St. Catharines. We wound up at 61.06% overall, second in the A strat, first in B, winning 0.91 of a master point.

Bridge Blog 695: Slam fever

         When the caller Thursday evening said she was Diane, I thought it was my partner from earlier in the day, Dianne Bloom. But no, different phone number, although it seemed familiar. It was Diane Belinski, whose number I’d put in the newspaper along with the information for the Slam Zone game on July 21 at the Bridge Center of Buffalo.
          I’d like to play in the Slam Zone game one of these days – a game in which every game apparently is a slam. But the timing is wrong on July 21. Play starts at 2 p.m., won’t be done until after 5. And I have to work that night. Too late to make it to work by my appointed 5 p.m. starting time, or even half an hour after my appointed starting time. And too late to ask for that night off without causing serious distress.
          At any rate, during our chat, I was surprised to learn that people at the Bridge Center had been collecting slam hands all year. Couldn’t you just set the dial for Slam on the club’s dealing machine, I asked, and get a whole bunch of them automatically. No, Diane said, it doesn’t work like that.  
          Lo and behold, we had a little Slam Zone ourselves Friday at the Bridge Centre of Niagara in St. Catharines. Two of them were ours. One belonged to the opponents. None of them were successful, although one of them could have been if it was played in the right suit. Here they are:
          Board 19, South is dealer, East-West (us) vulnerable
          Spades: Q; Hearts: K-J-6-5; Diamonds: K-9-2; Clubs: 10-8-4-3-2
          East (Selina)
          Spades: None; Hearts: 10-9-8-4-3; Diamonds: A-10-5-3; Clubs: K-Q-J-9
          Spades: J-8-7-3-2; Hearts: 7; Diamonds: Q-J-8-6-4; Clubs: 6-5
          West (me)
          Spades: A-K-10-9-6-5-4; Hearts: A-Q-2; Diamonds: 7; Clubs: A-7
          South passed and, intoxicated by the 17 high card points and the distribution, I bid 1 Spade but was aspiring to much, much more. Selina bid 2 Hearts and, with visions of only a Diamond loser, I jumped to 4 No Trump to ask for Aces. She bid 5 Diamonds. One Ace. Perfect. I went straight to 6 Spades.
          Not perfect, as I discovered when I drew the first round of trump. I only took 10 tricks – down two. Three other pairs went down two on that hand. One unlucky twosome had a minus 800, which would have been down three doubled vulnerable. Best it does is 5 Spades or 5 Hearts, according to the hand summary.
          Board 21, North is dealer, North-South vulnerable
          Spades: 10; Hearts: Q-7-3-2; Diamonds: 10-4; Clubs: A-Q-10-9-8-5
          East (Selina)
          Spades: J-6-4; Hearts: K-10-9-6; Diamonds: K-5; Clubs: K-J-6-4
          Spades: Q-8-7-5-3-2; Hearts: 8; Diamonds: 9-7-6-3-2; Clubs: 3
          West (me)
          Spades: A-K-9; Hearts: A-J-5-4; Diamonds: A-Q-J-8; Clubs: 7-2
          Too strong for a 1 No Trump opener, I started with 1 Diamond and watched approvingly as Selina put down a 1 Heart bid. Hearts looked good to me, so whamo! 4 No Trump. This time Selina bid 5 Clubs. No Aces. That’s OK, I have plenty for both of us. Six Hearts! We went down before we could draw a breath. South led the singleton Club. North took the Ace, returned a Club and South won with a trump. We also lost a couple more trump tricks down the line. According to the hand record, it makes 6 No Trump, but only 5 Hearts or 5 Diamonds. That was a bottom board for us. Nobody else tried for the slam, but four of them made 6 NT.
          Board 22, East is dealer, East-West vulnerable
          On the heels of the previous hand, the bid here zipped up to the Slam Zone right away, 6 No Trump, this time courtesy of the opponents, who were a little uncertain once they landed it. South was declarer, but North, with 17 high card points, couldn’t resist going all the way.

          Spades: A-8-6-3; Hearts: A-J-10-6; Diamonds: Q-J-8; Clubs: A-J

          East (Selina)
          Spades: 10-5-4; Hearts: Q-9-4; Diamonds: 9-5-2; Clubs: 7-6-3-2

          Spades: Q-J-2; Hearts: 7-5; Diamonds: A-K-7-4; Clubs: Q-10-5-4

          West (me)
          Spades: K-9-7; Hearts: K-8-3-2; Diamonds: 10-6-3; Clubs: K-9-8

          Although No Trump defense dictates leading the fourth card from your longest and strongest suit, I didn’t want to underlead any of my Kings. So it was a Diamond, which turned out to be the least harmful choice. In the end, my Kings turned out to be good and North-South was down two vulnerable. According to the hand records, North-South should make five in every suit except Hearts, which makes four. In the actual play, two North-Souths made 6 NT, but they bid only 3 NT.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Bridge Blog 694: Midpoint

Sure, I got the 27 points I wanted in June, but then I watched my compadres in Western New York Unit 116 rack up major quantities of red and gold at the regional tournament on Grand Island. So now that the ACBL has compiled the figures for the master point races, I’m figuring that I’m holding steady in the Ace of Clubs, which is just club points, and sinking fast in the Mini-McKenney, where all those tournament winnings will be reflected. Let’s check them out.
          Sure enough, I’m holding steady in fifth place in the Unit 116 Ace of Clubs standings with 81.35 points. Way out in front is John Ziemer with 128.11. He’s even surpassed Jerry Geiger (who’s in the 2,500 to 5,000 point division) for the most club points among all players in the unit.
          Runner-up just short of the century mark is Mike Silverman with 96.48, followed by Liz Clark, 91.25; and David Millward, 87.97. After me, there’s Ken Meier with 70.65; Fred Yellen, 60.71; Vince Pesce, 55.52; Judy Padgug, 52.71; and Elaine Kurasiewicz, 50.79.
          Now let’s look at the Mini-McKenney, where I was eighth last month. My goodness, I’ve crept into seventh. By a hair. 102.75 points. A fraction more than David Millward, who has 102.25.
          John Ziemer has really taken off in the Mini-McKenney. His 223.13 points put him miles ahead of second-place David Hemmer, who has 138.01. Then come Judy Padgug, 120.95; Ken Meier, 118.92 (he had a really good tournament); Liz Clark, 116.11; Mike Silverman, 109.65; then me and David Millward. Rounding out the top 10 are Fred Yellen with 88.82 and Paul Libby with 71.80.
          On the District 5 level, which takes in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and stray parts of Maryland and West Virginia, our Unit 116 players hold down the first six places on the Ace of Clubs Top 25 and 10 of the top 17. Paul Libby is our 11 th representative in 25 th place with 47.72.
          Over on the District Mini-McKenney, the Cleveland area players shine through. They hold three of the top four positions, beginning with Michael Creager of Brecksville, Ohio., with 330.51. John Ziemer has moved up to second place on this list, followed by Peter Merker of Mentor, Ohio., with 191.60 and Fleur Howard of Gates Mills, Ohio., with 180.11. Fleur was at the Grand Island regional, taking home 12.29 points. Her team won that Wednesday Swiss teams game.
          David Hemmer is sixth on this list. Judy Padgug is ninth. Then come Ken Meier (10th), Liz Clark (12th), Mike Silverman (13th), then me and David Millward (19th and 20th). The list cuts off at 92.99 points. I’d fallen off this list last month.
          Nationwide, the Ace of Clubs leader in the 1,000 to 2,500 division once again is Judy Zhu of Naperville, Ill., who now has 185.24, having picked up another 44 points in June. Robert Ramos of Davie, Fla., is second with 152.53, having earned 32 more; and Michael Vermilion of Albuquerque slips to third with 151.48. Good old Charlie Christmas of Tallahassee, Fla., who led all the time when we were in the 500-1,000 bracket, is sixth with 140.06.
          Of the Unit 116 players, John Ziemer is 12th, Mike Silverman is 62nd, Liz Clark is 80th and David Millward is 96th. The list cuts off at 87.61 points. Looks like making this select circle of 100 should be my next goal.
          In the national Mini-McKenney, top dog again is John Johnsen of San Diego, Calif., with 703.31, followed once more by Shan Huang of Toronto with 569.72 (picking up 42.77 of them on Grand Island). In third place is Gabrielle Sherman of West Long Branch, N.J., who has crept ahead of Sylvia Shi of Baltimore. She has 443.25 to Sylvia’s 432.34.
          District 5 leader Michael Creager is 13th on this list. Last month, nobody from Unit 116 made the cut, but now John Ziemer is carrying the flag in 52nd place. This list ends at 187.63.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Bridge Blog 693: Century mark

           Despite the paltriness of my returns from the Buffalo Regional Tournament, they were enough to fulfill one of my personal point goals – 100 by the end of June. The 2013 total was 73.50 going into the month and, according to the ACBL, currently there are 29.25 pending.
          Now for 20 more in July, a quest that’s having trouble getting started. Marilyn Sultz and I came in around 45% on Monday and, in the absence of Beverly Dale, who’s late coming north from Florida, substitute Ruth Hnath partnered with me on a miserable 38% round on Tuesday, both of us realizing quickly we were off our game. In fact, I was off it even before she got there, playing with club manager Bill Finkelstein and stranding a winning Ace in my hand to insure a bottom board on a 3 No Trump contract. Our only consolation – not last.  

Bridge Blog 692: Buffalo Regional Redux

          Was last week’s Buffalo Regional Tournament a gold mine for Canadians? I thought so at the time, but a review of the leading master point winners brings me to an equally convincing conclusion. It’s a gold mine for the high-level knock-out teams.
          Exhibit No. 1 is our homegrown international whiz, Joel Wooldridge, who hangs his hat these days in Astoria, Queens. Playing with two New Yorkers – Melih Ozdil and Justine Cushing – and Lewis Finkel from Jupiter, Fla., he earned 72.97 points – 38.92 as the winning team in the Wednesday-Thursday Bracket 1 knock-outs and 34.05 from winning the Friday-Saturday Bracket 1 knock-outs. The four of them stood together on top of the tournament’s master point list.
          The visiting gunslingers dominated the upper rungs on that list, but the Canadians did not do badly. They held down 12 of the top 30 positions on the list, while Unit 116 players from Buffalo had only seven.
          To find the best local player, you have to look down to ninth place for John Toy. He accumulated an impressive 45.26 points, 20.30 of them as captain of the winning Swiss team on Sunday.
          In all, 563 players earned points. Other leading local point winners included:
Brian Meyer, 41.11 (16th).
Jay Levy, 40.52 (18th).
Dan Gerstman, 38.74 (tied 20th).
Saleh Fetouh, 37.88 (24th).
John Ziemer, 36.55 (25th).
Jerry Geiger, 35.89 (26th).
Jay Costello, 29.47 (35th).
Michael Ryan, 28.41 (40th).
Davis Heussler, 26.84 (43rd).
Ken Meier, 23.71 (54th).
Yichaun and Wufeng Luo, 22.05 (tied 58th).
Chris Urbanek, 21.74 (61st).
Bud Seidenberg, 21.26 (62nd).
Judy Graf, 20.13 (66th).
Gene Finton, 19.06 (69th).
David Hemmer, 18.82 (70th).
Donna Steffan, 18.16 (72nd).
David Colligan, 17.98 (73rd).
Peter and Penny Shui, 17.51 (tied 75th).
Andrei Reinhorn, 16.91 (81st).
Bob Padgug, 16.72 (83rd).
John Kirsits, 16.14 (87th).
Jeff Bender, 15.99 (88th).
Rich Cramer-Benjamin, 15.32 (94th).
Dian Petrov, 14.51 (101st).
          To find this writer, it’s best to go to the bottom of the list and start scrolling up. You’ll discover me tucked into 329th place with all of 4.59 points, none of them gold. Usha Khurana, my partner for four of the six days of the tournament, is 342nd with 3.97.