Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Bridge Blog 725: October from a distance

One of my worst point-getting Octobers ever, coming on top of a pretty darn poor September. Since the Airport Bridge Club was late reporting the September scores, the latest master point tallies on the ACBL website will show two months worth of deterioration. I’m almost afraid to look. Almost, not entirely.
OK, my year-to-date point total is 162.21, of which 140.03 are Ace of Clubs points, earned in club play. Where does that stand me?
Miraculously, I’m still fourth in the Unit 116 Ace of Clubs race. John Ziemer tops the list with 222.40, followed by Mike Silverman (167.82), Liz Clark (167.29), me, Ken Meier (123.73), Fred Yellen (109.49), the late Carlton Stone (101.65), Paul Libby (100.98), Judy Padgug (99.99) and Carolyn Siracuse (95.31). Biggest Ace of Clubs winner in the unit is Jerry Geiger (2,500 to 5,000 points) with 250.36.
Over in the Unit 116 Mini-McKenney race, which includes all the points from everywhere, I’m seventh. John Ziemer’s on top of this list, too, with 322.14. Next come Liz Clark (193.43), Mike Silverman (183.41), Ken Meier (174.83), Judy Padgug (173.84), David Hemmer (162.74), me, Fred Yellen (140.73), Paul Libby (125.06) and the late Carlton Stone (111.31).
Onward to the District 5 level, which includes Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and surrounding areas. The Ace of Clubs list once again is dominated by Unit 116 players. We hold the first five positions and 10 of the first 13. Missing the Unit Top 10 but making the District Top 25 are Vince Pesce (92.66, tied for 15th), Elaine Kurasiewicz (81.25, 24th) and Dorothy May (80.29, 25th).
In the Mini-McKenney, the Cleveland and Pittsburgh players show their power. Continuing in first place is Michael Creager of Brecksville, Ohio, with 450.69, followed by Peter Merker of Mentor, Ohio, with 323.69. John Ziemer’s 322.14 makes him a very close third. A somewhat more distant fourth is Fleur Howard of Gates Mills, Ohio, with 313.32.
Liz Clark is ninth, Mike Silverman is 12th, Ken Meier and Judy Padgug are 15th and 16th, respectively. David Hemmer is 17th and I’m 18th. No other Buffalo players are on the list. It closes out at 142.06.
On the national level, Judy Zhu of Naperville, Ill., tops the 1,000 to 2,500 point Ace of Clubs list with 338.08, followed by Robert Ramos of Davie, Fla, with 279.83 and Kenneth Wagner Jr. of Hollywood, Fla., with 259.76. John Ziemer is eighth. Mike Silverman is 57 th. Liz Clark is 58 th. The list stops at 151.51.
As for the Mini-McKenney, it’s Jim Johnsen of San Diego with 1,012.41, followed by Shan Huang of Toronto (that’s where I’ve heard the name – see Blog 724) with 964.26 and Judy Zhu with 728.62. District 5 leader Michael Creager is 21st. John Ziemer is the lone representative from Unit 116. He’s 88th. The list cuts off at 309.57.

Bridge Blog 724: Niagara Falls Regional: Postscript

My sense that the Niagara Falls Regional was more crowded with players this year was confirmed with an announcement during Sunday’s Swiss teams game. Up 175 tables from 2011. They’re already looking forward to 2015.
One of the four guys who tied for the top of the master point winners list is a vaguely familiar name – Shan Huang. All four of them took home 70.13 points. Clearly a team effort.
Top Buffalo player on the list is Chris Urbanek with 58.06. She’s fifth, right behind the magic foursome. Only other Buffalo player in the Top 20 is Saleh Fetouh, who’s 15th with 44.25. He’s right behind the biggest point winner from the St. Catharines club, Lane Byl, who had 45.83.
Not too many Buffalo players in the Top 100, either. Davis Huessler is 39th with 30.18 points. Bud Seidenberg is 47th with 27.30. Kathy Pollock is 80th with 21.06. Tom Koralewski is 81st with 20.36. And that’s it. Just missing the Top 100 were Dian Petrov (16.51, 104th) and Judy Padgug (16.24, 105th).
Me? Way down the list with 2.02, tied for 595th with Eva Snelgrove of St. Catharines, who was my opponent on Saturday, if I’m not mistaken.
Of my partners, Selina Volpatti, who scratched in Thursday’s Gold Rush pairs for players under 750, had 4.42 and was tied for 396th. Usha Khurana was 573rd with 2.24. And Eva Schmidt had just the 0.62 we earned Sunday, which put her in a multi-player tie for 752nd. In all, 802 players earned points.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Bridge Blog 723: Niagara Falls Regional, Part V

It wasn’t great success that distinguished the final day of the Niagara Falls, Ont., Regional Tournament for our little B strat team. It was a bizarre round involving the pair from Saturday’s incorrect score incident (see Blog 722), a round that resulted in director calls so complicated that we might as well have pulled up a chair for one of them and let them keep watch on us full-time.

It began on the first hand of the round. Partner Eva Schmidt, midway through playing out an iffy 3 Diamond contract, led a Heart and ruffed it in the dummy. The woman in the opposing pair – Susan, the guy called her – overruffed with the 10 of Diamonds. Then, a few cards later, she played not one Heart, but two of them.

Her partner called her on it and, after play finished on the hand, called for a director. Susan, meanwhile, folded up her cards. The other three hands were intact, though, and after a second director joined the deliberations, we sorted out which tricks belonged to whom and wound up with an overtrick.

But it didn’t end there. A couple hands later, after Eva dropped a Pass card before Susan, as declarer, could make her lead-off bid, we got into a bidding snafu in which I played a major role.

We all decided to ignore Eva’s out-of-turn bid and Susan opened 1 No Trump. Eva passed. The partner, sitting North, bid 2 Diamonds for a transfer to Hearts. I’m holding four Aces (no Kings, Queens or Jacks) and five Diamonds in a 5-3-3-2 hand. I feel that I’m obliged to bid something, but what?

Doubling would either be regarded as lead-directing or imply that I had cards in the major suits, where I was 3-2. (Belated thought: I could follow up a double by bidding Diamonds on the next round, couldn’t I?) I also thought of bidding 2 No Trump, but with an Aces and spaces hand and us being vulnerable? Forget it. I wanted Diamonds, that was it. So I bid three Diamonds, which still looked like a cue bid.

Susan asked Eva what my 3 Diamond bid meant. Eva said she didn’t know, but thought I was asking for major suits. Susan unhappily bid 3 Hearts, passed all around, and called for a director. We got two directors again, to whom I expressed a little of my perplexity. Susan said she wouldn’t have bid 3 Hearts if she knew what that 3 Diamond bid really meant.

The directors considered the whole thing highly suspicious and stuck around to see how the hand played out. I took tricks with all four of the Aces and Eva had the King of Clubs. Down one. The directors asked Susan if she would rather have played it at 3 No Trump. Still down one. A minus 50 score either way.

At our teammates’ table, the bidding also began with 1 NT and a 2 Diamond bid transferring to Hearts. The other East player did not feel compelled to say something, despite those four Aces. Usha and Joe Miranda stopped at 2 Hearts, bid and made.

All those director calls delayed us considerably. We still had two hands to play when the end of the round was announced. Those two unplayed boards? Wouldn’t count. Zeros for both teams.

That was our first victory of the day – 22 International Match Points to zero. Unfortunately, we added only one more win after that and it took until the final round to get it. Our victory point count was 85. To earn gold, we needed at least 125. We needed to be like Bob and Judy Kaprove, who won their first four rounds and picked up a fifth win later to score 129 victory points and finish eighth in the B strat. Our consolation prize – 0.31 of a red point for each of our winning rounds.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Bridge Blog 722: Niagara Falls Regional, Parts III and IV

Clearly, it was a mistake. That minus 200 for a zero board in Saturday afternoon’s open pairs game. That wasn’t us. We set the other guys down two on a 4 Spade contract. We should have had plus 100.
This was some 20 minutes after the game ended. The directors had disappeared, but wait – there was Bernie Gorkin. After I explained the problem, we stepped into the directors’ room, he fired up his laptop computer and found the game.
That hand makes 2 Hearts East-West as well as 2 Spades North-South, he said. Are you sure you didn’t play it at 4 Hearts? I was sure, but at this point would there be a way to prove it? He then mentioned that in the nationals, if you found a mistake like this, it would cost $25 to fix it.
This, however, would be no problem. The other pair was dead last anyway and our improved score still wasn’t enough to overtake anyone else. Originally, we were 46.53%. Now it was 48.84%. But we needed to beat a pair at 49.77% to win red points.
We also missed by one place in the morning session Saturday, finishing with 50.27%. It made for a disappointing couple of days with Selina Volpatti, who had won gold points in the Thursday game for players with fewer than 750 master points.
We started Friday in the compact knock-outs, teamed with a couple from the Toronto area. We totally thrashed our first-round opponents, then got skunked in a three-way second round (part of that was me doubling a 4 Spade contract, then failing to take the trick that would have set). Playing pairs in the Friday afternoon side game, we had a dismal 42.01%, a fraction of a percent ahead of the two pairs who tied for last.
I have no idea what kind of point reward we got for Friday morning’s first-round knock-out win, but it had to be less than one. Unless we hit it big in the Swiss teams on Sunday, this will be one of my poorer showings in the Niagara Falls Regional.
2011, of course, was the big one, the Life Master hat trick – regular Life Master, Bronze and Silver, all at once, with a win in the knock-outs. In all, that tournament brought me 13.67 points. This year could be more like 2008, when I earned just 1.50.  

Bridge Blog 722-A: Victories in defeat

What made Saturday afternoon the most satisfying of my rounds with Selina Volpatti was our two top boards – a pair of slams that I bid and brought home. The first was on Board 27, played at 6 No Trump. I’m East. Here are the hands.   

Spades: A-J-5; Hearts: K-5; Diamonds: K-Q-8-3-2; Clubs: A-J-2

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

Spades: K-7-6-2; Hearts: A-10-9-4; Diamonds: J-6-4; Clubs: 7-3

Spades: 9-8-4; Hearts: J-8-6-3-2; Diamonds: 10-9-7; Clubs: 10-9 

Nobody’s vulnerable. South was dealer and passed. Selina opened a Club. North passed. With 18 high-card points, I figured we had something big, so I kept things slow by bidding 1 Diamond. Selina came back with 2 Clubs. Maybe we have something really big. Six Club tricks, for sure. I jumped to 4 No Trump, asking for Aces. Five Diamonds, she bid, indicating one. OK, we’ll lose one trick, I reckoned. Six No Trump.
North led the Ace of Hearts. Terrific. There’s our loser. I won the second Heart, tried the Diamonds first and ran five tricks when they broke evenly, tossing the dummy’s Spades and eliminating the need to try the Spade finesse (which wouldn’t have worked). Then came the six Club tricks.
According to the hand record, it also makes 6 Clubs and 6 Diamonds and a couple East-Wests must have gone that route, because the scores included a couple 920s. Four others stopped at 3 NT, one of them taking all 13 tricks (at 3 NT, you wouldn’t get an Ace of Hearts lead). And one unfortunate didn’t bid game in the minor suits.
The other slam – 6 Hearts on Board 16 – was even more satisfying. Nobody else bid this slam and only one East-West took 12 tricks, even though the hand record says it will make 6 NT, 6 Spades and 6 Hearts. East-West is vulnerable. West is dealer.

Spades: A-J-9-3; Hearts: A-K-5-4-3-2; Diamonds: 7; Clubs: A-J

Spades: K-Q-10-7-6; Hearts: J-9-6; Diamonds: K-J-5; Clubs: 10-5

Spades: 8-4-2; Hearts: 10-7; Diamonds: Q-10-6-3; Clubs: K-Q-8-4

Spades: 5; Hearts: Q-8; Diamonds: A-9-8-4-2; Clubs: 9-7-6-3-2

I opened a Heart, Selina bid a Spade. I believe South bid the unusual 2 No Trump, showing a 5-5 holding in the minors. I bid 3 Spades. Selina went 4 Hearts. Banking on a windfall from distribution, I went straight to 6 Hearts.
What was North’s opening lead? I don’t recall, but it may have been a low Diamond, which South would have taken with the Ace. From there, it hinged on how the trump suit broke. Happily, it was 2-2. I tossed my losing Club on the good King of Diamonds.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Bridge Blog 721: Niagara Falls Regional, Part II

Partner Usha Khurana was uneasy about playing in the open pairs on Thursday from the minute we were knocked out of the knock-outs on Wednesday. She thought she should be playing the Gold Rush Pairs, which were limited to players with fewer than 750 points, and which might give her a better chance at her much-wanted gold points.

Instead, we were in the Daylight Open Pairs where, I assured her, gold could be had if you win. That’s a tall order, though, even though we were in the B strat. We started off well enough. In an early round against expert Buffalo player Kathy Pollock, I even made an overtrick on a 5 Clubs doubled vulnerable contract.

After that, triumphs were more scarce. I doubled opponents and lost a couple times, figuring erroneously that Usha’s bids implied Aces in her suits. We still looked like contenders after eight rounds, sixth in the B strat with 52-odd % when preliminary results were posted, but we sank in the final tally to 48%, well out of the running.

Well, there was another session in the afternoon, but it didn’t feel nearly as good as the morning.  The preliminary list had us next to last with 42%. When the final reckoning was posted, we had dropped to 38%. Usha didn’t want to stick around to analyze the results hand by hand. She still thought she would have done better in the Gold Rush Pairs. Friday she gets her wish in the Gold Rush Swiss Teams, when she plays with Joe Miranda.

Meanwhile, I checked in with the partnership desk and lined up teammates for the Compact Knock-outs on Friday. A couple named Hughes from Scarborough, Ont. Mr. H. said on the phone that they don’t have a lot of points, but they play like they do.

Random notes: Our pairs games were in the fifth floor meeting rooms, which were packed with two sections of players. One of the rooms had mesh-bottomed office chairs, akin to my super-comfortable Herman Miller Aeron chair at The News, and they were a delight in the morning session. Usha’s back didn’t get nearly as sore as it did on Wednesday. In the afternoon, we were in the other room, with standard torturous upholstered chairs. Usha had her Tylenol out before the session was over.

Parking problems solved. I got a ticket from the registration desk at the hotel. When I showed it to the attendant on the way out of the ramp, he said hold onto it. I’m good for the weekend.

Poppy problems overcome, at least for now. I acquired a new Armistice Day poppy to replace the one I lost Wednesday, then heard people say they lose them and ante up additional donations to replace them all the time. Could be a racket. I pinned this poppy higher on my sweater vest and dropped only once. Thanks to Saleh Fetouh for calling the drop to my attention.

Lots more Buffalo people around on Thursday, including John Kirsits and Ken Meier, who we faced in the final morning round. They took a top board off us on the last hand by making a 3 No Trump bid, sinking us and getting enough of a boost to win their strat.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Bridge Blog 720: Niagara Falls Regional, Part I

Fresh from earning my first fraction of a point for November on Tuesday in a 53% game with Ruth Wurster at the Airport Bridge Club, I was primed for the Niagara Falls Regional.
I was further encouraged by the prospect of good teammates – Ruthie Kozower and Judy Kaprove – for me and Usha Khurana in the knock-outs.
And I figured our fortunes were pretty much assured when we were put in a three-way round robin match in the first round, since the best two of the teams advance to the next round.
Aside from a slip by Usha on the first board – she opened 2 Clubs instead of 1 Club and we wound up in a bad contract going down two vulnerable – we proved ourselves to be the roundest of the round robins, scoring solid wins in all four rounds against a St. Catharines team headed by Dennis Glazebrook (15-4 and 24-18 IMPs) and a team of little old ladies from the Rochester area (39-5 and 27-9 IMPs).
After lunch, we also started out strong against the Marlene Benny team from London, Ont., all the while chatting them up. Marlene was a retired public health nurse and her partner Cora was traffic manager at the radio station owned by the London Free Press, the local newspaper.  
By the halfway point, we’d scored modest victories, 17-12 and 25-13, but I reminded our team that this was not an insurmountable lead.
Indeed, it vanished in the next round. Usha and I stopped getting the good cards and our opponents stopped giving us breaks. They beat us 24-8, reducing our 17 IMP margin to a single point, then ran away with the final six boards, 26-2, the face-saving 2 IMPs coming on the final hand when Marlene and Cora failed to tap my weak suit in a 1 No Trump contract and I made three overtricks.
Had we won, it would be meant 5-plus gold points, plus a chance to win more in the final two knock-out sessions Thursday. As it was, for our first round victory, we collected 0.96 of a red point. Usha, who needs at least 10 gold points for Life Master, was disappointed. I was encouraged, however, by our good play together. Perhaps we can strike gold in the pairs Thursday.
Random notes: The morning knock-out session was delayed 15 minutes because players coming down from the Hamilton-Burlington area were hung up by an accident on the Queen Elizabeth Way near the Glendale Road exit in St. Catharines.
The registration desk was selling red poppy pins for Armistice Day (Veterans Day to us Yanks) and, wishing to do in Canada as the Canadians do, I donated a blue $5 bill and got one each for me and Usha. The pin didn’t hold it in place very well on my sweater vest, however, and by lunch time it had disappeared. Usha’s fared better. It lasted until the ride home. I found it on the passenger seat of the RAV-4.
I thought that the parking in the hotel ramp had been free at previous Niagara Falls regionals if you flashed a Player Card from the adjacent casino. It got us into the ramp just fine when we arrived, but the attendant on the way out said that parking wasn’t free any more until the card showed that you spent money at the casino. If not, it’s $20. Guess I’ll have to hit the buffet or pump some coins into the slot machines if I want free parking for the rest of the week.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Bridge Blog 719: Witchcraft

Just in case it wasn’t a double-digit month already, Dianne Bloom and I took October out on a Halloween high note. Maybe her hat bewitched the opposition.
Playing mostly defense North-South, we had four top boards, a couple more ties for tops and only one absolute zero. A 52.08% game, it was still second-best overall and tops in the B strat for 0.49 of a point, bringing the total for the month to something like 11.87. It’s a far cry from last October’s 35.15, though. At this point in 2012, I had 202 points overall and 164.50 for club play.