NEBridge - The View from B-Low: Warwick 2018

by Single Session Swiss

The drive from Enfield, CT, to Warwick, RI, can be a little tricky. The direct route requires use of a string of two-lane state and federal highways all the way to the I-295 intersection in Johnston. I suspected that there might be problems this time; the first thing that I heard on the radio on Tuesday morning was that school would be starting that day in many communities in the Land of Steady Habits. That meant school buses, and school buses could well mean a slow trip. So, I resolved to leave pretty early.

My preparations began with bringing my Christmas cacti, which last year waited to blossom until income tax day, into the house. Then I turned my attention to our two indoor-outdoor cats. I filled up their gravity-feed device with six days of food. To my consternation most of it spilled on the kitchen floor because I had failed to insert the feeding tray promptly. Not a problem. The time limit of the “five-second rule” for cats is five minutes. After all, these guys regularly lick the floor for no reason. When I was finished with that mess, I loaded my backpack and suitcase into my Honda and added a bag of potato chips and two two-liter bottles of Diet Pepsi. I can see no reason to pay hotel prices for such comestibles.

My wife Sue and I had different schedules. She planned to depart from the tournament early on Sunday to attend some kind of music festival in Jamestown, RI, and my dance card was filled all six days. So, we took separate cars. This was fine with me. She had a cold, and I did not want to catch it.

The drive was not bad at all. I only saw one school bus, I got to listen to nearly the entire recording of Lucia di Lammermoor wiith Maria Callas and Giuseppe Di Stefano on my car's MP3 player. I arrived in Warwick with enough time to make a side trip to McDonald's to get my usual sausage biscuit with egg.

If you have any suggestions about the content of the printed Bulletin, let me know.

My schedule for the 2018 Ocean State Regional was weird bordering on tragic. My steady tournament partner, Ann Hudson, could only play on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday. I persuaded Jeanne Martin to sit across from me on Friday and Saturday, but this arrangement meant that I would be able to play in neither of the Monster Knockouts.

As I was walking from my car to the front door of the Crowne Plaza a familiar white Lexus wagon stopped at the door and deposited Ann. Her husband, Randy Johnson, was at the wheel. Ann checked into her room while I strolled to the Welcome Desk to inspect the new Bulletins that I had created. I discovered two pagination errors, but everyone told me that they looked fine.

Playing in the Open Pairs, Ann and I got off to an incredibly bad start. At the very first table our opponents overbid on two of the three hands, but our defensive errors allowed them to make both contracts. In all, we had five unforced defensive errors on the twenty-four boards, and we scored only 48%. We needed to play better defense or hog the bidding.

The second session was a little better, but halfway through it I could sense extreme fatigue setting in. I scurried out to buy a cup of coffee, but the concession stand was closed. With about four or five rounds still to play my concentration was shot; I could barely keep track of the trump suit. During this period we played against the pair from Florida that won the B strat. I managed to garner two overtricks on an easy 3NT contract, but I had a squeeze all set up for the twelfth trick. However, when I got near the end I realized that I had at some point carelessly discarded my threat card in spades. Fortunately I did not need to make many difficult decisions after that. We limped home with a 52%, which was good for a fraction of a red point.

Sue played in the evening game, and she did very well. I went to KFC, and picked up a Fill-up Box. I sat on the bed in our hotel room and munched on some extra crispy while watching Wonder Woman on MeTV. As always I muted the sound to avoid getting distracted by the plot. I then found a truly engrossing old episode of Lewis on YouTube on my Lenovo Yoga. “Life Born of Fire” revealed fascinating details of James Hathaway's mysterious backstory. The hotel's wi-fi was up to the task. By 9:30 I was asleep.

The lot was nearly full when we arrived there on Friday and Sunday.

On Wednesday Sue and I drove to the Jefferson Diner for breakfast. We did not enjoy it much and decided to try the much more crowded Coast Line Diner, which we had passed on the way, on a subsequent morning.

Ann and I were scheduled to play in the Open Swiss with Trevor Reeves and Felix Springer. In the first round we somehow scored an upset victory over Ellie Hanlon's team of all-star Vermonters. We then fell on hard times before lunch, which for me was one of the hotel's famous sausage, peppers, and onion sub sandwiches with chips and Diet Pepsi.

We won two rounds after lunch, but the last two rounds, which we played against two good B teams, were a disappointment. My notes say that the last loss was my fault, but I don't remember precisely what I did wrong.

I supped with Felix and Trevor at Arooga's. We had gone to this place last year, and they had no trouble with the food that Sue and I ordered, but they could not seem to get Felix's or Trevor's order straight. The same thing happened this year. Take it from me: these two guys are not inarticulate. I don't know why the restaurant fumbled the ball two years in a row, but we probably won't give them a third chance. I ordered the Danish ribs, which I would rate as slightly below average. The Guinness on tap was fine.

Sue slept in on Thursday, and I got all the nourishment that I needed with the mini-muffins at the hospitality table.

Ann and I played in the Open Pairs. We had our best round of the tournament in the morning, but in the afternoon session, which featured a lot of really wild hands, we missed at least three slams. We have plenty of tools; we just need to make better use of them.

The most outrageous hand, board #17, gave us one of our better scores. North opened the bidding with 3. Ann, sitting East, bid 3. South bid 4, which left clubs for me to bid, which I did. North then supported her partner's hearts at the five-level. That bid was followed by three long pauses, each of which terminated with a green card.

If South takes out two rounds of trumps, it is easy to find thirteen tricks — six hearts, six diamonds, and a spade ruff in dummy. That did not happen. I got to ruff the second round of diamonds, and so our opponents missed a (grand) slam and misplayed the hand to boot. I thought that this would be an absolute top, but a surprising number of East-West pairs played in 4, and many were not doubled. Not one North-South team in our section found the slam. In fact, at eight of the twelve tables, East-West played the hand! I guess that it is hard to believe that you would be dealt a double fit in the red suits, and each of you could boast a void in one of the black suits.

The most amazing aspect of this hand was the fact that if I had bid 6♣, which I seriously considered, and gotten the contract, I would have gone down four (against good defense) despite having all of the following:
• an eight-card trump suit in one hand;
• all five honors in trump;
• the ace and king of spades;
• three ruffing values.

Moreover, against good defense Ann would have done just as badly in 5. Even that result requires careful play. If South starts with a diamond, and then North returns a club, the declarer might find herself cut off from the dummy. I could imagine some hapless declarers ending up with only six tricks!

On Thursday evening the district sponsored a get-together in the hotel's Atrium to honor Helen Pawlowski for the twelve years that she has spent managing our tournaments. The buffet of finger food was fabulous, and I also helped myself to a Yuengling. I sat with Carolyn Weiser, Curtis Barton, and Bob Bertoni. Curtis also had a beer, which he was drinking out of the bottle. He mocked my use of a glass as an example of East Coast snobbery. He claimed that all Midwesterners drank from the bottle. I told him that I was from Kansas City, which is as Midwest as possible. He said that he was, too. In fact, I was astounded to learn that when we were teenagers we had lived within walking distance of each other. We never knew it because we went to different schools.

Helen and Linda Robinson in the buffet line.
Helen and Sandy DeMartino.

A few people made speeches of tribute to Helen. The acoustics were so bad that I honestly could not hear any of them well enough to understand what they were saying. I declined to join the orators, but I did share my favorite Helen story with a few people. One year the hotel in Nashua had contracted with UMass-Lowell to provide temporary housing for a few dozen students at the same time that it hosted our regional tournament. My room that year was right in the middle of a women's dormitory. It was quite hot all week, and the coeds took full advantage of the hotel's swimming pool. The scenery in the hallways was fantastic.

At the same tournament in the following year I complained to Helen about my difficulties with the hotel's absurdly intransigent reservation system and insufferable staff. Her face immediately took on the concerned but cheerful look that she always assumed when dealing with upset bridge players and putting out fires at tournaments. I patiently explained how I had requested a room in the women's dormitory again and how outraged I was that the hotel had refused to accommodate such a simple request. Helen had a four-word response: “You dirty old man.”

Mark Aquino.

After the party I watched Purdue play Northwestern on ESPN. It was a close game, but neither team looked very good to me. This was borne out the next weekend when the Wildcats fell to Duke, and the Boilermakers were upset by lowly Eastern Michigan.

Mark Aquino, our District Director, is also a national champion. On Friday morning he shared some tips about "The Inner Game of Bridge" with a large complement of players assembled in the Rotunda. I dropped in to take a few photos and to listen to what information he recommended that I notate on my score card. 

My new partner, Jeanne Martin, drove down from Worcester to play with me in the A/X Pairs on Friday morning. We encountered a few bidding difficulties, but by the afternoon session we were clicking pretty well. We ended up tenth in A and seventh in X. I was quite happy with those results considering that this was only the third time that we had played together.

The treat for the afternoon session was a large cake in Helen Pawlowski's honor. I was pulled out of the pairs game to take a photo of it before any hungry players had a chance to desecrate it.

I will at this point exercise my right to the one rant that I am allowed in each article. Take a look at hand #23 in the afternoon session. I was sitting West and opened 2. After Jeanne's waiting bid, I showed my heart suit. She bid Roman Key Card Blackwood. I showed one or four by bidding 5. She bid 5, which I very reluctantly passed. I made six. Jeanne, like many players (including, vociferously, Marty Bergen), thought that I should have bid 6 because I had four key cards, not one.

IMHO the question boils down to this: Which is more likely, that I had one key card or that she had none? I may not have explained this to Jeanne, but I open 2 in exactly two situations — a balanced hand with twenty-two or more HCPs or an unbalanced hand with at least four quick tricks and at most four losers. By the way, I adopted that 4x4 criteria from Marty Bergen's slam book. This hand was only slightly unbalanced, but it certainly met the criteria.

Jeanne's hand boasted nine points. If I had twenty-two, the opponents would have nine, which is not enough for three key cards. On the other hand, is it possible for me to have four quick tricks and only one key card? I don't see how I could without the Q, which is in her hand. So, from her perspective, regardless of which hand I had, the probability of me having one key card is zero.

Could she be devoid of key cards and still be interested in looking for a slam? Why not? I have asked for key cards with hands that have good potential playing strength because they are very distributional, e.g. 1-5-6-1, but they have no key cards. If a hand like that is opposite a monster that is missing one key card and the K (as I was), slam is unlikely. QED.

I feel strongly that when partner asks for key cards after opener has shown a really strong hand (2, 2NT, or a strong jump shift), the assumption should be that opener has the higher number of key cards, 3, 4, or 5. I realize that it is possible to construct hands that make strong bids with one or two key cards, but responder should usually be able to recognize from his/her own holding that that is the case. On the other hand, if you have shown less than a monster, I think that you should go to slam if you have the higher number of key cards, even if your partner attempts to sign off.

On Saturday morning I learned at the Communications Committee meeting that the Finance Committee was going to propose that the district ax the Cape Cod tournaments. I would hate to see that happen. I talked this over with Rich DeMartino, who came up to me before Saturday's rounds to ask about an unrelated subject. He was shocked to hear this. I hope that the district does not do something hasty. Attendance at the tournaments there was awful this year, but I value very highly the fact that our district is allowed to hold five regionals. If we lose the Senior, we will never get it back.

Jeanne and I played in the Open Pairs in the Plaza Ballroom. My sweater made me feel reasonably comfortable. However, some people were not as well prepared. One of the ladies who came to our table for the last round was wearing (as a shawl) a tablecloth that she had liberated from one of the tables that was not in use. When I realized what it was, I laughed so hard that I could hardly see my cards. I later learned from Sue that it was so cold for the evening pairs game that people were going up to their rooms to get blankets. Here is some good news: The Crowne Plaza will be completely refurbished over the next twelve months. It is to be hoped that the problem with the uncontrollable air conditioning will be addressed.

Jeanne and I had a couple of bidding problems on Saturday. We still managed to score some red points in one of the sessions, and we had a thoroughly enjoyable time. She is a good player. I was lucky to find her.

Ladies and gentlemen, your Executive Committee.

On Saturday evening the Executive Committee spent a lot of time discussing the Cape tournaments. In the end, the Finance Committee's recommendation was tabled until Sally Kirtley, the new Tournament Manager, has a chance to propose a feasible way to make the tournaments if not profitable, then at least justifiable.

The Executive Committee also presented Helen with another cake and a box of notes from her admirers in the district. As you might have guessed, she is rather popular.

Sunday started very badly. I learned from ESPN.com that my beloved Wolverines had lost the season opener to Notre Dame. I really thought that they would win that game, but they evidently played badly.

Lee Capobianco, who is in her tenth decade, played on the winning team and became a Life Master.

Ann returned on Sunday for the B/C Swiss. We played with Med and Kathy Colket, whom I know from the Wednesday evening sessions at the Simsbury Bridge Club. This was probably the last time that Ann or I will ever be able to compete as a C team, and a fat lot of good it did us to find a pair with few enough points for that distinction. Our foursome bumped around in the middle of the field for most of the session, but in the last round I got really hot. For some reason everything seemed very clear to me. We set our opponents in 2NT when Kathy made 3NT at the other table. I even executed a squeeze to make a difficult 3NT contract after the opponents opened a weak 1NT. We won the round in a blitz, which gave us 88 Victory Points. I assured Med and Kathy that we would place in C.

In fact, we finished eighth out of twenty-eight. The top six B's and the top five C's were rewarded handsomely in the overalls. How much did we win? Nada, zilch, niente, bubkes, the null set. Five of the top six pairs were C teams. The teams that tied for fourth and fifth in C won six gold points each. We won .99 red for winning four matches and tying one.

I don't care. It is always a great tournament when you win your last round in the Sunday Swiss. I sang along with Maria and Giuseppe on the trip back home.