By Single-Session Swiss
The spousal unit and I planned to play all five days at the Cape. I had three different partners lined up – Linda Ahrens for Wednesday and Thursday, Jeanne Striefler for Friday and Saturday, and Jeanne Martin for Sunday. I had played a few times with Linda and Jeanne S. On Sunday Jeanne M. was scheduled to become my ninety-ninth partner. Bernadine Lacy, the partnership chairwoman, had engaged the Cooneys as teammates for us for the Swiss events on Wednesday and Friday. She said that she was still looking for teammates for Sunday.
Wednesday was a perfect day for bridge, but it was far from perfect for driving to a bridge tournament. It rained all morning. As usual, my wife Sue wanted to drive; I rode shotgun. We stopped at McDonald's on the Mass Pike for breakfast sandwiches and coffee, but we never left the car. So, by the time that we arrived at the Sea Crest in North Falmouth at 11:50 we had been sitting in the same position for three hours. This was a big mistake.
I had done something to my right knee on Easter Sunday, and it still bothered me a little when we departed for North Falmouth. When I finally got out of the Subaru at the Sea Crest, my knee began to hurt quite a bit. I definitely should have left the car and walked around in the rain at least once. I limped inside.
We had never been to the Sea Crest before. It was nearly as stunning in person as in the photos, and it was definitely huge. It seemed incredible that for a while the people taking reservations were telling bridge players that there were no rooms available. It was definitely off-season, and almost every guest in the hotel seemed to be a bridge player.
Linda was not there yet when I arrived, and so I sat and kept company with Dr. Arnold Berman for a few minutes. I complained about the ACBL's partnership software, and he informed me that the new software for medical record-keeping was ridiculously difficult to use. I had always thought that developing a medical database would have been a great project for our company, but we were not in the right place at the right time.
Shortly after Linda arrived, Tom and Pat Cooney came over to the table at which Linda and I were going over a few details on our convention card. I had not known the Cooneys by name, but I had played against them a few times, and I had great respect for them. So, the only remaining mysteries involved my partner and teammates for Sunday, which was four days in the future.
Our team played in the Open Swiss. We won our first match 20-0, but by the break for supper we were right in the middle of the pack.
Sue and I drove into Falmouth to eat supper at the Mexican restaurant named Añejo. Because it was early in the evening and off-season, we had no trouble getting a table. The chimichanga was tasty, but it was not the most memorable thing about the restaurant. That was found in the men's room, where I encountered the first toilet seat that I had ever seen that included a handle to make it easier to raise and lower. You may be certain that if I had had my trusty Canon with me, I would have shot a photo and included it in this write-up. Yes, I do have a cell phone, but no, my phone does not have a camera, and no, I did not bring it to the tournament. Don't ask me again.
After supper we lost three straight close matches, but we won the last round in a blitz, which was just enough to lift us to third in B. We were twenty-two points behind the second-place team, which means that even if we had won our last three matches in blitzes, we would still have finished third.
Several times during the matches I needed to stand up and take a few steps. Continuous sitting with my leg bent at a right angle was too painful.
The playing areas were more than spacious and uniformly well lit. Our room was also pretty nice. The big attraction for Sue was the refrigerator, which she promptly filled with stuff that she had brought from home. I slept pretty well all four nights, but the pattern was always the same – sleep for two or three hours, toss and turn for a few hours, sleep for another few hours.
On Thursday we ate breakfast at the Talk of the Town diner in North Falmouth. Several bridge players and one director were already there. There was only one waitress, and she spent a lot of time jawing with a pair of the customers. She seemed completely unaware that hundreds of hungry bridge players were encamped a mile or two to the south. She also was not that concerned with the dozen or so who had already arrived at her establishment.
The omelet that I ordered was not visually appealing, but it tasted quite good. In fact, all of the food at the Talk of the Town was tasty, and the waitress did keep our coffee cups full when she had finished her conversation.
When we returned to the hotel, Mark Aquino met me at the door. He told me that because of all that I did for the district, he had a special prize for me. It was my convention card holder along with the mechanical pencil that I always use because of its good eraser. Evidently I had left them in the playing area on Wednesday when I switched into photographer mode. I had lost convention cards in just this way several times at past tournaments.
Linda and I scored 55% in the morning in the Senior Pairs. That left us in a good position to finish in the money in the afternoon.
At lunch I consumed some leftover chicken, some chips, and a Diet Pepsi. I also went to the Expert Panel, which featured Steve Rzewski, Pat McDevitt, and Bob McCaw answering questions about the hands that we played that morning. Mark Aquino served as the MC.
I posed the first question about hand #15, which was passed out. Since our side had a nine-card heart fit, we received a poor score. All three experts agreed with our decisions to pass, but Mark interjected that he had opened my hand (North) in the third seat with the four-card heart suit. His partner used Drury, and he signed off in 2♥.
I have employed that strategy in the third seat when holding four hearts and three spades, and I definitely had considered doing it on this hand. However, I had not discussed it with Linda, and I was afraid that she would get overly ambitious if she had three hearts, and the auction became competitive. I really hate to play hands in Moyesian fits.
We played pretty well in the afternoon, too, but we came a-cropper on two hands. Our opponents on hand #6 were Joyce Stiefel and Sandy DeMartino. I was East, and this was our auction:
This was a good example of how difficult it can be for new partnerships. I would have passed on the second round with Linda's West hand. I thought that her bid showed six hearts and at least ten points. She felt obligated to show her fifth heart. In a teams game, my last call would have been 3♥, but I thought that I had reason to hope for a better score by doubling. Wrong!
The other hand that brought us woe was #23. North opened 1NT. After a “failed” Stayman sequence the bidding stopped at 3NT. This contract was dead in the water if I (East) had led a heart or a club, but I chose David Byrd's favorite lead of the doubleton spade with ignominious consequences.
At other tables, of course, North opened that eighteen-count with 1♦, and South responded a spade. That would be enough to deter most other Easts from leading a spade. On some hands it is better to stick to the principles that served Charles Goren so well in the fifties and forget about the hundreds of books and thousands of articles that have been written in the interim.
Our score for the afternoon was only 45%, and so we ended up as dead average. Nevertheless, I enjoyed playing with Linda, and I would leap at the chance to repeat the experience.
Sue and I dined at the Quarterdeck Restaurant in Falmouth. I tried the baked stuffed shrimp, which was basically a bowl of melted butter with five or six large and very stringy shrimp with some unimaginative “stuffing” that was not actually stuffed. I was unimpressed. Getting the meat off of the shrimp was more trouble than it was worth.
We Kansans are innately skeptical of all sea creatures, which are, after all, little more that water-breathing insects. On the prairie edible seafood is mainly limited to delectable rectangles that come in cardboard boxes labeled “Mrs. Paul's.”
My leg was still bothering me, but not as much as on Wednesday.
My second partner, Jeanne Striefler, was a passenger in a suburban assault vehicle with her husband Fred, Tina and Jim Yablonski (the pilot), and Ellen Meinke, Tina's partner. I knew all of them from the Hartford Bridge Club and parties. They had arrived on Thursday evening, and we had talked with them at the Quarterdeck,.
I skipped going out for breakfast on Thursday. Instead I ate an apple that I had stowed in my suitcase as well as the last piece of chicken. That gave me time to look for players who had won events on the first two days. I was surprised to read in the Daily Bulletin that the team that we had clobbered in the first round on Wednesday had won the Senior Swiss on Thursday. The team that we had blitzed in the last round on Wednesday had won C on Thursday. Linda and I might have made a mistake playing pairs.
At some point on Friday Mark Aquino pulled me aside and introduced me to Jeanne Martin, my partner for the Swiss on Sunday. Bernadine had assured me that she would have teammates for us, but she did not say who they were.
Our team got off to a great start in Friday's Senior Swiss. We decisively won our first three matches. In the last match of the morning we lost by nine IMPs, but we were playing against the eventual winners of the event. In the afternoon, however, our fortunes changed. We were decisively thumped twice in a row. We won the seventh match, but the eighth match, in which I was East, turned on this hand:
Both sides vulnerable
North obviously could not leave the double in, and he had no spade stopper. He could not repeat his heart suit or support diamonds. That left 4♣. South liked clubs enough to raise, which left North to scramble for eleven tricks in a seven-card fit.
I led the ♠K, which was captured by declarer's ace. He lobbed a diamond to dummy's king and Jeanne's ace. She cashed her ♠Q and then tanked. The next lead was critical. The only thing that would set the contract was a third round of spades, but apparently Jeanne was worried that declarer might have no spades left. She certainly did not want to allow a ruff and slough. She set a diamond on the table. At that point declarer finessed the heart and prayed that no one had five clubs.
Jeanne and I do not play together too often, and we had evidently not discussed leading a supported suit. Some people expect their partner always to give count when leading a supported suit. I prefer to lead the top one if I have exactly the number promised – in this case three – and to lead low if I have an extra one. So, my ♠K was intended to show that I had three, which meant that declarer would need to ruff in dummy. After that there would be no way to prevent me from eventually getting a trump trick.
If we had set this contract, we would have finished in the money. In all fairness, I must report that I did not realize what needed to be done until 2:30 a.m. when I had finished round 1 of sleep and not yet begun round 2.
Meanwhile, Sue and I went out to eat with Jeanne and her traveling companions at La Cucina del Mare. We were surprised to discover that it was also the restaurant of choice of a large number of players from the Hartford area. I had one of the specials, Chicken Napoleon, which I thought was pretty good. Most of the rest of the diners were disappointed in their selections. Jim, who is something of a connoisseur of Bolognese, gave his dish only a C-.
On the other hand, the conversation was great. Jim and Fred, who are not serious bridge players (yet), had spent the day at the potato chip factory, a brewery, and some museums. Later Jeanne related how she and Tina had been kicked out of the book club at their church because of their raucous behavior when discussing a book about “Pope Joan.” Jeanne made the mistake of saying the magic word for that (and every other) day, “pope.” I siezed the chance to explain that Pope Joan was really a myth, but there probably was such a thing as the sella stercoraria, the seat allegedly used to check the masculinity of the pope-elect. However, I reported that I had searched for the seat that was supposedly on display in the Vatican Museums as well as the one that was alleged to have been at the Louvre with no success. I am pretty certain that the Louvre never has had one, although there definitely is a porphyry chair in the Louvre's collection. Who knows what is in the Vatican's attics and closets? I doubt that they would put the seat on display even if they had it.
Saturday is always my busiest day at a tournament. This one started at a little after 8:30 when we discovered that the room that was assigned for the meeting of the Communications Committee was locked. When Helen Pawlowski came with the key, we found a room in which no tables or chairs were set up. It only took us a minute or two, however, to come up with a suitable arrangement of the furniture we found along the walls. Nothing of great import took place in the meeting, but I did come up with an idea for establishing informal liaisons in each unit. Nobody liked my radical idea for promoting the Nashua tournament. Sigh.
Jeanne and I played in the Senior Pairs. In the morning we had a lackluster round in which we finished at about average. During lunch I listened to Steve Rzewski's talk about hand evaluation. I also took some photos.
During lunch Bernadine flagged me down and told me that Jeanne Martin and I would be playing with John Mohan on Sunday. She pointed him out to me, and I introduced myself. Our teammates had played against him in the fourth round on Wednesday.
Our afternoon session did not go well at all. I did not have the kind of cards that allowed me to contribute much. By the end I was tired, bored, and frustrated. I had to say goodbye quickly to Jeanne because I needed to attend the Executive Committee meeting. I did not even stay to take photos of the winners of the pairs games.
The highlight of the meeting was certainly not the dinner. The chicken (or whatever fowl it was) tasted pretty good, but I could hardly stomach anything else that they served us. It was also quite chilly in the room from beginning to end.
At one point the committee went into “executive session,” which means that attendees were enjoined not to repeat anything said during that portion of the meeting. Did you know that members of the College of Cardinals are also banned from discussing anything that occurs during the conclave to select a pope? That stricture has been violated hundreds of times. There is even a book about their recollections that can be read online.
On the other hand, I have never heard of any gossip escaping from the Executive Committee meetings. In that respect an executive session is more like CONTROL's Cone of Silence, which Maxwell Smart and the Chief employed whenever they needed to discuss a top-secret issue. At least that is what I think of whenever a member demands that we have an executive session.
The weather on Saturday was reportedly very nice, but I never even got a chance to set foot outside.
Sue and I ate breakfast on Sunday morning at Betsy's Diner in Falmouth. The service was outstanding, but the food seemed quite bland.
I located Jeanne Martin in the playing area. We spent a few minutes going over our convention card. Our teammates did not arrive until 9:55. John Mohan, who has 29,000 masterpoints, eighteen national championships, and a page on Wikipedia, played with Joy McKenzie-Smith of Chapel Hill, NC, in the morning and Millie Garrison from Riverside, CA, in the second session. During breaks between matches Joy and Millie told me that they had really enjoyed the tournament. In fact, they said that the ambiance was the best that they had experienced, and they definitely knew what they were talking about. They had come to the Cape directly from the regional in Gatlinburg. Joy said that every year she plays in all three NABC events, “and all the regionals.”
Our team was never in contention. In fact, we played against the team with the worst record in the sixth round. However, we finished with three consecutive victories to move back up to mediocrity. Despite our disappointing results, we all felt pretty good about the way that it ended. Jeanne and I had a few misunderstandings in the bidding, but we both thought that we had played pretty well. I definitely look forward to playing with her again. I am often looking for a partner to play in the Central Mass sectionals.
Bridge was still being played when the Keohane Senior Regional and the Cape Cod Sectional were completed. In two large adjoining rooms the finals of the Open Flight of the Grand National Teams qualifier was still being contested. Mark Aquino's team, which included Dick Budd, Larry Bausher, and Steve Becker, narrowly defeated Doug Doub's five-person team of Cenk Tuncok, Jim Streisand, and the Grossack Brothers. I took a few photos of some very tense faces.
Neither Sue nor I did anything of note in the tournament, but we both had a splendid time. We met a lot of nice people – the main reason that I love playing in tournaments. The move to the Sea Crest was definitely a good idea. This year the staff was clearly not used to dealing with the schedules and habits of bridge players, but that aspect will probably improve in the future. The facility itself was very nice.
I'll be back.