By Single-Session Swiss
I cherish many fond memories of playing bridge in Nashua. When the Fiesta Regional was held there years ago, I earned the last gold points that I needed for Life Master, and I celebrated with two of my teammates when they made Life Master there. I will also never forget the time that my hotel room was in the middle of a temporary dorm for female UMass-Lowell students who were taking full advantage of the warm weather and the hotel's swimming pool.
This year I was scheduled to play all six days with two different partners. Ann Hudson, with whom I had enjoyed a great outing at the recent sectional in Orange, CT, could only play the first three days. Tony Norris and I had played only once two years ago, but he agreed to play with me the last three days. My wife Sue's plans were much less specific. She planned to skip the first session on Tuesday, and, in fact, she indicated that she would probably only play in a few scattered games throughout the tournament. In the end she somehow was persuaded to play fifteen sessions in six days, and she earned masterpoints every day.
The drive up the Mass Pike and I-495 was not very eventful, which is just the way you want it. We stopped at McDonald's at a the Charlton Plaza for outrageously priced breakfast sandwiches. This was the first time that I had ever encountered a McDonald's drive-through that was closed.
On arriving at the Radisson I immediately filled out a card at the Partnership Desk. Ann and I wished to play in the Swiss on Wednesday, and Tony and I were looking for teammates for Friday's Swiss. I had entered requests for both events on the ACBL website weeks earlier, but the only responses that I received were from people who clearly did not understand my request. Don't get me started on this.
Only pairs games were offered on Tuesday. Ann and I played badly in both sessions, and our opponents were uncooperative. After the morning session everyone was talking about #21, the 7-6 hand. I sat South. Ann opened 1♣. Lots of people with my hand started with the seven-card diamond suit, but I decided to bid 1♠ first. Ann rebid her clubs. I pondered for quite a while and settled on a demure 2♠, a decision that probably kept West out of the bidding. Everyone passed. West at our table led a diamond, which was ducked by East. That gave me ten tricks, but I could clearly see that we could not legitimately make a game in any suit. After all, we only had 21 points.
Neverteless, many pairs sitting our way bid 5♦. Perhaps they were pushed by East-West, who had ten hearts between them. Unfortunately for us, most of the Wests did not find the killing lead of a trump. In a diamond contract twelve tricks are easy if two spades can be ruffed.
Our big problem in the morning was repeatedly leaving a trick on the table. In the afternoon session our play improved, but our bidding left a lot to be desired. Ann and I play a rather sophisticated card with enough tools to help us find slams, but we still missed a lot of them.
The missed opportunity that bothered me the most was #22. I was sitting West, and we were playing Adam Grossack and Steve Diamond. Ann opened a rather sketchy 1♥, and from that point on her primary objective was to slow down the auction. Adam Grossack overcalled 2♥, which I made sure showed spades (sort of) and a minor. I bid 2♠, and Steve bid 2NT to ask for Adam's minor suit. Ann could have passed, I suppose, but she chose to emphasize her fine suit with a 3♥ bid. Adam showed great restraint by passing.
I went into the tank. I desperately wanted to learn something – anything! – about Ann's holdings in the black suits. I decided to cue bid my ♦A. Ann disappointed me by bidding 4♥, which I very reluctantly passed. Adam led a club, which allowed Ann to claim twelve tricks very quickly.
If I were allowed a mulligan, I would have bid 3♠ instead of 4♦. I also think that it would have helped if Ann had passed in the second round. Adam would have bid 3♣, and I could bid 3♦. Then when Ann bid 3♥, I could bid 3♠, and she would probably be able to appreciate the importance of her ♣K. On the other hand, if Adam had held both of the missing club honors, only eleven tricks would be available.
I located Sue after the pairs game. I was startled to learn that she had played in both sessions, and in fact was also planning on playing in the evening Super Points pairs game. I did not want to eat in the hotel, and she did not have enough time to go out. So, I was on my own for supper.
Sue informed me that Norm Guivens had called about playing in the Swiss on Wednesday. I knew who Norm was, but I had never played with him. I called his room and left a message that Ann and I would be happy to play with him and his partner.
I then drove to La Hacienda Del Rio, which I had discovered in 2016. I enjoyed a nice taco dinner. IMHO the beef taco was much better than the chicken one. I wished that I had ordered two beef tacos. I entertained myself by reviewing the hand records and my notes on XYZ and Good-Bad 2NT.
When I returned to the room I tried to use Sue's laptop. The computer was in the case, but I could not find the power cord or the mouse. The next day Sue showed me that they were in fact in the bag. I admit that I may be the worst person in the world at finding things. In fact, I almost flunked first grade because I could not find the little cardboard letters (like small Scrabble letters) that we used to spell out words before we had learned to write. I explained to my teacher (a nun) that the letters were hiding from me, but she did not believe me. She was equally dismissive of my parents' insistence that I already knew how to spell and write, but I was hopelessly incompetent at finding anything.
Sue and I ate breakfast on Wednesday at the IHOP, a restaurant that I like for breakfast. I had the 2+2+2 senior breakfast. Since there were no messages from Norm on the hotel phone, I went to the Partnership Desk to try to find Norm. It was very crowded, but I eventually spotted him just as he was about to team up with another pair. He had not received my message. In the end, however, we ended up playing with him and his partner, Kathy Aubrey. The less said about our performance that day the better.
At lunch Ann had noticed that Adi Chehna had put in a card at the Partnership Desk for the Thursday Swiss. I had never played with Adi before, but I sought him out and arranged for Ann and me to play with him and Curtis Barton in Thursday's Open Swiss.
For me the highlight of Wednesday was supper at Lui Lui with Sue, Judy Cavagnaro, and Pam Lombardo. I ordered a small pizza with sausage and mushroom, which was quite good, and a Guinness. The best part, however, was when Pam described a director-call that she had had. In the Gold Rush Swiss. Pam and her partner found themselves on defense. On the eleventh trick, Pam ruffed with the ♥J and started to lead. The declarer stopped her, claiming that she had not won the trick because, in fact, the trump suit was spades. Pam and her partner were incredulous. They called the director, Tim Hill, who had to examine the tricks that had already been played in order to determine which suit was most likely trump. He eventually ruled that declarer's nine-card heart fit was a much more likely candidate than the six-card spade fit.
On Thursday morning Sue and I returned to the IHOP for breakfast. I had sausage, eggs, and potatoes with lots of coffee.
Ann and I played much better on Thursday, and our teammates held up their end, too. We were only 5-3, but we only lost to the three A teams, and Lew Gamerman's team of all-stars only beat us by one IMP.
During Thursday's lunch break I took a short stroll around the pond in front of the hotel. I espied there a pair of aquatic rodents swimming around. I could not identify them; maybe they were muskrats. On Saturday evening Sue and I revisited the spot. We saw one much smaller critter swimming around munching on the lily pads. Its tail looked like an antenna. Sue took some photos and movies of it.
The most memorable (and least pleasant) moment was the seventh match against the team that won the event. A little background: In Swiss events the directors now penalizes teams for turning in results late. Our team did not play slowly, but we already had one tick-mark indicative of a late result. If we received a second demerit, we would lose victory points. In this match South had played the first four hands, and she played them slowly enough that less than eleven minutes remained when we started the fifth hand. I played the hand fairly rapidly, claimed, and looked at the clock, which was inside of seven minutes.
I have played in many Swiss team events in which the clock was used to determine the deadline for submitting results, most of them at sectionals. I have heard announcements by directors many times. In every case they have emphasized the importance of timely delivery of the results. I can clearly remember them saying that if you felt that you might not be able to deliver the result on time, you could skip the last board without penalty. I did not want to play the last hand under duress (Steve Gladyszak's fingerprints were on my cards), and I had no confidence that the South player could finish the hand on time. There was also the possibility of a disagreement about the scoring; South's scorecard was, by her own admission, all messed up. So, I refused to play the last board and returned to our table.
South called the director and protested. Marilyn Wells ruled that our team should be penalized three IMPs for not calling her first. This ended up costing us one victory point. Since we tied for third in B, it also cost us .5 masterpoints.
Or did it? We lost that match by sixteen IMPs, not counting the three-IMP penalty. That averages to more than three IMPs per hand. Moreover, I still think that there was a very good chance that we would have been penalized for a late turn-in if we had played that last hand. If I had it to do over again, I would certainly call the director, but I also think that the appropriate procedure should be promulgated to the players.
Sue amazed me again by announcing that she would be playing in the evening session. I drove into town and bought some KFC to consume in the hotel room while I switched back and forth between a Bee Gees special on public television and an exciting game between the Montreal Alouettes and the Saskatchewan Roughriders. I had lost interest in the Canadian game since the other Rough Riders (in Ottawa) disbanded in 1996. The game I watched was scoreless for most of the first half. Montreal's touchdown was quickly matched by a controversial one by Saskatchewan. A field goal by Saskatchewan ended the scoring. I did not watch the second half in which the Alouettes came back to win 17-16.
Friday morning Sue and I ate at the Dream Diner. The food was good, but the place was too loud for my taste, and there seemed to be something wrong with the music.
I met Tony at about 9:30, and we linked up with Bud Leese and John Banker to play in the Mid-Flight Swiss. We started very well, but then our play got a little sloppy. I made two defensive mistakes. In one case I broke diamonds when I should not have, and in the other I failed to give Tony a fairly obvious ruff. We also had a bidding SNAFU on the second to last hand. I was West.
Neither side vulnerable
We were playing Tony's convention card, which specified “Gerber over 1st/last NT and responder unlimited.” I therefore thought that 4♣ after a transfer would be Gerber, but Tony interpreted it as a second suit. We ended up in 4NT when 6♥ was cold (three spades, five hearts, a diamond, two clubs, and a club ruff). The diamond finesse works for thirteen tricks in hearts or no-trump.
Our team still scratched, but it made Tony and me feel shaky about our prospects in the knockout on Saturday. In the middle of the night I woke up with the realization that I should have responded 3♥ on the fateful hand. Tony plays this as showing a slammish hand with hearts. I would be turning the captaincy over to him, but we would at least have reached the six level.
Sue once again chose to play in the evening. I stopped at Barnes & Noble and bought a copy of The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. I then went to Red Robin in the mall for the first (and last) time. In my opinion the hamburgers there are inferior to similarly priced ones at the Longhorn Steakhouse. Based on the attendance in both establishments, I conclude that others agree.
The big news at the Communications Committee meeting on Saturday morning was that Lois DeBlois had located a good source for stickers. She hopes to have domed stickers available for Warwick.
Our teammates for the knockout were old friends Judy Hyde and Bob Sager. Our team was assigned to Bracket 4. In all ninety-nine teams did battle in seven brackets. We prevailed in two tough matches in the three-way in the morning. I went up to our room at the break and noticed that my shoes did not match. I wonder if anyone else noticed.
In the afternoon we had less trouble in our head-to-head match. I knew, however, that the four guys from New Hampshire playing next to us could be counted on to give us a difficult match on Sunday.
A good bit of the discussion dealt with Lois's information about the stickers. In the end she said that she would obtain prices and make a proposal by email. I won't get to vote, but there seemed to be enough enthusiasm all around for this to pass.
After the meeting I read a bit from The Leopard and then went to bed early Saturday night. This routine worked well for me all five nights. I slept for a few hours, tossed and turned for an hour or so, and then slept soundly for a few more hours. I awoke every morning feeling rather refreshed, and I did not seem to tire out during the day.
Sunday morning started with the Board of Delegates breakfast and meeting. The only controversial issue stemmed from the losses incurred at the tournaments in North Falmouth. The matter is complicated, but it seems clear that breaking even will require us to increase attendance by several dozen tables. That seems feasible to me, but I also understand that the younger players feel that the tournament is discriminatory. The difficulty is that if the district drops the restriction on the Senior Regional, ACBL rules specify that we must eliminate the tournament altogether and hold only four tournaments per year. I love tournaments, and I would never vote for the elimination of a tournament, even a blatantly discriminatory one, until we had exhausted all options about making it feasible.
Wayne Burt and his team of volunteers were also given high praise for the way in which this tournament was run. The people at the Partnership Desk were especially conscientious.
At the end of the meeting Luke Gillespie presented me with the Larry Weiss award. I was well aware of the criteria for this prestigious award, criteria that I did not in any way meet. I gave a little speech in which I argued that if they were going to lower the standards to consider a Bracket 4 player, they should have chosen my friend and frequent teammate Bob Derrah, who has established successful youth bridge programs at two middle schools in Springfield. His devotion of time, energy, and his own money for this and other projects is truly “superior behavior.” His wife (and bridge partner) Shirley has been a great help, but Bob has been the driving force.
My plan was to go up to the room after the meeting in order to brush my teeth. I had left my toiletries kit there in anticipation of returning. However, I forgot to do it. I tried to get my shaving kit at lunch, but it was no longer in the room. However, the housekeeping manager soon found it on one of the housekeeping carts and brought it to me.
Our morning match with the men from the Granite State was as intense as expected. Our opponents won both sets, but there were lots of pushes and no big swings at all. The most important hand went their way when our teammates stopped in a partial, but our opponents bid 5♣. I had opened 2♠ with six spades headed by the A 10. Hey, we were not vulnerable, and spades are the master suit. After an overcall Tony had raised to 3♠ with K Q x x. Most of my partners would have jumped to four with any four-card holding.
The dummy tabled two spades. I let Tony's king hold the first trick, and I was a little surprised that he did not continue the suit. When I got in with the ace of trump, I had to choose between leading another spade and trying to set up a heart trick. Spades was the wrong choice, and the declarer made the contract.
Larry Cheetham, Allen Pattee, Barry Rogoff, and Robert Eachus also won their afternoon match to take home the bacon in Bracket 4.
Tony and I played in the afternoon Super Points game. My adrenaline had disappeared completely, and I just could not concentrate. I passed out of turn on the very first hand. I probably made more mistakes than I had made in the previous eleven sessions.
Although the tournament in Nashua was a great triumph attended by 942 players (54 more than last year), it ended in tragedy. Dick Letizia went to the men's room with one board to go in the Swiss. He collapsed there and could not be revived by either the physicians in attendance or the paramedics.