The regional tournament in Warwick is reliably the best in New England. This year's striking lineup of events significantly upped the level of anticipatory excitement.
The school year in Connecticut had not yet started when I left Enfield on Tuesday morning. I might have had enough gas in my tank to make it to Warwick, but I decided to stop at Costco first for a fill-up. It was not yet open.
The shortest route to Warwick involves a series of two-lane highways. Almost as soon as I reached CT 190, I found myself behind a caravan of four trucks. The one in front was an ancient diesel. Its driver was either unable or unwilling to go faster than 25 mph. There were a few passing opportunities in the ten miles or so that our parade amassed followers, but the trucks in front of me eschewed them. Finally the first two trucks turned off. One more exited shortly thereafter, but I was still behind a moving van that drove the speed limit downhill but struggled when it needed to climb a hill. By the time that we reached the first place in which one lane was closed for construction our caravan contained about fifteen closely packed vehicles. We all had to wait for twenty or thirty cars to come from the other direction before they let us pass.
Shortly thereafter the truck turned off, but there were two more one-lane sections still ahead of me. I had left early enough that even with stops for gas and McDonald's drive-through, I still arrived in Warwick a little after 9:30. I was scheduled to play on Tuesday and Wednesday with a long-time friend, Donna Lyons. I was hoping to pick up teammates for us for the Swiss on Tuesday. At the Partnership Desk I quickly hooked up with Tim Yentsch and Bill Niemi, against whom I had played many times over the years. I soon found Donna as well and introduced her to Tim and Bill.
Our opponents in the first round made mistakes on the first two hands, but bad things evidently happened at the other table. We lost that round, but we won two of the next three.
After lunch we were blitzed by Victor King's team of superstars. We won round #5, but we came a cropper in round seven against Ellie Hanlon's team. This was largely my fault. I had not consumed enough caffeine to keep my concentration level up during the afternoon. I made a really stupid takeout double after playing the wrong card on the previous hand. We landed on our feet after the double, but the misplay cost us the match. In the last round we came back to upset Peter Clay's team (the runners-up in the event) to finish one point above average. It was not a great result, but it was fun to play with Donna against good competition.
For some reason Donna decided not to stay in the hotel. She made the two-hour drive back to her house and then executed the return trip on Wednesday morning. This would have exhausted me, but she arrived on Wednesday alert and chipper. Clean living.
Meanwhile my wife Sue and I went to On the Border for a leisurely supper. We were already enjoying our margaritas when Steve and Karen Randle entered, and we were not close to finishing our meals when they parted. I have not been to OTB in a few years, but it did not seem to have changed much. Everything seemed just not quite right.
During the entire tournament the hotel was in the process of being remodeled. Our room was on the sixth floor, which looked very different. The main change inside the room was that the lighting in the bathroom areas was astoundingly bright. The temporary corridor over to the playing areas was rather strange. It ran from the restaurant to the Plaza Ballroom and was all white with “To Bridge” signs near every turn. It reminded me of a corridor on a space ship in the movies. I could scarcely remember what it was formerly like.
I skipped breakfast on Wednesday morning to try to improve my concentration. Donna and I were playing in the Mid-Flight Pairs, an event that I had struggled in for the last year or two. In the morning session we made three big mistakes, but we still somehow recorded a nearly 57% game. The opponents had all the cards, and I generally get better scores when our side dominates the bidding.
At lunch I devoured a sandwich of leftovers, and I filled my mug with Diet Pepsi to ingest during the afternoon session. Donna and I played much more consistently in the afternoon session, but our competition was tough. We encountered almost every pair that ended up near the top. Fate also played a role. As our three boards with the Randles had just begun, Karen became too ill to continue. Steve accompanied her away from the playing area. I told Tim Hill what had happened, and he asked the entire gathering in the ballroom if anyone playing was a doctor. It wasn't until I started writing these notes that I wondered if On the Border might have played a roll in her illness.
Donna and I finished rather strongly and ended up with a 59% game, which was easily the best for East-West. It was also just enough to win the event. We bested the second-place team by only two match points. The Randles recorded a stunning 62% afternoon session. If they even had come close to that against us, we would not have won.
The only hand on which I thought that we might have done better was #25. Our opponents wandered into a hopeless 5!S contract after I had bid all the way to 5!C. Donna led a club. I took both of my tricks in that suit and then led my highest heart. I hoped that Donna would win the trick, read that I had nothing in hearts, and give me my ruff in diamonds. However, she returned another heart, and declarer quickly claimed the rest of the tricks. We still got a 77% on the hand for setting it one trick, but we could have done better. Donna thought that I might be short in hearts. If so, then all of those high diamonds that North held would need to be in my hand and my pitiful heart holding in his. North's aggressive bidding made that conclusion almost indefensible.
Donna was ecstatic that we had pulled it off. She said that she had never won anything.
Sue was committed to play in the evening game. My plan was to watch college football (the only sport that I still follow) and eat KFC in our room. First, however, I wanted to buy a small bottle of celebratory scotch. I got lost in the maze of traffic circles that are south of the hotel. At one point Google Maps told me to make a U-turn, and I did. This maneuver caused me to be pulled over by a cop. He was very nice to me. He even told me how to find the liquor store.
Someone should let Google know that none of those roundabouts have four exits.
I was very disappointed to learn that there was no game on TV that evening. I ended up watching a replay of the semifinal game of last years championships between Oklahoma and Alabama.
On Thursday morning I saw the Randles near the elevator in the lobby. When I asked how she was feeling, Karen smiled broadly and said that she was much better.
My partner for the Knock-In Knock-Out that began on Thursday was Jeanne Martin from Worcester. Our teammates were Bob Sagor and Don Weld. Jeanne arrived at 9:35, but she did not have a copy of our convention card. So she needed to spend nearly all of the free time copying my card. We did not get to discuss much of anything.
The crowd was amazing. I was hoping for twenty brackets, but the fifteen that we got seemed to tax the directors to the limit. As I had anticipated, we were assigned to the top bracket with five other teams. For some reason we played ten five-board matches. At the Cape we had played five nine-board matches. That seemed less confusing. Of course, my perspective might have been influenced by the fact that we had won all five matches in North Falmouth, whereas we managed only one victory (by one IMP!) and two ties in ten matches in Warwick.
All four of us were disappointed, but we decided to stay together as a team for Friday's Swiss.
On Thursday evening I bought a cheese steak sandwich at Charley's and ate it in our room while I watched Cincinnati beat UCLA. Sue played in the Super Points series.
On Friday morning Sue and I went to the Coast Line Diner. It is not a bad place to pick up a reasonably priced breakfast. The service is excellent, and the food seems to be reliable.
Friday's Swiss had twenty-nine teams. I can hardly believe that the people who devised the schedule had purposely dropped the Swiss because of the change in format for the knockouts. The thinking was that the low-level players drawn to the new format would play in the Gold Rush pairs. When I discovered that twenty-five teams had played in the Friday Swiss in 2018 I pressed the Tournament Scheduling Committee to reconsider, and, after Bob Bertoni's agreed with my arguments, the others relented.
We won the first round of the Swiss. Then we were blitzed by Geoff Brod's team of superstars. We bounced around in the middle of the pack for the entire event and ended up as dead average, 4-4 with exactly eighty victory points.
For me the high point of the day was a 0=0=7-6 hand that burned my fingers: seven diamonds headed by AKQ10 and six clubs to the AK10. I opened 1!D, and it was up to 4!S by the time it came around to me again. The opponents eventually bid to 6!S. I ventured 7!D and went down one.
At lunch on Friday I attended the NABC Providence committee meeting. The most astounding news was that the people in Montreal, the host of next summer's NABC, had not yet determined any of their chairmen, whereas, even though our tournament was still nearly two years out, all of those positions have already been filled. Moreover, most of the participants are experienced, and all are very enthusiastic. I am confident that Joe Brouillard and his crew will produce a great tournament.
On Friday evening Sonja Smith joined Sue and me at the Longhorn Steakhouse. We were seated right next to Mary Petit and Ausra Geaski, who, like Sue, were playing in the evening game. Sue ordered just an appetizer and then returned to the hotel with Mary and Ausra. I think that the Longhorn makes the best hamburgers, and that is what I had with a beer.
Two Big 10 teams were on TV. I switched back and forth between Michigan State and Wisconsin. They both won easily.
I realized that I had lost the steel mug that I had filled with diet soda for the afternoon sessions. I went back to the hallway in which we had played. I searched thoroughly, but I could not find it.
On Saturday morning I chaired the Communications Committee meeting. Bob Bertoni brought coffee and donuts from Dunkin! I mentioned the poorly attended expert panel on Wednesday. Blame had been assigned to the room chosen for the event, the Rotunda, but I was a little skeptical.
I did not play in the daylight sessions on Saturday. Instead I watched several blowouts on television and one nail-biter between Iowa State, my cousin Charlie's alma mater, and Northern Iowa. In the evening I attended the Executive Committee Meeting where I pressed for returning the Friday Swiss to the Mansfield schedule. I was also stunned to learn from Bob Bertoni that the ACBL had decided to increase the age for Seniors to 65 and for Super-Seniors to 75. The former will have a big effect on attendance at our Senior Regional and may, in fact, render it unfeasible. IMHO the latter will certainly kill the one event that it effects, the Super-Senior Pairs at the Fall NABC. I enjoyed playing in this event in Honolulu last year and plan to play in it in San Francisco.
On Saturday evening I played in the Pro-Am with Sue. There were twenty tables. We definitely had some good chances to finish among the leaders. We ended up with a 54%, which I considered disappointing.
On Sunday I played with Eric Vogel. Our teammates in the Mid-Flight Swiss were Trevor Reeves and Felix Springer. This foursome won its bracket of the knockout at the Cape. It seemed to me that we should dominate this event, but after a blitz in the first round we seemed to fall into a sort of malaise from which we could not escape. It was a thoroughly unsatisfying way to end a tournament that had had some great moments.