Larry Cohen’s Regional at Sea Buttons

Larry Cohen’s Regional at Sea

Day 4 Wednesday December 19, 2012
Falmouth, Jamaica

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Full of energy, I leapt out of bed before the sun had cleared the horizon. There was only a little daylight when I set foot on the track on the Promenade Deck to put in another ten laps. The track was pretty well protected from the elements because the lifeboats were attached to the side of the ship at that level. Moreover, because the fitness center was located at the bow end of the ship, the track curved inside the ship where one could view a door to the fitness center on the right and larger than life posters of very attractive athletes on the left. The only place that a walker/jogger had the feeling of being outdoors was through the curve at the starboard end.

Only a few walkers and joggers joined me at the crack of dawn. As time passed the track became a little more populated, but there were no logjams. I kept up a rather brisk pace for the entire walk. In fact, I actually lapped one guy.[1]

After I finished I walked down the staircase and proceeded to my cabin. When I took off my shoes and socks, I was a little dismayed to discover that two toenails on my left foot were rather severely bruised. They did not feel sore when I was walking, and the shoes were definitely not too small. I suspected that the sock must have bunched up.

I checked my e-mail. This was the last message that Sue sent from Jamaica:

Well, the Italian dinner was lamb chops and pretty good. I'll be happy to get out of here. One of the two dryers for ALL the people staying here was broken. A nice lady took her clothes out of the only working dryer so I could use it & make my dinner reservations at 8:00pm. I sure hope Courtney shows up tomorrow. I am supposed to meet him at 10am. Hope to see you around noon, Can we eat together? Are you playing in the afternoon or do we do Jamaica together? What is the cruise ship itinerary for the day? Meet me in the room. By the sounds, it may take me an hour to find the room!

I sent a brief reply, took a shower, and then made my way to the Conference Center. The pastries were already laid out, but no one had yet removed the cellophane that enclosed the trays. I undid a corner of one and stole a couple of muffins. I also took a cup of coffee back to the room with me.

The hands were displayed on four screens located on opposite walls of the Conference Center.

I sat at a table with Frank, Dave, and Pogo for Larry's third lecture, which was on declarer play. The theme for the talk was a familiar one: make a plan before playing to the first trick. Larry drove home the point through selected examples that illustrated some fairly common situations.

Larry obviously relished relating the story of the Nice Lady.

For me the highlight of this talk was Larry’s description of the trials of the professional bridge teacher. He confessed that he came to the point at which he just could not stand sitting across from people who kept making the same mistakes. He showed a real hand in which North was labeled “Soon to be ex-pro” and South was labeled “Nice lady.” The latter was declaring a grand slam contract in which thirteen top tricks were available. However, she took a “practice finesse” on the first trick and went down.

Larry surprised me by advocating keeping track of the distribution of the missing cards in a suit instead of always subtracting from thirteen. For example, if your side possessed eight cards in a suit, and one round was played in which both opponents followed suit, his mental note would be “1-1; three still out” rather than “ten gone, three remaining.” I vowed to try this.

He also said that experts did not waste mental energy keeping track of unimportant suits. This remark puzzled me. Surely experts expend plenty of brain power trying to deduce each opponent’s total distribution, and that would not be possible without watching the trivial suits.

After the talk I told Larry privately that I had tried his CRIFS method,[2] and that so far it had worked three times out of four. He warned me not to tell the opponents if I used it. His admonition was unnecessary.

The Allure arrived in Jamaica at about 10:30, while the morning’s bridge games were still in progress. I could tell when the ship stopped moving.

We did really poorly in the continuation of the Swiss. We lost the first match 15 to 7 and the second match 15 to 10. I did not stay around for the scoring of the third match, which we won. Instead I rushed back to the stateroom to see if Sue had boarded the ship yet.

I was resolved to find new teammates for the knockouts that were scheduled for Thursday. In the second match of the morning Swiss our teammates had played against Nina Lalin and her partner, Ann Crawford. Before I left for the stateroom I asked Frank to inquire if those ladies were interested in playing in Thursday’s knockouts with us.

TThe stateroom seemed empty without Sue.

I heard a knock on the cabin’s door at a little after noon. Sue was escorted by someone from the Royal Caribbean staff, but she still seemed pretty distraught. We hugged and then talked for a minute about how to salvage the vacation.

Sue’s immediate interest was in eating lunch in a nice restaurant setting. So, we went back to the Conference Center, registered Sue for the bridge tournament, gathered up Frank and his electric scooter, and took the elevator up to the fourth floor dining room. Our chairs were adjacent to those of three attractive French-speaking ladies. At first Frank was seated between Sue and these women, but before everyone was settled he asked to exchange seats with Sue. His explanation was simple: “I can’t control my hands.”

Together again!

I believed him. Over the course of the week I never saw Frank maul any of the women whom we encountered, but he did flirt shamelessly with the vast majority of them. He may have been old, but he definitely was not dead.

I took advantage of the salad bar this time. The hot side of the counter featured grilled chicken and rice. I found everything very tasty. Everyone else at our table ordered from the menu. I think that they were a little disappointed.

During lunch Sue regaled us with tales of woe from the last three days. Evidently Courtney did not show up to take her from her hotel in Montego Bay to Falmouth, where the ship was docked. Someone else was sent in his place. So, she did manage to make it to the ship without any further difficulty. The most incredible thing was that the staff allowed her to board without even asking her about her health and without making her fill out the form that had been the source of her travails.

I was not sure whether Sue would be interested in playing bridge in the afternoon or not. She surprised me by saying that she definitely did want to play. The pairing desk set her up to play in the side game with a guy named Stu. She later told me that she enjoyed the experience, and that Stu had been very nice to her.

Frank and I were obligated to play in the continuation of the open pairs in the afternoon. I had sometimes found it difficult to get motivated to play after a poor first session, but Frank and I played as well as we were capable of, and that was good enough for a 65 percent game and first place in our section. In fact, we came very close to placing in B in the overalls. If we had eliminated even one of the morning’s mistakes, we would have scratched in the combined results for the two sessions.

Boney took care of us at supper.

When we arrived at supper, I introduced Sue to Dave and Pogo. Frank insisted on telling everyone that I was playing much better now that Sue had arrived. He repeated this theme several time throughout the remainder of the cruise.

I asked Boney to bring us a bottle of the Riesling that was listed on the menu. I knew almost nothing about wine, so I asked Frank what kind of wine he liked. Sue, Frank, and I had a glass.

Half of the supper menu varied from day to day. A few items were available every day. None of Wednesday’s new items appealed to me, so I ordered the medium rare prime rib, which had received favorable reviews from the Albigs. I could not say that I was favorably impressed.

As we left the dining room we passed Geri’s table. I introduced Sue to her, and the two of them seemed to hit it off immediately. They agreed to play together on Thursday.

Sue decided that she wanted to get some rest and to skip the evening game. She had been without her CPAP machine for three nights, so she probably slept only fitfully at best.

I played with Frank in the evening side game while we gazed with undisguised envy towards those on the other side of the room playing in the finals of the knockouts. Early in this game I made what was probably the worst bid in the tournament. I had a routine 1NT opener, but I somehow managed to include the 2 card from the bidding box when I lay my bid on the table. I never noticed it. Frank thought that I had a big hand; I thought that he was transferring to hearts when he was actually making a waiting bid. I even announced it. We ended up in an outrageous contract with absolutely no play. Fortunately, our opponents were too dazzled by our confident bidding style to double; we did not even get a 0.

Despite that fiasco we had another big game, 61.36 percent. It had taken us quite a while to get rolling, but we finally seemed to be hitting our stride. Despite our disappointing showing in the second half of the Swiss that morning I reckoned that Frank and I had played pretty well even in that event.

I was not too surprised that Sue was still awake when I returned to room 190 at a little after ten. If we had traded places, I would have been out like a light. Sue, however, was a notorious night owl. I bragged about our big game, and she feigned interest.

[1]  All right, one of his legs was a prosthetic, but I did pass him twice.

[2]  Here is what the Bridge Bum’s website says about Cohen’s Rule in the Fourth Seat: “When faced with a borderline decision to bid after hearing Pass-Pass-Pass, Cohen recommends considering who your opponents are. Against a weak pair, open the bidding in hopes of taking advantage of their poor bidding and play. Against a strong pair, Cohen recommends passing the hand out, since your opponents are the ones holding the advantage. Some days you're the pigeon, some days you're the statue.”