Larry Cohen’s Regional at Sea Buttons

Larry Cohen’s Regional at Sea

Day 5 Thursday December 20, 2012
At Sea

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Sue and I both got a good night’s sleep. When we awoke we decided to take the elevator up to the dining room on the fourth floor[1] for breakfast. Sue was tired of cafeteria-style service and had a hankering for ordering from a menu.

When we got to the fourth floor we discovered a long line of parents with antsy children. Fortunately, if you were not interested in having breakfast with an ogre and his companions, you could skip the line and go to the other side of the dining room. They did not, however, allow us to bypass the Purell station. I wonder what Royal Caribbean’s annual Purell budget was.

We shared a table with a bridge-playing couple from Arizona and another couple from New York. The female member of the latter pair admitted that she knew how to play bridge, but they both fled in horror when the topic of conversation inevitably turned to some quite esoteric concepts and experiences from the world of duplicate bridge. If they were given a do-over, they probably would have waited in line with the Shrekkies.

This was the best photo of Shrek that I could manage from the other side the dining room.

The breakfast was not great, and the proportions were surprisingly small. This certainly did not accord with our experience on previous cruises. The male bridge player, who was diabetic, had considerable difficulty getting them to bring him something that conformed to his diet. Sue and I resolved not to patronize the dining room for breakfast again. It would not surprise me much to learn that Royal Caribbean deliberately tried to discourage geezers such as ourselves from taking up valuable space in the dining room that could be devoted to dancing cartoon characters.

I tried to take a photo of Shrek, but we were a long way away, and even with my camera’s 12-times zoom most of my attempts were totally worthless.

Russ Delaney had evidently already heard the “nor-mal” story.

I did not learn a great deal from Larry Cohen’s lecture on defensive signals, but I think that Sue might have found it enlightening. I remember that I played quite a while before I started paying much attention to which cards my partner played and even longer before I closely followed the opponents’ spots.

For me the most entertaining part of the lecture was Larry’s recounting of an elite event that was staged in Europe. Two pairs were chosen each year to represent the United States, and the four were often Larry, David Berkowitz, Geoff Meckstroth, and Eric Rodwell. All expenses, including first class air fare, were paid by the sponsors. The only downside was that the participants were required to play in a pro-am in which every pro played with a different amateur every hand! The amateurs were top executives from a high-tech companies located throughout the globe.

I had played in individual tournaments before, and I appreciated how difficult it was to communicate one’s knowledge of bridge and style of play in a short order.[2] It must have been that much more difficult for these pros. Not only was there a language barrier, but each country of origin had different approaches to bridge. In England “standard” meant upside-down signals. In France “standard” meant what it does in the U.S. Some players did not know what “standard” meant at all. They said that their signals were “normal,” which could have been anything. The only thing that made this bearable for the pros was that there was also an open bar.[3]

Larry demonstrating the left-handed lead.

Larry eventually gave up on trying to figure out each partner’s signals. He told each one just to smile if they liked his lead.

I was surprised to learn that the great Bob Hamman refused to play anything except standard signals. I basked in his glory while standing behind him in the check-in line at the hotel in Philadelphia at the summer NABC.

Larry asked everyone if they knew that they should always lead a singleton with the left hand. I, who wore a yellow “Cheat to Win” bracelet[4] throughout the tournament, was embarrassed that I had never thought of this gambit.

Frank and I by this point had amassed three section tops. That qualified us to pick up three small prizes each at the prize desk. We both gave our prizes to Sue, who selected six of the booklets written by Marty Bergen.

Sue with Geri Landes.

Sue located Geri Landes, and they agreed to play together in the side game in the morning. They both hoped to be able to play in the one-session Swiss event in the afternoon, but they had not yet hooked up with any teammates.

Nina, Frank, Ann, and my coffee cup before our first match in the knockout.

Frank and I played in the knockout with Nina Lalin and Ann Crawford. In the first match Frank and I played against a pair that we had confronted earlier. We won the match by forty points. Nina and Ann seemed surprised that we had won by so much.

This little guy had read about all of the activities available when the ship was at sea.

Sue and I stopped into our room for a couple of minutes before we rejoined Frank and Geri for lunch. On the bed there we found the critter shown at right reading the Cruise Compass that the ship published and distributed every day.

The four of us decided to go up to the Windjammer Café again. I forgot to bring my camera.

After lunch we lost our semifinal match to the Pollack team, which eventually won the event. We did not play badly, but nothing seemed to go our way. Our teammates had no better luck; the match was not close. We were behind at the halfway mark, and our opponents increased the margin in the second set of nine boards.

Frank took photos of all the women. This is Nina.

This is Ann. The coffee and goodies station is in the background.

I met back up with Sue afterward. She complained about the way that she and Geri had been treated by the people running the tournament. She said that they were first told that there were no teammates for them for the Swiss; they had to play in the side game. Then teammates were found. Then the directors determined that since they had an odd number of teams, Sue, Geri, and their teammates needed to be shunted back to the side game. All of this shuffling left them behind the other pairs. They were hurried by the directors throughout the game. Sue understandably had a bad feeling about the tournament before this, and her experience made her a little bitter. I told her that I would play with her in the evening session if she wanted me to. That seemed to cheer her up a bit. Frank and I also agreed to be teammates of Sue and Geri in the final event, the Swiss on Saturday.

I told Frank and a guy with whom he was talking that our goal on Saturday was to win one match. I explained to him that the secret of happiness was simple: keep your standards low.

This is about as close to formal as Sue and I ever get.

The dress code for supper was formal. My nod to that prescription was to remove my sweater and to don my sport coat and my tie.

Rita Hochenberg and Rose Harris.

The meals taken in the dining room on this cruise seemed much different from my recollection of our experiences on previous cruises. Maybe our standards are just higher now, but the food seemed better on those cruises. This is not really a complaint; nearly everything they served was fine. It is just that nothing seemed exceptional. In addition, the waiters on those cruises seemed better able to bond with the passengers. Everyone loved his/her waiter. The waiters also were forced to put on little shows at times throughout the cruise. Since the ship now contained dozens or maybe even hundreds of professional entertainers, there was probably less emphasis on the entertainment value of the dining experience itself. Another factor may have been the availability of specialty restaurants.

After supper but before the evening bridge games began I sought out the ladies who had defeated us in the afternoon. I told them that I did not think that they would need it, but I was wishing them luck anyway.

I played in the evening side game with Sue. Our result was not the best, but we both had fun. I made a couple of mistakes, and I think that I might have intimidated her into making more than a couple. I offered to go over the hands on the bus trip to Chichén Itzá on Friday.

[1]  For some reason the dining room on the third floor was never open for breakfast and lunch.

[2]  In the Individual in Newton, MA, in January, 2012, I had the dubious pleasure of declaring a 3 contract with a 2-3 fit and a known 6-2 trump split after an auction of (2)-2-(P)-3 (all pass).

[3]  Knowing that District 25 would never spring for an open bar, I suggested to Helen Pawlowski, the tournament manager, that the Individual event in Newton be accompanied by a kegger.

[4]  Not a single person asked me about it.