Curse the 5's ...
Kevin Lewis and GM Rob Flowers breathlessly
await the next card play.
Thomas Morris, Eric Freeman, Yoni
Weiss and Dave Buchholz try to qualify.
This was my tenth year running this event, so you would expect
that I would do something special, perhaps give out some nifty
prizes, right? However, I continue to run El Grande like
a no-frills airline -- go for a minimum of hassle and just set
up the games. I even use plain index cards to mark and assign
tables, unlike some of the more ambitious (i.e., better) GMs.
Fortunately, even with a lazy GM this game is good enough to
attract high caliber players. Attendance was slightly down, but
the competition was not. Only Bryan Berkenstock managed two wins
over the three heats. Yours truly failed to get any wins at all,
but advanced with a couple of seconds.
We stuck with our usual three heats, trying to be done by Thursday.
Two-hour rounds kept things moving, although we had a few new
players, and the time limit is always tough on them. I'm reluctant
to extend the heats to three hours in the future, but I do wonder
if I should make this an A-level event.
The semifinals had a good mix of returning players and new faces.
There was an especially strong showing from the "Jay's Basement"
game club, who had six players in the semis. The Final featured
former champs Curt Collins, Jay Fox, and Geoff Pounder. The 12th
ranked Eric Freeman had made it to the last round twice, but
never won. Bruce Duboff was the newcomer, but had just dispatched
a pair of former champs in the semifinals so he was no easy mark.
Bruce started strong. In cooperation with Eric, they executed
two scoring cards in the first round to open a 20-point gap between
them and the pack, with Eric trailing by a few points. In the
second round, Bruce again used a scoring card to widen his lead
to 30 points, with Eric half that score, and the rest still at
or near zero. Even after the Turn 3 scoring, Bruce maintained
a 10-point lead over Eric and 20 over the rest. However, the
low number of men placed on his turns, plus attacks had seriously
compromised his board position.
During the next three turns, the typical jockeying to slow the
leaders while controlling the Castillo took place. Through board
position and scoring cards, the group tightened, with everyone
within a few points except Jay, who trailed by 10.
An opportunity arose in Round 7 when a "Score the First
Place in every Region" card was available. Eric was bidding
last, and was in a good position to open a lead with the card.
The bid to him was a 10, but Eric had no cards left over 9 so
he had to settle for second pick as Bruce burnt the card.
Over Turns 7 and 8, both Eric and Curt managed to use a score
card, once in the Castillo and once in Galicia, each of which
benefitted the two of them and nobody else. They were opening
up a substantial lead over the group. Then, in Turn 9, a "Score
the 5's" came out. The defending champ, going first with
the 1/13 combo, managed to lock down his home province (New Castile)
with the King, but had only a tenuous hold on the 5 regions.
When the card was scored, everyone received points but him, and
this along with the last Castillo drop made the difference, giving
Eric a decent lead and his first El Grande title.
Canada's David Gagne and Finland's
Juhana Keskinen await Geoff Pounder's move.
The lucky ... err skilled ... finalists
mug for the title shot during tSSShe Final.