Len Zema likes to keep his fingers free when he plays cards competitively. So he takes off his wedding band and another ring he wears on his right hand.
“It’s become a superstition with me but it brings me luck,” said Zema, a member of Elmwood Branch in Winnipeg. Whether it was luck, skill or just the right cards, Zema came out on top of the singles category during the 2012 Dominion Command Cribbage Championships held April 27-29 at Innisfail Branch in Alberta.
While Zema may have picked up one trophy for Manitoba-Northwestern Ontario Command, competition came from all across the country as cribbage players descended on the small town about 120 kilometres north of Calgary. In a town with a population of about 8,000, Innisfail Branch boasts a large building and a membership of close to 2,000.
It certainly is not hard to find the branch once one enters the town. Its location is marked by a CF-104 Starfighter soaring straight up in the air from a pedestal in the branch parking lot. The CF-104 which the Canadian Forces used from 1962 to 1987, was chosen by the branch since its branch number in Alberta-N.W.T. Command is 104. Erected in 2007, branch members were glad to have the final touch, two bright red missiles mounted on the wings, in time for the tournament.
Things got off to a start early as opening ceremonies were held inside the branch on the Friday evening. Members and guests enjoying the lounge for the evening stood at attention as the colours were marched in and Local Arrangements Committee Chairman Heather Taylor introduced the teams who entered following their provincial flags carried by local cadets.
Dominion Command Sports Committee member Darrel Jones represented Dominion Command in welcoming players. Although Jones is also president of Alberta-Northwest Territories Command, Chris Strong, a member of the branch and a vice-president of the command, brought greetings from the command as did President Sam
Esopenko for Innisfail Branch.
Ceremonies out of the way, play began the next morning overseen by Strong and Ed Rieberger. All 10 commands fielded teams. Most commands send one four-person team and take single and doubles players out of that team. However, British Columbia/Yukon, Saskatchewan and Manitoba-Northwestern Ontario send separate players for the different categories.
Play was round robin with each team playing nine rounds consisting of two legs each. One point was awarded for each win. A skunk counted as two points and a double skunk three points.
As agreed the previous evening, the championships began with singles play.
In the first round, Zema took one point and then lost in a skunk to Alberta player Lois Jones of Daysland Branch. However, he came back winning three points in the second game against Carl Nash of Marysville Branch in Fredericton.
By the eighth round, three players were clearly fighting for the lead. Zema had 13 points while Jones and Ontario’s Tony Lance of Mount Dennis Branch in Toronto were in contention with 12 points. British Columbia’s Fred Maniak of Comox Branch was still strong with 11 points. The eighth round featured a showdown between Zema and Lanel which ultimately settled the outcome. Zema took both legs and got a skunk in the ninth round against George Watts of Kingston Branch in New Haven, P.E.I.
In the end, Zema took first place with 18 points while Maniak came up strong in the last two games for a final score of 16 and second place.
“My dad taught me to play cribbage when I was eight years old. I still play every Thursday,” said Zema afterwards. The son of a Second World War veteran, Zema was making his second appearance at Legion cribbage, having been part of the team that played in Sussex, N.B., in 2010.
Doubles followed soon after. The P.E.I. team of Charles MacKinnon and Eric MacArthur got off with a jump, taking four points in the first two legs against B.C./Yukon’s team of Darwin Schmidt and Leroy Wager from Merritt Branch. But afterwards, it was Vernon and Mary Bone of Marysville Branch in Fredericton who took a lead and left the others to follow. By the end of the seventh round they were sitting with 13 points. The Saskatchewan pair of Denielle Roberts and Bing Johnston of Coleville Branch were the only ones close at 11 points. N.B. won both points in the eighth round and one point in the ninth to finish with 16 points. Saskatchewan stayed steady, winning one leg in each of the remaining rounds to finish second with 13 points.
“I’ve been playing cribbage for 64 years,” said Vernon Bone. “I taught Mary to play when we were stationed in Germany.” Vernon served three tours in Germany as a mechanic in the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
“The odd thing is we never play together except when it comes to championships,” he added. Although it was the Bones’ first time at a dominion-level tournament they were teamed up with Marysville Branch members Paul Calhoun and Carl Nash who had reached dominion level three of the last four years and had been part of the team that won the title in 2010.
The team play began the next morning. Although Newfoundland and Labrador took the championship last year, the command was represented this year by Bert Elliott, Ray Critchley, Russ Rowsell and Rod Power from Grand Falls Branch in Grand Falls/Windsor making their first appearance at dominion level.
New Brunswick had a skunk and a win in the first end to take the lead. Throughout, Newfoundland was close behind. By the end of the fifth round New Brunswick and Newfoundland were tied at 14 points each. Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan were close behind with 12 each.
By the end of the eighth round, organizers were holding their breath as ties certainly seemed to be on the way. Newfoundland was in the lead with 24 points. But close behind were the Ontario team from Mount Dennis Branch in Toronto of Tony Lanel, Shirley Lanel, Bell Brooks and Violet McKinnell with 21 points. Four teams were sitting with 20 points: New Brunswick, Quebec, British Columbia/Yukon and Prince Edward Island. Quebec managed to get two points against Ontario.
In the end, Newfoundland won the Championship with 26 points, but hopes for an early afternoon finish were dismissed as Strong announced there had been a three-way tie for second place with Quebec, New Brunswick and P.E.I. all scoring 24 points.
A round-robin playoff was organized played with only two players from each team. Another two hours passed until Strong announced that second place had been won by the team from New Brunswick.
“I just told the guys we were close, but don’t panic,” said Rowsell who is a manager at the branch in Grand Falls/Windsor. “We have all known each other for at least 19 years. We play darts and cribbage together.”
Throughout the tournament the ladies auxiliary provided lunches and also dinners both on Saturday and at the Sunday evening banquet.
Rowsell spoke for all players when he said, “We would just like to thank the Local Arrangements Committee. Everyone we played against was great and I think we all enjoyed it immensely.”
Teams: Nfld.-Lab. (Grand Falls Br., Grand Falls/Windsor) 26; N.B. (Marysville Br., Fredericton) 24 (second place); P.E.I. (Kingston Br., New Haven), Que. (Chomedey Br., Laval) 24; Ont. (Mount Dennis Br., Toronto) 22; B.C./Yukon (Diamond Head Br., Squamish) 21; Sask. (Tompkins Br.) 19; N.S./Nunavut (Calais Br., Lower Sackville) 18; Alta-N.W.T. (Daysland Br.) 17; Man.-N.W.O. (Wheat City Br., Brandon) 9.
Doubles: N.B. (Mary Bone, Vernon Bone, Marysville Br.) 16; Sask. (Denielle Roberts, Bing Johnston, Coleville Br.) 13; P.E.I. (Charles MacKinnon, Eric MacArthur, Kingston Br.) 12; Que. (Andree Lavole, Lyle Anez, Chomedey Br.), Nfld.-Lab. (Bert Elliott, Ray Critchley, Grand Falls Br.) 11; Alta.-N.W.T. (Ed Dolaney, Donna Ekdahl, Daysland Br.) 10; N.S./Nunavut (Barry Murphy, Todd Norman, Calais Br.), Man.-N.W.O. (Robert Thomas, Nancy Thomas, Swan River Br.) 9; Ont. (Tony Lanel, Bill Brooks, Mount Dennis Br.) 7; B.C./Yukon (Darwin Schmidt, Leroy Wager, Merritt Br.) 5.
Singles: Man.-N.W.O. (Len Zema, Elmwood Br., Winnipeg) 18; B.C./Yukon (Fred Maniak, Comox Br.) 16; Ont. (Tony Lanel, Mount Dennis Br.) 14; Alta-N.W.T. (Lois Jones, Daysland Br.) 13; N.S./Nunavut (Ken Weston, Calais Br.), Nfld.-Lab. (Russ Rowsell, Grand Falls Br.) 9; Sask. (Pat Robinson, Tompkins Br.) 8; N.B. (Carl Nash, Marysville Br.), Que. (Lucien Paquette, Chomedey Br.) 6; P.E.I. (George Watts, Kingston Br.) 4.