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International Bridge at Its Best (Worst?)



by John Carruthers, Toronto








Brian Callaghan, Pablo Lambardi, Brian Senior,  and John Armstrong won 2003 Nec Cup A. Graves G. Mittelman J. Silver

 A delightful aspect of achieving a certain standing in the bridge world is to be invited to appear at prestigious tournaments overseas. Most of these tournament are in Europe (the Lederer Memorial in London, the Bonn Nations Cup in Germany, the Icelandair Open in Reykjavik,  the Hecht Cup in Copenhagen, the White House Teams in Amsterdam) or Asia (the NEC Festival in Yokohama, the Bank Indonesia Cup in Jakarta, the Yeh Brothers Cup in Taiwan, China or Australia). The sponsors provide varying levels of prize money and expenses to participants. We have nothing like it in North America, where the master point is king. We do have the Cavendish Invitational in Las Vegas, very prestigious to be sure, but the entry fee and buy-in amounts to $15,000 per pair!


 One of the toughest and most enjoyable of these invitational is the NEC Festival, held annually in Yokohama, Japan in the second week in February; most years, a Canadian team is invited to take part. About 15 teams from various countries are sponsored, with about 40 Japanese teams rounding out the field.


 When I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation a few years back (2004), my teammates were three of the true characters of Canadian bridge: Allan Graves resembles Chewbacca from Star Wars but is a Tibetan Buddhist and bridge teacher; Joe Silver is a criminal lawyer from Montréal who much prefers to defend guilty people than innocent defendants (“they expect less”) has been making the streets of his city less safe for its citizens for decades; and George Mittelman, who has had more rags-to-riches (and riches-to-rags) experiences than any dozen other deal-makers. Me, I was the straight guy.


 The flagship event of tournament, the NEC Cup, is run with a Swiss Teams qualifying, with the top eight finishers competing in long knockout matches for the prizes. A high finish in the Swiss qualifying means you get to pick your opponent for the quarterfinals (first place gets first pick and so on).


 Our team finished in the top eight (sixth) and no one picked us, so we got to play the fourth-placed team, ‘England’, with one Argentine and three Englishmen. There were the usual jokes about Pablo Lambardi being a prisoner-of-war from the Falklands (or Malvinas, depending on your affiliation) conflict, but his partner, Brian Senior, and teammates John Armstrong and Brian Callaghan were glad to have him on their side. Lambardi is very well-travelled, having played internationally for Brazil as well as Argentina in South American Championships, and one of his regular partners is a Spaniard!


The following deal, which occurred in our quarterfinal match against England, may have been the most remarkable of my career.


Dealer South. EW Vul.




 4 2

  10 9 7 6 4 3

  K 3 2


K Q J 7 6 5

Q 10 6 
Q J 6 3

A 10 9 8 3

J 9 8 7 5 4
K 5
A K Q J 8 5 2
A 10 7 4 2


First, let’s look at what happened at the other table, since it was (marginally) more ‘normal’.










1 2 4 6
Pass Pass 6 Pass
Pass Doblo Fin  


Allan Graves ‘walked’ the hand, bidding slowly at first because he expected more bidding from the opponents and he wanted to give them a chance to get their hands off their chests before he bid more. John Armstrong’s bid of four hearts showed good spade support and a heart shortage, either a singleton or void. George Mittelman bid what he thought he could make based on the auction, and Armstrong bid one for the road, not being sure who could make what.


Graves led a trump against six spades doubled, so the English went for minus 500, losing two diamonds and the ace of clubs. Since six hearts was cold for North-South, the English had achieved par with their vulnerable-against-not sacrifice, a very good result for them.


Remarkably, at our table, my partner, Joe Silver, decided to walk the hand as well.










2 Pass 3 4
Pass Pass 4 5
Pass 6 6 Pass
Pass Double Fin  


Lambardi opened a strong, artificial two clubs, I bid a simple two spades, and the other three then took over! Notice that in both these auctions, the player with the South cards invited his partner to bid seven by passing over the opponents’ six-spade bid. It was a most unusual action at the prevailing vulnerability.


One of the hallmarks of the expert player is that he can successfully violate time-tested principles when the occasion demands. Brian Senior thought this was one of those occasions and therefore made what he thought to be the obvious ‘expert’ lead of the diamond king to have a look at Silver’s dummy. He was anxious to see what the idiot (as I’m sure he thought Silver was, us being vulnerable against not) had for this rather unusual auction.


Senior was slightly distressed when his partner interfered with this plan by overtaking his diamond king with the ace. Not wishing to allow these bozos to get out for only minus 200, Lambardi, ‘knowing’ his partner still controlled diamonds by possession of the queen of the suit (Senior had led the king, remember), exited with the ace of hearts! A ruff-sluff!


After I’d picked my chin up off the table, I was not too rattled to claim. I discarded a club from hand and ruffed the heart in dummy. Then after drawing trumps, I could discard my three remaining clubs on dummy’s established diamonds. Plus 1660!  Nineteen IMPs to Canada.


As was cruelly pointed out later, although NOT within his hearing, Lambardi had 11-1 odds against him of beating six spades doubled since he had only one card in his hand that would beat it at trick two (the ace of clubs)!


There was no happy ending for us, however, as we lost the match narrowly when the ‘English’ bid a poor slam on the last board and made it on a lucky lie of the cards. It was not, however, as lucky as this one!