Ross Taylor

John Carruthers’ Roman Holiday


As mentioned yesterday, John Carruthers’ all star team had the misfortune of failing to qualify for the 2010 NEC Festival playoffs in Japan by a lousy one hundredth of a point. John promptly put pen to paper and drafted this entertaining article entitled “My Roman Holiday” which was published today in the 2010 NEC Festival Daily Bulletin. With John’s blessing, here is a reprint of his article.


A ‘Roman holiday’ is a metaphor taken from the poem ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimmage’ by George Gordon, Lord Byron, where a gladiator in ancient Rome expects to be “butcher’d to make a Roman holiday” while the audience would take pleasure from watching his suffering. The term suggests debauchery and disorder in addition to sadistic enjoyment. The Germans have a word for it as well, “schadenfreude”, to derive joy from the suffering of others. Will you empathize with me or will you feel schadenfreude? Let’s see.


My tale of woe begins in the 2000 NEC Cup at the fifth NEC Festival. With a match to go, we (Canada’s Olympiad Open team: Robert Lebi-Nader Hanna, George Mittelman-John Carruthers, with Eric Kokish performing spot duty and Drew Cannell unable to come to Japan) looked to be qualifying for the quarterfinals. We were in sixth place at 151 VP, 8 VP ahead of the ninth-place team.

We had a tough last match, losing 37-8 to Indonesia and earning only 8 VP. Two teams had moved ahead of us, but Ireland had dropped behind us with an even worse final match than ours, to leave us in eighth place, we thought. However, then the news came in that the Japanese Ladies Olympiad team had won their last match 71-1 for a blitz, moving them all the way from 18th place to a tie with us at 159 VP for the eighth and final knockout berth. Of course, based on their final match, they won the tie-breaker, which is IMP quotient: IMPs won divided by IMPs lost: 1.18 for Japan and 1.15 for Canada.

Four years later, Mittelman and I returned for the 9th NEC Cup, this time with Allan Graves and Joey Silver as our partners. This time we did qualify after scoring 88 VP out of 100 in our last four matches. We faced England in the quarterfinals, losing 97-93.5 in one of the most exciting matches with which I’ve ever been involved. The match was filled with slams, the most incredible of which was the following deal, reported by Eric Kokish in the Daily Bulletin:

Quarterfinals. Canada vs England. Board 3.


Dealer: south

Vul: east west

West East
KQJ765 A10983
void void
Q106 J98754
QJ63 K5


 Open room bidding:


West North East South
Callaghan Graves Armstrong Mittelman
 1S  2H  4H (1)  6H
 Pass  Pass  6S  Dble
 Pass  Pass  Pass  

(1) Splinter Raise


Closed Room Bidding 


West North East South
Carruthers Senior Silver Lambardi
2S Pass 3S 4H
Pass Pass 4S 5H
Pass 6H 6S Pass
Pass Dble All Pass


If we didn’t know better we’d suspect the firm of Suzuki, Omasa and Nakamura had poured sake into the dealing program, but every once in a while a layout like this is generated, providing the gladiators with untold opportunities to try to fool the lions.

That not every two-loser hand is a strong two-bid was illustrated by Mittelman, a graduate of the School of Hard Knocks who has learned through bitter experience that the opponents’ spades always outbid his suits and that a there is nothing more humiliating than opening two clubs and having to save against the opponents’ vulnerable game or slam.

Hence, a gentle one heart. Allan Graves, a classmate of Mittelman’s in the aforementioned institution, emulated his partner in trying to slow down the dangerous auction, hence a gentle two hearts. Despite the Canadians’ best efforts, Armstrong competed to six spades. Graves led a trump. Mittelman cashed the diamond ace when he won the ace of clubs, down 500.

If those results, thoroughly infused with tactics, deception and insurance, were interesting, consider the sandbagging efforts of our man Silver, who walked the dog with minimum bids until the music stopped at six spades doubled. So what’s all the excitement about?

By now I hope you can trust me to report only the truth. Here’s what happened. Brian Senior appreciated that a heart lead was not only pointless but also potentially dangerous, but couldn’t tell whether the defenders’ outside trick source was in clubs or diamonds. Hoping to know more after seeing dummy and thinking it might be important to hold the lead, Brian made the expert lead of…the king of diamonds.

Unfortunately for him, he was in no position to lead to trick two. Pablo Lambardi, who had been bestowed with that privilege, was not keen to cash the ace of clubs at the potential cost of a 300-point undertrick, and saw no pressing need to worry about dummy’s diamonds. Accordingly, he decided to exit passively with a heart to force dummy. John Carruthers was pleased to accept that force, but was even more pleased to discard one of his four clubs. The other three went on dummy’s diamonds after trumps were drawn and JC chalked up +1660. I am incapable of making up a story as good as this one; 19 IMPs to Canada.

A tourniquet! A tourniquet! My kingdom for a tourniquet.

I returned for my third NEC Cup two years later, in 2006, with yet another partner. P.O. Sundelin from Stockholm. We played with Philippe Cronier from Paris and Subhash Gupta from New Delhi. We called ourselves FISK (after France, India, Sweden and Kanada). Kanada is the Swedish spelling of Canada, and fisk is the Swedish word for fish – somehow it all fit together.

When the Swiss Team qualifying portion of the NEC Cup had ended, we were in, you guessed it, a joint tie for the eighth qualifying spot, with Team Tajima. This time, though, things were different: our IMP quotient was 1.33, Tajima’s 1.32. Additionally, we had played and beaten Tajima in our head-on match and had won six matches to their five. So, by any measure, we deserved to qualify, right? Wrong. We were penalized 1 VP for slow play, knocking us out of the knockout before we’d taken our cards out of a board!

Are you beginning to get the picture? Last year, Joey Silver and I came to the 14th NEC Cup to play with Larry Mori and Venkatrao Koneru (variously known as Colonel K from his days as a career US Air Force officer and Babu). We called ourselves JUICE this time after our current and native lands (Japan, USA, India, Canada, England). We did qualify for the knockout phase, but lost to the Chinese Venice-Cup-to-be champions by 7 IMPs when we underled an ace in the middle of a hand to declarer’s singleton king – the ace was meant to be our third trick in five diamonds for a push, but instead resulted in an 11-IMP loss to lose the match by 7.

This year I came to the 15th NEC Cup with my fourth different partner in five trips to Yokohama, Howard Weinstein from the USA, and teammates David Bakhshi and David Gold from England. Not having been able to come up with a snappy acronymic team name from our countries or our names, we called ourselves simply CANUKUSA (Canda, United Kingdom, United States of America).

We’d been lying sixth with a match to go and a draw would see us through to the knockouts. We were leading our final match 13-7 with one board to go when a poor result at both tables (on different boards) led to a 16-13 loss and only 14 Victory Points.  Have you guessed? Sure you have. This left us in a tie for eighth place with Kendrick from England, who, as you may have surmised, won the tie-breaker on IMP quotient 1.26 to 1.25. In other events, we’d have gone through as we had beaten them in our head-on match. But not here.

So, five trips to Yokohama for the NEC Festival have resulted in three tied-for-eighth-place finishes, all of which I’ve lost, and two quarterfinal losses by a total of 10.5 IMPs. Is it painful? You bet it is. Do you feel empathy or schadenfreude? Did you have a Roman holiday?

  Open Room Bidding : 

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