Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, May 2nd, 2021


Iain ClimieMay 16th, 2021 at 11:42 am

Hi Bobby,

In response to your comment about on-line kibitzing, I just got some bad news from the latest copy of “English Bridge”. A couple I knew, liked and played against (and occasionally with) regularly just got an EBU ban for alleged on-line knowledge of hands. It seemed very unlikely to me, and there is an appeal, but apparently their NGS ratings (the English Bridge Union’s grading scheme) had soared recently and I spoke to a contact at the club who quoted one specific hand where one of them (playing with a 3rd party) had picked up a suit of AKQ10xx opposite xx by cashing one high card then taking a 2nd round finesse; the suggestion was that their spouse had fed them information. I don’t know if there was anything else to go on, or even if declarer could have pulled the wrong card online, but Jxxx was onside and I admit this looks suspicious. Missing 6 cards, of course, the decision would be much closer between drop and finesse.

Having known them for some time, I was very surprised and would be extremely disappointed if the charges were true but there is another curious point here. If you look back to the Reese-Shapiro incident it supposedly involved a correlation between the number of fingers showing when holding the hand and the number of hearts held. The “coughing doctors” incident was another one while there have also been cases where how the board was placed on the table (with screens used) related to certain holdings. The players involved have all been intelligent, and maybe I shouldn’t say this, but how on earth do they expect to get away with such obvious and easily spottable tricks? It really makes little sense although I don’t want to encourage more effective misdemeanours. The “bloodgate” incident in England at rugby union was another curious case of ham-fisted cheating.

There seems to have been a huge surge in bans / suspensions over here since bridge went online; I’ve not played in any “real” online games but do play the BBO 4 hands online or longer sessions occasionally where I’m only up against robots. It is all terribly disappointing especially as the competitions where cheating has occurred haven’t been particularly high level or financially lucrative. Maybe the old comment is true; sports and games do not build character, they reveal it. I have also seen cases (including one at a club where I played in the 1970s) where accusations of malpractice, objectional behaviour or worse seem to have been based on the (perceived) character of the person(s) involved more than sufficient evidence of chicanery and that isn’t so clever either. All very sad and tarnishing the game in so many ways.


Iain (in rather subdued mood)

bobbywolffMay 16th, 2021 at 2:48 pm

Hi Iain,

Since my political experience over the many past years include a vast amount of dealing with so much of what you write about and especially “feel” but back then I was essentially a “Lone Wolff” in creating ways to “lessen” it, but in no material ways, rid our game of it, I can speak somewhat authoritatively.

I proposed and created the “Recorder” system of reporting to the National Recorder (I, for multiple years, well over 10), as well as the Ethics Oversight Committee (character laden and highly selective) who convened, almost always about possible cheats, and conducted themselves like English and American jurisprudence (as well as the rest of the world) should be conducted.

The results were amazing with many cheats (petty and very high level) being processed out of our game (out of ten husbands and wives in the USA alone to fall in our net, five were tossed out forever, four have died, and, AFAIK one still exists, but haven’t specifically heard.

The above occupied all of my spare time during the three Nationals as well as carry over events such as our trials and extra special events to lead to our team selections for official representation. I was both the credential advisor (committee along with Ralph Cohen originally from Canada) for the USA and, of course, did the job by myself with much help from varied sources, mainly TDs)for the WBF long before I was officially higher up in their elective offices (including a relatively brief stint as President from 1991-1994).

Most of my emphasis was in trying to prevent cheating, a most difficult task, since learning about it and its significance is immense, but proving it beyond doubt causes one headache after another.

However, if anything, it is even more rampant than anyone realizes or has thought about and I would guess that many more (perhaps at a ratio of ten to one) have gotten away with it than have been caught and either banned or severely disciplined.

My guess would then have to be, that your related experience was definitely “guilty as charged”, but to do so by me is totally out of line and speculative, but only based on my suspicion that the DESIRE TO WIN AND ITS BENEFITS far outweighs it not being done.

I could go on and on, but now I am just too old to do what I used to do and with people around like Boye Brogelund from Europe and Avon Wilsmore from Australia, as well as so many bridge lovers and hard workers who help, perhaps more progress will be made.

Yes, the players you have mentioned as well as the documented (but disputed) cause celebre’ cases (involving highly respected names from all over the world) are as true as they can be, with, to my knowledge, not an innocent name known and, of course, emphasized.

Sad, but so true and all I can do
is wish “dear bridge” to carry on, overcome that horrible affliction and survive to the heights our beautiful game deserves.

Sorry for all the above, but I lived it, often with little help (Bob Rosen a monumental example), but thankless to the core, because of bridge politics, Nationalism, and non-bridge lovers who, by nature, were born to protect themselves from guilt, but found enormous amounts in that condition, but still ranted on with their reluctance.

Why bridge? Just because it is a “mind” game and lent itself to the pursuit of ego and worse, the last few years when “real money” (professional) was a major excuse for its influx.

Sorry for the above rant, but it may be good for my conscience to let it now hang out.

Iain ClimieMay 16th, 2021 at 6:28 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for that although it is still sad to see just how common the problem is. Maybe online play has just tempted people and$or made things easier.


jim2May 17th, 2021 at 2:28 am

The Bridge Bum by Alan Sontag includes an anecdote about possible high-level cheating.

bobbywolffMay 17th, 2021 at 4:31 am

Hi Jim2,

Anything less than a lifetime bar while being chained to Mrs. Guggenheim while forced to discuss bridge theory, is too lenient.

Iain ClimieMay 17th, 2021 at 9:03 pm

Hi Jim2,

I remember it – a guy and his partner caught cheating claimed to be doing research for a magazine article but the magazine couldn’t be found. Some people have no shame. I recall Sontag saying something like “It was out of the game for life for this guy and his partner.” Reese and Schapiro also get a mention in passing if I remember rightly. That divided opinion even this side of the pond as Reese could apparently be a difficult person on occasion to say the least.


bobbywolffMay 18th, 2021 at 4:35 pm

Hi Iain,

Some 33+ years ago when I attended what was then called then the London Times Invitational held every January, Terence often appeared (not as a player but rather as either a kibitzer or a bridge reporter) to which (since my partner and I were fast players) I met Terence in the player’s lounge between matches and we struck up a fast friendship.

He had then basically given up bridge and other favorite games of his (backgammon was one of them) and devoted his time to taking care of his wife (them being married late in life with her being seriously injured in an automobile accident and then Terence dedicating himself to taking excellent care of her, till death do us part.

While he didn’t play any more, and from reports to me, he had dropped significantly what he had been so incrdibly great in doing,mainly playing but also undoubtedly being among the greatest bridge writers ever, (probably the best), but likely also enjoying other gambling games as well.
As certainly was true he had mellowed from (what I had heard) his earlier stern and abrupt personality, making our regular meetings very delightful and extraordinarily meaningful to me.

Earlier, I had become very friendly with Boris Shapiro who had accepted an invitation to come to the USA and play in the Cavendish Invitational or at least in a side event held at the same time, while the more celebrated one was going on, at the same time.

Somehow during that time a foursome of mine (Hamman, Meckstroth & Rodwell) came to London to play a challenge match vs. Andy Robson, Tony Forrester, Gabriel Chagas, and Marcelo Branco (Brazil) for a relatively large sum of money (in those days) and Boris was there (with bells on) to both bet on the match and, of course to watch.

He and I had several talks on who he should bet on and he, being ever a careful and thorough gambler, wanted to know if his choice of side should depend on the possibility of cheating. BTW a colorful Greek shipping magnet by the name of Marchacinni (or close) put up their stake (and arranged the contest) which then was matched by ours.

During that time Boris and I became great friends and I also with his vivacious wife. He, along with Terence, were very interesting to engage in chatter about almost all subjects, including the horror in Argentina.

Sadly, they were guilty in Buenas Aires, Argentina and, at least at that time Boris was not loathe to discuss the details which were, of course, quite interesting and never to be forgotten. Also the politics in English bridge (Ralph Swimer and all) were overwhelming with the British Nationalism certainly factored in, helping determine the result.

I could write on and on, but if you think you are getting tired, please segue to me, leaving other lesser fall outs, easily ignored.

Thanks Iain, I think, for bringing up the subject.

In truth, they were not near the culprits as were the Italian Blue
Team, during their total “Reign of Terror” for so many years.

Changing the subject and from what I would judge Terence, not Boris, belonged up there with Garozzo and Belladonna (and Forquet perhaps a length behind them) as among the best ten bridge players of all time, with or without cheating and it so very sad (at least to me) that since the rest of the Blue Team were made up of only just decent club players, making it totally impossible for only two or three off the charts great players could carry them thorough for anything past only one or two bridge World Championships, much less the enorrmous number they found a way to win.

The real culprit in Italy was an Italian lawyer named Carl Albert Perroux who was was commissioned in the early 1950’s to find a way for Italy to win multiple World Championships and he, in turn, did exactly that, but by doing so has labeled bridge, as we know it, as a dangerous game to play because of the wide spread high-level cheating (both at the top and even some at many other stages of play).

Call it a curse, and knowing what I do, I have come to understand how difficult for bridge cheating to be proven, especially legally, since when the law becomes entwined with
subjectivity, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt, defense lawyers, have a field day defending their clients which even my protests of destroying the greatest mind game ever conceived, falls on deaf ears with them and their likely evil practitioners.

Much has been said

bobbywolffMay 18th, 2021 at 4:41 pm

Hi Iain,

Please forgive what happened above. I had several interruptions during the writing of this tome and I left it in a terrible awkward state.

Read what you want and, if desired, skip around, but obviously I am not a careful enough writer to make sure disasters in form do not occur.