Issue 10: BridgeHands Newsletter
The Street Smart Bridge Player: Part IV
Welcome back to our fourth and final installment of
our series on the Street Smart Bridge Player. It has been a dark
winter outside so perhaps it's fitting we wrap up this segment by
examining the dark side of Bridge.
No, this issue isn't intended to give players tips
on how to pull off dishonest acts at the Bridge table! Yet we
should all be aware of common situations that constitute the
ethical violations for the proprieties of Bridge. Perhaps our
partner has unwittingly encroached on the Bridge Laws. Or worse,
maybe an unscrupulous opponent is deliberately cheating and trying
to get away with the caper. While others do not try to segment
such infractions, we will divide these violations into three
1. Inadvertent Laws Violation
2. Soft Cheating
3. Hard Cheating
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Introduction: Bridge is just a game - or is it?
In our prior
newsletters, we reviewed some of the common Bridge Laws and the
psychology of our delightful game, bound with an emotional element. Like
most things in life, you get out of Bridge what you put into it. We've
said it before and we will say it again, Bridge is a microcosm of life.
We can apply lessons learned at the table to family, friends, and
business. Here we will be contrasting inadvertent ethical slip-ups and
worse, creating an awareness of acceptable behavior.
Recall in our prior
lesson we spoke about the psychological aspects of the game. Should this
have anything to do with Bridge? Some would argue against those who
resort to psychological mind games, shenanigans, skullduggery, or other
devious and unscrupulous acts.
Some may find that
mildly innocuous "mind games" add to the spirit of Bridge. And of
course, there are those who will do anything to win, at
life, love, money, their ego, and certainly at Bridge. Yet regardless of
where we stand on the psychological aspects of Bridge, there will be a
time and a place where we will have to deal with players that may not
see life (and Bridge) in quite the same way as our mother taught us to
And yes, there are
a few misguided souls who feel the need to win at all costs, assuming
they can get away with outright cheating. Fortunately, those who engage
in "hard cheating" are few and far between. But they are out there, both
in the kitchen playing Rubber Bridge or in an international Duplicate
Bridge tournament representing their country.
However, before we
get too deep into exploring the assorted misdeeds by opponents, we
should cover a few caveats.
1. Consider the
possibility that the opponents misdeed is attributable to an innocent
2. Be aware
accusing anyone of cheating is a very serious charge.
3. We should always
be certain of the facts and present them in a rational manner, avoiding
claims against an opponent's motivation or character.
4. Generally, it's
unwise to make accusations which cannot be proved. Whenever possible,
privately describe the infraction with the director, your partner, or an
unbiased observer - ask the third party to watch for continued
occurrences of the observed behavior. That said, don't be surprised if
your rulemaking organization does not seem enthusiastic to prosecute the
incident. In our increasingly litigious world, Bridge authorities tend
to be very cautious when handling cheating accusations without physical
evidence (videotape footage).
The ACBL has documented the process to handle disciplinary actions.
5. The information
presented here is certainly not intended as a manual to delve into
cheating! BridgeHands offers this information to our loyal
readers in good faith.
So our mission,
should we decide to accept it, is to explore the dark side of the force.
But just as actors must avoid getting too deeply into their character,
so too we must balance our exploration of the dark side of the force.
Bridge is a game centered on good will, friendly spirit, the intrinsic
joy of learning and mastery. Okay, time to buckle up - here we go.
Inadvertent Laws Violation
Fisrt off, one
might argue the ethics of a player who claims innocence due to a lack of
knowledge of Bridge Laws. This certainly has merit for newcomer and
novice Bridge players. However, since this newsletter is intended for
intermediate and advanced Bridge players, we shall assume players should
have a fairly solid understanding of rudimentary Bridge Law Proprieties.
Here's the sections for Duplicate Laws - Contract/Rubber Bridge have
LAW 72 - GENERAL PRINCIPLES
LAW 73 - COMMUNICATION
LAW 74 - CONDUCT AND ETIQUETTE
LAW 75 - PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENTS
Saving Law 73 for
last, let's highlight the other proprieties. In essence, Law 72 makes it
clear we must follow the rules of the game, with the Director assuming
enforcement. The law includes an interesting discussion of inadvertent
infractions, stating a player is not required to draw attention to such
errors in bidding and play. For instance, if a player revokes (reneges)
and has not discovered the irregularity until after the revoke is
established, the player is not required to point out the infraction to
the opponents. Of course, the Law goes on to say a player cannot
deliberately conceal an infraction (such as subsequently hiding a card
which would expose an earlier revoke).
Laws 74.A and 74.B
remind us to be courteous and not to do something that may annoy or
embarrass another player. Certainly we would all agree Bridge is
supposed to be an enjoyable game. Etiquette wise, we should pay
attention to the game, avoid gratuitous remarks, avoid detaching cards
before play, avoid prolonging play to disconcert opponents, and show
courtesy to players and the Director.
Law 74.C provides
self-explanatory examples of violations:
1. using different
designations for the same call.
2. indicating approval or disapproval of a call or play.
3. indicating the expectation or intention of winning or losing a trick
that has not been completed.
4. commenting or acting during the auction or play so as to call
attention to a significant occurrence, or to the number of tricks still
required for success.
5. looking intently at any other player during the auction and play, or
at another player's hand as for the purpose of seeing his cards or of
observing the place from which he draws a card (but it is appropriate to
act on information acquired by inadvertently seeing an opponent's card).
6. showing an obvious lack of further interest in a deal (as by folding
7. varying the normal tempo of bidding or play for the purpose of
disconcerting an opponent.
8. leaving the table needlessly before the round is called.
Law 75 informs us
we must provide all information about our partnership agreements to our
opponents. Incidentally, 75.B is often misunderstood - a player may (at
player's own peril) violate a partnership agreement, provided the
partner is unaware of the violation. While we may not appreciate
deceptive bidding and play, the writers of the Bridge Laws permit such
Communications, targets many forms of deviations from adherence to the
laws, with Law 73.B.2 addressing cheating (see Prearranged
Communications below). While you won't find the "C" word specifically
stated in the Laws, BridgeHands defines cheating as any
deliberate behavior known to be outside the Laws, intended to give an
unfair advantage to one or more players. This may involve a sole player,
partnership, team, or other arrangement involving dishonest activities.
While this newsletter will refrain from focusing on the laws, let's
highlight a few areas where well-meaning players seem to inadvertently
stray from the Laws.
Law 73.A.2. and
B.1. make it clear players cannot use gestures, mannerisms, voice
inflections, hesitations or haste during bidding. If our partner
violates these principles, Law 73 says we must not take advantage of
ill-advised, over zealous, and unscrupulous players sometimes foul on
Law 73. Certainly it's a no-no to make a bid or play and stare at one's
partner to quietly reinforce the meaning of one's action. And while we
are all passionate about Bridge, overt actions such as sighs, groans,
growls, snorts, coughs, snapping/slapping/dropping/thumping cards, or
other abnormal gestures are not permitted. Yes, biting, spitting,
elbowing, slugging and even crying are similarly prohibited! Of course,
Bridge requires an imaginative mind, so one can always think such
thoughts (at least until the writers of the Bridge Laws discover we have
players with telepathic minds among our ranks).
Law 73 is included
here for your reference:
Communication between Partners
1. How Effected
Communication between partners during the auction and play shall be
effected only by means of the calls and plays themselves.
2. Correct Manner for Calls and Plays
Calls and plays should be made without special emphasis, mannerism or
inflection, and without undue hesitation or haste (however, sponsoring
organizations may require mandatory pauses, as on the first round of
auction, or after a skip-bid warning, or on the first trick).
Communication Between Partners
1. Gratuitous Information
Partners shall not communicate through the manner in which calls or
plays are made, through extraneous remarks or gestures, through
questions asked or not asked of the opponents or through alerts and
explanations given or not given to them.
2. Prearranged Communications
The gravest possible offense is for a partnership to exchange
information through prearranged methods of communication other than
those sanctioned by these Laws. A guilty partnership risks expulsion.
C. Player Receives
Unauthorized Information from Partner
When a player has available to him unauthorized information from his
partner, as from a remark, question, explanation, gesture, mannerism,
special emphasis, inflection, haste or hesitation, he must carefully
avoid taking any advantage that might accrue to his side.
D. Variations in
Tempo or Manner
1. Inadvertent Variations
It is desirable, though not always required, for players to maintain
steady tempo and unvarying manner. However, players should be
particularly careful in positions in which variations may work to the
benefit of their side. Otherwise, inadvertently to vary the tempo or
manner in which a call or play is made does not in itself constitute a
violation of propriety, but inferences from such variation may
appropriately be drawn only by an opponent, and at his own risk.
2. Intentional Variations
A player may not attempt to mislead an opponent by means of remark or
gesture, through the haste or hesitancy of a call or play (as in
hesitating before playing a singleton), or by the manner in which the
call or play is made.
A player may appropriately attempt to deceive an opponent through a call
or play (so long as the deception is not protected by concealed
partnership understanding or experience). It is entirely appropriate to
avoid giving information to the opponents by making all calls and plays
in unvarying tempo and manner.
F. Violation of Proprieties
When a violation of the Proprieties described in this law results in
damage to an innocent opponent,
1. Player Acts on Unauthorized Information
if the Director determines that a player chose from among logical
alternative actions one that could demonstrably have been suggested over
another by his partner's remark, manner, tempo, or the like, he shall
award an adjusted score (see Law 16).
2. Player Injured by Illegal Deception
if the Director determines that an innocent player has drawn a false
inference from a remark, manner, tempo, or the like, of an opponent who
has no demonstrable bridge reason for the action, and who could have
known, at the time of the action, that the action could work to his
benefit, the Director shall award an adjusted score (see Law 12C).
Soft Cheating: "I would prefer even to fail with honor than to win by
cheating." Sophocles, from a classical Athenian playwright
We profess that not all
players will agree on what constitutes soft cheating or even attempt to
differentiate soft and hard cheating. Certainly some highly competitive
players enjoy playing "on the edge" under the auspices of being a shrewd
player fostering gamesmanship. From the ethical Bridge player's
perspective, these are the type of folks who exceed the posted speed
limit, believing they are not in violation of the basic speed law.
Interestingly, these shrewd folks will indeed slow down when in the
proximity of a law enforcement official. And at the table, these players
seem to modify their behavior when in the presence of a Bridge Director
or prospective mother- in-law. Thus, some of us may infringe on certain
laws for a number of reasons, perhaps listening to the "dark angel" on
our bad shoulder. So despite a consensus among us, let's discuss this
so-called soft cheating.
Let's begin with a crafty play that borders on the line of deceptive
play - others might say it skirts the line of ethical behavior. In Dan
Romm's book "Things
Your Bridge Teacher Won't Tell You", he describes a shifty method to
better one's finessing odds (page 21).
10 9 x
A K x x x
x x x x
A K J x x x
Q x x
The contract is 6
Spades in the South. West begins leading the CQ to South's CA. Playing
in tempo, declarer South begin with the Ace of Spades and smoothly
continues with the King of Clubs! West was probably
expecting the declarer to draw trump, anticipating the King of Spades.
The declarer South casually observes West, looking for a "tell". A pause
by West (before realizing the Club switch) indicates the player may be
out of trump, considering which card to pitch. In this case, the
declarer wins the trick, goes over to dummy with a Heart, finessing
East's King. Otherwise, if West seemed to be prepared to play another
Spade then declarer South will play both players for doubletons,
continuing with the SK to drop opponent's Queen. While some might not be
impressed with such "parlor tricks", technically speaking
BridgeHands would not categorize this tactic as unethical
Later in Dan Romm's
book, he recaps a diabolical declarer play from the 1950s. First, let's
set the stage - a well known pro was playing with a client opposite two
senior women in a duplicate tourney. On this hand the pro was in 6
Spades. After the Heart lead the contract seemed doomed, assuming East
held the HK.
A Q x x
K J 10 x x
K J 10 x x x
Q x x
Losing the HK and the
CA, the contract would be down one. So what could the pro do to improve
his odds? Well, the pro tanked for many minutes giving the appearance
of considering a spectacular play. In reality, the pro was about to make
an unethical play - what was it?
When the South-seated
pro figured the opponents were sufficiently distracted enough to
completely lose focus on the play, South played his HQ from his
declarer's hand (instead of the correct rotation from the dummy)!!!
Sure enough, the weary East player was seduced into following the
incorrect counter-clockwise rotation of play, going up with the HK! At
this point, the pro faced his cards and made a claim of 12 tricks. We
agree with Dan's assessment; certainly this nameless pro infringed on
the ethics of Bridge. If you don't already own a copy of "Things
Your Bridge Teacher Won't Tell You", we whole-heartedly recommend
you purchase a copy of this excellent book.
Looking deeper into
soft cheating, certainly the
Alcatraz Coup goes over the edge. The Alcatraz Coup is actually a
tongue-in-cheek name used to describe nefarious methods when trying to
deduce opponents' holdings. This obviates the "who holds the Queen?"
guess when holding the remaining honors. Here's an example:
A 8 7 6
A 9 8 7
K Q 4
3 2 5 4
8 7 6 5 Q J 10 9 4
Q 3 2 5 4
J 10 9 8 A 7 6 5
K Q J 10 9
K J 10 6
Contract: 6S in South
After getting in, South
leads the SJ, providing an opportunity to observe West's ethical
behavior during play. South's careful lead of the SJ seduced West to
believe the declarer was missing the SQ, thus attempting a finesse. The
bait is set - how will West respond? If West hesitates or fumbles his
cards as though he holds the SQ, declarer South has a read on West's
"tell" (West likes to fake it). The declarer now safely pulls trump,
switching to the low Heart and surreptitiously observes West behavior.
This time West smoothly plays a low card in tempo. Accordingly, the
declarer may deduce West's holds the missing Queen based on the new
demeanor, i.e., an "inverted tell." Thus, the declarer finesses West's
Speaking of tells, as
we mentioned earlier a player should not intently watch an opponent for
the sole purpose of discerning "tells". Worse, a player should not
intently watch the gestures of partner and opponents, particularly
noting the placement of cards withdrawn from the hand when played.
In no particular order,
we will begin with
Law 73.A.2, Correct Manner for Calls and Plays: A player may not
attempt to mislead an opponent by means of remark or gesture, through
the haste or hesitancy of a call or play (as in hesitating before
playing a singleton), or by the manner in which the call or play is
Some shrewd Bridge
player attempt to control the tempo of bidding or play of their
opponents. These players use ploys such as the declarer "quick play"
maneuvers, hoping the defenders will not become aware of their
vulnerability during play.
unscrupulous declarer might realize the contract is doomed if the
defender offer a normal defense, thus delaying play an abnormal interval
in an attempt to distract the opponents (the "Sominex" coup).
Along the same lines,
during play a sneaky declarer may realize they are playing from the
wrong hand; after waiting a considerable period, the declarer plays from
the wrong side, hoping the opponent will have forgotten the correct side
and mistakenly play to the out-of-turn trick.
Claiming tricks at the
end of play is always a controversial topic; devious opponents have been
known to quickly make bad claims to secure a winning score. As the
Romans taught us, "caveat emptor!" - let the buyer beware! Never accept
a questionable claim when the declarer should be clearly stating the
line of play. And don't allow the declarer to "play it out" knowing the
offending defender holds the questionable cards. Instead call the
Director for assistance. If playing Rubber Bridge; L69 begins: The
objective of subsequent play is to achieve a result as equitable as
possible to both sides, but any doubtful point must be resolved in favor
of the defenders. Declarer may not make any play inconsistent with the
statement he may have made at the time of his claim or concession. And
if he failed to make an appropriate statement at that time, his choice
of plays is restricted thereby (etc).
Incidentally, you and
your partner should discuss the ethical obligation when dummy notices
their declaring partner's claim is ambiguous (not clearly stating all
lines of play).
Now let's examine a few
low tech forms of cheating. Deliberately logging an incorrect (better)
score occurs from time to time. When an opponent resorts to this type
of devious behavior, lacking repeated instances it's not easy to prove
malice. Always validate the contract score with the scorekeeper,
carefully looking at the recorded score. Duplicate players should not
permit North to record the score without showing the recorded result to
you or your partner.
Along the same lines,
be wary of the unscrupulous declarer who quickly claims an incorrect
number of tricks. Do not fold up your cards until you and the declarer
have an accurate agreement of the correct tricks taken, the contract
result, and the resulting score.
In Alan Sontag's
delightful book, "Bridge
Bum: My Life and Play" he describes the ploy of offering the
opposition free alcoholic beverages, heavy meals and the like before
play. On the face, such tactics do not directly constitute cheating yet
seem to skirt the ethics of fair play.
How do you feel about
shuffling and dealing? Would it matter if the opponents didn't
thoroughly shuffle the cards or dealt more than one card from the pack
to the same player? First, let's take a look at how the cards are
placed on the deck from the prior hand. During the course of play,
suits tend to be played in groupings of 3 or more cards. So at the end
of play, cards are clumped adjacent to one another by suit. Thus, if
the cards were not shuffled and dealt out one by one to each player,
each player would tend to have the same number of cards in each suit,
i.e., flat hands. Ahead in a match, the devious dealer might be tempted
to avoid distributional hands that might lead to wild scoring swings.
So if you are behind in a match and note the opponent making a cursory
shuffle, ask for a thorough shuffle. Similarly, if the opponents are
behind in a match, do not permit the dealer to deal multiple cards from
the pack to the same player; so-called "goulash" dealing may lead to
wildly distributional hands.
A player should not
deliberately note an exposed card or hand held by an opponent
(L74.C.5). Bridge professional Charles Goren was known for holding his
cards far away from his chest, while his partner Helen Sobel did quite
the opposite holding her cards extremely close to her chest. On the
other hand, on one occasion Helen signaled Charles for a Spade ruff
while Charles kept leading other suits, which caused Helen to noticeably
fidget in her chair. Finally, Charles stated, "Helen, you have to stop
that - it makes for a bad partnership. Besides, I have no more
Along the same lines,
be wary of an opponent who deliberately exposes non-essential cards to
opponents. The player may be hiding an important card, causing the
opponent to think a critical card is held by the other partner.
A player should refrain
from "keeping an open ear", listening to players discuss results at
another duplicate table when the eavesdropping players have not played
the board. Another variation is to peek at opponents' personal
scoresheet in an attempt to observe their results for boards yet to be
played by the unscrupulous observer.
As we mentioned
earlier, once a revoke is established (and was unknown by the offending
partner at the time), a player is not obligated to disclose the error to
the opponents. However, a player may not hide or otherwise conceal
revoke cards at the termination of play.
A player may not make
extraneous or overt actions with the express purpose to frustrate or
distract a player. Some unscrupulous players use various emotional
hooks, snapping cards, drumming fingers on table, inducing FUD:
Fear-Uncertainty-Doubt, false flattery, sarcasm, embarrassment, greed,
etc. Better known as "coffee housing", such misdeeds include making
improper remarks, gestures, hesitations or the like, with the intention
to confuse or mislead opponents (Law 73). After numerous deliberate
opponent hesitations, Charles Goren advised a perpetrator, "Madam, that
second hesitation certainly was an overbid!" Similarly, George Kaufman
once retorted to his opponents, "Let's have a review of the bidding
again, with all the inflections."
Beware of acts of
one-upmanship. In the 1934 Men's Pair New York Championship, Ely
Culbertson partnered with Ted Lightner against Oswald Jacoby and David
Burnstine. With the tourney outcome on one hand, Lightner risked
bidding 6 Spades. Knowing Ely would be quick to table dummy after the
all important opening lead, David deliberately paused to get a stick of
gum out out of his pocket, take it out of the wrapper and chew it for a
moment. After a further delay, Burnstine finally threw the paper down
on the table - not the lead card but the wrapper! Sure enough,
Culbertson tabled the dummy, giving Burnstine a good look before making
the killing lead to defeat the contract.
Watch out for the
shifty declarer claiming they made an improper call or that a card from
the dummy was a "slip of the tongue" when in fact the error was actually
a thinking error (slip of the mind). Certainly when a duplicate player
pulls a bid from one area of the bidding box, they cannot legitimately
claim the error was attributable to a mechanical error when the new
bidding card was not adjacent to the prior bid!
Be wary of an opponent
who deliberately fails to alert a conventional bid or giving an
inadequate or misleading description when asked by an opponent.
Conversely, do not
permit an opponent to surreptitiously glance at one's own convention
card in order to refresh their recollection of a partnership agreement.
During play, the convention card is available for your reference, not
A devious opponent may
know the consequence of a law better than the opponents. Rather than
calling the Director, the player innocently offers the opponents what
initially appears to be a satisfactory resolution when their side
commits an irregularity. For instance, an opponent may have made an
insufficient conventional call. Let's say an opponent opened 2 Notrump
and their sleepy partner made an insufficient Stayman bid of 2 Clubs.
The opponent is aware the Laws and Director's forthcoming ruling - the
offender's partner is barred for the remainder of the auction. So our
devious opponent innocently offers the opponents to "make the contract
sufficient" by bidding 3 Clubs and continue playing normally. Should
the opponents be seduced into this trick, the offender is off the hook.
Always call the Director when an irregularity occurs at the table.
Be wary of an opponent
who asks leading questions about the auction before partner has made a
face down opening lead, providing partner clues about the best lead or
play. Unless a player is intending to bid, they should refrain from
asking unnecessary questions before the face down opening lead by
How about the situation
where an opponent strongly wants their partner to refrain from bidding?
Beware of the unethical tactic by a player taking an unusual action that
will force an action by partner. For instance, do not permit an
opponent to deliberately hesitate during a competitive auction to force
one's partner to pass or refrain from making a double when opponents'
contract is makeable. Again, call the Director who may need to adjust
or assign a score. Most players are unaware that when an opponent
hesitates, the Director may adjust the auction both up and down
to restore equity! (if dictated based upon a player's logical
Some shrewd tournament
players have been known to resort to a tactic known as "double
insurance," attempting to get the best result. Let's say a player
inadvertently forgets to alert a conventional call known by the
opponents to be conventional call. The shrewd opponent neither asks the
opponent for clarification, looks at their convention card, nor calls
the Director. If a good result is obtained upon viewing the score
(perhaps the traveler), the player overlooks the infraction; if the
shrewd player decides a more favorable result could be realized, the
player belatedly calls the Director to get a second chance to obtain a
good result. The
San Francisco Fall 1996 Appeals addressed this issue for ACBL
we must call the
Director when the irregularity occurs as opposed to "reserving our
rights" after play (the practice in international play).
unscrupulous opponent may attempt to expose a played card very quickly,
then quickly face down the played cards. A similar tactic is to tilt
the card at an angle with the intent to make its face hard to discern.
When in doubt, do not face your card down and kindly ask the opponent to
clearly face their card. Ditto when the dummy's hand conceals cards in
the dummy or some cards are hidden behind other cards. Incidentally,
speaking of the dummy it is within the dummy's rights to see each card
faced by the opponents. While a dummy is not permitted to first call
attention to an irregularity during play, the dummy is allowed to note
the occurrence of the irregularity and call the Director after the
completion of play.
In rare situations, an
opponent will modify, withhold, or fabricate facts to the Director. Be
sure to have a clear accounting of the facts and clarify ambiguities or
misstatements to the Director.
This next tactic should
win a booby prize for the most creative form of unethical behavior.
Here the player creates a diversionary tactic to cushion additional time
needed to make a thoughtful bid or play. Lacking the distraction, the
player might draw a Director call due to a hesitation. The tactic
typically involves asking to view the opponent's convention card or
unnecessarily inquiring about the meaning of an opponent's call,
disturbing cards from the bidding box and the like, with no intention to
use the response other than to buy the player extra time. We are
unclear whether such tactics merit a hearty laugh or Director call!
Hard Cheating: "See what it is to play unfair! Where cheating is,
there's mischief there." By poet William Blake
Okay, we've saved the
worst for last. If soft cheating is a misdemeanor, than hard cheating is
reserved for felons involved in blatant misconduct. Let's take a look at
various cheating scandals and other overt techniques.
In 1954 Frenchman
Franck Bodier and Pierre Figeac were found to always make perfect leads.
Without noting the signaling methods, a tournament committee eventually
summoned the pair, who chose to resign and disappear from Bridge. In
1974 Indonesian brothers M. F. and F. E. Manoppo were also noted to make
flawless leads. After the World Bridge Federation reviewed 600 hands and
confronted the brothers, they were suspended and barred from playing
together in official tournaments.
In 1957 Austrian pair
Karl Schneider and Max Reithoffer were found by Swiss expert Jaime
Ortiz-Patino to hold their cards in peculiar positions based on their
Ace holding. Interestingly, Reithoffer was the President of the Austrian
Federation hosting the actual tourney. After the accusation was
discreetly offered, without inquiry the pair agreed never to play in a
major tourney again.
In 1958 the USA team
(Tobias Stone) accused the world winning Italian team of cheating,
stating they held their powerful hands up high not only for kibitzers,
but for the benefit of their partner.
In 1933, Ely Culbertson
hired card detective Mickey MacDougall to watch suspected opponent
Willard Karn for cheating. Posing as a waiter, Mickey noted Willard
would interleave high and low cards when taking a trick before his turn
to deal. When shuffling, Karn would use a false pull-through shuffle,
crimp the deck before offering the cut and restore the deck with a
hidden return cut before dealing favorable cards to his side in their
The 1965 Bermuda Bowl
was the setting for the notorious "Buenos Aires Incident", the USA team
accusing England's Terence Reese and Boris Schapiro of cheating. B. Jay
Becker noted Reese and Schapiro had unusual hand placement when holding
their cards, asking partner Dorothy Hayden to confirm his observation.
After several sessions comparing noted hand signals with printed hand
records, Dorothy noted Reese and Schapiro's hand positions regularly
coincided with their Heart holding. Here's an example:
10 8 3 2
Q J 7
A 8 4 3
9 5 4 K 6
A 8 6 5 J 2
A 5 4 K 9 8 3 2
Q 10 2 J 7 6 5
A Q J 7
Q 10 7 4 3
1S - 3S; 4S – AP
On behalf of the United
States playing team, Dorothy Hayden noticed Terence and Boris seemed to
awkwardly hold their cards in different manners and became suspicious.
Between sessions, Dorothy discreetly discussed this with her playing
partners, B.J. Becker and Alan Truscott.
After the U.S. team
observed and logged more questionable play and compared the gestures
against the actual cards, they lodged a formal complaint. Britain's
captain, Ralph Swimer, withdrew his team from the tournament, conceding
On the above hand,
Schapiro was sitting West and made a surprising underlead of the H5 to
partner's HJ, won by South. The declarer returned a Heart to West's HA,
who returned a third Heart that was overruffed by Reece sitting East
with his S6. Terrance returned a Diamond to partner's Ace, followed by
another Heart, again overruffed by Terrance to set the contract by two
tricks. Perhaps underleading the Ace was an inspired lead - just be
certain you are not strangely holding the cards from hand to hand.
In the "1975 Bermuda
Bowl Incident", newspaper correspondent Bruce Keidan observed Italian
team partners Gianfranco Facchini and Sergio Zucchelli were using foot
signals to communicate under the table during bidding and before opening
leads. Reported to the tourney committee who assigned observers to
confirm the findings, small coffee tables were ultimately placed
diagonally under the tables. These events led to screen usage in major
In the 1977 "Houston
Affair", Larry Cohen and Richard Katz suddenly resigned in the middle of
the final round of competition. Newspapers articles speculated the pair
were using improper communications based on prior agreements (Law
73.b.2) Similar to other high-profile scandals, the accused filed a
massive lawsuit which ultimately led the ACBL jurisdictional body to
reinstate the pair in full standing, with the ACBL's insurance company
reimbursing the legal fees of Cohen-Katz.
In the 1979 "Sion-Cokin
Affair", the ACBL found Steve Sion and Alan Coken of improper
pre-arranged communication (Law
73.b.2). The ACBL found the pair used illegal signals based on the
placement of their scoring pencils after writing down the contract. The
ACBL barred the pair from ACBL play, reinstating them after 5 years but
disallowing them from partnership play.
Here is a litany of
other highly unethical misdeeds:
Beware of the
scorekeeper (North) who deliberately enters an incorrect score to
benefit their side.
Take heed against the
dealer who specializes in "bottom dealing." Bottom dealing is a method
of illegally influencing the outcome of the game by way of dealing
certain known cards from the bottom, rather than the top of the pack.
Generally, a bottom dealer will sneak a peek at the bottom card of the
deck just after or during the cut, then dealing marked cards to self or
Watch out for the card
mechanic ("artists") who specialize in sleight-of-hand manipulation of
cards often with various forms of misdirection, exposing cards to
partner when dealing, false shuffles, "mechanic grip" (holding pack with
index finger in front of cards to obscure which one is dealt to
opponents), faro shuffles (false riffle), false cuts, palming, switching
to stacked decks (cold decks), and blind shuffles. See
Mississippi Heart Hand and
Duke of Cumberland Hand.
Keep on the lookout for
the base dealer/second dealer who specialize in dealing second cards
(next to the top) or other known locations pre-arranged by the dealer or
Believe it our not, in
some card games the nefarious dealer may be a "paper player" who
exploits the use of marked cards, slick or shiny Aces, marked edges
(crimping, culling, denting, rounding, punching, sanding,
nailing/indexing, etc), daubing (golden glow) and luminous readers using
either special glasses or contact lens.
Then there is the hand
mucker, who specializes in switching cards from hand to hand.
A variation in Bridge
is when the opponents are already aware of the hands and outcome of
play. In some duplicate Bridge team events (Swiss and Knockouts), a team
is reassigned to the same table between events. Here's a prime example
why players should always reshuffle cards in the presence of opponents.
While more likely in
non-Bridge card play, some dastardly "machine players" cheat by using
mechanical holdouts as clips under the table or up the sleeve, mirrors,
reflective rings, etc.
The crossroader refers
to a traveling hustler, purporting to be a so-so player in order to
fleece average players. In Bridge, these folks seek money Rubber Bridge
Keep your eyes open for
the colluders, spectators/kibitzers that pass signals to a player after
peeking at another player's cards, or observing the playing results of
the duplicate board from a prior table
As we've seen above in
the Bermuda Bowl Incident and other scandals, take note that one of the
most common (and hard to detect) forms of Bridge cheating involves the
signalers - those who send bidding or play signals to their partner.
Then there's the whimsical "Chicago
Convention", ostensibly a tongue-in-cheek prank by Rubber Bridge
players. In essence, the players look at their cards and when they both
hold inferior hands, they signal one another through a pre-arranged
question and answer. Like spies using a challenge-response protocol, the
nasty players immediately claim one has too few cards - the other too
many cards, so they intermix their cards and insist on a redeal.
The dumpers are a
consortium of players who privately pool aggregate winnings against a
rotational "partner" in a crooked game. The consortium plays poorly with
their unsuspecting mark, playing soundly with their colluding partners
to fleece their mark. Alan Sontag provides how both a personal friend
was on both sides of this scam (along with Alan's assistance) in his
Bridge Bum: My Life and Play".
The peekers are players
who deliberately look at cards being shuffled, dealt, sorted, and held
A marker is a player
that manipulates marked decks, using color readers (including contact
lens), or cuts the cards (often detected by "going to the movies" -
flipping through the deck rapidly).
The North cheater,
involving tactics including artificially positioning the cards in a
board (not fully inserted in board pocket, etc) or positioning the board
differently (backward, upside down, etc) among a set in a team event,
etc. The purpose of the North cheater is to send distinguishing
characteristics (signals) about the hands to one's playing partners when
the boards arrive at their table, such as a hand that produces a
surprising slam result, etc.
The eavesdropper is a
player that carefully listens to discussion about results or player's
holdings at another duplicate table with the intention of using the
information at the table when the board arrives at the table. In a match
point game, the stationary South player is in the "ideal position" to
eavesdrop on the results for boards headed towards the player (boards
Well, that sums up our
litany of misdeeds that live in infamy. If you have others to share,
please drop us an EMAIL for discussion on our Bridge blog.
If you missed a back
issue of a BridgeHands Intermediate-Advanced newsletters,
here’s the links:
Issue 0 - Finesses
Issue 1 - Forcing Pass
Issue 2 - Leads on Notrump Doubled contracts
Issue 3 - Opener Reverses
Issue 4 - Reverses, Part II - Responder Rebids
Issue 5 - Psyches, Part I
Issue 6 - Psyches, Part II
Issue 7, Street Smart Bridge Player, Part I
Issue 8, Street Smart Bridge Player, Part II
Issue 9, Street Smart Bridge Player, Part III
We hope you are enjoying
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